CM . . . .
Volume V Number 1 . . . . September 4, 1998
The ocean meadows are in bloom. The sea is thick with life, and for the harp seal pups, life as apprentice hunters is easy. They simply swim along and suck in small crustaceans, mostly euphausids and amphipods, an endless feast of shrimp like animals rich in fat and protein. With the negligent ease of someone picking titbits from a lavish plate, they feast for two or three weeks. Then one pup and another and finally all of them yield to a compelling urge to swim north and east toward the Strait of Belle Isle, which separates Newfoundland from Labrador. The great migration has begun.Two internationally respected photographer-writers have joined forces to produce this book which chronicles the natural history of the harp seal. Were it not for its serious subject matter, this title, with its collection of over 135 large colour photographs, might qualify as a "coffee table" book. It tells the story of one female seal's experience - mating, migration, the birth and care of her pup and the subsequent abandonment of her offspring. Equally compelling is the description of the cruel slaughter of hundreds of thousands of seal pups which took place during the 1960's and 70's and the steps taken by various organizations to stop the seal hunt.
Written in the present tense, the text reads like the narration for a National Geographic nature TV special [not surprising, for Davies, one of the book's co-authors, is a documentary filmmaker as well as a writer-photographer]. The layout of the book is attractive and balanced. Organized into ten chapters, the book contains abundant, detailed information gleaned from the authors' many years of studying the seals firsthand. The seals' appealing physical and behavioral characteristics, as well as their hostile, yet beautiful, icy habitat, are captured in glorious full colour photographs, many of them double-page spreads, and all of them clearly labelled. Some of the photos are almost identical in content, leading one to believe that the photographers couldn't decide which ones to eliminate from their vast collection, and so they included them all - a bit of overkill perhaps.
The text is printed in a simple font, but the rich vocabulary is far too difficult for most elementary school readers. An overabundance of details will also deter younger students from using this book for a research project.
Proponents of animal rights, however, will find this book fascinating and informative, for it is obvious, right from its onset, that this is not just a story of the harp seal's life, but an appeal to the general public to put a stop to animal cruelty and, particularly, to the seal hunt which began anew in 1996 after the collapse of the Canadian cod fishery.
Though many readers will enjoy the book's photographs, its advanced vocabulary limits its usefulness to only the best readers in an elementary school setting.
Recommended with reservations.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, Manitoba.
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Copyright © 1998 the Manitoba Library Association.
Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice
is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without
Copyright © 1998 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.