The New York TimesDecember 4, 2009
Photo portraits...can make the animal world seem less remote to children. In “Life-Size Zoo,” Teruyuki Komiya, a naturalist and the director of Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo, pursues a playful and developmentally savvy variation on the same idea. The book captures — with photographs by Toyofumi Fukuda — the life-size portraits of 20 animals, or (for the larger ones) at least close-ups of a horn, an eye or a nose.
The book stands nearly 15 inches tall, a span roughly equal, it turns out, to the height of a koala. In three instances, double gatefolds expand the photographer’s reach, a great deal by ordinary book-making standards but not all that much in elephant terms. Fully deployed, the supersize spreads are big enough to accommodate only a section of an adult elephant’s head (never mind the trunk) and can just about frame the head of a giraffe.
Young children measure themselves against their parents, siblings, pets and friends as they come to grips with the various nuances of the concept of big versus small, eventually recognizing, for instance, that a clown’s bulbous clodhoppers are “too big” and therefore funny. This portable zoo feeds their natural inquisitiveness, and Komiya’s thoughtfully prepared “fun facts” and questions, tucked away comic-strip style in vertical panels at the right margin, make the book a kind of scavenger hunt as well. Why do gorillas have such enormous foreheads, and camels such long eyelashes?
From concrete matters of size and scale, Komiya leapfrogs to one of natural science’s big ideas: evolutionary adaptation. Young readers may or may not be ready to take the next step and turn their curiosity back onto themselves as they page through the photos of this fascinating megabook, aided in no small measure by the nifty grasping power of their very own primate opposable thumbs.
–Leonard S. Marcus