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Book Reviews

Wild Babies

by Margriet Ruurs, Andrew Kiss, illus.

Baby Elephant

by Aubrey Lang, Wayne Lynch, illus.

Baby Lion

by Aubrey Lang, Wayne Lynch, illus.

With the arrival of spring come three new picture books featuring baby animals. Baby Elephant. and Baby Lion are the latest additions to the Nature Babies Series by husband-and-wife team Aubrey Lang and Wayne Lynch. Lang and Lynch approach both their subjects and their audience respectfully.

The simple format of these books makes them very accessible to their intended audience of four- to seven-year-olds. They are compact enough to be held by small hands, and the layout includes enough white space to make the visual and textual information easily digestible. Each double-page spread contains a paragraph or two of Lang’s text accompanied by a small photo or two taken by Lynch. The facing page is taken up with a large photo of the animals. The books tell us how long the baby animals will stay with their family, what they eat, and how the family groups travel and relate to one another. All this information is shaped into a loose narrative structure, beginning with an opening page of large-print text to set the scene.

Baby Lion has more narrative tension than Baby Elephant, partly because the pride of lions is undergoing a food shortage and partly because Lynch captured more dramatic action shots of the lions than of the elephants. Baby Elephant is quieter and lumbers along, but is just as pleasant. In the last pages of each book, a useful “Did You Know?” section supplies interesting facts that don’t fit into the main narrative. The index and table of contents, on the other hand, seem unnecessary given the brevity and simplicity of these books. The Nature Babies series centres on photographs, with the purpose of informing in an entertaining way. Reading them feels like being at a good slideshow. But there is always the sense of being separated from the animals by a safe distance and a camera lens, even in the amazingly detailed close-up shots.

Wild Babies approaches its subjects from a different perspective. Although, like the Nature Babies books, the narrative observations are made in the present tense and third person, there is a stronger feeling of immersion in these scenes because of the differences in genre and medium. The pictures in Wild Babies are painted in meticulous detail by Okanagan Valley illustrator Andrew Kiss. In fact, the scenes in this book are so intricate that they easily accommodate hidden objects like animals lurking in the background or words written in the grass – a kind of “I Spy” game that draws readers in more closely. Each double-page spread is devoted to a different animal (12 in all), with a single line of text and a pencil drawing on one page and a full-colour painting on the other. All are creatures found in the forests of Western Canada.

The format leaves little room for naturalistic observations, but some of the information is fleshed out in the legend at the back. Overall, the mood of the book is more contemplative than informative, an impression borne out by Margriet Ruurs’ concise lines of poetic prose. Ruurs and Kiss, who collaborated on A Mountain Alphabet and When We Go Camping, share an appreciation of quiet beauty. Whereas the Nature Babies titles are primary school reference material, this is a book for poring over on a rainy afternoon.