Darrin Lunde, author
Darrin Lunde has worked as a mammalogist at the American Museum of Natural History and at the Smithsonian Institute. His work has brought him into contact with all kinds of animals, big and small, throughout the remote forests of South America, Africa, and Asia where he camped for months at a time to survey species diversity and to discover new species.
Read more about Darrin.
Catherine Stock, illustrator
Catherine Stock was born in Sweden, the daughter of a diplomat stationed in Stockholm. When she was very young, her family moved to Paris, then South Africa, then New Orleans, and finally San Francisco. Ah, the life of a diplomat's child.
Catherine attended art school at the University of Cape Town. The 70's were tough years in South Africa. The universities were about the only venue for any tolerated vocal protest against apartheid. One summer, Catherine volunteered at a hospital in Zululand, building a fence around a reservoir to keep the cattle out. It was hard work, but Catherine had fallen in love with Africa.
Read more about Catherine.
- An NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12
- A Junior Library Guild Selection
When a lioness kills a zebra, the carcass becomes food not only for her pride but also for vultures, hyenas, jackals and, finally, meat-eating beetles that clean the skeleton, leaving it to turn to dust on Africa's Serengeti Plain.
The cover illustration summarizes the narrative: A lioness, mouth open and long canines visible, reaches out with large clawed paws; lion, jackal and hyena are close behind. A vulture perches on the title page. This is a realistic depiction of predation in the wild. Aimed at elementary-school readers, this title has none of the sweetness of the Smithsonian mammologist’s earlier works about bumblebee bats, meerkats and baby belugas. Lunde’s explicit description doesn’t mince words: "[T]he lioness rips the carcass open and feeds on the soft internal organs first." Informational paragraphs, set off in a different type, accompany the narrative, adding intriguing details about each species. These dual texts are set on full-bleed double-page paintings done in pencil, watercolor and gouache. The jumble of animals around the kill is realistic; yellows and browns of the sunlit Serengeti landscape and red of the blood predominate. The action in these paintings moves relentlessly forward until the last arrivals, the lappet-faced vultures and beetles, finish the job.
Pair this with Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s Flying Eagle, illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray (2009), for more "nature red in tooth and claw" science.
The Horn Book Magazine
Catherine Stock eschews her typically delicate line-and-watercolor pictures for a more vigorously gestural approach in this blunt portrayal of animal life in the Serengeti. A lioness stalks a faltering zebra, kills it, and eats it with her family; meanwhile, white-backed vultures arrive: “The vultures reach deep inside the dead zebra with their long necks and tear off bits of meat and intestine.” Then come hyenas, jackals, two other types of vultures, and ultimately meat-eating beetles, until all that remains of the zebra is bones that “shine white under the setting African sun.” Given the inherent grisliness of the topic, the text is notably reined in and matter-of-fact, and the pictures, expansive horizontal spreads, are almost impressionistic, focusing more on the ferocity of the predators than on the details of their prey. Children who know that nature can be brutal will appreciate this honest approach (as will the more generally bloodthirsty); extra credit for any librarian who gives the book a go at story time.
School Library Journal
This accessible and compelling slice-of-life on the Serengeti Plain is aptly titled and remarkably dynamic as it describes what happens after a zebra is taken down by a lioness. A variety of predators and scavengers vies for the meat, including male and female lions, hyenas, jackals, and several species of vultures, concluding with meat-eating beetles that pick the bones clean. Students will move quickly from sympathy for the prey to fascination with the life-and-death survival drama that is playing out. Events are viewed with an air of objectivity that encourages closer inspection and discussion. Side notes in a different font provide further details about the animals, their adaptations to life on the plain, and their relationships to other animals. The writing is full of vivid descriptions and enticing action: "The hyenas devour the zebra in a frenzy of biting and pulling. They tear entire limbs and large pieces of meat from the carcass, making eerie laughing sounds as they squabble." The vibrant watercolor and gouache paintings are filled with vitality and movement, and the predominant yellows and browns reflect the setting. Pair this with Robert B. Haas's African Critters (National Geographic, 2008), which offers photographic counterpoint and plenty of facts on many of the same creatures to draw in animal lovers. This is a fascinating introduction to an intriguing topic and a must-have for all libraries catering to young readers.
Shades of Walt Disney’s early nature films which often focused on the violence in nature! Here, the author starts with a lioness on the prowl. She kills a zebra, and the feasting frenzy proceeds from there. The other lionesses, followed by vultures, hyenas, jackals, the male lions, bigger vultures, and at last, meat-eating beetles join to completely demolish the zebra. All that is left is the skeleton. The pencil, watercolor, and gouache illustrations vibrate with blood, gnashing teeth, roars, fighting, chasing—all in the African plains setting. There are many sidebars with more information about each animal group as it appears. This is a useful addition to the study of food chains, albeit a gory one.
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Page count: 32
11 x 8 1/2