Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Down Under Wonder

There are animals native to very specific places regardless of climate.  Polar bears are only found in the Arctic regions.  Their counterparts, penguins, are only seen in the southern hemisphere.  The Galapagos pink land iguana is native only on Wolf volcano, Isabela Island, labeled as critically endangered.  Within the moist mountain areas of Venezuela lives the pebble toad; named for its unique defense strategy of folding its body into a ball and rolling away from predators.

Within the continent of Australia are a wide variety of fauna found nowhere else in the world.  Most but not all marsupials make their home there.  Platypus (Candlewick Press, February 23, 2016) written by Sue Whiting with illustrations by Mark Jackson presents a fascinating look at an astonishing creature.

Beyond the snaking bend in the creek, where the water lazes in a still green pool, a scraggly gum tree perches on the edge of the bank. ...

The creature in the burrow is one of the world's most puzzling animals.  When British scientists first studied a specimen in 1799, it seemed so strange that they thought it was a fake. 

Preferring to move in the water rather than land, the platypus has smaller legs coming from its sides.  When it swims only a portion of the body is visible, more bill than body for breathing.  Their largest size is a few inches short of two feet.  Their bills, feet and tails each function to help them dive and collect food from the muddy bottom of their watery habitats.  You will be amazed at what their bills are capable of doing.

Could you dive as many times as they do in one hour?  It's astonishing!  Found food is stored in pouches in their cheeks until they can dine above the water.  The platypus works searching for food for at least half of each day.

Like other animals that live on the land and water, their fur is uniquely designed to protect them.  How many layers of fur do you think they have?  If a male platypus senses danger beware.  They have a surprising secret weapon.

The most diligent parent is the female tending the nest, eggs and young; the male having no interest once mating season is completed.  When hatched, in a short amount of time, the nestlings will make their way to the water. They, like their parents, will be creatures of the night, sleepers during the day.

Author Sue Whiting, a resident of Sydney, Australia, captivates readers with her vivid descriptions of the realm in which the platypus lives allowing us to shadow a male for a day.  In another portion of text specific facts appear compelling us forward as we discover the uniqueness of this mammal.  The rhythm of reading first the one, then the other is flawless; evidence of excellence in writing and research. Here are two sample passages; a portion of each type of narrative.

Night settles in.  Frogs croon to the starry sky.  Thirsty wallabies appear at the creek edge to drink.  Under the cover of darkness, Platypus rides the current, performs back flips, rolls over and over and over. ...

... Their tails store most of their fat.  A thick firm tail is a sign of a healthy platypus.

You are immediately transported to the world of the platypus when viewing the matching dust jacket and book case as illustrated by Mark Jackson.  On the front we see him as he emerges from foraging, a crayfish in his bill, ready to consume.  The color in the title text covers the spine and the back portion.  Set within this canvas is a vertical image of the platypus diving toward the muddy bottom of the river, air bubbles rising to the top. The color palette is natural and authentic, creating a memorable portrait of this animal.

On the opening endpapers the river is spread from edge to edge.  Several bugs are buzzing.  To the left all we see is the back portion and tail of the platypus as a dive is in progress.  On the closing endpapers we are privy to seeing him swimming as if we are looking up through the water.  A gorgeous two-page spread covers the verso and title page.  Platypus is swimming off the right edge under water.

Rendered in mixed media Jackson fills the book with eight two-page illustrations, several single page pictures and five pages with smaller images grouped together or alone.  His lines and brush stokes are fluid, evocative of the watery residence of the platypus.  When we are close to the platypus, physical characteristics are detailed.  The more panoramic vistas are very atmospheric.  You are in, around and on the continent of Australia.

One of my favorite of several pictures is the scene featured for the words quoted above.  The river moves from the bottom (front) of the two pages narrowing toward the top (back) just to the left of the gutter.  Moonlight streams along that line.  To the left and right are trees, ferns and rocks lining the banks.  Three wallabies have come to drink on the right.  To the left in the lower half of the page, the platypus circles in a pool of light.  Closer to us on the same side a dragonfly rests on a reed.  It's a night filled with magic.

Step into a world rich and rare with animals seen only there when you read about one very remarkable one in Platypus written by Sue Whiting with illustrations by Mark Jackson.  This is the kind of nonfiction picture book which causes readers to pause; appreciative of the marvels to be seen, if only in a book.  This would be superb as a read aloud or as a choice for a curious reader or one needing it for research.

To learn more about Sue Whiting please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Sue Whiting maintains a blog at this link.  On February 24, 2016 Sue Whiting was interviewed at Word Mothers.  Please visit the publisher's website to view one of my favorite illustrations.

Make sure you stop at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected by participating bloggers in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. The platypus is such an interesting creature! I look forward to reading this one to learn more.

    1. It's like a creature lost in time Kellee. I hope you have been able to get a copy to enjoy.