A Strange Place to Call Home: The World's Most Dangerous Habitats and the Animals That Call Them Home


Book Information

Chronicle Books 2013
Science Curriculum

Of all the miracles of life, it is life's persistence that astounds the most. In the endless black of the deepest caves, blind fish find their way. In a frozen forest, snow monkeys find a cozy hot spring to keep warm. Even in the salt desert's barren cold, flamingoes bloom like vivid flowers. The 14 animals in this book defy the odds and make their homes in the unlikeliest of places—under the weight of seas, in the belly of tar pits, in the sandstorm's mouth.---from the publisher

44 pages 9784521-0120-0  Ages  5-10< *************

"Home is where I want to be

Pick me up and turn me round"

-- Talking Heads, "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)


petroleum flies


of them are born

in carrion, water,

or soil.  But not this crew. They hatch

in oil."

From one extreme (habitat) to another, A STRANGE PLACE TO CALL HOME offers readers some truly awesome examples our planet's ability to provide lodging for a mind-boggling assortment of beings.  Talk about adaptation -- this is like Darwin on steroids! 

And for each of these fourteen intriguing species explored, poet Marilyn Singer crafts both a poem and an endnote with further information:

"Petroleum Flies

Different types of flies are found all over the world and in every kind of climate.  Some live in habitats that would kill most other beings.  Among those are petroleum or oil flies (Helaeomyia petrolei).  The larvae hatch in naturally occurring pools of oil, feeding on insects trapped in the petroleum.  Then they pupate -- transform into adults -- on nearby grass.  The adults live in cracks in the soil near the pools.  They can walk on the oil as long as only their feet touch the surface."

Singer also provides the poetry form used, and a web address where readers can learn about each of the forms she employs.  (The above poem is a cinquain.)

Meanwhile, each of the 14 poems is accompanied by an Ed Young collage.  In the case of these petroleum flies, we feast our eyes a two-page spread of huge, satisfyingly hideous petroleum flies. 

While most of these habitats depicted involve extremely rugged, natural expanses of mountain, sea, or desert, another of my absolute favorites here is the seeming opposite.  In a scene that causes one to readily imagine nearby blaring of car horns and clouds of petroleum fumes, the urban fox is one with which I can readily relate.  Ed Young's illustration of a spilled-out pickup truck, an overturned dolly, an old-time water tower framing a full moon, and a couple of foxes hiding out amidst the debris, brings us to the fringes of our people world and the clash between man and nature that so often leaves the planet poorer for it.


urban foxes

They have

quit forests and

fields for sheds, flowerbeds;

forfeited wild berries for shrimp

lo mein.

It seems

an easy life,

but in close quarters, cars,

capture, and contagion take

their toll.


adapted to

city living find it

full of plenty -- but plentiful

in risk."

"When I'm home, ev'rything seems to be right"

--Lennon/McCartney "A Hard Day's Night"

This book is a great adventure.  But I think I'll keep my current residence.

44 pages   978-1-4521-0120-0  Ages  5-10

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

Editor's note: Illustrated by Ed Young

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