Monday, September 24, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Secrets of the Garden: Food chains and the food web in our backyard by Kathleen Zoehfeld, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont

I mostly liked this nonfiction title, and I think it would make a pretty good read-aloud, but a few things gave me pause. The book is rather cluttered with speech balloons, illustrations of food chains, talking chickens, people, and more. However, this isn't a big deal.

The two things that did really bother me are a bit amorphous, but really bugged me. First, when the rabbits show up to eat some of the lettuce, the cat chases them away. "Honey will be good at keeping the rabbit away from our lettuce." Now, I've never heard of using cats as guard animals in the garden; but I have heard about the millions of birds domestic cats kill every year. This isn't really my subject, so I don't know how true it is but I would think that if you're trying to grow an organic garden or encourage wildlife, or if you want birds and not pesticides to eat your pests, having your cat killing that same wildlife is a Bad Idea.

The other thing that bothered me was kind of a theme throughout the book. It's supposed to be about food chains and the food web, right? Well, it is, starting with simple food chains like "lettuce grows, rabbit eats lettuce" and going to more advanced food webs. However, there's an odd sentimentality about any food chains involving carnivores. The hawk catches a grasshopper, not the mouse shown in the food chain and the text says "Yikes! Better stay in your nest, mice!". It's never suggested that anybody might eat the chickens - only their eggs are included in the food chain. Also, the word "omnivores" is never defined, although you can kind of figure it out from the text.

I think the decision to have anthropomorphized animals, mainly talking chickens, was a bad choice when writing a book about food chains and food webs.

Verdict: The basic idea of the book is good, but it's too cluttered and disorganized for my taste. It's more a gardening than a food chain book. Again, we have the extreme reluctance of children's picture books to admit that yes, animals do eat each other. I appear to be the only dissenting voice in the love for this title, so you can probably chalk it up to my weirdness and go ahead and buy it. But it still bugs me.

ISBN: 9780517709900; Published February 2012 by Knopf; Borrowed from the library


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, interesting review. In my experience my kids are amazingly unsentimental about food chains and carnivores. They know that animals eat each other, they accept it and move on. The hawk isn’t mean it’s just hungry.

Jennifer said...

Yeah, most kids I've met are pretty matter of fact about it (when they're not ghoulishly delighted). It's a certain group of parents that get freaked out by anything approaching death/violence, no matter how natural it is.