by Ben Hoare, illustrated by Lucy Rose, Kingfisher, 2020
This book recently joined our household and has been greeted with cries of excitement – Come! You have to see this page! – my son calls to us. I can see why he is so engaged: the illustrations are vibrant, city after city springing from the page, the streetscapes adorned with the creatures that live there. Sixteen cities from across the globe are introduced with a snip of history, some familiar sights – and the birds, beetles, plants, reptiles and mammals that call each one home.
Our son dived straight in to the Singapore pages. There are the smooth-coated otters, just like the ones in the videos that his Thatha sends – otters playing in the canal on his morning walk. Over the page is Mumbai, and our son is pointing – the cobra, the leopards. I can see him looking, flicking through, studying a section, turning back, comparing. We saw a documentary about a man teaching people in Mumbai how to live more safely with urban leopards and that’s a theme that emerges from this book: our constant proximity to wild creatures, and the normality of that. Our cities have opportunties for all kinds of creatures. The less appealing are featured here too – I lived in London for ten years but never knew that the Tube has its own kind of mosquitoes that only live in the warm, underground air of the tunnels. There are features on scavengers and animals in the home. And also about human wildlife heroes – the cleanup volunteers in Cape Town rescuing oiled penguins; the bird hospital in Delhi treating injured black kites; the toad and turtle patrols.
I think some of our son’s joy in this book comes from the connections that he is making, the pictures he’s building in his head of life in these cities, near and far. These animals are not far away. He doesn’t have to trek into a jungle to see them, they live amongst us, an integral part of the global cities that fascinate him and make us all yearn to travel again. The final pages are called ‘Making Wildlife Welcome’. I hope that’s a message we will gain as we dive further into this book. The world is filled with creatures looking for a home, safety, food, somewhere to raise a family. They can be our ‘wild neighbors’ – but we need to save them some space.