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Friday, March 4, 2016

Counting Lions, written by Katie Cotton and illustrated by Stephen Walton. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $29.00 all ages

"Three giraffes

with their heads in the sky
pluck leaves from trees and chew,
up and down, side to side,
for up to twenty hours a day.
They are peaceful patterned giants
wandering from place to place,
sleepless surveyors of the

I will admit that it was hard to pay attention to the words scripted for this stunning book about endangered wildlife the first time I read it. Stephen Walton creates the nearly photographic quality images using charcoals. How is that possible? Readers are sure to experience an emotional response to each of the double-page spreads so carefully rendered that show the beauty and majesty of those animals chosen to alert us to the declining numbers to be found in the natural world.

There are many reasons for this decline, as we know so well. Hunters want trophy kills, or souvenirs, or exotic pets ... they are willing to pay huge amounts of money to get what they want. Financial gain is a strong motivator; no thought is given to the importance of all animals in our world. Their changing environment is another cause for grave concern. The animals represented here can do nothing to protect themselves or their babies from such despicable behaviors. We, as a global community, must care enough to try to stop the slaughter and the incomprehensible loss of essential habitat.

The second visit focused entirely on the carefully chosen and beautifully descriptive passages meant to educate readers. The animals chosen are the lion, gorilla, giraffe, tiger, elephant, Ethiopian wolf, penguin, sea turtle, macaw and the zebra. The poems are placed perfectly to grab attention (in orange font), and to inform:

"Seven penguins

blink as the storm begins.
Soon, the air will be thick and white,
snow gathering anywhere it can -
on beaks, feet, and the feathers of the young -
so there will be no slippery belly-slide today.
Just one more huddle in the Antarctic
for the seven survivors.
Seven penguins."

Endnotes provide additional paragraphs concerning each of the animals presented, including their protection status. Four are endangered, two are vulnerable. That is six of the ten! While it is cautionary, it does not scold. Katie Cotton gives voice to the grace of each species and the importance of their presence here. We need to heed her message and share this book!

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