There is no shortage of books to learn one’s ABCs and readers (and their parents) are spoiled for choice when it comes to thematic books from A-Z. But readers in Southeast Asia (or those with interest in the region) might wish to consider Marvellous Mammals: A Wild A to Z of Southeast Asia by Debby Ng and illustrated by Darel Seow as a top pick. Where else, for example, will “A” stand for the annamite striped rabbit?
Sticking with the trusty format, each letter corresponds with an animal that begins with the same letter: “F” for flying fox, “Q” for quoll and “Z” for zaglossus. But Ng’s theme gives her the opportunity to explore different animals than what one might typically encounter and the reader is all the better for it. Take “G” for gonsuri.
Gonsuri are unique to Borneo, Sumatra, and Peninsular Malaysia. They are also known as moonrats… However, they are not rodents! Instead, they are like tropical hedgehogs that live in trees!
Ng fills her A-Z guide with interesting—or “marvellous”—descriptions that work for the child who would be interested in knowing that “if a kouprey walked through your door, its head would touch the top of the door frame”.
While some readers might be familiar with “O” for orangutan and “W” for wild boar, Ng has also included lesser-known animals.
The xoong xor, or saola, is one of the rarest mammals you have never heard of… Some call it the “Asian unicorn”, because of its rarity and its straight, long horns. When it was discovered by scientists in 1993, it was thought to be the biggest discovery of the century, but local people had known about it for generations!
Fun facts in the margins extend the “did you know” elements of the story, while Ng also takes care to talk about the different names that the mammals have in different places and about the geography and the environment.
Seow’s illustrations are lively and playful, engaging the reader to not just flip past “T” for tapir, but to examine the animal’s details and surroundings. Seow’s work easily captures and holds a young reader’s attention.
The diversity of the wildlife in Southeast Asia is worth exploring. Marvellous Mammals certainly helps to spark that interest—perhaps soon it won’t be “C” for cat, but for colugo.