Imagine a place that has remained virtually unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs. Moss and ferns adorn trees in forests mostly unexplored by scientists. In this ancient and seemingly magical place is a timid creature that exists only in this forest. The cloud forest of Papua New Guinea is home to the elusive Matschie’s tree kangaroo, a tree-dwelling kangaroo. In this richly detailed photo essay book, author Sy Montgomery and photographer Nic Bishop give readers more than just a glimpse into the world of the tree kangaroo; readers are treated to a narrative that describes the journey to the cloud forest and what all that journey entails.
The book begins with two illustrated maps; One shows North America and South America in relation to New Guinea and the other shows a close-up of the New Guinea’s Huon Peninsula. This gives the reader an idea of how far away the tree kangaroo’s home really is. What really drives it home is the description of the journey from the small 12-seater plane to the group’s final work site. Before the journey begins, lead scientist Lisa Dabek is introduced. Her story of persevering toward her goal of working with animals despite fur allergies and asthma should inspire children with similar problems. From there, the other members of the exhibition are introduced and the journey truly begins.
Gorgeous, boldly colored photographs adorn every page. “Stunning close-ups of plants, insects, and birds vie for attention with panoramas of moss-draped trees in the eerie, ancient forest” (Piehl 2006). Many animals other than the tree kangaroo are shown and there are a several highlighted sections that go into more detail about the local people, cloud forests, advice for kids from Lisa, and even a glossary of words in Tok Pisin, a local language. Particularly interesting is a passage that lists all the items that are packed for the plane ride, including “20 liters of kerosene”, “6 boxes of dishwashing detergent”, and “48 rolls of toilet paper” (Montgomery 2006).
The layout of the book is simple; Large spreads include a photograph on the far left and far right and clean, easy-to-read text between. The reading level is suitable for children in fourth grade or higher, although advanced or eager younger readers may find this a challenging but worthwhile read. Quest for the Tree Kangaroo was nominated for the Sibert award in 2007, won the Orbis Pictus award in 2007, the ALA Notable Books for Children award in 2007, and won a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year award in 2006. Librarians would do well to add this title to their library’s collection.
This book lends itself as a great catalyst to a discussion of conservation and endangered species with children in upper-elementary. This could also lead to the introduction of books about the food chain and eco-systems.
Piehl, Kathy. December 2006. School Library Journal. http://ezproxy.twu.edu:2125/DetailedView.aspx?hreciid=|17660960|13392470&mc=USA#. Accessed October 17, 2013.