Picture books about collective nouns for animal groups have been done before. You could say this is what Lane Smith’s new book is about, but delightfully it is much more.
A boy in the wild is dressed in leaves and has no family or friends in sight. He wanders the landscape and meets animals—an army of caterpillars, a troop of monkeys, etc. The names for animal collectives are unusual ones, indeed, and Smith opts for the terms not as commonly used—a turn of turtles, a smack of jellyfish and an unkindness of ravens. Smith uses these delicious words to further the plot (the unkindness of ravens unkindly drop the boy, once again alone, on a formation of rocks). Even the book’s title refers to a name for a group of baby goats that is lesser known; most often we hear “a herd of kids,” not “tribe.”
But herein lies the brilliance of Smith’s story: Instead of just listing unusual names for animal collectives, he brings readers a touching tale of family and belonging. The book opens with the lonely boy playing with a group of young goats, and bringing “tribe” full circle, he eventually stumbles upon a group of other wild folks. No longer will he wander alone. Cleverly, Smith makes effective use of tense in the book: All the sentences are in past tense until the boy meets his fellow humans. No more “was.” Now, “there is a tribe of kids” and there is a newfound family. The illustrations—textured mixed-media art that makes economic use of space to show the progression of time—are spectacular.
It’s a story that is, at turns, funny and moving—and always entertaining. It’s not to be missed.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.