The Newbery medalist matches bursts of poetic commentary to dozens of dramatic close-ups, mostly of creatures classified as endangered or threatened.
Drawn from National Geographic’s Photo Ark project, which aims to portray examples of every creature in captivity, the photographs present vividly colored animals singly or in small groups, posed against plain white or black backgrounds. Some subjects are rendered with knife-sharp clarity and others with some softening of focus, but all are around the same relative size and display a presence as intense as their enhanced hues. Three gatefolds open up either to reveal a visual index or to expand the approximately three dozen large portraits in the main gallery with ranks of smaller, labeled images. Alexander invites viewers to compose haiku on the pictures; his own contributions are haikulike in language if not form: the three lines of “homes of courage / on humble backs / this is not a race” arc in turn over the shells of a row of ploughshare tortoises, for instance. They take lyrical flights even when their meaning is obscure, as for a pair of young pandas seen as “strong, yet gentle…black and white / championing human nature.” Animals “are counting on us to help them,” he writes, with more urgency than strict accuracy.
Beautiful photos, with an impact heightened (sometimes to somewhat dizzying altitudes) by the accompanying words. (author’s, photographer’s notes) (Informational picture book/poetry. 6-12)