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TOOLING AROUND by Ellen Jackson


Crafty Creatures and the Tools They Use

by Ellen Jackson ; illustrated by Renné Benoit

Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-58089-564-4
Publisher: Charlesbridge

The use of tools by nonhuman animals is explored via 11 animals, each with its own watercolor portrait, rhymed couplet and explanatory gloss.

Unfortunately, in the attempt to rhyme, most of the couplets fail to be clear or memorable. Even the prose is not always clear, as in “Elephants strip leaves from branches. They use the stripped branches to swat flies or other insects that bite them.” (Are the “other insects” attacking the flies or the elephants?) The author’s note is equally difficult to read, perhaps attempting, but failing, to adapt to beginning readers. Probably the best verse—and also the most whimsical art—is this: “Here’s a deer who’s quite well dressed, / wearing grass to look his best.” The single sentence that follows adds, anthropomorphically, “Male red deer smear their antlers with mud or grass to appear bigger and fiercer to other males and more attractive to females.” The sturdy stag is staring into the distance, its antlers interlaced with ferns and grasses. Depictions of flora and fauna show excellent composition and promising, if overworked, artistry, but at the book’s beginning and end, awkward paintings of children sadly match dismally unimaginative verses: “Tools help us everywhere, / on the earth and in the air.” Alas: Where are the limericks of yore, with the pelican whose “bill can hold more than his belican”?

The layout and concept deserve better material.

(author’s note, list of animals’ habitat ranges, resources for children, bibliography) (Informational picture book. 4-8)