Review of the Day: Little Skink’s Tail
The skink does not often get its due. Here you have an animal that can remove its own tail and grow it back again, yet how much cred does it get in the children’s book world? Hardly any. You’re far more likely to find picture books about newts and salamanders than your average everyday skink. I wouldn’t call myself a Skink Advocate, but the minute I saw the title and cover of Janet Halfmann’s newest book I felt inclined to see and learn more. I see very few books from small presses like Sylvan Dell, and fewer still that tickle my fancy. "Little Skink’s Tail" is one of the few, and it’s a lovely little delight of a book.
Little Skink was having a perfectly nice day right up until the moment a hungry crow decided to make a quick snack of her. Snapping off her own bright blue tail (as skinks tend to do in these situations) she escapes beneath a log as the crow dives for the still wiggling ex-extremity. The next day Little Skink feels a bit bereft without her tail. Looking at some of the other animals in the forest, she contemplates the advantages of growing one tail over another. Bunnies have nice tails but they’re awful puffy. Squirrels would be fun, but there’s a bushiness there to be reckoned with. Systematically Little Skink rules out the advantages of having the tails of deer, skunks, porcupines, owls, and turtles, each time imagining the tails on her own body. A couple days later, though, the perfect tail grows back. One of the bright bottle blue persuasion. Factual back matter round out the book by teaching kids about animal tracks, navigation, and the evolutionary advantages of one tail over another.
The book could have gone wrong a variety of different ways. If Halfmann had made it too cute and filled it with adorable talking woodland creatures, for example. Or she could have made the skink actually grow these tails rather than just imagine what they’d look like. Yet Halfmann is pretty adept at keeping strictly to the factual elements of her story. If the book is cute, that’s only because it never trips into preciousness. The narrative is straightforward as well. Personally, I might have suggested turning the various tails Little Skink tries out into bright blue versions, but I can see why the decision was made to keep them their original colors. A child reading this book might have a hard time connecting a bright blue deer tail to its subtler, browner equivalent, after all.
Laurie Allen Klein’s endearing skink is probably the real reason I wanted to get my hands on the book, though. A clever idea will get you only so far in the picture book market. If your illustrator is sub-par then it really doesn’t matter how wonderful your words are. No one is going to purchase a picture book if they think it looks unprofessional. Fortunately for everyone Klein’s illustrations are a nice mix of cute and accurate. She plays with angles and perspective enough to keep the eye constantly in motion. The ratio of animal sizes in this book is consistent as well.
According to the bookflap of this title, Sherry Crawley, Director of Education for the School and Family Programs at Zoo Atlanta, went through this book to verify the accuracy of the information. Certainly the back matter is fun and nicely educational. Still, though this section is useful in many ways, I would have appreciated more time spent discussing skinks and their amazing regeneration abilities. Just a quick sentence or two about the critters would have been sufficient to my needs. All that aside, "Little Skink’s Tail" is a nice example of a simple idea brought to life in a picture book format with plenty of factual matter to complement the fiction. An ideal purchase for those parts of the country overridden with skinks, and those parts that know nothing about them and would benefit from a well-written story. A book worth noticing.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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