Jenkins explains in clear, nonjudgemental terms the intricacies of people and animals sharing a planet. “It’s home not just to billions of people, but to the most amazing number of other kinds of living things, too. And, we’re all jostling for space.” That’s it in a nutshell.
After setting the stage—billions of people and an amazing number of other living things—he explains that humans have changed the world over the years and some animals and plants have coped with the changes while others have not. “In fact, some have coped so badly that they’re not here anymore. They’re extinct.”
Jenkins’s sensitive and insightful words share the page with Vicky White’s dramatic field-study style drawings. Some sketches are black and white, while others are subtly colored with beautifully blended tones. All of the images are detailed, life-like representations of some of the worlds most threatened animals. The drawings are arrange in a bold and powerful way, often breaking the plane of the page. A white rhinoceros head that enters the page from the left gives a sense of the animal’s enormous size.
White uses size and scale beautifully, to illustrate the plight of the partula snail—a very small, gentle snail. This snail lived peacefully on islands in the Pacific Ocean until people began to arrive. Settlers brought with them giant African land snails because they are good to eat—they make delicious snail soup— and easy to look after. The giant African land snail took well to the islands, and soon there were too many to eat. They became so plentiful that they began to devour the crops on the islands. In hopes of getting them under control, the settlers introduced another snail—the rosy euglandina. The idea was that the rosy euglandina would eat the giant African land snail and stop them from eating everyone’s crops. Unfortunately, the euglandinas found the partula snails much more appetizing and started eating them instead. This story opens with an image of a partula snail. It appears alone in the lower right corner of a white page. The snail’s fragile state and vulnerability are palpable. A drawing of the giant African land snail follows across the next two pages—its presence so invasive it can’t be contained on a single page. Enter the rosy euglandina. White chooses to illustrate its overwhelming effect with one color drawing nestled into the text and an entire page of sketches showing the snail on the move. Poetic and poignant.
Jenkins closes the book with progress, hope, and a challenge. “These animals were all once endangered but are now doing well.” Millions of American bison were reduced to two small herds. Because of peoples actions, they are now more than 500,000 strong. Fewer than 30 white rhinoceros were living on the planet at the end of the nineteenth century. People noticed, took action and now there are about 17,500 living in eastern and southern Africa. Progress and hope.
Rodrigues flying fox, whooping crane, Bermuda petrel, kakapo and the polar bear “are some of the animals that have been brought back from the brink of extinction but are still very rare,” Jenkins writes. He challenges us to to keep “looking after all the species that are endangered.” If we don’t, we may end up living in a world “where there are no tigers or elephants, or sawfishes or whooping cranes, or albatrosses or ground iguanas. And I think that would be a shame, don’t you?
I have read this book to children in kindergarten, preschoolers, and campers at summer camp. All have connected with a least one animal’s story: the tiger, the snail, the polar bear, even the unattractive vulture (you’ll have to read the book to learn its story). That connection might be all they need to become future conservationists, who devote their lives to the protection of the animals with whom we share this remarkable planet.