Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hip-Pocket Papa

Sandra Markle always seems to strike just the right balance between fact and fiction. I suppose her books are technically classified as non-fiction, but they also provide the dimensions of a fictional story, which makes them twice as interesting. Yes, we all should enjoy learning, but Sandra knows just how to zoom in on one specific animal to really get the readers emotionally invested in her story.

The hero of our story is .... a hip pocket frog? I haven't ever personally heard of these particular devils - although that's hardly surprising considering how slim my knowledge base is on frogs and toads. For the frog clueless like me, these are very small (no bigger than your thumbnail) dark brown frogs who dwell in Australia. These frogs earned their name by the unique way the males help develop their young. The tadpoles hatch from eggs like any other number of frogs. However, these frogs then slide into skin pockets along the sides of their father's body. Hip pocket papa carries his young tucked into his side pouches until they are fully developed frogs! That odd little quirk makes them pretty darn interesting, I think.  

Our story opens with a pair of hip pocket frogs - expectant parents who guarding their cache of eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the father steps up to perform his task of securing his brood in his hidden hip pockets. When he is not hunting for food, this clever frog buries himself in leaves to hide from predators. At the same time, he is careful to keep his skin wet at all times, as the tadpoles need to be wet to breathe. Father frog carries his tadpoles for nearly a month before the tadpoles are ready to emerge, hopping out as fully formed frogs. 

I was surprised to discover just how truly stunning the forest illustrations are in this book. You might expect frog habitats to be dull, but brilliant golds, browns and greens shine here. Some books, and this is obviously one of them, have illustrations so beautiful that my first inclination is to rip them right out and tack them up on my walls.  It seems almost a shame to close the cover and hide these from view.    

My only complaint, which doesn't have a thing to do with this book, is that I was a little disappointed to find that Sandra Markle doesn't have a personal website. It seemed to me that someone with her considerable artistic talent would naturally boast a neat, science-y, interactive site. But I can't complain too much that she prefers to spend her time writing phenomenal books like these for us to enjoy.

So maybe just ignore that nitpicking and instead check out a really lovely and wonderful book on some unusual frogs that really does deserve your attention!

Review copy provided by Charlesbridge. 

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