Monday, June 02, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: Face to Face With Lions




Face to Face With Lions by Beverly and Dereck Joubert. Photographed by Berverly Joubert. National Geographic, 2008 (978-1-4263-0207-7) $16.95

There's a lot that appeals in this new series by National Geographic: plenty of striking photographs of course, an effective design, many interesting extra features. What really worked for me, though, was the use of first person narrative by people who've worked with the animals for a long time. The personal touch makes the information flow and the facts come to life.

Joubert draws us in from the start with an exciting and funny story about how he and his wife Beverley had an encounter with an unfamiliar lion. "We live by an important rule out here. If a lion charges, we stand out ground. If we ran, it would turn into a cat-and-mouse game. And that's a game we couldn't win. So we faced down the angry lion." Joubert is impressed by how perfectly still his wife manages to be, only realizes after the encounter is over that she had very sensibly backed slowly away.

Following this, we learn about the areas where lions live, about the course of their lives, and about the issues that threaten them. Personal information keeps the narrative lively: "We love to watch lions with cubs. Sometimes you'll see the cubs running, leaping, biting an ear, attacking a tail. The cubs in a pride are usually born around the same time. They suckle the milk from any mother they come across any time. After three of four months, I doubt whether the mothers even know which cubs are theirs." Throughout the book the photographs, all labeled with extra detail, are exciting and eye-catching, ranging from the aggressive grandeur of the pack leaders to the cuteness of the cubs. There's a bit of realistic gore, as this is a book about predators, but I think only very sensitive children would find it too much.

Extra features at the end of the book include a section on how to help endangered creatures, suggestions for observing lions in a zoo, a round-up of general facts, a glossary, books and websites, and an index. Even the research and photographic notes have a personal touch, describing sitting in 128 degree temperatures for 12 hours straight, only to lose a perfect shot to a dead battery.

This is an excellent choice for school and public libraries and might even be able to turn on kids who aren't usually attracted to nonfiction. (6-9)

Find more excellent nonfiction at the Nonfiction Monday Round Up.

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