Allison's Book Bag

Two Photo-Fiction Books by Jeff Kurrus

Posted on: November 5, 2014

From Jeff Kurrus comes two glorious photo-fiction books for animal lovers of all ages. Have You Seen Mary? is about one sandhill crane’s faithful search for his mate. The Tale of Jacob Swift is about the struggles of a fox family to raise their sons in the harsh but beautiful grasslands. Younger readers will enjoy both the adventurous plots and the spectacular images, while older readers will treasure the coffee-style format and the universal themes.

It is difficult for me to say which draws me in first, the plot or the pictures. In Have You Seen Mary? John and Mary Crane have returned once again on their annual migration to the Platte River in Nebraska. In the middle of eating and drinking and being on guard against enemies, John loses sight of Mary. At first, John doesn’t panic. He simply gets some needed rest, confident that in the morning the two will meet up again. But the following morning, Mary is still gone. John watches his fellow cranes. Not once does he see her. He revisits their favorite haunts. Not once does he hear her. He even asks other animals. Not one can help him. Ever so slowly, Karrus heightens the tension, until the pivotal moment when after a month of searching John forces himself to think of a spot he has avoided: the power lines.

Similarly, in The Tale of Jacob Swift, two brothers emerge from their family den for the first time. They’re greeted by the sight of a rainbow hanging over the short grass prairie. And Jacob wonders, “Why do we live here? There’s nothing here.” His parents try to caution the brothers on the need to listen better, for there are eagles and coyotes and other dangerous predators. There are also prairie dogs and ground squirrels and other prey. One day, when the parents leave the pups alone, the two brothers begin to discover the thrill of the hunt but also the danger of being the hunted. As they grow up, they start to get stronger and faster, but will their abilities prove enough to survive? Again, ever so slowly, Karrus heightens the tension, until the pivotal moment when Jacob decides it’s time for him to leave. And his parents are not ready to let him go.

The photos in both books were taken by internationally-renowned photographers. In Have You Seen Mary?, Michael Forsberg delights with images of the sandhill cranes, their feeding grounds, and their migration route. Of these, I particularly enjoyed the shots of the cranes as they bathed, fought, danced, and courted. Interspersed are also photos of friends, foes, and scenic sites. I appreciated those of the skies filled with cranes and of Nebraska sunsets. My absolute favorite shot appears near the end, as John is trying to describe Mary, and tells of how she holds her chicks.

In The Tale of Jacob Swift, Rob Palmer similarly delights with images of the swift fox and their moments of family bonding, hunting, and playing together. Of these, I love the rough-and-tumble shots, as well as the blurred action ones, and…. Truly, it’s hard to pick just a few, because Palmer has so endearingly captured the sibling interactions of swift foxes. Interspersed as also photos of predators, prey, and the prairie landscape. I marveled at those of the magnificent eagles and raptor, and laughed at the portrait of a dancing prairie dog. My favorite shot, if I force myself to pick one, is of Jacob nuzzling his mother.

Naturally, both books have educational themes. Have You Seen Mary? points out in story form that sandhill cranes are fascinating animals who in some ways are like humans. They have families and rivalries. They pride themselves on their grooming. And they communicate through body language and different calls. The Tale of Jacob Swift tells of a species which used to exist in great abundance across the Great Plains, but now their numbers have declined. It is important for us to understand the importance of the grasslands if we are to see the swift fox thrive again.

As for the universal themes, I can’t do justice to them without spoiling the plot. Suffice to say, Have You Seen Mary? ranks high on the list of tender love stories, while The Tale of Jacob Swift is a poignant to tribute to family life which should strike a chord with parents and siblings everywhere.

At the end of each book, Jeff Kurrus shares the inspiration, writing process, and revision steps in creating his two photo-fiction tales. The hours, weeks, and months that he put into their writing and publication are obvious. The result is two entertaining and attractive books for which I have only praise.

My rating? Bag them: Carry them with you. Make them a top priority to read.

How would you rate these books?

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