________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 7 . . . . November 26, 2004


Tree of Life: The Incredible Biodiversity of Life on Earth.

Rochelle Strauss. Illustrated by Margot Thompson.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2004.
40 pp., cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 1-55337-669-2.

Subject Headings:
Biology-Classification-Juvenile literature.
Biological diversity-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-10 / Ages 9-15.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

***½ /4


Invertebrates live everywhere on Earth - on land and in water. They range from sea sponges, corals and jellyfish, to insects, spiders and worms. About the only thing they all have in common is that none of them has a backbone. Instead, many have an exoskeleton - a tough, outer covering that protects them.

Of all the invertebrates, insects are probably the most familiar, for good reason - they make up more than three-quarters of all invertebrates.

The Tree of Life is a way to organize, or "classify," all life. By organizing living things into different branches, we can better understand how closely - or distantly - they are related.


This introductory statement sets the tone for a kid-friendly, cleverly illustrated explanation of biological classification from the smallest life form to our own species that is represented by a single leaf on the Tree. Five kingdoms (according to the author, there may soon be more if viruses are given their own branch) are each detailed on a double-page spread including a brief description, list of species and focus (text and illustration) on a few fascinating examples. Once the book reaches the Animal Kingdom, it concentrates on that branch alone, examining invertebrate and vertebrate species in general before narrowing the focus further to fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. The final page on actual classification illustrates the single human species. This page reverses the breakdown, showing how humans fit within the context of primates, mammals, vertebrates, animals, and as one of 1, 750, 000 total species on the Tree of Life. The final statement on this page - "Yet, with a population of over six billion, humans have the greatest impact on the Tree of Life." - sums up the book's rationale: how the incredible variety of life (biodiversity) interacts.

     Several pages near the end of the book address the issue of fostering a biodiversity ethic among youngsters. The rate at which extinctions and new species discoveries happen, and how we need to remember we are part of the whole ecosystem of Earth are addressed. Suggestions for ways to become a guardian of biodiversity are outlined: self-education, practising reducing/recycling/reusing, creation and restoration of habitat, sharing knowledge. A final page of Notes to Parents, Teachers and Guardians urges "...work nature into everything you study." To this end, the publisher will make a donation to the World Wildlife Fund for each book sold.

     The illustrator has used the leaf motif throughout to frame individual species drawings. Each page includes a small tree diagram with a proportional yellow patch to represent a species in comparison to the whole tree. This visual clue works well although the single human “leaf” is difficult to discern against the white page background. The fact that it is hard to see, of course, reinforces the message that we are but one species in the whole scheme of things. However, an alternate colour choice might have stood out a little clearer. The cover is an interesting depiction of a small human looking up through the “leaves” of other species, appearing suitably insignificant in size while he is obviously placed in a position to see, and share it all.

     This book will be an excellent discussion starter for environmental units and taxonomy.

Highly Recommended.

A BC resident, Gillian Richardson, a former teacher-librarian, is a freelance writer.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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