Ecosystem Series: Who needs an Iceberg; Jungle; Swamp

Ecosystem Series: “Who Needs an Iceberg?”, “Who Needs a Jungle?”, “Who Needs a Swamp?” by K. Patkau

Patkau, Karen. Ecosystem Series: “Who Needs an Iceberg?”, “Who Needs a Jungle?”, “Who Needs a Swamp?.  3 vols. Toronto:  Tundra Books, 2012.

Part of elementary public school science curriculum, at least in Alberta, for many years has included a study of ecosystems.  Many publishers of children’s non-fiction have published series of ecosystem-specific books in support of these curricula.  Toronto author/illustrator, Karen Patkau is a new voice in this field.  Patkau has won many awards and citations for her illustrations and these books are further examples of her fine work.

All three of these books follow a similar pattern.  Illustrations make up most of the work.  The language is appropriate to the upper elementary target audience.  In each book, there are a few textbook-like illustrations of biological cycles, such as the oxygen cycle.  At the end of each volume there is a world map that shows where in the world the kind of ecosystem being described can be found.  An inset larger map shows the location of the specific ecosystem being illustrated in the book.  The map is followed by a visual dictionary of twenty-four of the organisms described in the book with a paragraph describing each organism.  Each book concludes with a glossary.

“Who Needs an Iceberg? “  is miss-titled, because icebergs have much less impact on the Arctic ecosystems than does the presence of the swiftly-shrinking polar ice cap.  However, through the book, Patkau does address most of the varied terrestrial and aquatic Arctic ecosystems.  Her illustrations range from very detailed, for example the ptarmigan on the tundra, to the almost two-dimensional representation of the beluga.  This is a non-fiction work, so Patkau’s representation of the underwater part of the iceberg as the face of an animal is a bit of an oddity.

While “Who Needs an Iceberg?”  barely mentions the iceberg through the text, “Who Needs a Jungle?” is completely about jungle environments.  Patkau expertly portrays the dark jungle interiors and the bright and vibrant crowns.  Her jungle is lush, with many shades of green and bright flowers   and is filled with insects, birds, snakes and mammal.  In the latter part of the book Patkau addresses how the jungle impacts global weather, air quality and regional water regimes.

“Who Needs a Swamp?”  focuses on a swamp in southern Georgia, in the southeastern United States.  Given that part of the marketing for ecosystem series is the tie-in to the school curriculum, it seem as bit strange that Patkau would not have chosen a swamp in a Canadian environment, with which children might have some personal experience.    While swamps wherever they are serve similar functions in trapping excess rainfall, slowing run-off and filtering water, Canadian children will not find armadillos, crocodiles, sassafras and cypress trees in their local swamps.  Similar in presentation to “Who Needs a Jungle?” this book showcases Patkau’s portrayal of the lush world of a sub-tropical swamp.

Because there have been several ecosystem series published for the Canadian environment in the past ten years, and not much changes in these ecosystems, for school libraries on small budgets, these books, particularly the one on swamps, would probably fall into the “nice to have”  category.   However, for any public or school library needing to buy new or having a budget large enough to accommodate duplication of subject content and peripheral content, these books are highly recommended.

Highly recommended:  4 stars out of 4
Reviewer:  Sandy Campbell

Sandy is a Health Sciences Librarian at the University of Alberta, who has written hundreds of book reviews across many disciplines.  Sandy thinks that sharing books with children is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give.