Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis, Peachtree, 9781682632024, 2020 (originally published in 2018, now reissued in paperback)
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
What did you like about the book? This delightful nonfiction picture book does double duty: providing solid information about animal adaptation and celebrating the unglamorous as an upstander. Stewart opens with an acknowledgement of the universal acclaim that greets beautiful and powerful animals, like elephants and cheetahs. She’s here to tell you, instead, about the tiny Amau frog, the stinky and strange hoatzin bird and the clumsy western fence lizard. What we may see as flaws are actually advantages that help these creatures survive. As always, Stewart’s masterful prose answers questions as they naturally arise. A montage presents three “lazy” animals: the koala, the giant armadillo and little brown bats. Should they change their ways? No! This is followed by a simple and endearing double page spread showing us the value of staying still. The three are shown with dinner plates in front of them, each with a diminutive dab of food, whereas their high powered counterparts (an emperor penguin and a cheetah) have to supply themselves daily with mountains of fish and meat. The book closes with more facts about the underdogs and a few selected sources.
The illustrations are a great match for the information. Laberis has contributed digital renderings that resemble bright watercolors with pen-and-ink accents. The animals are mostly realistic, although some (like the lion fleeing the smelly zorilla) wear baleful, human expressions. The drawings frequently set animals in their natural habitats, so there’s more information to be gleaned on those pages. Other times Laberis employs metaphorical contrast, for example, a human hand holding a stopwatch while Stewart describes the slowness of the Galápagos tortoise.
Anything you didn’t like about it? Both times Laberis includes human hands, she colors them to read “white.” I’d like to see more picture book authors acknowledging, even passively, that whiteness is not a universal constant.
To whom would you recommend this book? This would be a great read aloud for children ages 4-8. It could be used as an anchor text to start a unit on animal characteristics and adaptation or to jumpstart a conversation about how differences make us interesting and give each of us unique abilities.
Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries.
Where would you shelve it? 591
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes, although I would say that about anything Melissa Stewart writes!
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: October 5, 2020