When I was a boy, my life-long interest in the world’s natural diversity was awakened by a big, colorful book my parents gave me. “Wonders of Life on Earth” was packed with striking pictures and information about flora and fauna around the world, especially exotic and endangered species. Half a century later, I can close my eyes and picture the cover of that marvelous book.
That’s why I was so moved when I opened up “Can We Save the Tiger?” That’s the newest large-format picture book by Martin Jenkins and illustrator Vicky White. Earlier, ReadTheSpirit recommended their children’s book, “Ape.” Of course, calling these “children’s books” misses the huge opportunity here for entire families to engage in these marvelous experiences.
“Can We Save the Tiger?” really is an experience. The text and illustrations are non-fiction and there’s no traditional storyline. The text is a friendly guided tour through the lives of some of the world’s wildest creatures—with eye-popping illustrations of exotic species like the gigantic Steller’s Sea Cow, which we learn used to live in the North Pacific Ocean but hasn’t been seen since 1768. Or there’s the tiny Broad-Faced Potoroo that looks like a fox-faced mouse, last seen in Australia in 1875.
In addition to the memorable illustrations, the text gives people of all ages the low down on endangered species and the pressures they face. While it might seem unthinkable to kill a tiger, the book explains an all-too-common dilemma: “If you were a poor farmer trying to make a living with a couple of cows and a few goats, you might not be too happy if you found there was a hungry tiger living nearby. And if you knew that someone might pay you more for a tiger skin and some bones than you could earn in three whole months working in the fields, then you might find it very tempting to set a trap or two even if you knew it was against the law. Perhaps it’s not too surprising that there aren’t that many tigers left.”
The book is not a downer, though. The middle section tells some success stories of species that bounced back after careful efforts to monitor and protect them. And the book ends with a challenge that anyone who loves, let’s say, the Chronicles of Narnia will find enticing: We learn about species like tigers and polar bears that are on a dangerous horizon line right now. Perhaps the most exotic creature in this final section is the Kakapo in New Zealand, a strange bird that looks like a blend of an owl and a parrot. Kakapos only come out at night and don’t fly. Many are quite old; a Kakapo can live as long as a human—if we let them. After dark, they shuffle out of their homes and jog along the ground. As of 2011, there are 124 of them left on Earth. Doesn’t that sound like a Narnia kind of challenge to the imagination and to real-world action?
Books open many doorways. Until I explored this new book, I had never heard of the United Nations-sponsored World Wildlife Monitoring Centre. Martin Jenkins is a consultant with the group and some of the information in his book about endangered species comes from the center’s database. If you’re fascinated by these issues, and especially if you’re a parent or educator, you might want to poke around that website a bit. There are lots of intriguing links, such as Green Facts on Health and Environment.
For all those reasons, we recommend: Order a copy of “Can We Save the Tiger?” from Amazon—and there’s even a discount on the book right now.
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(Originally published at readthespirit.com.)