Deep Into the Amazon Jungle by James O. Fraioli, illustrated by Joe St. Pierre. Margaret K McElderry Books, 9781534420946, 2021
Format: Hardcover Graphic Novel
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
What did you like about the book? Though this is a fiction book, readers will learn a lot about the Amazon, especially the plants and animals, and humans’ effects on the region. Will, a white boy, and Jacklyn, a Black girl, go on an adventure through the Amazon with a few guides and scientists, including Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of explorer Jacques Cousteau. They are specifically in search of a new species of piranha. Along the way, they come across and learn facts about many of the plants and animals living in the Amazon. There is explicit discussion of how deforestation is destroying the region to create paper products, furniture, and area for cattle to be turned into beef. While it is clearly a larger systemic problem with large companies, Will and Jacklyn share ideas of what they can do to help – use cloth bags and napkins instead of paper, not purchase furniture made from wood from the rainforest, and not eat as many hamburgers. I appreciated the brief contact with the Kukama people toward the end of the trip. Readers learn that there are about 18,000 Kukama people currently living in the Amazon jungle who are negatively impacted by loggers, cattle ranchers, and people spreading diseases. They also have enormous knowledge, including how to use plants as medicine, and that the animals we think of as dangerous in the rainforest are just trying to survive themselves. Though the interactions between the explorers and the Kukama are simplistic, the author and illustrator have done their research and offer specific and factual information about the people and their language. (I have done brief research to confirm what I could, and in the acknowledgements the authors thank a few individuals with connections to the Indigenous people in the Amazon.) The vibrant colors and details in the illustrations give the feel of traveling through the jungle.
Anything you did not like about the book. The tone of the book is slightly didactic and simplistic considering the great information presented. In particular, the ending where everyone shares what they learned and the adults praise the kids for committing to save the rainforest felt particularly forced. I also would have liked to see additional resources readers could use to explore the topic further.
To whom would you recommend this book? This would be ideal for upper elementary readers who like animals and adventure books. Though it is fiction, it would appeal to readers who prefer nonfiction about animals, plants, and the environment. I would give it to readers who like the Science Comics series.
Who should buy this book? Elementary school librarians, public librarians, science teachers
Where would you shelve it? Graphic Novels
Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Sarah Bickel, Greenlodge Elementary School, Dedham Massachusetts
Date of review: April 21, 2021