Coco, the Fish with Hands
32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99
Deep in the estuary where the river meets the sea of the Derwent River in Tasmania lives one of the most endangered species in Australia – the tiny spotted handfish, so named because they use their “hands” to walk along the sand and silt of the sea floor rather than using their fins to swim. So endangered that it is the first marine fish in the world to be listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
It is Spring when we first meet Coco and it is a busy time for her because she needs to find a sea squirt that will be safe to lay her eggs and she only has a few weeks in which to do so, find a mate and then guard them until they hatch. And even then they are not safe because even though she can lay 80-250 eggs each year, there are still only about 3000 spotted handfish in the wild in the world – all in that remote river in Tasmania! Existing since the time of the dinosaurs, yet now threatened by invasive seastars, pollution and climate change, Coco and her babies have more than hungry fish to worry about.
This is the first in a multi-book series that will introduce our youngest readers to some of Australia’s most vulnerable wildlife, particularly those that are scarcely known. And with her usual gift for words, Aleesah Darlison has crafted a story that is full of information (and supported with fact boxes) while being entertaining in itself. Coupled with illustrations that are visually appealing whilst still being biologically correct, this is a fascinating introduction not only to this little-known creature but also to the power of print in non fiction. So many of our littlest readers are fascinated with the unusual world around them (talk to my friend’s little person about pangolins) yet there is not yet a lot that reaches down to their level of literacy so they can access it for themselves. Simple but accurate vocabulary which respects their intelligence and knowledge, a large font, engaging illustrations and attractive layout, with a page summarising the key points as the finale make for a combination that will be a winner with readers and teachers alike. Given there is another book on the same subject shortlisted for the CBCA Eve Pownall Award for 2021 this will be an excellent addition to the collection to satisfy the curiosity of those clamouring to know more.