I stumbled across a pleasant surprise the other day while visiting a different library than my usual haunts. I had never before heard of Small and Tall Tales of Extinct Animals, but I found myself immediately endeared to it. Perhaps my lack of familiarity stems from the fact that it originally saw publication in French rather than English under the title Petite et grandes histories des animaux disparus. In any case, authors Hélène Rajcak & Damian Laverdunt have delivered a poignant yet pleasant (and sometimes darkly humorous) experience, and with the advice of NMNH scientists Cécile Colin & Luc Vives, a highly informative one as well. (They have since published another book on extinct life called Fossils From Lost Worlds, this time with a more prehistoric focus.)
The book presents a visual tour of relatively recently extinct animals from all corners of the globe, ranging in time from the Pleistocene to the present day. The earliest animals featured include the Australian megafauna; by the time the reader gets to the Chinese River Dolphin and Lonesome George in the modern era, the hand of man betrays itself as the clear common denominator in all these extinctions.
I enjoyed the illustrations and the design of this book, which divides itself into 4 sections based on geographic region. Each animal gets a double page spread to itself. On the left hand side each creature gets a full page comic strip illustrating some aspect of either its natural history, or its interactions with humanity. The right hand side conversely features a portrait of the animal along with various facts about it. The design of these profiles recalls classic wildlife illustrators such as Audubon, though they are rendered in a similar style to the comic figures on the opposing page.
The book includes a glossary defining certain concepts introduced in the text, as well as a map near the front and a timeline towards the back. Both the map and the timeline serve to put the animals in their global context in space & time; the former giving a sense of their geographic range, and the latter marking the approximate dates of their extinction.
While this book is definitely above the level of younger children, I think grade school kids learning about the subject of extinction will definitely take to it. It really pitches itself to a wide audience though, appealing to interested parties of all ages. I certainly enjoyed it myself. Of course, while pleasantly illustrated and entertainingly written, Small and Tall Tales or Extinct Animals ultimately delivers a poignant and sobering reminder of the impact humanity has had on the natural world as we’ve spread across the globe. Reminders such as this are critical as we attempt to reign in the continuing ecological crisis of our modern era. Only by keeping our minds on the issues at hand can we hope to lessen the burden we place on ecosystems worldwide going forward. I give this book a sober yet smirking Stomp of Approval. Be sure to check out my review of their other book that delves into the history of prehistory, Fossils From Lost Worlds!