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Animal Talk: How Animals Communicate Through Sight, Sound and Smell

by Etta Kaner, Greg Douglas, illus.

Invariably when children think about animals talking, their first thoughts are of the many articulate animals they’ve encountered in books, movies, and cartoons. Etta Kaner’s latest book on animal behaviour, Animal Talk, entertainingly and informatively introduces children to how animals really talk to each other, using sound, body language, smell, and vibrations.

In concise prose, Kaner, a Toronto author and teacher, outlines the many ways animals communicate a wide variety of emotions and messages from maternal affection, attraction, and anger to danger and attack signals. Throughout, Kaner effectively uses analogies and comparison, striking an ideal balance between making children aware of the similarities between animal and human nature, but also respectfully cognizant of the differences so as not to anthropomorphize animals into cuddly creatures.

Animal Talk is packed with fascinating facts. To say hi, elephants touch each other’s trunk tips. Even in a crowded breeding ground, when mother penguins and sea lions call out for their pups, only their offspring come speeding toward mama. When male fireflies, who have a lantern organ on their bellies, are in the mood for love, they flash, as Kaner puts it, a “Valentine message” to nearby female fireflies.

Greg Douglas’s strikingly photo-realistic illustrations convey texture powerfully. His drawing of a mother and baby penguin is so colourfully vivid and detailed that you swear you could feel their bristling gray fur and the bony ridges of their beaks in your fingertips.

Kaner closes the book with the ageless conundrum: if animals could talk to humans, what would they say to budding Dr. Doolittles? After learning sign language, not only was Koko the gorilla able to sign her feelings of being mad, sad, or curious but she also combined signs to name her pet kitten All Ball.