Book review: Run for Your Life!: Predators and Prey on the African Savanna, by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Paul Meisel

Schaefer, Lola M. Run for Your Life!: Predators and Prey on the African Savanna. Illustrated by Paul Meisel. Holiday House, 2016. Unpaged. ISBN 9780823435555. $16.95. Ages 4-6. P8Q7

Schaefer Run for Your Life     The author and illustrator of 2014’s Swamp Chomp team up to explore the predator-prey relationships of the African savanna. Colorful digitally enhanced watercolor and acrylic illustrations paired with simple sentences introduce the animals of sub-Saharan grasslands to young children.  The calm of sleeping animals changes abruptly when leopards spring and impalas bound away.  Each succeeding two-page spread introduces new animals, each pursued by a predator, culminating in the appearance of lions, top predators which prey on all of the other animals. Calm descends in the final illustrations of a night time view of animals sleeping.  A comparison of the average sprint speeds for various species is included as additional information.

As an introduction to the topic this book works, but I had a few problems with it.  First, sentence structure on the opening pages establishes a pattern of predator attacking and the prey animal fleeing.  Then, although the illustration shows a crocodile chasing a frog, the text says, “Crocodiles lunge, and hippos trot,” which implies that hippos are the crocodiles’ prey, contradicting the illustration.  On the following two-page spread, the text says, “Jackals pounce, and giraffes lope,” even though as small canids jackals are known to prey mostly on small mammals and birds while the only predator of healthy giraffes is lions.  On the following page, hyenas, which are generally nocturnal (for older readers, see The Cry of the Kalihari for a riveting account of Mark and Delia Owen’s seven-year study of the brown hyena), are shown hunting wildebeests during daylight hours.

Ideas about predator prey relationships and the ways those relationships affect ecosystems are important.  It is very useful to have this pattern of information introduced to young children as a framework for considering those ecological systems and the animals in them.  I am disappointed that the publisher of this introductory work did not do basic fact checking before publishing this book.  That said, the flaws are not so significant as to make the book unusable.  Recommended as an additional purchase as long as libraries have further information on these animals and their associated ecosystems available for this age group.

April 2016 review by Jane Cothron.


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