Books by Downs Matthews

HARP SEAL PUPS by Downs Matthews
Released: Jan. 1, 1997

An Arctic ice slab seems an especially cold delivery table, but for baby harp seals, it's also their crib and their nursery. As in other cooperative efforts by Matthews and Guravich (Wetlands, 1994, etc.), the full-color photographs and text jointly convey information about the life-cycle of the harp seal. The babies must put on weight quickly, for their layer of blubber protects them from the sub-zero temperatures. After about 25 days, the seals are on their own; without their parents' help they have to learn first to swim, and then to hunt. The large photos show details mentioned in the text: the harp-shaped patterns on the adult seal's fur (for which the seals are named) and their sharp nails, used to climb up out of the water. The book will be useful for reports, but doesn't pander to that function. There is no mention of the cruel practice of hunting baby seals, which was a major issue in the 1970s and '80s. Matthews names walruses, killer whales, and sharks as the seals' enemies, but it's a glaring omission not to include humans on the list. (map) (Picture book/nonfiction. 7-10) Read full book review >
WETLANDS by Downs Matthews
Released: May 30, 1994

A brief, no-nonsense overview of the many wetland types. Matthews discusses how they vary and their distinct niches in the ecosystem, then shifts scale to concentrate on a selection of their flora and fauna. Endangered species, habitat protection, ecological balance, and life cycles all get modest airtime while Guravich's crackerjack color photos add a pungency that the text often lacks. The author omits any human denizens of swamp and bog—a look at an Arab marsh community or Cajun backwater outpost could have helped demystify the wetlands. Also, more panoramic photos might have developed a better sense of place; fascinating as they are, the details here overwhelm any feeling for the landscape as a whole. Still, these vitally important habitats need all the friends they can get, and the book is sure to provoke interest. (Nonfiction. 7-10) Read full book review >
ARCTIC SUMMER by Downs Matthews
Released: May 1, 1993

Another striking photo essay from the team that produced Polar Bear Cubs (1989), this one depicting plants and animals during the short arctic summer. Matthews stresses unusual adaptations to the harsh environment: caterpillars that freeze and thaw for 13 years before becoming butterflies, rapidly maturing plants, and animals (e.g., the lemming) that produce as many as six litters in a single season. Guravich's color photos are outstanding: a boundless field of arctic cotton grass against a blue sky; the pigeon-like ptarmigan in fuzzy white winter plumage and speckled brown summer feathers; an inquisitive ermine poking his head from a melting snowdrift. Splendid pictorial science. (Nonfiction. 8+) Read full book review >
SKIMMERS by Downs Matthews
Released: Nov. 27, 1990

The life cycle of a fish-eating bird that frequents shores from New York to Mexico. A brief but informative text accompanies splendid full-color photos capturing the distinctive skimmer (black upper feathers, white chest, enormous black-and-orange bill) soaring in a mating dance, scraping a nest, brooding eggs, "skimming" for fish, feeding the downy chicks, and teaching them to fly. Guravich also focuses on a flock nesting in the parking lot of a Texas chemical plant, prompting an unusual sign: "Notice: Baby skimmers have the right of way." An appealing nature book, beautifully presented. Read full book review >

Splendid color photos—along with a simple, straightforward text—trace the life of two young polar bears from birth during their mother's hibernation through their second year, when they attain independence. Though the photos are so good that they could stand alone, the text adds much interesting information (e.g., that the cubs weigh only a pound at birth but have gained 30 pounds before they emerge from hibernation their first spring). Predators that threaten life cubs (not including men) are shown: for instance, there's a male polar bear that the mother—a third his size—is seen charging at and knocking down. The mother is also seen hunting, and there is a photo of her prey—seals—sunning on the ice: but the capture and meal are not pictured. For variety, composition, and tire sense of sharing the Arctic experience, however, this is a wildlife photography at its best. Read full book review >