Monday, February 28, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Elephant Talk by Ann Downer

First, a slight digression. There's nothing in this book about Ann Downer's fantasies, but....I would really, really, really like to see another Theodora book. Please? Ok, back to elephants. I know I said I was going to buy mainly sports books this year, but somebody asked for elephant books and I suddenly realized we only had a couple books on elephants - all but one icky and outdated. So I decided I really needed to look at elephant books and this one definitely stands out!

The story of elephant communication and research is introduced with some brief anecdotes of elephants in the wild and zoos, and an overview of elephants in history, their current endangered status, and how learning about their communication may help. Further information on different elephant species and the evolution of elephants is also included. The six chapters of the book cover basic elephant social structure and anatomy, and detailed explanations of how elephants communicate.

But this book is about more than just the sounds elephants make and the herds they create. It's a fascinating look into how large-brained mammals form social ties and interact in a group. There are profiles of various scientists who have investigated different areas of elephant behavior and animal communication, and even several discussions of how elephant and human social connections are similar. I'm thinking someone should have a "bull elephant" group for guys to mentor teen boys...

Excellent sources, a glossary of elephant sounds, suggestions for ways to help elephants indirectly and directly, and an extensive bibliography and reading/website list finish off the story of elephant communication and society. Ann Downer's writing is clear and has a good balance of science facts, research, and stories to hold the reader's interest.

Verdict: This is an excellent middle grade book on elephants with general and historical information added to the specific topic of communication so you could easily make this your one elephant book for older grades. My one complaint has nothing to do with the text....but the binding. This is a perennial complaint of mine. Expensive library bound nonfiction may have been a good idea fifty years ago, but the rapid changes in scientific knowledge and lower circulation of nonfiction (at least in my library) all mean that I'm reluctant to shell out $30 for a library bound book I may need to update in another five years. I'm very frustrated that so many excellent nonfiction publishers offer their books only in library bound and occasionally paperback, which I'm not really supposed to buy. Trade binding please!

ISBN: 9780761357667; Published March 2011 by Lerner; Review copy provided by publisher through NetGalley; Would like to purchase for the library, but it's too pricey for my budget.


Roberta said...

We were on the same wavelength today, because I reviewed a picture book about elephants, Beco's Big Year. I will definitely look for this one. I was looking for a middle grade level, too.


Jennifer said...

oh yes, it's an amazing book, it's just expensive *pout* but Lerner often does a paperback edition later, so you might look for that.

Anonymous said...

It looks beautiful! I love that cover, and will have to add it to my cart.

I find myself getting carried away on the subject of bindings, but in the other direction. We had two books come in that were either damaged in processing or damaged the day after we got them both on the outside of the spine, because they were so freaking flimsy. It looked terrible, and I ended up discarding one after less then a month. Both were on animals actually. The library system I work in has gotten all in for the pawprints editions, which I don't think look so great, but are sturdy. But then, there are people here who will keep a book on the shelf as long as it looks good! /end rant

Jennifer said...

Well, see part of my complaint is there's no CHOICE. I do want certain things in library bindings - animal books for younger kids, really popular graphic novels, etc. But a middle grade book doesn't, to my mind, really need that heavy duty a binding, at least not in my library. Hardcover is fine. I'm still having...discussions over whether it's ok to buy paperback for something nonfiction. I think yes, others think no.