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Emu Hardcover – April 28, 2015
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From School Library Journal
K-Gr 3—This attractive picture book takes a look at emus, those strange-looking, flightless birds native to Australia. Byrne's sketchy, digitally created illustrations perfectly capture the essence of these scraggly birds, and the panoramic scenes of the Australian outback in the neutral tones of an arid savannah bring depth to the book. Saxby's simple text is ideal for curious readers. Each spread includes bits of a story about one particular bird, Emu, as well as basic animal facts. The narrative follows Emu as he watches over a brood of eggs, keeps them safe, and eventually raises his young (Saxby explains that emu fathers are the primary parents, as the mothers leave after laying eggs). VERDICT A strong choice for the 590s.—Dorcas Hand, Annunciation Orthodox School, Houston, TX
A bit darker and edgier than standard picture-book illustrations of animals, the digital artwork is distinctive and handsome in its own way. A fine companion volume to Saxby and Byrne’s Big Red Kangaroo (2015).
Byrne’s spiky digital illustrations perfectly display the emus’ hairlike feathering and their awkward-looking flightless movement, along with the rough textures of the grasses and trees in the landscape.
—The Horn Book
A strong choice for the 590s.
—School Library Journal
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Top Customer Reviews
Meet the emu. Do not be offended if he fails to rise when you approach. At the moment he is safeguarding a precious clutch of eggs from elements and predators. While many of us consider the job of hatching eggs to be something that falls to the female of the species, emus are different. Once they’ve laid their eggs, female emus just take off, and it is the male emu that hatches and rears them. In this particular example, the male emu has a brood of seven or so chicks but though they’re pretty big (ten times bigger than a domestic chicken hatchling) they need their dad for food, shelter, and protection. The chicks find their own food right from the start and within three to four months they’ve already lost their first feathers. They zigzag to escape predators, live with their fathers for about a year, and have a kick like you would not believe. Backmatter of the book provides more information about emus, as well as an index.
This is not what you might call Saxby and Byrne’s first rodeo show. The Aussie duo previously had paired together on the book “Big Red Kangaroo”, a book that did just fine for itself. Following a kangaroo called “Red”, the ostensibly nonfiction title was best described by PW as, “An understated but visually arresting portrait of a species.” For my part I had no real objections to the book, but neither did I have anything for it. Kangaroo books are not rare in my children’s rooms, though the book was different in that it was written for a younger reading level. That same reading level is the focus of “Emu” and here I feel that Saxby and Byrne have started to refine their technique. One of the problems I had with “Red” was the naming of a representative kangaroo. It felt false in a way. Like the author didn’t trust the readers enough to show them a typical day in the life of an animal without having to personalize it with faux monikers. Byrne’s art too felt flatter to me in that book than it does here. This may have more to do with the subject matter than anything else, though. Emu faces, after all, are inherently more amusing and interesting than kangaroos
In terms of the text, Saxby utilizes a technique that’s proven very popular with teachers as of late. When kids in classrooms are given open reading time there can sometimes be a real range in reading levels. With this in mind, sometimes nonfiction picture books about the natural world will contain two types of text. There will be the more enticing narrative, ideal for reading aloud to a group or one-on-one. Then, for those budding naturalists, there will be a complementary second section that contains the facts. On the first two pages of "Emu", for example, one side introduces the open forest with its “honey-pale sunshine” and the emu’s job while the second block of text, written in a small font that brings to mind an expert’s crisp clean handwriting, gives the statistics about emu (whether or not they can fly, their weight, height, etc.). In the back of the book under the Index there’s actually a little note about these sections. It says, “Don’t forget to look at both kinds of words”, and then writes the words “this kind and this kind” in the two different fonts.
Artist Graham Byrne’s bio says that he’s an electrical engineer, builder, and artist. This is his second picture book and the art is rendered digitally. What it looks like is scratchboard art, with maybe an ink overlay as well. I enjoyed the sense of place and the landscapes but what really made me happy was how Byrne draws an emu. There’s something about that bright yellow eye in the otherwise impassive face that gets me. I say impassive, but there are times when one wonders if Byrne is fighting an instinct to give his emu some expression. There's a scene of the emu nosing his eggs, his beak appears to be curling up in just the slightest of smiles. Later an eagle threatens his brood and there’s almost a hint of a frown as he runs over to the rescue. It’s not enough to take you out of the story, but such images bear watching.
In comparing the emu to the ostrich I may have omitted certain pertinent details. After all, the emu doesn’t have it quite so bad. It appears on the Australian coat of arms, as well as on their money. There was an Emu War of 1932 where the emus actually won the day. Heck, it’s even not too difficult to find emus on farms in the United States. Still, culturally they’ve a far ways to go if ever they are to catch up with their ostrichy brethren fame-wise. Books like this one will help. I think there must be plenty of teachers out there a little tired of using Eric Carle’s “Mister Seahorse” as their de facto responsible-dads-in-the-wild motif. Now kids outside of Australia will get a glimpse of this wild, wacky, wonderful and weird creature. Consider it worth meeting.
For ages 4-8.
Pros: Before reading this, about all I knew of the emu was that it was a good word for Scrabble or Boggle. One of the lesser-known Australian animals, it is nonetheless fascinating, and Emu has a lot of information for a picture book. The illustrations are unusual but striking and complement the text well.
Cons: I wasn’t crazy about the color pallet used for the illustrations.