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Animals Eat the Weirdest Things

by Diane Swanson, Terry Smith, illus.

So many animals, so many meals. How to organize hundreds of diners, from tiny insects to dinosaur giants, must have given science writer Diane Swanson pause. She’s done it by food groups of choice: cast-off skin and body parts, carrion, vomit and dung, family members and relations, household items. But the animals who line up at these takeouts and lunch counters are a mixed lot – and that includes humans, known to eat coal tar, tarantulas, and bird’s nest soup. Thus in a single chapter on carrion, for example, Swanson moves from parrots and vultures to beetles and flies, Arctic foxes, wolverines, hyenas, and hagfish. The variety and range of the text, dense with carefully researched information, at times overwhelms and confuses. When the design piles on pictures, fact-boxes, quick facts, and captions, a read-through can feel like channel-surfing. This high-impact presentation continues in the headings, relentlessly alliterative (“Champion Chompers,” “Oceans of Ooze”) and shamelessly punning (“Skin-ny Suppers,” “Mm, Mm, Blood”). The book’s overall emphasis on grossness puts it squarely in the now-common “Euuw, Yuck!” school of kids’ writing. Adults may turn queasy, although for anyone who has ever sung with relish the old camp song “Great big gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts,” this will hit the spot.

Terry Smith’s illustrations work well with the text. The cover painting of a porcupine lunching on an oar is positively endearing – perhaps because its menu choice is a relief from so many slimy ones. In the end Swanson makes the moral clear: one creature’s poison is another creature’s meat, and we can be happy that’s so. If animals were pickier about their food, they’d have a much tougher time surviving and we’d have a huge mess to clean up. Bon appetit!