February 09, 2012


Living Color. By Steve Jenkins. Sandpiper. $7.99.

3-D Chillers: Vampires, Zombies, and Werewolves. By Deborah Kespert. Scholastic. $7.99.

     In just 32 oversize pages, Steve Jenkins manages to convey a great deal of interesting material about colors in nature – and to showcase those colors through his very well-done drawings. Jenkins points out that mammalian colors tend to be drab, possibly because the entire line of mammals started with small, evasive creatures that came out primarily at night, when bright colors would be useless or even an outright danger (by making mammals easier for their predators to see). Elsewhere in the animal world, though, colors have many uses, from warning potential predators away to drawing the attention of possible mates. Jenkins devotes four pages apiece to the colors red, blue, yellow and green, and two pages apiece to orange, purple and pink. The varying uses of the colors are fascinating. The deep-sea jellyfish and blood red fire shrimp, for example, look bright red to humans, but they live so far under water that almost no red light reaches them – so they appear black and blend in. The cleaner wrasse is bright blue, with distinctive markings – so potential predators recognize it and do not eat it, and the wrasse cleans the larger fish by eating parasites from their skin and gills. The crab spider changes from white to yellow so it matches the color of the flower on which it rests, waiting for a bee or butterfly to land and be captured. The bright orange of the monarch and viceroy butterflies warns predators of the insects’ foul taste. The pink squat lobster has no shell, but often lives inside pink sponges, which disguise it effectively. These and many other examples are amazing in themselves, but there is more here: Jenkins also explains how animal colors come about, how they evolve to different colors over time, and how colorful creatures find ways to attract mates but not predators. The book ends with five pages of more-in-depth information on the animals pictured in the main section, giving their size, habitat, diet and some additional data. Everything is carefully presented and attractive to look at, and the total amount to be seen and learned here is very impressive indeed.

     The 48-page 3-D Chillers: Vampires, Zombies, and Werewolves must be taken more lightly, but despite the sensationalized title and the included 3-D glasses, this is a significantly more informative book than most entries in the supernatural-chiller field. Yes, there are plenty of pop-culture references and pictures here, for example to Twilight vampires and also to the low-budget Hammer Films vampire movies starring Christopher Lee. And yes, the book has a strong visual orientation and lots of exclamation points in its text. But this (+++) book also includes some genuinely interesting and less-known material, such as the story of a possible real 18th-century vampire named Peter Plogojowitz, whose body did not decompose after death and was found with fresh blood in its mouth; information on a Chinese vampire-zombie combination called jiang shi; an explanation of the derivation of the word zombie (from an African term meaning “soul of a dead person”); a note on Mexican naguals, witches that turn into wild dogs; and even a few comments on such literary repositories of werewolf legend as Gilgamesh and Little Red Riding Hood. Add in the “Dictionary of the Supernatural” at the back of the book and you have a short, punchy work designed for entertainment (although the 3-D effects are not especially impressive) – but also a book with some solid facts on the background of today’s versions of vampires, zombies, werewolves and other creatures of the night and of nightmare.

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