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From The CriticsThe four books Killer Whale, Lion, Tiger, and Elephant, from the Natural World series, have different authors, but a similar format, introducing the biology of a large mammal with color photographs and a few paragraphs of text on each page. Inserts highlight summary topics, such as "elephant facts" or "tiger cubs." Each book includes sections that cover birth, development, and conservation, including such topics as "Growing Up," "Learning to Hunt," and "Threats." A summary of the life cycle of the animal, a glossary, a guide to further information on the topic, and an index are included in each volume.
The text of the books is generally clear and well organized. Designations of species, however, vary from confusing in some of the books to straightforward in others. Tiger begins, "Until recently, there were eight subspecies of tigers, but today only five are left. The Caspian tiger, once found in northern Iran, became extinct in the 1950's." There is no explanation of what a subspecies is, where northern Iran is, or how the Caspian tiger became extinct. Other small features make the books less than perfectly clear. For example, the lion's gestation period is said to be three months in one place and 16 weeks in another; and measures (distances, weights, lengths, etc.) are given in English and metric units, but only rarely is the measure compared to something that would be familiar to students. There are also needless inconsistencies between the books. For instance, under "Tiger Facts," we learn that the tiger's "Latin name" is Panthera tigris, but two of the other books refer (more appropriately) to the "scientific name"; and in Elephant, we are given the scientific names in parentheseswithout being told what they are.
Overall, however, the text of all four books does a reasonable job of conveying a great deal of information. The conservation message at the end is effectively tailored to each animal: "The biggest threat to elephants is the trade in ivory, which comes from their tusks." Declines in populations of animals, however, should be shown graphically to reinforce the rather confusing numbers in the text.
In general, the photographs are of good quality and are well integrated with the text. Elephants, for example, includes large, clear photographs of a baby elephant attempting to nurse, elephants at water holes, elephants feeding, and many others. However, the photograph of the hyrax is greatly enlarged, with no indication of the actual size of the animal. The photographs in Killer Whale are outstanding, including one of killer whales waiting next to a group of penguins and a series showing killer whales hunting sea lions. In Lion, the many excellent photographs include views of lion cubs nursing, cubs in dens, and cubs being carried by a lioness. In Tiger, there are again numerous excellent photographs, but the placement of some is confusing, since they appear to have been selected to show diversity rather than to reinforce the text. As a result, where the text discusses deer, the photograph on that page shows buffalo; where the text tells how tigers hunt porcupines, the photograph shows rhinos; and where the text mentions wild dogs, the photograph shows sloths. Some of the other graphics are less successful. The range maps, for example, are very difficult to interpret. The color key is incorrect in Killer Whale, and there are no labels on continents or countries. The color keys are correct in the other three books, but only Africa and India are labeled on the map in Lions, and none of the other maps have labels. Place names throughout the text contain inconsistencies. For example, in Killer Whale, one page refers to Punta Norte as being in Argentina, and another says it is in Patagonia. This isn't incorrect, of course, but it is confusing to readers who might not know that Patagonia is in Argentina. In Tigers, place names are given with no information as to how to locate the places, as, for example, in the statement, "They can live over 13,000 ft. (4,000 m) up in the mountains of Bhutan or at the edge of the sea in mangrove swamps of the Sundarbans in India." The same paragraph also mentions Burma (Myanmar) and Bangladesh.
The food chains are illustrated nicely. In Killer Whale, a food web is presented, although it is labeled a food chain. In Lion, the food web is made more complicated than is necessary by including separate lines designating which lion prey eat either grasses, leaves and bark, or bulbs, and no explanation is given in the text.
At the end of each book, the text encourages the reader to become involved in conservation by joining one or more organizations listed after the glossary: "You can help by joining one of these groups and becoming involved in the elephants future." Unfortunately, in Lions and Killer Whales, although the text directs you to look for the list of organizations and their addresses, none is included. There are, however, lists of relevant books and Web sites.
A summary of the life cycle of the animal is included after the text in each book. This is a nice idea to reinforce the text, with a photograph of each developmental stage alongside a short explanation. The glossaries are adequate, although some obvious words ("echolocation," "krill," "dentine," "subspecies") are omitted. In Killer Whales, the term "Antarctic" is used in the text, but the glossary only refers only to the "South Pole" (under "Polar"). The indexes appear to be well constructed.
In sum, each of the four books in the Natural World Series provides an enjoyable introduction to the biology of a large mammal. Middle to upper elementary school students will find them a useful and informative reference. (from the Natural World Series.) Recommended, Grades 3-6. REVIEWER: Dr. Judy Diamond (University of Nebraska State Museum)