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'Tuki and Moka: A Tale of Two Tamarins': a great nonfiction picture book

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Tuki and Moka: A Tale of Two Tamarins" by Judy Young

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“Tuki and Moka: A Tale of Two Tamarins,” by Judy Young with illustrations by Jim Madsen, is a beautifully done picture book that will entertainingly teach children about animals and the environment.

The story is fascinating from the first page. Tuki and Moka are friendly tamarins who like to ride on Eduardo’s back. Eduardo is the young boy who, with his father, collects Brazil nuts to sell.

While the two tamarins are friendly, they are not pets. They just like to hang out with Eduardo when he and his father visit the rainforest camp to collect the nuts.

The narrative explains what castañeros do, traveling down the river to their camp, where they collect the nuts. In the story, Eduardo and his father notice that the scarlet macaws -- beautiful, large, colorful birds -- have begun to build their nest in a hole in a large tree.

Meanwhile, Eduardo interacts with the wildlife, sharing a nut with an agouti when it wanders by. He says, “...You’re a friend to us castañeros. You’ll forget where you bury some of those, and then more trees will grow.”

But just before Eduardo and his father leave the campsite, the boy hears a large tree fall during the night. The morning light reveals it was the tree with the scarlet macaw nest. His father angrily says it was animal traffickers. Tuki and Moka are also missing.

Back in town, Eduardo finds the missing animals -- both the tamarins and the macaws-- and he demonstrates both his bravery and his compassion for animals.

The Author’s Note at the end gives more information about the rainforest, the Brazil nut trees and how they grow. For classes studying the environment or ecosystems, the Brazil nut tree is an example of the interconnectedness of nature.

The Brazil nut tree cannot reproduce without the aid of two animals. The orchid bee must pollinate the fruit (and it’s the only animal that does) and the agouti chews through the rock-hard shell to bury some nuts for later. As Eduardo says, the forgotten nuts will lie dormant in the soil waiting for the perfect conditions to grow.

This book is a great choice for a classroom read-aloud and will provide much ammunition for significant discussion. Animal poaching and endangered animals are a couple of the relevant discussion topics, as is the virtue of protecting wildlife.

And while reading the book, the teacher may point out that the agouti looks much like a squirrel and then ask the students if it also acts like a squirrel. (Agoutis bury nuts and then forget about them, just as squirrels do.)

This book is technically fiction, with made-up characters and dialogue, but it includes many nonfiction elements: It is extremely informational, offering data and descriptions about a different culture, a different environment, and a set of problems facing the wildlife in other parts of the world. After reading, students could then do research about problems facing the wildlife in our country.

"Tuki and Moka" was appropriately named the 2014 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Sleeping Bear Press, for review purposes.

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