Safari's magnificent illustrations by one of Canada's foremost wildlife artists, Robert Bateman, are a great way to acquaint children aged six to eleven with the animals of Africa, the continent where Bateman taught for two years and which he has often visited. The book celebrates an ecological message through twenty-six paintings of fifteen animals. It offers insights into Bateman's experiences with these animals and provides factual information about each one.
Bateman's detailed style renders his animal subjects so real that they will enchant young readers. Two impala bucks stand beside a "huge, old baobab"-trees which have been cleaned of bark by elephants. On the opposite page, two graceful dik-diks are captured by the artist's brush in an alert pose. By depicting them next to a pile of elephant dung, Bateman has put the tiny duo in perspective.
Besides the impressive artistic treatment of African wildlife, children will also appreciate the sensitive text by Bateman and Rick Archbold. Archbold has written another book on Bateman's art entitled Natural Worlds. And last year, he helped a global explorer, Titanic discoverer Dr. Robert Ballard, pen the successful children's book, Ghost Liners: Exploring the World's Greatest Lost Ships. Safari demonstrates the same interesting approach and tight writing that characterized Ghost Liners. In this case, the book goes beyond merely describing animals and gives glimpses into the artist's emotions as he works in the natural world. One stunning picture shows the wrinkled face of a female elephant, her tusks merely worn stubs, peering at the reader from out of a cloud of dust. The accompanying story reads: "The face of one of these wise, old female elephants makes me think of a map. The creases and wrinkles are like the mountains and rivers. The flat places are the wide plains." Elsewhere we read how the Bateman family was able to observe gorillas by pretending "to sleep in the warm sun". A master at working with his co-author to seize a topic and take the reader into a story, Archbold is an excellent writer of personable non-fiction for children.
A few editorial additions would have made Safari an even better book. It could include a map so that readers would know exactly where these animals were found. The titles of Bateman's works should be mentioned and the book needs a longer bibliography about the artist so that readers can become familiar with this important Canadian. What Safari does offer is a spectacular view of African wildlife that will stay with young readers for the rest of their lives.
Lian Goodall's book on Argentinian soccer star Diego Maradona is forthcoming from Warwick Publications.