Martin Jenkins: Beware of the Crocodile

Illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura

Published by Walker Books, London, 2019

There is no time like now to be more aware of the importance of biodiversity in our world. All living things, from the tiniest plankton to the mighty blue whale, belong to an interconnected web of life, intricate in its complexity and vital to the health of our planet. Ugly or beautiful, scary or cute, gentle or terrifying, the creatures that live in our natural world deserve to be understood and protected.

Martin Jenkins is a conservation biologist, and he has written picture books which help young readers to understand the behaviours and habitats of some of our most endangered species.

Beware of the Crocodile starts like a conversation, “The main thing about crocodiles is they’re really scary – or least the big ones are. They’ve got an awful lot of teeth.” Jenkins goes on to describe the eating habits of crocodiles, the habitats they live in and how long it takes for them to mature. Surprisingly, female crocodiles are exceptionally good mothers, guarding newly hatched babies for many weeks from predators and other crocodiles.

There is more information about crocodiles at the end of the book and a description of the differences between alligators, caimans and crocodiles. There are web addresses to go to for more information and an index of important words in the text for older readers.

Other picture books by Martin Jenkins include Ape, The Emperor’s Egg, Can We Save the Tiger and Fabulous Frog. This is one of my favourite quotes by him:

When it comes to looking after all the species that are already endangered, there’s such a lot to do that sometimes it might all seem to be too much, especially when there are so many other important things to worry about. But if we stop trying, the chances are that pretty soon we’ll end up with a world where there are no tigers or elephants, or sawfishes or whooping cranes, or albatrosses or ground iguanas. And I think that would be a shame, don’t you? (Can We Save The Tiger?, 2011)

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-8 years and below are more suggestions for books that focus on crocodiles, mostly fictional and not so much fact!

Counting Crocodiles by Judy Sierra Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand

Crocodile Tears by Alex Beard

The Christmas Crocodile
by Bonny Becker
Illustrated by David Small

The Crocodile Under the Bed
by Judith Kerr

Solomon Crocodile
by Catherine Rayner

Solomon and Mortimer
by Catherine Rayner

The Unexpected Crocodile
by Kim Kane
Illustrated by Sara Acton

The Monkey and the Crocodile
by Paul Galdone

Saltie Mumma by Sandra Kendell

My Worst Book Ever
by Allan Ahlberg
Illustrated by Bruce Ingman

An Extraordinary Egg by Leo Lionni

Flap Your Wings by P.D. Eastman

Clive Eats Alligators
by Alison Lester

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile
by Bernard Waber

The Boy and the Crocodile: the legend of East Timor
by Martin Hughes
Illustrated by children from the Familia Hope Orphanage

Alex Beard: Crocodile Tears

Illustrated by the author

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, London, 2011

David Attenborough recently celebrated his 94th birthday and for one whose life has been all about the conservation, protection and exploration of the natural world and its biodiversity, it would seem remiss not to quote him saying something both wise and wonderful when reviewing a picture book that considers these themes:

“The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependant on that world. It provides our food, water and air. It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it.”

Alex Beard has also travelled extensively to some of the most remote places on earth, painting and reflecting on the interconnections between environments, wildlife and people. Crocodile Tears is the third book in the Tales from the Watering Hole series which also includes The Jungle Grapevine and Monkey See Monkey Draw. Proceeds from the sale of Crocodile Tears go to the Shompole Community Trust, which is a land and animal reserve in Kenya overseen by the Maasai people.

The setting for this story is Africa, near the Mburu River. Rhino and Tickbird are coming to the river to drink and want to know why crocodile is crying, but they are afraid to approach a mouth full of teeth, so who can they ask? Off they go to explore the African plains looking for animals that might know the answer.

What I most admire about the way the story unfolds is that each creature who is asked and does not know the answer, suggests another creature by describing something remarkable and unique about them. The Golden Eagle recommends asking the Elephant whose trumpeting can be heard for miles; the Elephant suggests asking the tree frogs whose song is so beautiful; the tree frog proposes asking the butterfly whose wing patterns are so dazzling. And there are many more encounters just like this.

The animals however are proving difficult to find, and that message is often repeated. Could it be that is why the crocodile is crying? Perhaps it is because all the animals are disappearing.

Finally, after a humorous encounter with an ostrich, Rhino and Tickbird find their courage and ask Crocodile why he is crying. The answer is very clever.

“I’m crying because it is hot in the sun and the tears keep my eyes moist and healthy. It’s one of the things crocodiles do. But, since you asked Black Rhino, it could be because I am going to miss you.”

Well, if you are like me, I thought the message was about extinction.

But no, the crocodile actually eats Rhino!

Not to worry, crocodile spits Rhino out again!

But…the message is about extinction. Some of the animals mentioned in the picture book are critically endangered. Their habitats are under threat, they are at risk of poaching and hunting, and sometimes cannot find enough food.

A glossary at the end of the book gives some insight into these problems and there is a small paragraph with an accompanying photo giving the reader information about habitat, population numbers and conservation efforts.

I can highly recommend this book for children 4-8 years, it can help young readers begin to understand the complex nature of conservation and how people can play a vital role in the protection of animal species. Here are more suggestions for further reading:

Where Did They Go?
by Emily Bornoff
Chooks in Dinner Suits
by Diane Jackson Hill
Illustrated by
Craig Smith
Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect
by Rohan Cleave
and Coral Tulloch
Can We Save the Tiger?
by Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by
Vicky White
The Boy and the Whale
by Mordicai Gerstein
Anna & Samia: the True Story of Saving a Black Rhino by
Paul Meisel
Shark Lady by
Jess Keating
Illustrations by Marta Alvarez Miguens