Discover Big Cats arrived with its series sisters: Discover Bugs, Discover Sharks (written by by Monalisa Sengupta), and Discover Snakes (written by Sujatha Menon).
These Enslow Publishers, Inc. titles are part of the Discover Animals series intended for grades 5 and up. They are high-interest books for browsers and reluctant readers which fill the pages with information for research reports. The books arrived in the typical kind of publisher brown-envelope marked with the mysterious message "Do not open with sharp objects." I don’t know about you, but my little hands are not capable of simply ripping apart cardboard boxes and insulated envelopes. I have to use scissors. Does it count if you use dull scissors?
Once I had the package opened (don’t ask me how I did it), I discovered that someone had carefully wrapped the books inside. This made the books seem even more like a present than the usual mail delivery.
The presentation of this book made me open it: big books with in-your-face cover illustrations.
While I was waiting in the airport, reading and taking notes, suddenly I realized that I was being watched on three sides. I looked up to find men reading from my left, leaning in reading from my right, and intently staring at the book from in front. I had to pause my critical analysis to turn the book around and do a mini booktalk with 40-something men (hereafter referred to as browsers).
The cover had grabbed them. They liked the format inside with paragraphs of text that they could skim quickly. One of them particularly liked how there were images bordering each page. Another didn’t mind the large percentage of computer generated images mixed with photographs. A third told me that he liked the big bold headings and subheadings on each page so he could “swiftly ascertain which information to explore.” He pointed out that if he were doing research, he’d know to look at the top right of every page for the “Fact File” box, but if he were just browsing, he’d find the “Interesting Fact!” box.
All three of them told me to get the series for boys and to not worry about whether it was the “best book” out there for research. They said it was the type of book they would have read in grades 4-7.
I did have some concerns with the book which I didn’t share with them, but I’ll share with you. The series was originally copyrighted in 2005 in HK by the Really Useful Map Company and is being published by Enslow Publishers for 2009. I have to ask why the pages on the left are unnumbered, but on the top right we see labels 18-19? Is this an international feature? I didn’t like that quite honestly, but the browsers never even noticed there were page numbers. That wasn’t important to them.
The Table of Contents distinguishes this book from many other series for hi-low readers because it is so detailed. It does not feel like a dumbed-down book. The browsers told me that if a book has too few items in the TOC, they’d think it was a baby book and never turn the page. The Discover Big Cats is only 48 pages long and has 22 entries in the TOC. The index does include all the variations for mountain lion that I could conjure. The binding is reinforced which is important to me when purchasing for reluctant readers. These are all pluses.
There are a large percentage of colorful images that were computer generated. Most are quite acceptable, but there is one lion image that lacks the depth of the others and made the word “Disney” pop into my head. I wanted a little better selection of those images. Fortunately there are photographs on every page to satisfy my need to see “the real thing,” but I still needed more images distinguishing each subspecies. Again, the browsers weren’t as picky as I was.
I was dissatisfied when the text referred to a big cat that was rare, endangered, or unique, but there was no image on the page. For example, the South Chinese tiger is described as the world’s most endangered big cat, but I couldn’t find an image labeled in the text; additionally, I need to go get a different book just to see a photo of a black leopard. Labeling each of these unique cats is important to me; however, the captions contain 1-2 informational sentences and not specific identifiers. It bothered the researcher in me, but not the browsers who read the title.
I decided to broaden my base of browsers so I started showing Discover Big Cats to other librarians. The first librarian I asked had the set but couldn’t recall how she received it. She promised to take a good look at the title if it ever was checked in long enough. It turns out that this series flies off the shelf. Her reluctant readers love it.
So readers, it’s time for me to stop overanalyzing the series and simply acknowledge that I am not a reluctant reader. I care about depth of material. My reluctant readers care about the fun aspect. It’s time to lighten up and look at the title to see what appeals to readers: Aha! Fun Facts! Did you know that leopards can be more dangerous than tigers or lions? Did you know that hyenas are more closely related to the cat family than the dog family? (My response was "get out!")
Now that I’m back from the SLJ Leadership Summit, I have had time to explore the other three titles in the series. (I only packed one hardcover to take on the plane).
I have to admit that Discover Snakes is a superb looking book. Snake lovers will pore over the illustrations. Those who fear snakes had better not open the cover. They especially should NOT look at the page "Know Your Fangs." <shudder> Thank goodness for computer animations in this book. The photographs keep the pages grounded, but the close-ups are TOO realistic in this title.
Okay, I give up. I may have to get a second copy of the set so I can circulate one set and continue to over-analyze the other.
Rambling Reminiscences: Did you know that my neighbor had a “pet” mountain lion when I was in college? The Discover Big Cats book indicates that mountain lions make a very scary sound. “It is shrill and sounds like a human being screaming. The puma can also roar softly. This sounds like a soft whistle.”
My neighbor’s mountain lion made soft weird sounds that confused us. Unfortunately, the sound must have been very scary to animals because some of my brother Randy’s pet rabbits died of heart attacks. At least that’s his story. Taking friends home from college in Storm Lake, Iowa, to see a mountain lion next door was great fun for us, but I don’t think the lion was as happy. It sat on top of a dog house chained in the back yard until finally it went to a lion preserve.