3 out of 4 stars
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Fantasy Animals by Janis Kirstein tells the tale of two very different animals in the Amazon rainforest: Vortex the anteater and Scoop the lion. Vortex is lighthearted, named after the hordes of ants he eats (and even counts!) while Scoop is fearsome and fast, named after how easily she can spring and scoop up her prey. What are such an unlikely pair doing together, you may ask? They're literally stuck together, joined at the shoulder and torso, forced to spend every moment together!
The concept is rather unique on its own, but the execution in the book is what really makes this book great. The two make for a pair of very relatable siblings, and their differences shine through their dialogue. Vortex, for example, is frequently called a geek for counting the ants he eats and Scoop's crazy fast running leads Vortex to throw up! They bicker and fight, and eventually Scoop decides they'll go find some "saw people" (those who are cutting down the trees in the rainforest) and have them cut them apart.
The plot is as silly as the two main characters, but beneath that humor is some depth as well. The referencing of "saw people" eludes to the awful cutting down of the rainforest, and the sibling rivalry and love is a perfect lesson for anyone with siblings. I really loved the story, and it's a good length for kids who can read for themselves (the book is 50 pages, but the story itself is only about 35). The kindle edition also includes Word Wise, making it easier for kids to read without having to look up definitions or ask their parents what words mean. There are also numerous pieces of art within the pages, typically very colorful and wacky.
Speaking of the art, the entire story was inspired by Alebrijes - "Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures". They typically have elements from different animals, like bird wings with a skunk body and a peacock's tail. In this book's case, of course, it was the combination of an anteater and a lion. The author also includes links for educators regarding Alebrijes and her art lesson plan, making this a great selection for teachers as well.
I really enjoyed my time with the book, but the need for just a little bit of editing is the only thing holding me back from a perfect score. Especially for a children's' book, correct spelling and grammar are vital, and while there are only a few errors in the story I felt it was worth mentioning. While I'd give the book 3.5 stars if I could, I'm forced to instead give it 3 out of 4 stars, although I highly recommend it to kids everywhere!
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