Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Finding Balance

"What is that sound?" I thought aloud as I walked Xena late one night this month.  We stopped so I could listen more closely.  In a matter of seconds I realized the fast clip clop noise was two deer running down the middle of the road in our subdivision.  Earlier this month within forty-eight hours of replacing the ivy in a hanging basket near my front door, robins had built a nest in its center.  Today I saw Mama Robin bringing in a bit of worm to outstretched baby beaks.

With diminishing wild places, those creatures whose living spaces have disappeared, are moving into areas populated by their human partners on this planet.  Increasingly what we would once see out in areas without our footprints are appearing in our backyards, in our town and city centers.  Wild Animal Neighbors: Sharing Our Urban World (Twenty-First Century Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group Inc., August 1, 2013) by Ann Downer examines and explains eight separate such meetings from places around the world.

I live in Somerville, Massachusetts, across the river from Boston.  In this city of seventy-five thousand people, the houses are packed tightly together---but not too tight for wildlife. 

In this introductory chapter author Ann Downer goes on to list all the critters that have walked near her home with the exception of bears.  On May 26, 2012 a youthful black bear was seen two hours away in Provincetown.  Over the course of several weeks his presence provides points to ponder about our ability to live in harmony with animals.  Included with her discussion of black bears in general are two pages on the type of features found in a city habitat focusing on their effect on animals.

Most readers will be able to identify with the chapter discussing close encounters with those masked bandits know as raccoons.  Their abilities to assimilate into human culture go back hundreds of years.  Astounding intelligence on their part and our desire to outsmart them may be working to their benefit; super raccoons?

The sad fate of a mountain lion in Santa Monica brings to readers' attention the problem faced by them in finding food within existing territories.  Highways are creating habitat fragmentation.  Several pages are devoted to the interesting discussion of wildlife corridor technicians.  For many readers this field will be new to them. (It was new to me.  I was thrilled to learn of their work.)

In Tokyo, Japan an invasion of clever jungle crows is causing power outages.  Over the course of twelve years beginning in 2000 nearly four hundred coyotes were trapped and collared in Chicago, Illinois.  Flying foxes numbering in the tens of thousands, a type of bat with a three-foot wingspan, are destroying one-of-a-kind trees in botanical gardens in Sydney, Australia. Lights brighter than the moon are creating dangerous conditions for turtles in Sarasota, Florida.

You have to admit it's not every day you find a six and a half-foot alligator in your garage.  Weather, heavy rains, and shrinking habitat had created the perfect conditions in 2012 for this unforeseen visitor to pay a call in a Texas community.  The need for humans to be educated about existing with their reptilian neighbors has never been more important.

Informative, engaging text makes the reading of this sixty-four page book a true pleasure.  Painstaking research is apparent in every paragraph.  You can also feel the passion Ann Downer has for her subject as evidenced by the narrative in each chapter, particularly her epilogue.

Built in the discussion of each animal incident, black bear, raccoon, mountain lion, jungle crow, coyote, gray-headed flying fox, loggerhead sea turtle and alligator, are black fact panels including their scientific name, other common names, their relatives, size, native habitat and their endangered status.  Other relevant information is covered in turquoise panels covering additional incidents, popularity of certain animals after the release of a book, intelligent adaptability, folklore, conservationist groups versus the general population, light pollution and signage.   Here is a single paragraph from the beginning of the chapter titled, The Crow in the Crosswalk.

Tokyo is home to tens of thousands of urban crows.  The relationship between the city's human residents and its crows is anything but peaceful.  In 2001 one of the large, black birds dive-bombed a golfer on one of the city's many golf courses.  That golfer just happened to be Shintaro Ishihara, Tokyo's governor (like a mayor in North America).  Not amused, Ishihara famously vowed to make "crow meat pie" into Japan's national dish.

No turn of page is without a photograph.  Size and placement vary according to the layout and design, which is outstanding.  Footprints relative to the animals discussed on a group of pages track from one section to the other.

A table of contents, source notes, a selected bibliography, further print and web resources and an index are included.

Wild Animal Neighbors:  Sharing Our Urban World by Ann Downer is an extremely timely and important book.  As she notes, the loss of a single member in the chain we call life, lessens our existence too.  Her final sentence is a question we all need to consider.

Will we use all our intelligence and resourcefulness to shape an urban world where both people and other living things can survive?

Please follow the link embedded in Ann Downer's name above to access her website.  By following this link to the publisher's website you can use additional resources.  These include items such as Citycritter Kits, Encyclopedia of Life activities and WAN tour instructions for educators.

Without the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy, I wonder how long it would have been before I read this book.  I am so thankful it has become a part of my reading life.  It should be in every school and classroom library and personal libraries at home.



  1. Hi Margie! You always find just the right books... this one is going on my TBR list. It sounds like a good book to use in our 4th grade... and many might have a coyote story because they have been spotted in our area many times!! Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Hello Michele,
      I've had this book on my mind ever since last year. I sure am glad I took the time to read it. It's a real eye-opener. We have coyotes around here also plus two different people in our neighborhood claim to have seen a large cat. You are welcome, of course.

  2. I have a book about urban animals called Coyotes in the Crosswalk (I think that's the title - book is at work) I find this topic to be so interesting for students and important for all of us to read. I am going to suggest this title to our school librarian. Thanks!

    1. Thank you for another title on this critical topic, Carrie. I think it can't be stressed enough to our young readers. Of course, you are welcome. I feel fortunate to have you as part of my PLN.