The World of Animals

Desmond Morris, Author, Peter Barrett, Illustrator Viking Children's Books $22.5 (128p) ISBN 978-0-670-85184-3

The value of this book lies in its pleasing proportions and Morris's ( The Naked Ape ) engaging, personable writing style. For example, the platypus ``looks as though it has been put together using spare parts from other animals.'' Giraffe mothers hardly notice the birth of their offspring which, at term, drop out, ``crashing to the ground below,'' miraculously unharmed. Like Alistair Cooke in the animal world, Morris employs a gently authoritative tone, mixing fresh perspective (``At first sight, the beaver looks like a giant rat with a flat tail''), commentary (camels have ``style'' and koalas would be ``boring'' pets), information and anecdote. The author also seems particularly delighted when putting to rest favorite falsehoods (it's ``almost impossible'' to find evidence of wolves killing people). The 24 essays, averaging three to four text pages each, pull the reader into a satisfying rhythm. But the book may best serve readers who prefer short dips--one or two essays per sitting. A lovely complement to each installment of text, Barrett's soft full-page watercolor portraits and scattered smaller paintings of beasts great and small are realistic and instructive. All ages. (Oct.)