Monday, November 02, 2009

Nonfiction Monday - Nic Bishop Marsupials

I never tire of good books about animals. I am particularly fond of those that focus on narrow themes, like a single physical feature (such as Sneed Collard's Teeth), animal communication (such as Steve Jenkins' Slap, Squeak and Scatter : How Animals Communicate, or a particular group of animals. Many of Nic Bishop's books fit into this last category. Following on the success of his books on Spiders (a Sibert honor book in 2008), Frogs (the Cybils nonfiction picture book winner for 2008), and Butterflies and Moths, Bishop has turned his attention to Marsupials.

While the photographs are sure to draw readers in (they are amazing!), the text will engage them even more with its strange and wonderful collection of facts about this fascinating group of mammals. By definition, mammals are warm-blooded animals covered with fur that produce milk for their young. Marsupials are a special group of mammals identified by the presence of a pouch. While most folks can identify the kangaroo, koala, and opossum as members of this group, these animals represent just a fraction of all the marsupials scientists recognize today.

Here's how the book begins.
Most people know about lions, zebras, monkeys, and bears, but what about bettongs and bilbies? Or potoroos and pademelons? Dibblers and dunnarts?

These animals live on the continent of Australia, along with kangaroos, koalas, wombats, and a whole crew of amazing creatures. And it's not only their names that are neat. Each mother raises her babies inside a furry pouch, or pocket on her belly. this special pouch is called a marsupium, and these animals are called marsupials.
Bishop leads readers through the world of marsupials, first introducing them to the ways in which marsupials raise their young. From here he introduces readers to the members of the marsupial family that live outside Australia. The Virginia opossum is described in some detail, from where it lives to how it defends itself. While the Virginia opossum is the only marsupial in the United States, there are approximately 90 different types of opossums living in Central and South America. Who knew?!

What I found interesting about this fact was this bit that followed.
Most of these small opossums do not have pouches. Babies have to cling to their mother's belly instead, which can be tricky.
Huh? Young readers might not pick up on this, but it jumped out at me right away. Here's where I wanted a bit more information from Bishop. If marsupials are generally characterized by a pouch, how can an animal without a pouch fit into this group? Perhaps it's not the pouch at all, but the highly underdeveloped state the young are born in. I'm not sure what the answer is, but now I need to know.

After leaving the Americas behind, Bishop takes readers to Australia and New Guinea, "the absolute best places to see marsupials," and the place where more than 220 types of marsupials are found. He begins with kangaroos and moves on to wallabies (small kangaroos) and tree kangaroos. It's hard to imagine a kangaroo climbing a tree, but there are almost ten types of kangaroos specially adapted to life in the trees.

Bettongs and potoroos come next, the tiniest relatives of the kangaroos and among the rarest of the "hopping marsupials." Then come the koalas. I knew that koalas ate eucalyptus leaves, but what I didn't know was that eucalyptus leaves are so poisonous that eating them would kill most mammals. Bishop mentions that koalas are full of surprises and shares many of their more intriguing characteristics. Here's one of them.
Another surprise is that a koala's pouch faces backward toward its hind legs.
How cool is that?! Instead of opening at the top, near the mothers head, a koala's pouch opens at the bottom! And it's not only koalas with such a pouch--wombats have them too. Since wombats live in a burrow this makes perfect sense, and serves the important function of keeping dirt out of the pouch.

My favorite marsupial was the bilby. Here's how Bishop describes it.
At first, the bilby looks like a mix-and-match puzzle. It has the ears of a rabbit, the legs of a kangaroo, the body of an aardvark, and the silky soft fur of a chinchilla.
The book wraps up with a look at carnivorous marsupials, of which there are about fifty kinds. While you may have heard of the Tasmanian devil, you may not know of creatures like dibblers, dunnarts, mulgaras, ningauis, quolls, and numbats.

Bishop devotes the final two pages to describing his work in Australia trying to capture these animals on film. Since many marsupials are nocturnal, this proved to be quite challenging indeed. Also included is an extensive index and a brief glossary.

I found one weakness in the book that had more to do with design than with the actual writing. A number of the pages in the book are dark with dark text. For example, p. 8 is about the Virginia opossum. The page is dark purple with black text. One important sentence is rendered in a font that is both larger and a different color (pink!), so it stands out and is easy to read. The rest of the page is difficult to read unless you are in bright light or hold the book at just the right angle. While the dark pages with light text pose no problem, this dark text on a dark background seems a terrible design choice. Unfortunately, this occurs several times throughout the book.

Despite this complaint, I found this text to be a highly informative, well-written and gorgeously photographed book. My animal lover latched onto this one and wouldn't let go, crazy about the photos and the litany of new and interesting facts presented. Recommended.

Nic Bishop Marsupials
Author/Illustrator: Nic Bishop
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: September, 2009
Pages: 48 pages
Grades: 3-8
ISBN: 978-0439877589
Source of Book: Personal copy.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Hosting this week is Anamaria at the blog books together. Do take some time to check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.


  1. I love that Nic Bishop has a new book out. And marsupials, they are so fasicnating. Think my fave fact was the koal pouch. Amazing. Cheers!

  2. How awesome! Nic Bishop is wonderful.

  3. Great, a new Nic Bishop book! Marsupials are so interesting.

  4. Can't wait to read this one. It was on this site about a year ago that I first learned of Nic Bishop and his books. My family is hooked.