by Karen Dudley, Warren Clark,
64 pages,
ISBN: 0919879810

Giant Pandas

by Karen Dudley, Warren Clark,
64 pages,
ISBN: 091987987X


by Patricia Miller-Schroeder, Warren Clark,
64 pages,
ISBN: 0919879896

Whooping Cranes

by Karen Dudley, Warren Clark,
64 pages,
ISBN: 0919879918

Post Your Opinion
Children's Books
by Bruce Bartlett

This year the Calgary-based educational publisher Weigl is offering a delightful full-colour glossy twelve-book series, The Untamed World. (As well as the four reviewed here, the others in the series are Alligators & Crocodiles, Bald Eagles, Black Rhinos, Blue Whales, Elephants, Great White Sharks, Grizzly Bears, and Jaguars.)

The format allows the books to be enjoyed in different ways. A sixth-grader (or thereabouts) could easily read one straight through for the simple pleasure of the careful text, excellent illustrations, and attractive layout. The same student would readily find enough material in a volume for a class report on a particular species. Chapters from three or four books would furnish Johnny with all he needs for a comparative project about, for example, predators and prey.

The design of the volumes is straightforward: five pages of front-matter (including an introduction), three of back-matter (glossary, reading list, and index), and the fifty-six middle pages divided up more or less equally among nine mini-chapters: (i) Features (e.g., physical appearance and taxonomy); (ii) the group (e.g, The Flock, The Pack); (iii) the offspring (e.g, Panda Cubs, Wolf Pups); (iv) Habitat; (v) Food; (vi) Competition; (vii) Folklore; (viii) Status; (ix) Twenty Fascinating Facts. The last four chapters in particular link up very deftly with the ecology and science-and-society strands so fashionable in today's elementary science curriculums. In Competition, we learn that all four species have had their natural habitats reduced by the spread of agriculture and livestock pastures. In a Folklore section, we are told a charming Tibetan myth which attempts to explain how Giant Pandas (held to originally be pure white) became partly black: their tears caused funereal black armbands to stain their virginal coats. In a Status chapter, we learn that Canada and the U.S. have established a Whooping Crane Recovery Program that involves captive breeding at three locations (one at the Calgary Zoo). But to release these zoo-bred birds into the wild would be a problem, since they have never learned to find food or to recognize their natural predators. From Fascinating Facts: Did you know that wolves can travel at up to 70 kph over short distances? Or that the "alpha" wolves (the higher-ranking members of the pack) do not allow the lower male members to mate?

If there is one nit to pick, it might be in the choice of the series title, The Untamed World. Does it not tend to conjure up an image of unexploited, pristine wilderness? By my rough count, all but one (the sharks) of the dozen species in this series rank in some fashion or other as "endangered". The choice of which animals to feature in the series seems to hang on their status as creatures not only exotic, but also imperilled. However subtly, these books leave the reader with a sense that the niches inhabited by these vulnerable creatures are ones that homo sapiens has often irresponsibly "tamed". Indeed, the Status chapters make it clear that these creatures are caught up in an Over-Tamed World, not isolated in an Untamed one. Arguably to its credit, however, the series avoids a strident or explicit pro-conservationist tone. Some highlights or sidebars tacitly get the message across ("At one time wolves had the largest range of any land mammals except humans"; "The future of the Rwandan people and the Mountain gorillas are closely linked."). The series could be an excellent reference for projects on imperilled species and the measures taken to protect them. Indeed, there are all kinds of good reasons for librarians to get this superb series on their shelves. 

Bruce Bartlett is a Toronto writer.


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us