Katharina von der Gathen (text) and Anke Kuhl (illustrator), Do Animals Fall in Love?, Gecko Press, April 2021, 144 pp., RRP $29.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781776572915
This book made me blush! It landed on my desk and I was immediately enchanted by the cover illustrations and production quality. I had a quick flick through and was further impressed by the quality of the information presented. I handed it to a colleague who patiently listened to me gushing about delightful children’s books and then she promptly opened to a double-page spread featuring illustrations of animals copulating and a page entitled ‘Ingenious Genitalia: Vulvas, Vaginas and More’. Oh my!
Don’t get me wrong, it is a fabulous book. Originally published in Germany, Do Animals Fall in Love? is another excellent choice for translation by the talented team at Gecko Press (translator, Shelley Tanaka). Described as a compendium of all the weird and wonderful ways the animal kingdom reproduces, the title provides a dazzling array of information. Drawing examples from an astounding variety of species it covers topics such as mating rituals, foetus development, birth, and family life. As I read Do Animals Fall in Love? I found myself wanting to turn to those around me and ask, ‘Did you know…?’ For example, did you know that there are many small hooks and spines on a male cat’s penis that make mating painful for the female and that’s why their mating is short and somewhat violent? Or, did you know that in a quest for dominance male cabbage white butterflies spray their conquests with a perfume that makes them unattractive to other males? Not exactly polite dinner time conversation or appropriate for the workplace.
This title delights in the weird and the wonderful and doesn’t shy away from providing factual information that is easy to understand. Despite the cartoonish style illustrations correct terminology is used throughout, there is no dumbing down of language or use of slang. Warnings are given for the chapters ‘When Love Hurts’ and ‘Difficult Births’ to help younger readers identify that there is gory, painful and even deadly content. The book talks frankly about topics such as homosexuality in the animal kingdom and the uses of pleasure in some animal groups. The preface of the book includes an introduction that states the book is intended to answer the questions of curious children who want to know more as they begin to understand the animal kingdom.
A quick internet search shows that there is a lack of consensus regarding which age group this title is intended for. Given the illustrations and the level of the text it has the feel of a book written for primary school age children. However, I would hesitate to recommend it as a title for holding in a primary school library. It could easily become “that book” that children giggle over in the library stacks rather than being the resource that it is intended to be. I would recommend the book for the home library of children aged 9+ years who are obsessed with animals and have parents, carers or grandparents patient enough to listen to a gazillion facts and answer a gazillion questions.
Reviewed by Anne Varnes