"A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Every once in a while, a book comes along that people everywhere just can’t stop talking about. You find a book you love, a book that’s spoken to you in some splendid sort of way, and you can’t wait to press it into the hands of everyone you know. “Read it. You’ll love it. Trust me,” you insist. Or, at any rate, that’s what I insist to family members when forcing my painstakingly selected novels into their hands come Christmas day…despite their annual protestations that they’d been hoping for a video game or a pair of earrings, and they don’t even like reading.
Well, today I’m delighted to share with you one book that will most certainly be in the stocking of every
member of my family this year and, for once, I think they might actually appreciate it. After all, how can you not melt at the sight of a baby chick snuggling with a pit bull? But it’s not just me who’s a huge fan of this book, it’s the Learning Express customers who keep purchasing copies just as fast as our owners can stock their shelves.
Written by National Geographic journalist Jennifer S. Holland, Unlikely Friendships is a heartwarming collection of tales about the surprising bonds that sometimes exist between the most improbable pairs of creatures. Through an astonishing array of photographs and accompanying stories, Holland skillfully documents the curiosity that is the “lion and lamb” phenomenon. In these pages, bobcats dwell with fawns, cheetahs coexist down with cows, and one stray mutt proves that (in her case at least) elephants are a dog’s best friend.
“To me, friendship is as simple as seeking comfort or companionship from another to improve one’s own life experience,” writes Holland in the Introduction. “And in all the cases that follow, the animals involved are arguably better off—more confident, physically stronger, in higher spirits—after finding each other than they were before. […] Perhaps the need for a good friend is not just human after all.” By the end of this book, I am certain you won’t need any more convincing.
And just when you thought this book couldn’t get any cuter, along comes a brand new version for kids. Later this month, Workman will be releasing child-friendly chapter books that each feature five true stories of animal friendships. We got a sneak peak at these little books and can’t wait to get them out in our stores. Here are just a few reasons why we can’t stop talking about them at Learning Express.
Though kids can certainly fawn over the images in Holland’s original book, many need parental assistance to read the corresponding stories. In these new versions, the print is enlarged and the writing simplified into short sentences that children can easily synthesize.
We particularly love that, in each story, Holland not only explains the bond between the animals, but also takes every opportunity to teach her young readers. In the Lion and the Oryx she writes, “In the animal kingdom, all animals are either predators or prey. Predators are animals that hunt and eat other animals. Prey are the animals that get hunted by predators.” Included at the back of each book is an Animal List that elaborates on each featured species in the text.
We also appreciate that Holland respects her young readers enough not to side step the often harsh realities of the wild. “Eating other animals is a lion’s natural instinct,” she explains. “An animal’s natural instinct is what makes it do certain things to survive.”
While many children’s books polarize good/evil and right/wrong in order to drive home certain lessons, Holland reveals the value of the uncertain and the inexplicable. In the chapter “The Dog and the Cat” Holland writes, “Everywhere the old dog went, Libby was there to guide him. No one knows why Libby became Cashew’s seeing-eye cat. No one knows whether Libby actually understood that Cashew could no longer see.” And you know what? I can’t help but think there’s something extraordinary, something beautifully curious, in that unknowing. "All that is clear,” she finishes, “is that Cashew was a very lucky dog to have such a loyal friend in Libby.”
So there you have it, readers! I very much hope you’ll learn more about these remarkable creatures and seek out Unlikely Friendships and Unlikely Friendships for Kids at a store near you soon.
Read them. You’ll love them. Trust me!
Talk to you again soon.