Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Window Into Winsome

It is defined by Merriam-Webster as attractive or pretty especially in a childish, youthful or delicate way.  It, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  Each person's description of cute is based upon a variety of perceptions.

Jess Keating, writer and zoologist (and illustrator) is a master of educating all who read her books.  Her love of the natural world and the animals dwelling therein shines in every word she writes.  Her third companion title in the series The World Of Weird Animals, Cute As An Axolotl: Discovering the World's Most Adorable Animals (Alfred A. Knopf, August 28, 2018) with illustrations by David DeGrand is like taking a walk with her around the world seeking and peeking into the realm of seventeen marvelous animals.

Think you know
Turn the page to see some 
of the world's cutest animals
in a whole new light . . .

Our first stop is Lake Xochimilco in the country of Mexico.  There dwells the precious animal seen on this book's cover, the Axolotl.  This clever creature can repair and regrow damaged limbs.  Unfortunately, they are listed as critically endangered.

As we cross over to Australia, we find the Quokka who appears to be constantly smiling in its furry face.  Beware though, their claws are razor sharp and they find over-eager humans tasty.  Have you ever heard of a Fairy Penguin?  They dwell in New Zealand, Tasmania and Southern Australia.  They are the smallest penguins on our planet at only 12-13 inches high.  These little beings are in trouble too, but guard dogs are protecting them now.  (Isn't this amazing?)

There are moths that as adults don't eat.  These Rosy Maple Moths, with wing spans of between one and one-quarter to two inches depending on the sex, are lush shades of yellow and pink looking like fur.  (They are sometimes found in Michigan, so I am on the lookout.) The only scaled mammal on Earth is called the Pangolin. Their tongue can grow to be longer than their fifteen to twenty-three-inch body length.

There is a frog with a see-through body for spotting its organs, a tiny hippo who prefers the night, a fly that looks like a bee that bees need to avoid, and an eight-inch long squirrel that can glide and hide beautifully.  Parts of Africa are home to the Dik-Dik a small antelope only about sixteen inches tall.  They use their tears and urine to mark their territories.

A mother who buries her young to keep them safe, a teeny reptile that pretends to be wood, and a fox with six-inch ears exist and survive but like all the other animals need protection and prudent conservation to keep their habitats in place.  They need our help.  We need them; they are integral links in the chain of our existence.

No matter how many times you read about these animals each time your respect is renewed.  Jess Keating speaks about these animals as if we are standing next to her in conversation with a valued friend.  And that is the gift Jess Keating brings to her writing; it's brimming with knowledge but completely accessible to all kinds of readers.  She wants us to know what she knows.  She wants us to be good citizens of this planet.

She continues the pattern of information supplied to readers in the first two previous titles.  In the first paragraph she captivates us with facts certain to fascinate us.  In the following paragraph she introduces or extends our information about a specific aspect of the animal.  On the right side we are privy to the name, species name, size, diet, habitat and predators and threats of each animal.  Here is a sample passage.

Nope, it's not a figment of your imagination or a character in a video game.  The Blue Dragon is the real deal, and shares its scientific name with the ancient Greek sea god Glaucus.  This squishy blue nudibranch could sit on your fingertip, but don't touch it!  The blue dragon eats venomous creatures like the Portuguese man-of-war.  But instead of getting sick, it stores their venom in its skin and becomes toxic itself. 

With wit illustrator David DeGrand adds his comic cartoons of each critter.  He focuses on a particular point in the narrative providing an exaggerated viewpoint sure to garner laughter.  The guard dogs for the fairy penguins are wearing sun glasses so the attackers are unaware of where they are looking.  The anemones held by the chelipeds of the pom-pom crab do indeed look like their name, but those anemones are shown chomping on food to clean up the crab's home. The blue dragon is carrying a load of bottles labeled with the universal sign for poison, a skull and crossbones.  One of my favorite illustrations is the bare-hearted glass frog shown standing on a branch, singing for a mate.  We can see its heart and intestines.

If you have not added this title to your professional and personal collections yet, run and get a copy or two or three of Cute As An Axolotl: Discovering the World's Most Adorable Animals written by Jess Keating with illustrations by David DeGrand.  As educational and entertaining as the companion titles, readers will reread this until it has the well-loved look.  Jess includes a discussion called The Science of Cute at the conclusion inviting readers to think and talk about what cute means.  A lengthy glossary of useful words follows.

To discover more about Jess Keating and David DeGrand and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Both Jess and David have accounts on Twitter.  On Instagram Jess and David also have accounts.  Jess Keating is interviewed at Booklist.  It is excellent.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Jess stopped by this blog to chat with me about this title and premier the fun book trailer.

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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