Reviewed by Ben Harris
Possibly the most fascinating and eye-opening book on the natural world that I have ever read, Do Animals Fall in Love? focuses attention on all aspects of animal courtship, reproduction, and families with well-selected examples (many wildly contrasted) and is bound to inform and entertain every reader.
The book answers a huge range of questions that quite literally boggle the mind – did you know for example that the female koala has two vaginas? Or that male dolphins bond in pairs, only leaving each other to mate with a female? No, me neither! In fact, the entire book was one long journey of discovery and left me with more questions to investigate than I started out with – and isn’t that the best kind of information book in many ways? (I still wanted to know the answer to the eponymous question though – oddly the book doesn’t explicitly answer this and perhaps it’s not quite the right title considering what the book actually deals with…)
A word on the illustrations. Information books need to inform and current publishing has developed the design of books to draw attention to the artistic merits of the illustrators, rather than use exclusively or predominantly photographic illustration. Do Animals Fall in Love? is no exception to this. But while some examples of this kind of design favour style over substance, I found Kuhl’s illustrations detailed enough to provide the required level of information, but balanced with a quirky, humorous edge that made the reading of this book a real pleasure. It also helps make the book one that you want to return to and read again.
Where it would find a place in classrooms is perhaps a little tricky to judge: ultimately the decision will lie with the school’s own SRE policies and confidence levels of the teachers involved in sharing the book. There is a reference to masturbation (though as with the whole of the book, the definition is factually correct but sensitive to the young audience); and two sections of the book illustrate a whole panoply of animal genitalia which really make the reader’s eyes open wide (and invoke the inevitable giggles of embarrassment!)! But as with the whole book, the extraordinary diversity of the animal kingdom is here, providing ample scope and inspiration for questions and further investigation.
I suspect that this book may prove to be a bit of a ‘Marmite’ text, with some finding its explicit nature uncomfortable in a children’s book. Personally, I loved it and, though I am no prude, I would encourage teachers to share the book with children, so they have a trusted adult with whom to ask necessary questions, rather than leave it lying about for general perusal in the classroom! Sensitive and thoughtful use of the book will ultimately leave us all, adult and child, with a sense of wonder in the face of Nature’s unique and breathtaking beauty.