Just You and Me: Remarkable Relationships in the Wild by Jennifer Ward,  illustrated by Alexander Vidal

Just You and Me: Remarkable Relationships in the Wild by Jennifer Ward,  illustrated by Alexander Vidal. Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster, 2021. 9781534460980

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5

Format: Hardcover

What did you like about the book?  This nonfiction picture book investigates unusual pairings in the natural kingdom, also known as symbiotic relationships. Rhyming text in a simple, bold sans serif font provides a folksy overview of the two species’ interactions while a slightly smaller and more subtle serif font explains how each benefits. Ostriches, with their sharp eyes, serve as visual sentries for zebras, who provide keen senses of smell and hearing, protecting both savannah dwellers from hyenas. Ants feast on the sweet sap of the acacia tree but then fight off grasshoppers who would eat and harm the tree. Large, colorful, and flat illustrations (rendered digitally) show the symbiotic partners’ interactions with plenty of details: we see the sloth covered with green algae and the pistol shrimp and goby fish sharing a burrow. The entire work is framed with a mother and child (both White) working together in the garden as the book opens and then closing with them heading back after their tasks are completed, likening “just you and me” to the rest of the natural world, protecting each other and the Earth. The book includes a short list of sources for further information. I loved the cover art, with its embossed and textured surface and raised print title, although these would be hard to appreciate once the book was wearing its protective plastic jacket.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I found the rhyme scheme clunky and probably unnecessary. I would have been fine with just the prose describing the relationship. Also, I thought it was odd that the poems are rendered in the first person, as though the critters have the agency to make friends and help each other. There’s no acknowledgement of the fact that symbiotic relationships are not chosen but represent specific ecological niches and demands. 

To whom would you recommend this book?  There are a lot of books about symbiosis, which is a fascinating aspect of the natural world. I would recommend How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships (2010) by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, but if you have room for two books, you might want to add this one.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it? Nonfiction, 577.85

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: October 10, 2021

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