CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 21. . . .February 5, 2010.
Talking Tails: The Incredible Connection Between People and Their Pets.
Ann Love & Jane Drake. Illustrated by Bill Slavin.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2010.
80 pp., hardcover, $24.99.
Human-animal relationships-Juvenile literature.
Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.
Review by Gillian Richardson.
Riding his bike, Tashiro rounds the corner and startles a resting cat. It hunches in the middle of the path, not moving a muscle. Not even a whisker. Tashiro’s choice is to bounce onto rough ground or run over the cat. He swerves, wondering why it doesn’t move. Back home, Tashiro discovers on the Internet that a threatened cat avoids predators by remaining motionless—a moving target attracts the hunter. Cats also use this tactic when creeping up on prey. They move a few steps, then remain stalk [stock?] still for a long time. Guided by the same survival instincts as their forebears, domestic cats are just a few leaps in from the wild.
It won’t surprise you that all cats come from the same original family of meat-eating, furred, clawed mammals—the Felidae. Over the millennia, three groups emerged: Panthera—all roaring cats including lions, leopards, tigers, cougars and jaguars; Acinonyx—cheetahs, whose claws don’t retract; and Felis—ancestors of the domestic cat. Fossils show that Felis prowled Earth before the extinction of saber-toothed cats.
Kids and pets are a natural fit. Wisely, authors Love and Drake have made use of this affinity for an entertaining, educational and amusing book to suit everyone’s taste in animal companions. After introductory scenarios that show our attraction to pets, and a scientific explanation for why they tug at our emotions, several chapters describe some of the more unusual pets, like exotic fish and reptiles. This is followed by a large section devoted to cat lovers and another to dog lovers. History and facts about the animals’ traits, and various breed details are complemented by good advice for choosing and caring for the pet. True tales about well-known and much loved pets will have the readers musing about similar incidents or shaking their heads in amazement at the antics or intelligence of animal companions. Award-winning illustrator Bill Slavin created the animated pen/ink/watercolor art for extra enjoyment of this book.
The lively, storytelling style makes it an easy book to read, cover to cover. Readers will quickly find themselves involved in many of the chapters that read like short stories with characters, dialogue and plot. Well-researched anecdotes, such as the tale of Polly the infamous Klondike parrot, Mabel the feline ‘greeter’ at a children’s bookstore, Jasper the cat who refused to give up on his absent owners, and Stellar a service dog specially training to summon help for his owner’s seizures, are sure to keep young human noses glued to the page.
Adding an additional layer of interest, a time line, located at the bottom of the pages, runs through the whole book. It begins about 100,000 B.C. and continues to the present day. The authors have dug deep for the fascinating tidbits of history. Who knew that dogs were being trained as hunters as long ago as 7000 B.C., or that medieval monks were the first to domesticate rabbits around A.D. 1000? Now “an estimated 5 million” live as pets in the US. Notes about the origins of breeds are included: “A.D. 1662 Canada: great Pyrenees dogs guarding Basque fishing settlements cross with black English retrievers to create the Newfoundland retriever.” Did you know that gerbils were first bred for pets in Mongolia?
Geared to ages 9-12, but equally appealing to pet-loving adults, the text is tightly written using accessible vocabulary. In only one spot, the reader may find word use puzzling: e.g. the term ‘herp’. We’re told it’s “slang for reptile or amphibian”, but young readers may wonder about the origin.
Talking Tails will be a popular gift book. Give it to young readers with or without pets so they can discover the rich connection to be found in the right pet relationship. Bonus: the dust cover verso is a poster!
Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.
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