Friday, May 05, 2006

Chico author's kids book - A wildlife gathering at the edge of the Zambezi


"Here's a hippopotamus, chubby top to bottomus, who nibbles the lilies and daffy-down-dillies that grow in the rivers that flow through the African jungle." Imagine the water lily-munching hippo with a "just what are you looking at?" attitude staring out at the reader from the deep greens, browns, oranges and reds of a full-color watercolor by Paradise artist Steve Ferchaud.

You've imagined yourself into Chicoan Phyl Manning's "Here Is the African Jungle" ($15 in large-sized soft cover from Chico's Wizard Graphics, Inc.), her new children's book that takes us to Southern Africa, "to the trees and water of beautiful Zimbabwe." An author's note continues: "Here are the largest and wisest, tallest, fiercest, cleverest, loudest, hungriest, blindest, the most clever -- surely among the most magnificent of the world's glorious wildlife ... gathered by water at the edge of the mysterious Kalahari Desert."

Manning will be signing copies of "Jungle" at Lyon Books in Chico starting at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and the public is invited. The book is available locally at Lyon, Bird in Hand, African Connection and directly from the author at Part of the book's profits go to help Durham's Barry R. Kirshner Wildlife Foundation.

A note says Manning "worked as an educator while living overseas much of her adult life -- the West Pacific, Southeast Asia, Europe -- and has traveled to a large extent along 'paths not often taken.' Africa is a favored destination and the wildlife in Southern Africa a long time passion. 'Here is the African Jungle' is based on a sunset scene at a tributary to the Zambezi River, with animals in the book doing what they normally do '... except of course they don't speak English!'"

The book is full color throughout and the text is witty and bouncy and calls to be read aloud. The story line is simple: as the animals come to drink and bathe in the water, a smug crocodile makes an appearance. "Feel the rough tile of the long crocodile, whose one end is swish and the other is smile. She makes a quick turn and a whole lot of fuss to avoid the huge jaws of Hippopotamus."

One by one more beasts gather. A lion roars, baboons scream, the croc eyes everyone. "Baboon has climbed high to a perch in the sky. Zebras flash in the sun, but they're ready to run. Rhino faces the cat, can smell just where he's at. Giraffe weighs a ton; he's not likely to run. Head and neck are his weapons -- 'though fighting's no fun. Croc's in a bog, where she looks like a log." There's uneasiness here until the greatest beast of all lumbers in. Wise mother elephant explains that there's plenty for everyone in the jungle -- "there's room enough here for fur, scale, hide and fleece -- so isn't life better together in peace?"

Everyone gets something (the croc settles for fish), and so another day passes.

A chart at the end provides interesting information about each of the eight animals featured in the story. Rhinos can weigh four tons; giraffes do indeed protect themselves using their heads as weapons; elephants "purr, squeak, rumble, shriek, cough, roar, plus sounds inaudible to human ear communicate for miles"; and "anticipating food, croc eyes tear (as mammal mouths salivate); so fake sorrow among humans is called 'shedding crocodile tears.'"

The words and illustrations grabbed my attention and made me smile. And that's no croc!

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

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