CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 11 . . . . January 25, 2008
The book is earnest and overwritten. Stern anthropomorphizes the orangutans, giving them names and having them attend ‘swing school’ so they can glide through the rainforest with ease. They boast and bicker about their prowess, and Ori, shouts, “I’m not a baby anymore, you know!” and stalks off with a banana into a box with four wheels. Of course, that box on wheels is a truck, and Ori is kidnaped by poachers. Poaching is one of the reasons that many animal species are endangered. The animals are sold to zoos, private collectors and for food and various medicinal purposes; the death rate is many times the survival rate. In combination with a reduced area in which to live, the ability of these species to reproduce in sustainable numbers is dwindling. In this story, all the inhabitants of the rainforest – Allie Cros, Holly Hoopoe, Figgy the Frog Brenda Butterfly and even the dreaded tiger, One-Fang Flossie, team up to scare off the poachers and rescue Ori. All’s well that ends well, and Ori promises never to wander off again.
The storyline tries to wrap in the topics of deforestation and human encroachment without developing them. Stern tries to teach everything about orangutans and the rainforest as well as tell a complicated tale, resulting in a muddled text. The text lurches from scientific information about the animals and the environment:
and back to the cutsy plot in which the animals are engaged in very human activities. Stern has difficulty trying to describe people in the way that animals might see them:
Two poems, both entitled ‘Do Animals Cry,’ are found at the front and back pages, a plea to save the ‘friendimals’ and the unusual entreaty that children should pamper and play with the endangered animal friends (!). The illustrations by Alex Walton are capable and creative, but, like the story, are over the top, with the primates adopting very human facial expressions and the females adorned with flowers in their hair. The characters are identified by name before the title page, and then labels are inserted again, inexplicably and inappropriately, at the suspenseful moment when Ori is kidnaped. While Ori looks back with horror at leaving his family, the phrase ‘banana peels’ distracts the reader’s attention. There are no other labeled pages.
Young children would not be able to read this book on their own – the reading level is for children ages 8-10. The digressions and complicated story also make it less suited to younger children. Teachers and parents looking for fiction books to teach young children about the dangers to animal species should look to the writings of Lynn Cherry, author of The Great Kapok Tree, and many more excellent books. They display stronger plot development, believable characters and more subtle delivery of information and the important message they want to impart. Susan K. Mitchell’s The Rainforest Grew All Around adapts a well-known nursery rhyme that will surely please and educate this target group and children up to eight years of age.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.