All about koalas and kangaroos

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

There goes Irma Welton strolling down the beach with a kangaroo in her backpack! This second photograph of Richard Hewett's in Kangaroo, by Caroline Arnold (William Morrow & Company, $11.75, ages 10 and up), is a real winner. The first one is an introductory close-up. And from there on the sequence is great, as is the text, leading from one event to the next in a real-life orphan kangaroo story. The book tells of the animal's rescue, adoption, development, and eventual return to the wild. In the process, the reader learns about the habits and predicaments of kangaroo life. In this particular case, the most notable predicament, aside from that of being orphaned, was trying to find a good substitute for mama's pouch. The solution is entertainingly portrayed.

In following the story, readers will find an unsuspected affection for these odd marsupials - and that undoubtedly is the point of the book. Kangaroos have been enough of a threat to man's operations in parts of Australia to create a retaliatory attitude on the part of many people, quite aside from man's general interference with their habitat. So the kangaroo, or some species, at least, may be endangered. That is a real predicament!

Koalas, on the other hand, don't do much but nibble eucalyptus leaves and snooze. But they look like cuddly teddy bears and are appealing enough to have become a national symbol. What more do we know about them? Koala, also by Caroline Arnold (William Morrow & Company, $11.75, ages 10 and up), tells us a good deal, including the fact that koalas also are endangered by man's interference with their habitat. Otherwise, they have very few natural enemies.

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Here again we have a story of a rescue operation. This time the animals are living in a preserve, a few of them destined for survival in zoos elsewhere. Richard Hewett's photographs and Arnold's text are as excellent as in ``Kangaroo,'' charming as well as informative and clear. We learn that snoozing and eating, for instance, aren't all that goes on in koala life. These are nocturnal animals like raccoons and skunks. The book tells us daytimers what we didn't know about the koala's needs and environment.

How do koalas get around and find each other? How do they look after their little ones? How about that extra thumb on each hand, which helps get a grip on tree branches? When does a young koala leave the mother's pouch and take to piggyback riding, and when does it go off on its own? Read and find out.

Both books are honest and tasteful in presentation of their material, appropriate for all types of readers.

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