For young readers: ‘How to Clean a Hippopotamus'

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

HOW TO CLEAN A HIPPOPOTAMUS

A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships

By Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Houghton Mifflin. $16, ages 6-9

A hygienic hippo is only part of the bigger story here. This smart picture book about animal symbiosis features five illustrations on its opening spread, each paired up with a question such as "Why does a giraffe let an oxpecker climb into its ear?" or "Why does a plover stroll into a crocodile's mouth?" The rest of the book answers these questions and many more, with Jenkins's charming cut-and-torn-paper collages arranged in panels of different shapes and sizes that help explain "give-and-take" in the wild. The plover, or "the toothpick bird," dines on the meat scraps that get stuck in the Nile crocodile's teeth. The tuatara, a nocturnal lizardlike reptile from New Zealand, shares a nest with the diurnal petrel, a sea bird. The petrel builds the nest, which the tuatara defends and keeps pest-free. Husband-and-wife team Jenkins and Page make it clear, though, that the animals aren't behaving cooperatively to be nice, but "only because the partnership somehow helps them survive." The text is concise and informative throughout, while the illustrations provide a sense of scale, detail, color and drama. They are engaging even when showing a sweet-looking prairie dog who's about to run into the jaws of a waiting badger. The badger's partner is a coyote who's pouncing at the other end of the prairie dog's burrow.

-- Abby McGanney Nolan


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