Elephant Talk by Ann Downer

90727706Lynn: Quick quiz!  What are hovering and whiffling, rumbling, ear flaps and trunk curls?  All these are among the many ways elephants communicate.  In Elephant Talk:  The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication (Twenty-First Century 2011) Downer presents not only the story of the complex story of elephant communication but also the scientific processes behind these discoveries and other fascinating information about these amazing animals.  Downer includes everything from the elephant family tree,  their anatomy, social structure, the history of interaction with humans, endangered status to even the debate about captivity in zoos.  The heart of the book though is why and how this incredibly smart creature communicates and I couldn’t get enough of that story.  Sidebars with related information pack the book along with wonderful color photos and there is an extensive bibliography.  One of the sidebars I loved was the section on the “Grandmother advantage,” something that elephants share with humans.  I always knew we grandmothers were something special 😉

Cindy: I’m glad there are so many various scientists studying elephants to learn what we can from these magnificent beasts and to protect them from extinction if possible. But really, I’m glad I’m not the woman who decided to study elephant dung to learn about elephant relationships.  Not that she had any shortage of material to study–a single African elephant poops a LOT, between 300 and 540 pounds of it a day. The scat has been studied to look at elephant relatives and family bonds, for levels of stress hormones and any connection to human interaction and even to identify poached ivory! But enough about dung…

Since the book is called Elephant TALK, perhaps you should listen to some of the 70+ distinct calls an elephant can make from combing calls produced in the larynx, throat, and trunk. ElephantVoices has a category of archived posts with MP3 files of elephant sounds with thorough descriptions of the meaning behind the calls. Descriptions of sounds we cannot hear with the human ear, and of the hundreds of gestures that factor into elephant communication provide many more ah-ha moments. Grab a bowl of peanuts and be prepared to be educated and entertained…and alarmed. We all have work to do to protect the future of this species. It’s not too soon to start.

nonfiction_mondayHead over to the Simply Science for today’s Nonfiction Monday reviews.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

8 Comments on "Elephant Talk by Ann Downer"

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  1. This title reminds me a photo a friend took of a road sign in South Africa: “Do Not Run Over The Dung Beetles.” Obviously, elephant poo is a concern for many reasons.

  2. scopenotes@gmail.com' Scope Notes says:

    This looks very cool – thanks for the review. Also, thanks for helping to gross out my wife, to whom I just read the 500 lbs. of elephant poop fact.

  3. Scope Notes–you are welcome. After posting the estrogen heavy picture book post we had to go back to our little boy roots–what better than a discussion of poop. 🙂 –Cindy

  4. This sounds fascinating! I’m wondering what your take is on the right audience. The review journals give really different recommendations: SLJ suggests grades 4 – 6, Booklist grades 8 – 10!

    Would you think this is appropriate for an elementary school? Or better suited for middle school readers?

    • This IS a fascinating book and one of those that can be useful at a wide range of levels. The information on communications is unusual and I would buy it for a high school collection but the text and sentence structure makes this feel to me like a book for upper elementary and middle school. – Lynn

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