The US Review of Books
Hanging Out with Wild Animals: Book I
by Cheryl Batavia
book review by Donna Ford
“Beyond my lifetime, shark teeth
will still wash upon the beach.
I leave behind…Poems
and shark teeth given away.”
Children are always fascinated by the habits of animals which they share themselves–like eating, sleeping, and pooping. Batavia points out a variety of fun facts in this delightful 24-page children’s book which uses a combination of captivating poetry and photography to highlight the lives of twenty creatures of the wild and their true-to-life habitats. For example, flamingos eat shrimp, which is why they are pink. The black racer is a snake that eats many lizards but is itself the occasional dinner for hawks. The pelican uses its large bill to catch its supper of fish. Raccoons and armadillos leave behind garbage and poop in exchange for their favorite backyard foods. Bobcats are insomniacs (Watch out, little bunny rabbit!), while caterpillars are always in a hurry, munching vegetables to become future butterflies.
Long-legged birds native to the author’s southern home include sandhill cranes, flamingos, and great blue herons. Readers may find similar species in the north during summer months, including (the author chuckles) many plastic flamingos planted in the yards of northerners. As part of the author’s educational process, she mentions several prehistoric species. Ancient sharks left behind their teeth as evidence that they were once sea predators; soft-shell turtles and alligators still exist to further represent the prehistoric category. The author warns of the red tide that can be deadly to sharks and which also makes her cough and rub her eyes when it comes ashore.
Endangered habitats are introduced along with the species they protect. The Florida scrub jay and gopher tortoise live in a preserve near the author. She uses this information as a teaching moment to advocate for preservation–an important component of living with wild animals. Additional research which the author recommends is likely to reveal that there are endangered species living in the reader’s own neighborhood.
As a retired teacher, Batavia knows how to engage her young readers even while educating them. The author shares with her audience real-life experiences regarding the animals that live near her Florida home. With clever poetic promptings, the author instructs readers to look on the internet or question the zookeeper, thus encouraging their participation in this adventure. As an articulate poet, the author can turn a phrase easily to accomplish her objective of delivering facts along with a smile. Children will enjoy such entertaining samples of verse in this book: “Plant peanuts, squirrel; I don’t mind” and “dolphins all have friendly smiles. One even winked at me.” Local observation will also reveal birds of many colors, insects with fascinating life cycles, and mammals who raise their offspring right in the reader’s yard. Parents will be grateful that the author wisely provides a list of safety tips and warnings for young explorers that include: keep your distance, and do not touch them; do not feed wild animals people food; don’t release unwanted pets. A positive action can also be to plant a garden to attract butterflies.
Batavia credits several sources for the stunning full-color photography she was able to find in the public domain. The animals seem to step or fly right off the skillfully laid out pages and into the welcoming hearts of both children and parents.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review