On my first quick glance at Carnivores, I thought: "Oh, a nonfiction picture book about animals ... not really my thing." But then I noticed that Aaron Reynolds was the author. Aaron Reynolds who wrote Cybils Fiction Picture Book Finalist and Caldecott Honor Book Creepy Carrots. So I took a closer look. And lo and behold, Carnivores is actually a hilarious riff about several poor, misunderstood carnivores, who are made to feel bad just for doing what they do.
The lion, the great white shark, and the timber wolf find their feelings hurt by the reactions of the other animals. For example:
"...the timber wolf almost never eats little girls. That "Little Red Riding Hood" story is very misleading. The bunny rabbits always say,"Quit sneaking up on me!" But he's not sneaking. He's merely a very quiet walker. With vicious fangs. And scary eyes.
He can't help it."
Similarly, the shark is "simply a fast eater." The carnivores start having little get-togethers to share their feelings. They try becoming vegetarians. They try disguises. But nothing works. Eventually, however, they get some brilliant advice from a wise and short-lived owl. They learn to be themselves.
Now, in other hands, a book that comes around to a simple "be yourself" message might come across as saccharine or didactic. Not so with Aaron Reynolds and Carnivores. Instead, Reynolds demonstrates a matter-of-fact, albeit dark, humor that is light years away from didactic. Like this:
"When the timber wolf gets the munchies, he doesn't think twice about grabbing a handful of bunnies.
They have really negative attitudes anyway."
Admittedly, and as in Creepy Carrots, this humor is not going to work for everyone. Those not amused by a lion eating a zebra, or a shark gobbling up, well, everyone in sight, might wish to pass on this one. This probably includes the youngest of readers. I think that Carnivores is probably more suited to five year olds and up than to younger children. It's also probably a bit more appealing to the average boy than to the average girl, though your mileage may vary.
Personally, though, I thought that Carnivores was hilarious. Dark, yes. But with fun to be had on every page.
Dan Santat's bold mixed media illustrations suit the text perfectly. The animals are shown with exaggerated features, and expressions ranging from hurt to smug to rapt to joyously evil. The pages in which the carnivores dress up in disguises are particularly humorous (picture a wolf in antelope's clothing). The handful of bunnies is pretty funny, too (though again, not for everyone). The shark, who runs around with a fishbowl around his head, reminds me a bit of the one in Chris Barton's Shark vs. Train (though Tom Lichtenheld has a different overall style).
Carnivores would be a great gift for a five or six year old boy, or anyone with an irreverent sense of humor. Highly recommended!
Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids)
Publication Date: August 20, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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