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Survival at 120 Above - Debbie S. Miller, Jon Van Zyle For a US reader, the draw of this book is the range of unknown animals. The well-known mouse, kangaroo, and owl are more than balanced by unique Aussie animals like the dunnart, the spadefoot frog, and thorny devil. Australia is interesting, and I even know classes of Kindergartners who have gone on an Australia kick and checked out every book in the library.

Lu Benke told me one of the hallmarks of high-circulating dinosaur books is dynamic illustrations of animals in motion--this is what gets a dinosaur book to circulate. I would expect the same principle of engagement would hold true of animal books. In this one we have only hints of movement (the dingo illustration is a good one). Granted, we're looking at 120F, and one may not see a lot of animals running around, but the text is full of descriptions of life action. Plus, it's not like they had to go through the trouble of capturing photos of those moments--Jon Van Zyle gets to paint what he wants!

The paintings of the dunnart, mouse, and mulgara looked almost exactly alike. While these small animals may actually look a lot alike, it's the painter's job to help me see them with new eyes, or else to paint animals that don't look the same. These are all choices. Also, there are descriptions of the ningaui and a feral cat that get no illustration. Since it felt like the function of the book was to illustrate Australian animals, so I felt cheated getting only a text description of these.

This kind of survey of animals is increasingly inappropriate in the information age, where we can easily look up Animals of the Simpson Desert National Park (which has been renamed Munga-Thirri National Park since the book went into print). In the current informational climate, an emerging quality principle is whether the book does something better than Wikipedia (especially to justify a print copy). For example: is there a narrative thread, an unusual viewpoint, a characterization, an insight into the scientist's life, illustrations that go for a complementary or counterpoint relationship to the text? In a glutted market, we don't want to see redundancy with the internet produced in expensive four-color hard-cover books.