Pros: Informative--beyond what you or any children in your care atually seek.
Cons: Graphic; dry; a miniature textbook.
The Bottom Line: This is a comprehensive and relatively understandable book, but parents and educators may wish to skip or carefully discuss some sections with the children in their care.
“Cats are small animals. We use them as pets. They eat dried cat food. My cat’s name is Brandy. She took a nap on our car because it was warm and she liked being in the sun.”
Now, this is what you would write if you were in second grade and wanted to avoid research. My teacher had assigned each student to write a brief report about an animal. She never specified that our subjects must be wild, exotic creatures meriting their own entries in the encyclopedia. Then, too, cats were perfectly legitimate animals--even if I should have taken a more scientific approach to their physiognomy than using my own cat’s resting spot to prove that all cats enjoyed sunning themselves.
If only I had remembered the small yet factual book that had taken up residence in my shelf two years before. Had I considered Iona Seibert Hiser’s richly-detailed book, The Mountain Lion, all parties would have been satisfied. I and my jagged, steely will would have been allowed to continue writing of cats, and my teacher would have been impressed at my knowledge of undomesticated grandeur. As it was, my imperfect piece had to be rewritten several times, infused with logic, and divested entirely of my “case study”. Brandy B., resident with Bethesda Lily, was no longer permitted a voice.
If she had been the mountain lion of my teacher’s dreams, she would have been livid. Hiser suggests that big cats of that stature would have attacked those who tried to oppress them--though our dear author goes about it far more scientifically: for while informative, this book resembles a mountin lion’s habitat--barren, parched, and hideously dry.
Designed theoretically for children between the ages of four and eight, The Mountain Lion is just that--a compendium of facts about a fascinating species. First, readers are introduced to the numerous appelations this big cat has incurred over the years--cougar, puma, catamount... This is among the most creative sections in the book. Next, children are treated to the wide range of sounds a mountain lion may make. They don’t just growl or roar, you know. Like domesticated cats, they are able to purr--and, oddly enough, to make a sound that mimics a bird call.
Subsequent sections are a bit more in-depth and are more appropriate for older readers. First, we have a description of the mountain lion’s appearance, complete with gendered, 1974 language: “He has white fur around his mouth.” The problem could really ahve been avoided using plurals... Anyway, children are then treated to verbal and illustrated descriptions of the mountain lion’s habitat, hunting and eating behavior, readiness to be tamed, etc. Yes, people have actually attempted to domesticate these beasts. Toward the end of this brief treatise, readers are told that mountain lions are hunted for a variety of reasons and that their numbers are beginning to dwindle. By this point, we’ve all become somewhat attached to the cougar, so we really don’t want them to become extinct--now do we?
I have good news and bad news. If you’re like me, you want to hear the bad news in all of its dreadful weight in the hopes of obliterating that sinking feeling in your stomach. If you’re not like me, read these paragraphs out of order. You know it will ruin your literary day, but go right ahead--even if you do have to cure the stress of it all by spending the rest of your life writing grammar texts. Feel free. Just skip the next three paragraphs!
Boring News, Part I: What would you think if I titled my review “Book Review”? Trust me, I have been tempted--if only to demonstrate my opinion of Hiser’s title. Yes, this is an educational text. Yes, it was written in 1974. But even now, if you look at the titles of educational books, there generally exists some flare: Welcome to Mississippi! or Out of Darkness. Books mustn’t be labeled so succinctly. On a cereal box: “Cereal!” On a computer: “Monitor! Keyboard!” Can you see where this would become problematic?
Boring News, Part II: This book is short. It is informative. It reads simplistically. This is all right. That is because it was intended for children... Yet, simplicity shouldn’t necessitate dry text. This book resembles one of those rare library gems that a ten-year-old would use to construct a perfect report. Hmm. Do children still go to the library these days? Anyway, the text is exhaustive without being particularly entertaining. Somehow, I can’t fathom how, I fell in love with this miniature essay as a child; however, I can’t imagine other youngsters appreciating my standards of “excellence”.
Bloody News: If you didn’t care for my sudden intrusion into topics that “nice people don’t talk about”, please consider this paragraph no further. Know this: If you introduce yourself or your children to The Mountain Lion, nothing will be left to your imagination. Compared to Hiser, I was being kind in my former descriptions. Hunting habits are portrayed in a manner that would surely shock young or sensitive readers--so much so that I was not treated to a full reading of this work when I was a child. Rereading it now for review purposes, I still wonder whether ignorance might have been preferable to Hiser’s barrage of detail. Certain sections are simply too gruesome for readers of any age.
Finally, Good News: Do you need a book when you can simply research using the Internet? Why, certainly! For children who are truly curious about wildlife, this may be an appropriate introduction. Do not be put off by the book’s compact size and sturdiness; this is not a book intended for toddlers or even early elementary ages. Children in the 9-12 age bracket will be better able to comprehend most of the information presented. The quaint language, unfamiliar terminology, and surprising levels of animal “violence” would likely be beyond a younger person.
Now, isn’t it time I begin some creative writing--perhaps involving a poor cat who has always remained voiceless?
Many thanks to dramastef for adding this to the database for me. I’m afraid the category leads will be rather busy lately, adding unlikely material from a by-gone era. I’ll explain why by the end of this month. It’s my own unofficial writing competition--against myself, no less!--and there is a rather distinguished method to every ounce of madness you will be seeing.