The Queen’s Shadow: A Story About How Animals See by Cybele Young

I’m not sure who the Canadian author, Cybele Young, wishes to target for an audience of her book The Queen’s Shadow: A Story About How Animals See. It’s not that I didn’t like the book, I actually found the information fascinating, but my five year old grandson was unimpressed, although he did respond to some of the information I gleaned from the scientific explanations of the various features of the selected creatures. He was turned off by the Photoshop colored pen and ink illustrations which were detailed and accurate but not the kid friendly sort normally found in picture books. The language was also off putting, a little too sophisticated for the young child, which also did not translate into a good read aloud. The best way to read this story would be to paraphrase the entire book as you flip through the pages, highlighting the descriptions what you think would engage the younger listener.

While an older student might find the information in this book interesting, they wouldn’t necessarily choose a picture book as a resource. Parents, however, who are sharing this book with their kids will appreciate the nuances found in the plot as well as the little known anatomical facts that Young shares with the reader. Perhaps an upper elementary or middle school aged child would find this book useful.

Young uses the old detective scenario where there is a flash of lightning and all goes black. When the lights return, the Queen notices her shadow is missing. Which of her various animal guests is responsible for the theft? Royal Detective Mantis Shrimp begins the investigation by first questioning Sir Chameleon who could have snatched the shadow using his long tongue. Each creature has an excuse of why it couldn’t have been them based upon their unique anatomical features, often involving their eyesight. They all, however, have spotted someone else in the room doing something incriminating. The last suspects, a pair of sea urchins, gigglingly inform the inspector that they have been playing in all the animals shadows except the Queen’s since she had left hers in the loo. Embarrassment turns the Queen various colorful shades, some only certain of her visitors can see. The guests are shooed off the premises, but they are halfway home before they realize that their shadows have been left behind.

There is a box of scientific information included with each creature with an additional annotated list of the featured animals at the end of the book as well as a detailed illustration and description of the various parts of the human eye, and a glossary of unfamiliar scientific terms. Cybele Young cleverly uses her illustrations to demonstrate how each suspect sees the room, including the way the pit viper uses heat to identify its victims.

The Queen’s Shadow is a rather bizarre blend of literary techniques (such as alliteration), a silly fantasy plot, a setting of a human Queen’s Ball with guests ranging from sea creatures to land animals (diversity represented by a shark, dragon fly, goat, and pigeon), nonfiction facts focusing on eyesight, and collage-style illustrations, which when put together somehow don’t quite gel as a whole. Perhaps a straightforward nonfiction book featuring the same animals and illustrations would have been a better vehicle for the young reader. There are many children who are fascinated by the animal world and they don’t need to be tricked into learning interesting fun facts with a fiction setting. Three stars.

A thank you to Kids Can Press and NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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