25 October 2012

Topsy-turvy World: How Australian Animals Puzzled early Explorers

 by Kirsty Murray (National Library of Australia)

National Library of Australia, Children's Non-fiction Hardcover rrp $29.99

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It always gives me great joy to open a book from the National Library of Australia. The outstanding, well-considered production of each book is geared to give maximum satisfaction in every area. The paper used is of the highest quality as is the book design, and each book is very moderately priced in comparison the work that’s been put into it.

Topsy-turvy World is about ‘how Australian animals puzzled the early explorers’, as the title affirms. There are fifteen birds and animals referred to throughout the book: the Kangaroo, Platypus, Echidna, Thylacine, Tasmanian Devil, Pig-footed Bandicoot, Koala, Wombat, Grey-headed Flying Fox, Emu, Black Swan, Laughing Kookaburra, Superb Lyrebird, Frilled Lizard, and the Sea Dragon.

The set-up of the pages begins with a full page illustration of the animal. On the opposite page there is a short historical narrative which refers to the first encounter with the subject, who saw or drew it, accompanied by boxes of information.  Various illustrations follow. There is note of the misunderstandings by the early explorers about the animals they saw for the first time. At times these are quite unusual but interesting observances.
The last page on the subject is the same throughout. There is a listing of ‘what the Europeans needed to learn’ about each animal. A strip down the right side of the page is kept for ‘Fast Facts’. These give the common name of the animal/bird, the scientific name, some historical names they are known as, how the gender is referred as, some Indigenous names, the  weight and size, the size relative to a 2-metre-tall man, habits and habitat, its diet, reproduction information, and its lifespan in the wild. There is also a map of Australia that is shaded to indicate the area in which they can be found. 

The information also includes how these animals carry their young, the many uses the explorers made of the animals apart from being eaten, and the repercussions that excessive hunting had on the species. 

The whole book is comprised of 95 pages. This includes a list of the names of the early explorers who observed or discovered the wildlife, and a brief description of their role; a Glossary with definitions of words as they are used in the book, and a List of Illustrations/plates/engravings that detail the name of the illustrator, date and place, Latin name, reference for the plate, and page number. It has a durable jacket identical to the cover of the book depicting all the wildlife included in the book.

 A wholly educational and informative book for all ages, this publication is worthy of any collector’s or reader’s bookcase. Highly recommended.

 Anastasia Gonis regularly writes, interviews and reviews for Buzz Words magazine, an essential resource for writers and illustrators for children.

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