This review was written for my children's literature class, so it addresses some concerns from a more professional perspective than many of my earlier reviews have.
Halls, K. M., Spears, R. & Young, R. (2006). Tales of the cryptids: Mysterious creatures that may or may not exist. Plain City, OH: Darby Creek Publishing.
This book caught my eye with its clever title. When I pulled it down from the shelf, its cover, cleverly designed to mimic a sideshow advertisement, drew me in even further. Despite its whimsical appearance, the text contains a good bit of information about how science is used to prove or disprove the existence of mysterious creatures.
The authors of Tales of the Cryptids have no special experience that qualifies them to write on this topic; it is an area of personal interest for each of them. To supplement their own knowledge from personal studies, they have interviewed cryptozoologists, primatologists, paleoanthropologists, and geneticists. Because cryptozoology inherently studies creatures whose existence is difficult to prove, it’s hard to evaluate the factual accuracy of the text. An important part of the book is that the authors emphasize this very dilemma; they go to great lengths to explain that some of these animals have been proven hoaxes, some may or may not be real, and a very few have actually been proven to exist. The authors focus on the importance of scientific inquiry, describing the need for DNA, blood, and bone evidence to prove the existence of many of these creatures.
The book is designed to inform, entertain, and teach critical thinking. It states, “We hope you’ll have moments of doubt and wonder as you read over this book, because that’s the reaction any smart reader should have to a book of unsolved mysteries” (5). It lists its audience as readers ages 11 and up, but I believe it is accessible to readers as young as 8 or 9. It covers several different types of cryptids, presenting reports from both believers and skeptics. The book may inspire readers to take on their own inquiry process while trying to solve mysteries.
Information in the book is presented clearly, divided by type of creature (Bigfoot, sea monster, prehistoric, mammal). Each type of creature is introduced by a brief narrative passage which invites the reader to imagine she has encountered the creature herself. Each section has several subsections. Content includes profiles of specific cryptids, explanations of possible evidence, and interviews with scientists and with artists who portray these creatures in various media. Illustrated maps indicate names of similar cryptids in different regions. Illustrations consist of photos, sketches, and maps. The book includes a table of contents, a “cryptidictionary” which describes different cryptids and provides a “reaity index” indicating whether they are more likely to be a hoax or real, a bibliography, specific citations for interviews including locations and dates, a list of related websites, and an index.
Tales of the Cryptids discusses a high interest subject while maintaining the importance of scientific inquiry. Its structure, illustrations, thoroughness, finding aids, and extensive proof of careful research make it an excellent nonfiction book for readers in the middle grades.