Coco, the Fish with Hands: Endangered Animal Tales 1 (Aleesah Darlison, illus by Mel Matthews, Puffin)
Coco, the Fish with Hands is a simple book that reads almost like a souvenir from a conservation habitat visit. Its story is practical and streamlined, introducing an individual handfish, Coco, accompanied by a collection of facts helping kids build a knowledge bank about this endangered species. The information (where spotted handfish live; what they eat; when they mate; how they care for their babies) is carefully selected and presented in easily digestible language appropriate for the target age of early primary school children. Coco is very easy to get into, via the cheerful, lightly anthropomorphised illustrations of the handfish and her environment—they call to mind a more commercial Eric Carle. The book does what it sets out to do in terms of educating little children about a rare marine species, and the story of Coco is an accessible companion to the facts being presented (‘Fact!’ precedes each one, so there’s no confusion). This is a nice strategy that helps the book sit somewhere between fiction and nonfiction, but Coco’s story and character could be a little more imaginative in order to help children connect at a more narrative level. Coco is the first in the new ‘Endangered Animal Tales’ series, and it will be interesting to see whether there is much variation in tone across the series, or if this one is a firm template for later books.
Anica Boulanger-Mashberg is a freelance editor, writer and reviewer, and has worked as a bookseller at The Hobart Bookshop for over 10 years.