Review of I Was: The Stories of Animal Skulls

I Was: The Stories of Animal Skulls I Was: The Stories of Animal Skulls
by Katherine Hocker; illus. by Natasha Donovan
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
4/24    9781536223132    $18.99

Hocker reminds readers that there is more to nature than a casual glance affords. When a group of child and adult hikers discovers an animal skull, they are prompted to consider what they can deduce from examining it, for this natural relic has a story to tell. “A skull speaks in arches and ridges and caverns of bones. It speaks in teeth and cracks, and holes into, and holes through. It says: I was.” Readers turn the page and examine the skull (enlarged from the previous page’s illustration), noting the two large openings where eyes once were, eyes that defined this creature as a “watcher.” Donovan’s full-bleed digital art on the next double-page spread depicts a lynx spotting a rabbit while hunting at twilight. This pattern continues, introducing a deer, a beaver, a hummingbird, a wolf, and an owl: shades of blue outlined in black display each animal’s skull, text describes a prominent feature, and the animal is seen in its habitat employing this feature. Extensive back matter utilizes both text and a labeled illustration of a human skull to define features such as orbits, the cranium, and the mandible; additional attributes of the six skulls discussed in the main text; and resources for further inquiry. Once readers catch on to the unusual device of narrators being a succession of animal skulls, the text flows smoothly, and both the facts presented and the plea to appreciate the multiple ways nature speaks to us are clear.

From the January/February 2024 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Betty Carter
Betty Carter, an independent consultant, is professor emerita of children’s and young adult literature at Texas Woman’s University.

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