“Mammals Get Schooled” by Maureen Yeo

Classroom Critters: Mammals Get Schooled, Maureen Yeo, Elizabeth Goh (illus) (Epigram, June 2023) Classroom Critters: Mammals Get Schooled, Maureen Yeo, Elizabeth Goh (illus) (Epigram, June 2023)

It’s the first day of a new school year and friends Pangolin and Slow Loris make their way along a jungle trail to meet their new teacher. They reminisce about the summer—Pangolin recalls an anthill exploding with larvae and eggs—before Mrs. Bat flies into the classroom to introduce herself.

Mammals Get Schooled by Maureen Yeo and illustrated by Elizabeth Goh is the first book in a new graphic novel series called Classroom Critters. Yeo, who has previously published books featuring Singapore’s fauna, returns this time with a cast of critters who have plenty of spark and personality.


Terrified of his new teacher, Slow Loris pretends he’s a snake, only to be told by Mrs Bat that the class is for mammals only. Slow Loris apologizes and Mrs Bat applauds him on his “impressive behavioural adaptation against threats”.

The class is composed of a number of stereotypical school characters, but with an added twist of Singapore’s animals. Plantain Squirrel is the eager class know-it-all, but struggles in sports class (learning to swim across a river). Slow Loris is picked on with the nickname “Malu-malu”, which, as Yeo clarifies, translates as shy-shy in Bahasa Indonesia. Mousedeer is focused on food and a pair of colugos are the class sweethearts.

Mrs Bat has assigned each mammal the task of presenting their species’ environmental adaptations to the class. But one day, Slow Loris and Pangolin notice that their friend Raffles’s Banded Langur hasn’t been at school for a while and the pair become worried. Suspecting their teacher might be involved, they hatch a plan to find the truth—and their friend.


Yeo has written a story that is funny and fast-paced, and is as educational as it is endearing. When a student misbehaves during a presentation and is asked to leave the class, a fellow classmate—a shrew—picks up on the tension.


“At over 1000 beats per minute, I have one of the fastest heart rates of any mammal. I didn’t think it was possible, but my heart is beating even faster now. “


Yeo adds in fact with humor. When a paper plane whizzes by Mrs. Bat, the teacher immediately asks Raffles’s Banded Langur to stop. When the offending student asks how he was discovered, Mrs Bat answers:

“There are only two animals in this class that have opposable thumbs for folding paper aeroplanes, and Slow Loris would never dare.”


Goh’s illustrations echo Yeo’s sense of humor and adventure, and bring this cast of characters to life. And while anthropomorphism—and especially examples of animals as young school students—is often found in novels for young readers, there are fewer stories about the animals of Southeast Asia. Whether they are familiar with Singapore’s fauna or if these “critters” are new to them, young readers everywhere are likely to enjoy the adventures of Pangolin and Slow Loris and may be moved to act when they realise the role they (and all humans) play in the disappearance of Raffles’s Banded Langur.

Melanie Ho is the author of Journey to the West: He Hui, a Chinese Soprano in the World of Italian Opera.