Monday, July 18, 2016

Nonfiction Monday: Hungry Coyote by Cheryl Blackford, illustrated by Laurie Caple

This is a little different from the nonfiction picture books I usually get excited about and I have some concerns about the accuracy, but it would be great to spark a discussion with kids.

The story follows a male coyote through four seasons. It begins in the cold winter as the coyote hunts for food under the snow. Next comes spring and the coyote mates and has cubs, still hunting for food in the ponds and woods. In summer there is more food to be found both in the wild and in the urban areas the coyote moves through; he and his family enjoy a treat of stolen sausages. Finally, fall arrives and winter returns. A brief informational note discusses how coyotes adapt and live in both urban and rural environments.

The big draw for me is the lovely artwork. Caple's rich illustrations show the coyote's quiet integration into urban life as he slinks through the fields, across bridges, and by roads. The effortless detail not only gives an accurate picture of the coyote's behavior but also parallels it to human life, as he watches humans interact with the seasons as well. There are also different things to find in the pictures, like the vole the coyote is hunting or the soft whiteness of falling snow.

My main issue is with the text. It feels as though it is struggling to be poetic but only ends up sounded forced. "Coyote skulks until everyone leaves. He drools, darts, and snatches." or "Near the shore, water birds snooze in feathery flocks. Shaggy shadows stalk, bounce, and pounce." It's not exactly poorly written, it's more that it would make a difficult read-aloud to wiggly children because of the wordiness and while I enjoy teaching kids new words, there are too many unfamiliar adjectives to dump on them all at once. My other concern is factual - the coyote who is the main protagonist of the story is clearly male. He dens with his mate, hunts for the pups, and then takes them out to teach them to hunt. That didn't sound right to me; a quick search informed me that while male coyotes may hunt for and regurgitate food for their pups, the female doesn't allow them in the den and they do not stay together as a "family". Also, the female teaches the pups. Of course, I'm not an expert in coyote behavior and they are very adaptable, but females, not males, teaching pups to hunt and survive is fairly common in animal life and I found it exasperating that the author chose to...give the coyotes' traditional gender roles? I don't know, maybe I'm overthinking it. I would like some fact-checking and more sources listed though to justify this.

Verdict: I loved the art, not so much the text. This is a small press title and therefore more expensive, but the lack of materials on coyotes makes it a strong purchase for my library. If I used it in storytime we would probably discuss the pictures though and skip most of the text. I won't wholeheartedly recommend or not recommend this; I feel like I don't know enough about coyote behavior to accurately judge.

ISBN: 9780873519649; Published 2015 by the Minnesota Historical Press; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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