Friday, February 19, 2010

Fun on the Web: An Australian Outback Food Chain: A Who-Eats-What Adventure by Rebecca and Donald Wojahn

Your small plane flies over the Outback just as morning breaks. Out the window, you see huge expanses of red earth. Nothing else as far as you can see. The Outback is the inner region of the country of Australia. It is one of the flattest and driest places on Earth.

Such a desolate view sounds as devoid of all life as a Marscape. But this barren landscape is home to a fascinating web of rare and exotic animals with their own closely interconnected society, each relying on the others for their very life.

Dying of thirst in a place where good rains may be years apart? There's the water-holding frog which can form a cocoon-like covering of new skin, burrow underground, and wait--for years if need be--for the next rain. Find one and you've found a quick quencher. Or if you are a predator with opposable thumbs and a tool-making brain (that would be us,) you can tap a baobab's thick trunk and have a life-saving draft.

If digging out a cocooned frog or drilling through steel-like bark is not your thing, perhaps your body can learn to recycle your own water supply, like the spectacled hare-wallaby, who can recycle the moisture from his own cooling panting back to his stomach and who is also blessed with the natural world's most efficient kidneys.

Australia is famous for its animal oddities--egg-laying mammals like the echidna, the fearsome saltwater crocodile, and the eucalyptus-loving koala, and Rebecca and Donald Wojahn's An Australian Outback Food Chain: A Who-Eats-What Adventure (Follow That Food Chain) (Lerner, 2009) is filled with lavish color photographs of these various Outback animals in action in their challenging environment, each intriguing entry providing more than enough fascinating facts for those elementary research reports or for an awesome animal adventure between the book's covers.

But there is an interactive feature which will further attract reluctant reader-scholars. Subtitled A Who-Eats-What Adventure, the book invites kids to select one of four tertiary consumers--a dingo, saltwater croc, wedge-tailed eagle, or Gould's monitor--in the familiar choose-your-own ending format, and track this predator's food chain through secondary consumers and primary consumers to the producers and decomposers who make its daily diet available. In another link to the interactive video game model, some choices lead to a DEAD END when the dietary endeavor ends in a gravely endangered or extinct Outback resident, (a gustatory GAME OVER, so to speak).

The book's design makes its generous information easily accessible with flow charts, diagrams, and informational text boxes placed throughout the text and with boldface type for animal names and scientific terms introduced in the text and repeated in the glossary. Other items in the backmatter include "Further Reading and Websites," "Selected Bibliography," and an index.

In addition to such stalwarts of ecology studies such as A Desert Food Chain: A Who-Eats-What Adventure in North America (Follow That Food Chain), the excellent Follow that Food Chain series includes such exotic ecologies as A Galapagos Island Food Chain: A Who-Eats-What Adventure (Follow That Food Chain) and A Mangrove Forest Food Chain: A Who-Eats-What Adventure in Asia (Follow That Food Chain).

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