The Elephant Scientist, by Caitlin O’Connell and Donna M. Jackson. Photographs by Caitlin O’Connell & Timothy Rodwell. (Houghton Mifflin, 2011)

Book cover of The Elephant Scientist
What a shame that such an excellent book should have any flaws! The Elephant Scientist is outstanding in so many ways. Like the other books in the Scientists in the Field series, it tells a fascinating story and is beautifully produced. The narrative of field scientist Caitlin O’Connell, whose creative and precise observations led to amazing discoveries about elephant communication, cannot fail to interest any budding naturalist. And, with page decorations taken from African art, stunning photographs, beautiful production values, and a good, sturdy binding, this title will reward – and stand up to – extensive study. The maps, index, and supplementary information are all excellent and up-to-the minute. Therefore, I was more than usually aggravated to discover grammatical errors in all of the picture captions in a two-page spread (pp. 14-15).

I quote:

“Elephants use their trunk to dig holes for salt, and wells for water.”

“Elephants greet one another by placing their trunk in each other’s mouth.”

“Elephants use their trunk to rescue others from danger.”

It would be so easy to fix these sentences, so that the subjects and predicates agreed! The (plural) elephants just need to have (plural) trunks and mouths! To me, errors like this are particularly annoying in non-fiction titles that are otherwise first-rate. Why teach children good science with bad grammar? It makes no sense!

Even with these ridiculous errors, the book is excellent and I would recommend it.

Were it better edited and error free, I would rate it R+

As it is, my rating is R.

Deirdre Johnson, MTK


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