April 29, 2021


My Pet Slime 3: Saving Cosmo. By Courtney Sheinmel and Colleen AF Venable. Illustrated by Renée Kurilla. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

Soul Riders 3: Darkness Falling. By Helena Dahlgren. Translated from Swedish by Tara Chace. Andrews McMeel. $8.99.

     Fighting the good fight, and winning, is not really enough in books for young readers. It is also crucial to fight in the right way, which means in battles tailored to the specific age ranges for which specific good-against-evil books are intended. For the very young readers who will identify with Piper Maclaine, eight-year-old creator of an ultra-cute homemade “slime pet” named Cosmo, the bad people have to be conquered in a thoroughly nonviolent manner and have to learn the error of their ways (if possible), and pretty much everybody has to end up being friendly with pretty much everybody else. That is exactly what happens in the conclusion of the My Pet Slime trilogy, which is also packed with enough mostly lighthearted adventure to keep fans of the first two books happily reading this one. Piper’s best friend (and former frenemy) Claire does a good job summing up the plot of Saving Cosmo when she says, near the end, that “a lot of cool things happened today. I got to rescue someone, then get captured myself, then break out, then go bowling with dominoes, then ride a giant slide, then race in a shopping cart, and then eat astronaut food…” Yes, that’s about it. But those are merely the human elements of the story. The book’s title, Saving Cosmo, shows that the major focus here will be on the wide-eyed, utterly adorable purple slime creature created by Piper with a lot of love and a pinch of cosmic dust (the contemporary equivalent of fairy dust) brought to Earth by Piper’s space-exploring Grandma Sadie. In the first two books, Cosmo started out being visibly alive and interactive only for Piper and Claire, but that element of the plotting is abandoned in the third book, because it is important to the story for a lot of people to see, get involved with, and learn to cherish Cosmo. And that gets into the color purple, which, it turns out in another necessary if clumsy plot twist, is Cosmo’s normal color – meaning that when he changes to other colors, something may be wrong. It turns out that he is really ill, so Piper has to save him, and there is the explanation of the title. Because of the age range targeted by this series, it is all right to have some heart-tugging separation between Piper and Cosmo – who is, after all, a creature of space, and (it would seem) belongs out there. But it is necessary, by the book’s end, to have everyone happily reunited and have Cosmo visible to and engaged with even more people – which is exactly what happens, accompanied by a lot of cute illustrations (the one of wide-eyed Cosmo on an exam table, attached to electrodes, with a cone of light beaming down on him, is almost too precious for words). As for conquering evil, evil basically conquers itself, as Piper’s Uncle Ricky realizes that he threw in his lot with bad guys and “made a mistake” but can now go to the police “to tell them everything and give them the proof,” because “I’ll get in trouble, but it’s the right thing to do,” and “the most important thing is family.” Young readers will enjoy the affirmations, ignore the plot holes, and delight in the adorableness of Cosmo and the ease with which the baddies are vanquished.

     Things are much more difficult in the Soul Riders trilogy, where family is also crucial to the plot – but in a much darker way, pulling its four teenage-girl protagonists into a whole series of dangerous, magic-imbued adventures based on the online “Star Stable” game. The basis of this trilogy is that Lisa, Alex, Linda and Anne are bonded not only with each other but also with four horses on the mysterious island of Jorvik, which is a linchpin of the balance of good and evil for the whole world. Jorvik is under threat from an ultra-evil creature called Garnok, his (or its) revenge-seeking human accomplice Mr. Sands, and three teenage-girl-looking demonic creatures who have scary horses on their side (the three are known collectively as Dark Riders, of course). All the machinations involve a parallel world to the green Earth, a place called Pandoria where the basic color scheme is pink (which would scarcely seem a frightening color, but which is designated as one for the purpose of these books). The usual trappings of young-adult fantasy are all trotted out, so to speak, in this horse opera, also so to speak. There are highly knowledgeable, magical druidic creatures of various types that seem to be out to help the four Soul Riders but may have their own agenda. There is an arcane book containing immensely powerful spells that the girls must use even without fully understanding them. There are a couple of adult human mentors/helpers, including one who was herself once a Soul Rider, but those adults are conveniently rendered unable to provide any real help, forcing Lisa, Alex, Linda and Anne to figure out what to do mostly on their own. The fecklessness of adults and resilience and stick-to-it-iveness of teenagers are basics of the Soul Riders books and the many, many other fantasies built on similar lines. The obviousness of the good and bad characters is foundational, too: Mr. Sands and his ilk operate through an organization called Dark Core, and they display that evil-sounding name all over the place. The sounds of the language in which the books are written – or perhaps those of the translation – are clunky and obvious, too, with one reference to “this momentous moment” and a time at which “the colors formed a colorful pattern.” And the plot holes in this trilogy are typical for the genre. For example, the girls need to prevent a dam from bursting, so they ride to a house in the village near the dam and try to warn the people there to evacuate. The villagers, of course, do not believe the disheveled and never-before-seen quartet of strangers on horseback, so the girls get some villagers to come see the dam and the danger for themselves….no, they don’t! That would make sense! Instead, they simply give up in frustration and save the village themselves – in such a way that the villagers will always believe they were right to ignore the Soul Riders’ dire warnings. Oh, the thanklessness of universe-rescuing! Less thankless, though, is family rescuing: Lisa’s father, who came to Jorvik for an ostensible job with Dark Core, is trapped and held hostage, and Lisa’s determination to save him (her only parent: her mother is dead, another common element of books like these) gets in the way of the Soul Riders’ mission and jeopardizes the four girls’ growing friendship and interdependence. But the girls and their horses all reconnect, of course, because they know if they do not, “No more rides in the woods and happy laughter, no music, no warmth and goodness.” Well, we can’t have that scenario! So eventually, not at all surprisingly, evil is defeated (with some difficulty and much soul-searching), proper balance is restored to the world(s), and readers who have stuck around for the entire trilogy will be satisfied to know that the Soul Riders could be called on in the future if Garnokian chaos should ever threaten again. The victory in Darkness Falling is hard-won rather than easily arranged, and the messages of camaraderie and peer-group identity are at least as strong as those of family ties. In these ways and others, the Soul Riders trilogy and others of its type aim for an older and presumably more mature (if not worldly) audience than do the My Pet Slime trilogy and similar series. Foundationally, though, there is not so much difference between these sequences: they are all about good (in some form) overcoming evil (in some form) – and they pave the way, for readers who develop an abiding interest in fantasy, for eventual indulgence in the genre on a thoroughly adult basis, in works such as The Lord of the Rings and its innumerable imitators.


Sérgio and Clarice Assad and others: Archetypes. Third Coast Percussion. Cedille. $16.

Curtis K. Hughes: Flagrant; Antechamber; Lesson Plan; Merger; Wingtones; It Was Not Raining; Tulpa. New Focus Recordings. $16.99.

Ghost Light: Music by Stacy Garrop, Michael Gilbertson, Niloufar Nourbakhsh, Theo Chandler, and Jeff Scott. Akropolis Reed Quintet (Tim Gocklin, oboe; Kari Landry, clarinet; Matt Landry, saxophone; Ryan Reynolds, bassoon; Andrew Koeppe, bass clarinet). New Focus Recordings. $16.99.

     The notion of music as an intensely personal art, with material created by a single individual, flies in the face of some collectivist leanings of certain musical groups – and is also at variance with the current social emphasis on things being better when many people work together. Whether creativity spread across multiple individuals makes sense, at least in special cases, is at the heart of a new Cedille release called Archetypes, in which two primary composers (Brazilian guitarist Sérgio Assad and his daughter, Clarice Assad) create musical impressions of eight archetypal figures, while four other composer/performers (David Skidmore, Peter Martin, Robert Dillon, and Sean Connors) produce four more – the result being a dozen differently limned archetypal characters brought to musical life through the Third Coast Percussion ensemble. The whole hour-long production is an experiment in composition, performance and communication. The percussive elements, not surprisingly, tend to dominate, but there is also plenty of vocalizing (some with a distinctly Brazilian sound) and a good deal of fine guitar playing – although Sérgio Assad is often placed in an ostinato role instead of being heard front-and-center. The biggest issue with Archetypes is that almost none of the dozen pieces really sounds like or reflects its title particularly well. The electronic-keyboard sound of Lover is attractive, for example, but the work does not explore this archetype except perhaps through a generally warm rather than strident sound (and it is stretching things to say that). Ruler has no particular sense of dominance, and while Jester does have some straightforwardly joking kazoo-like material, its overall feeling is not very different from that of Rebel. There is scarcely any sound of wisdom in Sage, which sounds mostly like in-a-cave music with trickling water somewhere; and Hero is very close in sensibility to Explorer, a stance that may be deliberate on the composers’ part, but one that makes the portrayals a good deal less than archetypal. The remaining works here – Innocent, Orphan, Magician, Caregiver, and Creator – all contain attractive instrumentation without relating in significant ways to their titular characters. The playing of Archetypes is excellent throughout, as is only to be expected from Third Coast Percussion. But the overall work, despite many interesting musical moments within its component parts, never makes a strong representational impression.

     The intent is variety of both effect and instrumentation on a New Focus Recordings release of music written over a 22-year time period by Curtis K. Hughes (born 1974). This too is in some ways a collaborative venture, with Hughes working closely with the performers who bring his works to life; and this too is a variegated recording, because the seven works offered on it not only date to different time periods but also use very different instrumental complements. The sound of the instruments seems itself to be the main point that Hughes makes in many of these pieces, as in the opening snare-drum solo, Flagrant, which is an intriguing concept piece that highlights more sounds than the snare drum usually produces – but which wears out its welcome well before the end of its three-and-a-half-minute time frame. Rhythmic variation as much as sonic differentiation is at the heart of Antechamber, which is played by the Boston Percussion Group (Matt Sharrock, Brian Calhoon, Greg Simonds, and Aaron Trant) and which, again, shows Hughes’ command of writing for differing sonic combinations but which, also again, continues longer than its content can justify (nearly 14 minutes in this case). Next on the CD is Lesson Plan for solo bass clarinet (Amy Advocat), and this is a pleasant miniature that nicely contrasts more-lyrical and more-pointed material. It is followed by Merger for two cellos (played by “Sentient Robots”: Bri Tagliaferro and Ben Baker). This is one of those competition-plus-cooperation pieces in which the cello’s inherent warmth and exceptional range play second fiddle (so to speak) to special effects and extended performance techniques. The work structurally somewhat resembles the duet that appears next on the CD, Wingtones for clarinet (Advocat again) and piano (Yuko Hagino). This is a two-movement piece in which the instruments’ contrasting sounds are used mainly for purposes of destabilization rather than emotional or tonal consonance. As in Merger, the focus is more on technique than on expressive communication. Next on the disc is the short marimba solo, It Was Not Raining, played by Sharrock and based on Samuel Beckett’s bleak and self-referential novel The Unnamable – whose interior-monologue style it does not, however, reflect in any significant way. The final work on this disc, and the longest, is the four-movement Tulpa, for soprano (Rose Hegele) and a 10-piece chamber ensemble conducted by Sharrock. Instead of a response of sorts to a novel of sorts, Tulpa is Hughes’ response to a film: David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. It is impossible to get the full flavor of Hughes’ work without being familiar with the 18-hour version of Lynch’s film, and without that familiarity, listeners are left simply with four oddly titled movements characterized mainly by contrasts between brief lyricism and strident dissonance – plus, in the third movement, a soprano quoting Proust’s Swann’s Way. The movement titles, all non-capitalized, are telophase, manufactured (for a purpose), “un amour inconnu…” (with ellipsis), and the number of completion – the last of which focuses on combinations of all 10 performers. There is a good deal of intriguing sound in Tulpa; the title word refers to the concept in mysticism of a being created through pure mental or spiritual power. But the whole piece is so much a personal expression and reaction by Hughes to a very personal film by a frequently deliberately obscure director that Tulpa feels as if it was written as a kind of intimate conversation between two auteurs who care little for anything beyond their own egos. Indeed, all the Hughes music on this disc seems written mainly for the composer himself, secondarily for the performers, and in only a tertiary way for anyone else.

     Another New Focus Recordings disc with a strong orientation toward instrumental sound features the Akropolis Reed Quintet playing five works intended to explore darkness, light and life cycles. The concept is ambitious and, realistically, more of a hook on which to hang some very different pieces than a fully thought-through theme for the CD. The five composers all show themselves adept at writing for the wind forces available to them here, but none of the works is strongly indicative of the supposed overall theme of the disc. Stacy Garrop’s four-movement Rites for the Afterlife is filled with suitably eerie, film-music-like scene-setting, with occasional solos for individual instruments bursting through what is mostly an ensemble piece that is intended primarily to be serious – although the third movement, The Hall of Judgment, is (unexpectedly in light of its title) almost scherzo-like. Michael Gilbertson’s Kinds of Light is also in four movements – short ones – and manages to reflect (so to speak) the titles rather effectively. Thus, Flicker is full of starts and stops; Twilight is slow-moving and crepuscular; Fluorescence flickers differently from the first movement, with something of an ostinato quality; and Ultraviolet pulsates almost constantly, to the point of annoyance. This is an interestingly interpretative work that, at just nine minutes total, manages not to overstay its welcome. Firing Squad by Niloufar Nourbakhsh is an atmospheric single-movement foray into sound combinations and permutations, featuring varying linear and chordal sections. Theo Chandler’s Seed to Snag includes three movements labeled Sprout, Stretch and Sow, the first giving a good but rather overlong impression of initial striving, the second using the winds effectively to encompass the idea of spreading out, and the third bouncing along brightly with intermittent pauses. The final work on the disc, and the longest by far, is Jeff Scott’s four-movement Homage to Paradise Valley, which incorporates scene-setting poetry by Marsha Music as introductions to the first, second and fourth movements. This is an ambitious work in “social awareness” mode, intended to pay tribute to various onetime African-American communities in Detroit. Like so many other advocacy pieces, it insists on its own importance and basically tells listeners that they ought to care about its topic. This is much less effective than simply creating engaging material to draw in an audience that is not already predisposed to become involved in the subject matter. The readings are fine, but they are far less evocative than Scott’s music – which, however, does not point with any level of specificity to a single city or specific locations within it. Music has inherent representational limits – even works constructed as carefully as Liszt’s symphonic poems tell their stories effectively only to listeners who already know what those stories are – so the issues of Homage to Paradise Valley are nothing new or unusual. But the extreme specificity of Music’s words, dealing as they do with very particular streets and neighborhoods in Detroit, means that only people who are highly knowledgeable about the city – or believe they should be highly knowledgeable about it – will get the full flavor of what Scott is trying to communicate. That is too bad, because the music on its own has many interesting elements, especially in the way it blends the sounds of the wind instruments. Homage to Paradise Valley is more effective as a non-referential woodwind suite than as an insistent tribute to a particular time, place and culture. Although not quite as intriguing as Kinds of Light, it is a satisfactory conclusion to an interestingly varied CD of very well-played contemporary woodwind music.


Hovhaness: Piano Music. Şahan Arzruni, piano. Kalan Music. $18.59.

Scott Wollschleger: Piano Music. Karl Larson, piano. New Focus Recordings. $16.99.

Brian Ferneyhough: Complete Piano Music, 1965-2018. Ian Pace, piano; Ben Smith, second piano. Métier. $18.99 (2 CDs).

     To composers of the Classical era, the piano (that is, fortepiano) was an instrument allowing greater expressiveness than the harpsichord, or at least expressiveness of a different type. To Beethoven and the early Romantics, the steadily improving piano made possible increasing emotional communication in music, as well as substantial virtuosity, often for its own sake. To Liszt, one of the most-substantial virtuoso players of his era, the piano – which came into essentially its modern form during his lifetime – was an orchestra in miniature. To later composers, the piano took on expanded roles or very different ones, including some (such as “prepared piano”) that changed the instrument’s inherent sound and placed it even more firmly in the percussion realm than it had been before. And to some composers of the 20th and 21st centuries, the piano became, or has become, a newly expressive instrument, even to the point of connecting to realms beyond the musical. That is how Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) appears to have seen the piano, on the basis of a generous selection of his solo-piano music that was originally released in 2019 but is only now being made available in the United States. Pianist Şahan Arzruni, a longtime friend and colleague of Hovhaness, seems as finely attuned to the underlying mysticism of Hovhaness’ piano works (and, indeed, his works in general) as any performer can be. Arzruni’s extensive familiarity with Hovhaness’ oeuvre, and his personal possession of numerous hand-written manuscripts of Hovhaness’ music, make it possible for him to place the 10 works on this Kalan Music CD firmly within proper context. And Arzruni’s sheer pianistic skill helps him do something that is by no means straightforward in Hovhaness’ music: to make it colorful and convincing in and of itself, without requiring complete understanding of the philosophical trappings in which so much material from this Armenian-American composer is clothed. Arzruni presents these works in a way that he believes will help them communicate Hovhaness’ beliefs and intentions most effectively – not chronologically, and not arranged by length or other obvious methods. Furthermore, Arzruni offers pieces of piano music in combination with ones that Hovhaness originally conceptualized differently. Thus, Invocations to Vahakn (1945) was written for piano and percussion (Adam Rosenblatt is the percussionist); Yenovk (“The Troubadour,” 1947/1951) was created as seven movements for piano solo; Lalezar (1950-52) derives from a set of songs for bass voice and orchestra; and so forth. These are the first three works on the disc, lasting, respectively, 13, 11 and four-and-a-half minutes. So in less than half an hour, Arzruni already gives listeners a portrait of Hovhaness presented at varying lengths. In terms of time span, it is true that most of the pieces date from the mid-1940s through the mid-1950s, but even within that period, there is considerable variety. Like many other prolific composers – and Hovhaness was quite prolific, although very little of his music is heard frequently – Hovhaness is said to have had “periods” of differing focus. Thus, some works here imitate the sound of Near Eastern and Middle Eastern string instruments. Some draw directly on specific nations’ music, not only that of Armenia but, for example, that of Greece in the three-movement Suite on Greek Tunes (1949), one of a number of world première recordings heard here, and that of the Orient in general in Mystic Flute (1937). Other pieces here are Journey into Dawn (1954), Laona (1956), Lake of Van Sonata (1946/1959), Vijag (1946), and Hakhpat (1946/1951, another piano-and-percussion piece). Although there is much of interest to be heard by simply listening to this disc, the barriers to full enjoyment and understanding of Hovhaness are shown through the works’ titles: the references are often obscure and generally necessary for a listener to apprehend the mood fully – and, in many cases, to connect to the specific form of mysticism that the composer is expressing. Arzruni is an excellent interpreter of this rather rarefied repertoire, and this disc is as good a choice as any for listeners who would like to hear more of Hovhaness than his few works that are occasionally programmed in concerts and recitals. The CD is very much an acquired taste, although it will be to the taste of listeners wishing to acquire greater familiarity with an unusual, visionary 20th-century composer.

     Hovhaness put the piano at the service of the mystical; Scott Wollschleger (born 1980) puts it at the service of synesthesia, a condition he shares with Scriabin, among others. And just as Arzruni’s interpretations of Hovhaness draw on his longstanding personal relationship with the composer, so do the readings of Karl Larson on a New Focus Recordings release draw on his friendship with Wollschleger. The actual sound of Wollschleger’s piano pieces, however, is worlds away from that of Hovhaness’ music. The 10 pieces on this CD, which date from the years 2007-2020, are delicate but determinedly dissonant, clearly seeking a kind of intimacy but achieving it only rarely. The works come across as close collaborations between composer and pianist, but as dualities that offer little entrance space for anyone other than the two involved in creating and re-creating them. Their sound sometimes differs, as in the contrast between the focus of Dark Days on the piano’s lower register and the overtly tinkly sonic world of Tiny Oblivion. But other works, synesthetic or not, simply sound like a great deal of contemporary stop-and-start, here-and-there keyboard pieces: Music without Metaphor, for example, and Blue Inscription. And then there is Lyric Fragment, which is scarcely lyrical – it has a nocturne-like quality whose sound, however, is far from restful. The disc includes three pieces labeled as Brontals by the composer: No. 2 (“Holiday”), No. 6, and No. 11 (“I-80”). These contain abrupt contrasts of low and high notes and of slow and speedy sections, but despite the representational implication of the two pieces with titles, there is very little distinctive from one piece to the next, and nothing particularly illustrative. Similarly, the two works here called Secret Machine, Nos. 4 and 6, have nothing apparent to do with their title, although No. 4 does contain more-interesting rhythmic and dynamic contrasts than many of the other works on the disc, while No. 6 has a pleasant bell-like clarity that maintains interest throughout its modest length. Wollschleger’s form of synesthesia connects sound with color – a not-unusual presentation of the condition – but the composer does not bring his unusual sensibilities to bear in ways that reach out to an audience to any significant extent. Someone who knows him personally and plumbs his works with that knowledge front-and-center, as Larson does, can certainly play the music convincingly. But listeners not already well-versed in Wollschleger as both a person and a composer (plus a synesthetic) will find little here that is distinctive and not much with communicative potential.

     Although significantly older than Wollschleger, Brian Ferneyhough (born 1943) – who does not have synesthesia – treats the piano in many similar ways. A new two-CD Métier release featuring all of Ferneyhough’s piano works created from 1965 to 2018, played by Ian Pace (with Ben Smith assisting in the Sonata for Two Pianos), shows the sorts of deliberately extreme contrasting sections and unwillingness to approach warmth or lyricism that are characteristic of a great deal of contemporary music (and not just for piano). One distinguishing characteristic that helps make some of these works listenable is their brevity: many are epigrammatic, including six tiny pieces in a work actually called Epigrams, and the concluding movement of a piece called Lemma-Icon-Epigram. The first piece on the disc, Invention, is itself short (less than two minutes), with chordal emphasis typical of much recent piano music. In Epigrams, the first piece is slow-paced, the second is all over the keyboard, the third focuses on high notes, the fourth on lower chords, the fifth on individual notes in stop-and-start fashion, and the sixth on a kind of stop-start-fade approach. Sonata for Two Pianos does not use the dual instruments to any significant purpose: it basically sounds like Ferneyhough’s solo-piano pieces, but doubled. In Three Pieces, the approaches of Epigrams are again employed, but at considerably greater length – which does not serve the material well, since there is, after a while, a repetitiveness to the techniques that, in the absence of harmony or consonance, simply becomes tiresome. The first movement of Lemma-Icon-Epigram has a somewhat discursive quality; the second makes note duration and eventual silence into important elements; and the third whirls by quickly with notes all over the piano in an apparently random display that, in reality, is carefully planned. Opus Contra Naturam is another three-movement work, but here the central movement is twice as long as the first and third put together. The first movement tinkles and growls simultaneously; the second spreads with seeming randomness around various sections of the keyboard; and the third proffers a slow and irregular pace that is largely unconnected to what has gone before. Quirl is an extended single movement incorporating essentially the same epigrammatic techniques used elsewhere by Ferneyhough, but less effectively, because they simply wear out their welcome comparatively quickly. Finally, El Rey de Calabria concludes matters in moderate tempo and with figurations that sound as if they are about to turn into melody even though they never quite do so. This is one of those releases clearly intended for people who are already familiar with the composer, if perhaps not with his piano works, and who want to explore his keyboard interests at some length (the two CDs together run an hour and a half). The release may also appeal to people who do not know Ferneyhough himself but who find contemporary approaches to the piano congenial and worth listening to, since the sound of these works fits quite neatly into the general realm of recent piano music without presenting anything startling or surprising or, indeed, much of anything to differentiate Ferneyhough from many other modern composers who use the piano to produce their effects.

April 22, 2021


Fragile World: Color Nature’s Wonders. By Kerby Rosanes. Plume. $15.

     There is not usually much to say about coloring books for adults. They tend to be harmless pastimes, generally featuring elaborate black-and-white renderings of something-or-other, with the aim of giving people a creative outlet during lockdowns and enforced isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic or other factors – or a way to share time with children (themselves possibly in lockdown and isolation) who may be doing their own coloring and other arts-and-crafts activities at the same time.

     Some of these adult coloring books, though – certainly including Kerby Rosanes’ Fragile World – aim to do more than distract and provide a small artistic opportunity. Fragile World, specifically, is a combined realistic-and-surrealistic look at threatened and endangered animals of all sorts. Thanks to the quality of Rosanes’ art and his decision to make some of the pages hyper-realistic while having others be surreal, the book comes across as much less preachy than it otherwise might. And thanks to the nine “About the Animals” pages at the back, readers/colorists can find out just what animals are shown and just what their current vulnerability status is (although there is a design irritation here: the descriptive paragraphs refer by page number to the places where the animals appear, but the pages themselves are not numbered, making it a chore to figure out just what is where).

     The illustrations are so striking and varied that it is possible to enjoy Fragile World without doing any coloring at all – although, of course, adding color to the pages is the ostensible reason-for-being of the book. Still, the full-face extreme closeup of a mandrill (described at the back of the book as “vulnerable”) and the two-page spread showing five chimpanzees (“endangered”) are enthralling in and of themselves, partly because they spark thinking about the ways in which we humans have encroached upon the lives of some of our nearest relatives. Those pages are realistic; others, by intention, go beyond strict realism, and have their own visual drama and attractiveness. The page showing rusty patched bumblebees (“endangered”), for example, shows one bee much, much larger than the others – with the huge one sporting a collection of flowers and other foliage on its back, as if bees are the foundational element of many plants (which in fact they are, so this is a particularly neat touch). Similar and even more dramatic pages highlight Ethiopian wolves (“endangered”) and addaxes (“critically endangered” Saharan antelopes): each animal gets a two-page spread in which one huge creature is integrated into and supporting an entire landscape of trees, grasslands and mountains – within which smaller versions of the same animal are seen. To put a spiritual spin on this, which may be part of Rosanes’ intent: if Ethiopian wolves and addaxes imagined the gods of their species, these pages would show those gods as well as their subjects.

     Quite a few of the animals pictured in Fragile World are well-known and have become “marquee animals” among conservation groups that are trying to raise awareness and funds for protection of vulnerable species. Mountain gorillas (“endangered”), Asian elephants (“endangered”), great white sharks (“vulnerable”), giant pandas (“vulnerable”), polar bears (“vulnerable”), and jaguars (“near threatened”), among others here, fall into this category. But Rosanes does a good job of mixing up the familiar with the less-known, showing that habitat loss and other forms of human encroachment affect many more species than the ones frequently used to tug at people’s heart strings and purse strings. Some of the book’s most interesting pages show New Zealand lesser short-tailed bats (“vulnerable”), Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterflies (“endangered”), humphead wrasses (“endangered”), Kangaroo Island dunnarts (“critically endangered”), European hamsters (“critically endangered”), and Polynesian ground doves (“critically endangered”). The differences among the descriptive words about each species’ level of danger are not clearly explained, but are reasonably clear in context and through Rosanes’ written paragraphs about each animal. Of course, coloring the pictures of these various animals will have no impact whatsoever on their survival – and realistically, some will not survive long-term, simply because there are so many humans on Earth with so many needs for food, housing and what we think of, ironically, as “creature comforts.” Nevertheless, hopefully Fragile World can have some impact on the thinking of readers/colorists simply by presenting so many different animals in such detailed and attractive drawings, and involving people in those animals’ existence – however briefly – by providing an opportunity to color the pictures and think about the animals while doing so.