Monday, October 5, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Sand Swimmers: The secret life of Australia's Desert Wilderness by Narelle Oliver

When I started reading this book, I was confused, skeptical, unsure. But it dragged me in and by the time I reached the end, I had to go back and read it again. It's a unique blend of nonfiction and artistic style that I've never seen before.

The art, informational text, excerpts from historical documents, and inset small panels flow across the page, taking readers down into the seemingly arid desert that is secretly full of life. The book contrasts the life of the desert and the animals and Aboriginal people who lived there for thousands of years with the view of the European settlers who found it a deadly and dead wasteland. Some pictures are like a puzzle, looking for the camouflaged animals a game. Others show the plants and animals in different groupings or habitats. Many illustrations and examples take a quote from European explorers such as Charles Sturt, talking about how lifeless the desert was, and then show the many different plants and animals they missed.

The art varies from sketches to stylized woodcuts, to full paintings. There's a fascinating variety in the styles used that move the reader easily between different perspectives and time periods.

Verdict: While Australian desert wildlife isn't something rural Wisconsin kids have probably ever thought much about, besides kangaroos, this is an amazing way to present not only the wildlife but the history of an area. It would be really interesting to go through it with elementary-aged kids and then work on creating similar projects for other areas they're interested in, or local areas. It's different but really cool. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780763667610; Published 1999 in Australia; Published 2015 by Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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