Mad About Monkeys by Owen Davey

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Mad About Monkeys by Owen Davey

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Category: Children's Non-Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A fine example of primary school-aged non-fiction, but one I see destined for the school library as opposed to the home one.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 40 Date: June 2015
Publisher: Flying Eye Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781909263574

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Of all the many millions of animals on our planet that deserve a large format hardback non-fiction book, I guess monkeys are one of the ideal places to start. They are, of course, our distant cousins, with the ancestor we have in common with them walking around our world within the past thirty million years. They have a large range across the planet, they have over 250 variant species, and they have a lot of interesting facts and details regarding their social life, their diet, their diversity and their potential future – all of which makes this an interesting read whatever your species bias may be.

This is a fine example of how to do non-fiction nature books for the young reader. Each double page spread is more or less fully self-contained, so little time is spent on any one subject, but the reader never feels short-changed. There are no clumsy box-outs that other publishers seem to use solely for you to either get the same data twice or in an unfathomable order. There are details the adult glancing through would be surprised at (I knew of course about the Japanese macaques using hot spring baths, but had no idea they evolved into using them as recently and specifically as 1963). So this should be a preeminent title in its field, yes?

Well, a little caveat to that is the style. Our book creator, Owen Davey, has gone for a very personal style, with lots of sharp-edged blocks of colour. Yes, some of them are shaded, and shaded well, but they lend a kind of alien feel to the proceedings, and the palette seems quite subdued, even when on the subject of monkeys' famously patterned and bright bottoms. However, they do still come across as completely different animals each time, so however limited the approach seems to be, I guess the species are represented accurately. Certainly the faces of the big cats preying on some of the monkeys look reasonable simulacra – slightly mask-like, but reasonable all the same. Even so, some things aren't completely clear – here's a langur eating a banana that looks like it's been pixelated and jumbled up for no reason.

And that personal style, that individual approach, does kind of show where this book might be going wrong. Like I say, it's fine as it is, but would it have been less accurate, or longer in the making, if stock photography was used? That way nobody could doubt its visual veracity. And that way the creators would have been free to have turned their hands to many more subjects, and thus a great brand of interesting, compelling and valuable non-fiction books would have been produced. Here we have a fantastic volume – embossed cover, sturdy and ecologically monkey-friendly paper, and more importantly wonderful factual contents – but if enough alliterative titles could have been found, we might expect twenty more of the same, for many more interesting aspects of the planet's wildlife. Still, I can see this as having an appeal while sitting on the primary school shelf, and for all its individual character I can recommend it to people wanting a specific book on this specific subject. Would that we had more along the same lines.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman is a great book with a wide scope of animals.

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