Kobee Manatee: Heading Home to Florida
Author: Robert Scott Thayer
Illustrator: Lauren Gallegos
Publisher: Thompson Mill Press
DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.
It’s been a while since I've reviewed anything aimed at really young children, so this one is long overdue. It's also unusual to have a guy write a story of this nature (at least in my experience!), so that's another good reason to dive in! My own kids are too old for a story like this, but when they were younger I would have loved to have read this to them, and they would have loved to hear it. This is exactly the kind of story which children need, and I'll tell you why: when those children grow up, they will be the ones who are making decisions about the fate of this planet and the life on it and if they're ignorant about what the problems and threats are, then how on Earth (quite literally) are they going to be able to make smart decisions about what to do for the best?
I'm not a big fan of anthropomorphizing animals, but there's no getting away from it since young children are swamped with this, and perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing to have them think of animals as "other kinds of people" if it helps them to grasp and appreciate how inextricably integrated the life on this planet is. This story isn’t an educational text book, it’s a story, but that's no reason why it can’t also be educational, and Thayer doesn’t let us down. Kobee spent his summer way north of where he ought to be hanging out, and when it starts turning cold, he almost has a cow - a sea-cow that is! He heads back home to Florida with all speed, and he picks up a couple of friends on the way. I really oughtn't to give out spoilers, so I won't outright say who they are, but one of them is rather crabby and the other is a little hoarse...!
The joy of this particular story is that it takes an endangered animal and imbues the whole story with the idea of helping each other, and then it goes one step further and adds a little info burst to each illustration giving just a snippet of real information about manatees, offering not only interesting, but useful and educational information.
If there's an issue I had with this, then it wasn't Kobee's jaunty cap and waistcoat or his amazingly appropriate name. Though far from accurate of course, the clothes were rather fun, and I was glad to see all the other manatees, at the end of the journey were illustrated accurately: "the way nature intended", as they say. Indeed, Gallegos's multi-color illustrations were excellent, and complemented Thayer's playful text neatly. I loved Tess's fiery red hair-do and Pablo the crab's klutziness. What bothered me was that all three of these guys had light colored eyes (Kobee and Tess blue, and Pablo green). There were no brown eyes to be found even though that color of eye (in all its shades) is the most common on the planet. As long as we’re anthropomorphizing (and as long as the animals themselves do not have those specific eye colors!), let’s try and be a bit more inclusive! I found this particularly odd given that Gallegos is herself brown of hue and eye; she seems so very youthful, too - obviously she has a long career ahead of her. At least I hope she does. Thayer too.
Other than that quibble, I recommend this story for the appropriate age children. It’s well-worth sharing with your young 'uns. And please do go visit the website the book recommends: Save the Manatee! It's a place you can share with your kids, learn more, and even donate.