Appreciating Wildlife with Ted and Betsy Lewin

BookendsLynn: For many of us, summer is a chance to travel. I love to travel, but if I can’t, I will happily read about someone else’s adventures. Here’s a fabulous new book that will scratch that travel itch just by reading it: How to Babysit a Leopard: And other True Stories from Our Travels across Six Continents (2015), by the renown authors and illustrators, Ted and Betsy Lewin. The Lewins have compiled their 40-plus years of world-wide adventures into this book, chronicling the animals, people, and places they’ve met.

The Lewins’ unending curiosity and
love of the natural world are evident on every page.

The book is structured by continent, each section filled with short anecdotes from the Lewins’ experiences in each place. Their stories are funny, sad, sweet, thoughtful, informative, and always fascinating. Kids will love the prominent “yuck-factor,” and arm-chair travelers will love the authentic details. “It’s not easy going to the bathroom in the bush,” confides Betsy. And from Ted, “Almost everything out there on the reef either stings or bites or, for that matter, could eat you.”

How to Babysit a LeopardThe Lewins tell their stories with such a companionable tone. Their unending curiosity and love of the natural world are evident on every page. Reading this charming book feels like sitting around with good friends and reminiscing about fun times.

The illustrations and photos are exquisite, as is the overall design of the book. I will stop gushing and let Cindy have a turn.

Cindy: I’m just wondering if the Lewins will travel to Holland, Michigan, next. What a great school visit that would be! I can’t wait to show this book to my world studies teachers—it will be perfect as a read-aloud exercise when their classes study the places the Lewins have traveled to. Each story is accompanied by a selection of art that includes both rough sketches from the field and hauntingly beautiful finished paintings. The pictures are, indeed, exquisite. Photographs of the animals and people add to the drama of the adventures. Photos of souvenirs, local art, and watercolor continent maps make this book even more educational. Though their stories are largely about the wildlife they encounter, the Lewins’ appreciation of cultural learning shines through, too, as they meet and learn about the people who live in each area. This book will hook kids who love animals and those who long for adventure and travel.

Many of the Lewins’ stories and adventures are quite dramatic—I’m glad the cottonmouth snake didn’t get them in the Everglades! Still, what won my heart more than the high adventure was the story about a New York City pigeon stuck in the dark subway. Maybe that was because the pigeon story was one of the last in the book, or maybe it was because it showed the authors’ compassion for all creatures, great and small, “exotic” or not, but, for me, that pigeon was the highlight. Though the Lewins were unable to free the pigeon, they settled for something they could do—free a butterfly. They reveal that although we may not be able to save the entire world with one action, we can do our small parts to make things better. A good tonic for that heartbreaking news about the big-game-hunting dentist earlier this week.



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.

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