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Children's LiteratureThis life cycle of the giant saguaro cactus found in the Sonora Desert of North America uses a narrative pattern loosely based on "The House That Jack Built." A pack rat carries the fruit pod bursting with seeds across the desert while pursued by a rattlesnake, a bird (later identified as a roadrunner but not called so in the text), a coyote, and a looming storm dramatically portrayed in sweeping purples and oranges with the striking green upthrusts of the giant saguaros. The desert storm scares away the pursuers, the pack rat drops the fruit, the seed slowly took root, and a giant saguaro grew. The operant word there is "slowly," as an afterword provides a timeline that shows how a saguaro grows to 6 feet in 35 years but takes about 100 years to grow its first arms. An afterword provides the cactus information young readers crave, and another page gives "fun facts" about the four animals, including whether they are omni-, carni-, or herbivores. On its own or paired with Brenda Guiberson's Cactus Hotel, which emphasizes the saguaro's importance to the many animals who dwell in the desert, this book provides elementary school readers with plenty of information about the giant cactus. Rangner's colorful and close-up paintings of the desert include other insects and several other types of cacti, plus three predators who smile with friendly interest rather than evil intentions of having the pack rat for lunch—a fact that may encourage young readers but will bother older ones who know something about the food chain. However, this beautifully illustrated story makes the giant saguaro seem even more marvelous and calls attention to the beauties of the desert and its ecology. 2003,Rising Moon, Ages 4 to 8.
— Susan Hepler, Ph.D.