Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Children's Book Review, Topsy-Turvy World

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

Children's Book Review
Can you imagine being one of the first Europeans to arrive in Australia? Your eyes would surely have goggled to see a kangaroo bounding along, and the laughter of a kookaburra might have prompted you to doubt your hearing. Is it any wonder naturalist George Shaw thought someone was hoaxing him when he received the skin of a platypus? Like many of the new settlers, when faced with seasons opposite to England, and plants too behaving strangely, you would no doubt have decided that Australia was topsy turvy.

Topsy-Turvy World: How Australian Animals Puzzled Early Explorers was written by Kirsty Murray and illustrated with images from The National Library of Australia's collection. It was published by The National Library of Australia (2012).

To the first Europeans who came to Australia, everything seemed topsy turvy. Christmas was in the summer and trees shed their bark but not their leaves. And the animals were bizarre. There was a bird that laughed like a donkey and a type of greyhound that bound along on its hind legs like a hare. There was an animal in Tasmania whose nocturnal screeches sounded like the devil and a river creature that had a duck’s bill at one end and a beaver’s tail at the other.

The Europeans had never seen anything like these animals before and gave them names similar to those of the European creatures they already knew. They drew and painted odd pictures of them, showing they did not understand the animals’ habits. In one illustration, a wombat is standing on its back legs and in another a Tasmanian tiger is wrestling with a platypus of the same size.

Through factional stories of real characters and events, Kirsty Murray brings alive the wonder and excitement over the first European sightings of Australian animals and the misunderstandings they had about these creatures. Her dramatisations are followed by what we know today about the animals’ habits and by other fascinating facts about them.

I love the way Murray has taken quite a narrow focus with this book, yet crammed it with all sorts of fascinating facts. Kids who are daunted by densely packed text will love that Topsy-Turvy World has so many images, text boxes, and captions to explore. The book encourages readers to compare/contrast what colonists thought of different species, and what we know today. Each section makes an excellent model of informational text brought to life with techniques borrowed from fiction.

If your kids enjoy fascinating non-fiction, or you're searching for a book the whole family can enjoy, check out Topsy-Turvy World: How Australian Animals Puzzled Early Explorers. It would make a wonderful reference book for libraries, particularly those looking for resources to help develop information and visual literacy skills. I think it will also appeal to kids who like to read about and solve puzzles - they'll enjoy identifying the misconceptions early settlers had.

Read more reviews of Topsy-Turvy World: at Buzz Words, at The Reading Stack, and Kids Book Review.

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.

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