Category: Children's Books

Lena Schaffer
Wenn Tiere gemeinsame Sache machen
[Beastly Symbioses]

Storybook

If you help me, I’ll help you.

The small suckerfish helps a large sea turtle keep clean, a bird called a water thick-knee protects the eggs of the dangerous Nile crocodile, and the pitcher plant offers shelter to the woolly bat. Why these animals and plants join forces and mutually secure their survival is the subject of Lena Schaffer’s non-fiction picture book debut. "I was always really interested in the animal world and wanted to illustrate typical animal behaviors. My research led me to the subject of symbiosis. It fascinates me that there are animals that live together, not only with their own species, but also seek partners that could actually be a predator," said the young illustrator. She discovered examples among animals all over the world: the coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific, Africa, and Madagascar, or a central European meadow are habitats and settings for these amazing animal friendships.

Wenn Tiere gemeinsame Sache machen is based on her college thesis for her studies in the illustration department of the renowned Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW). The budding artist got reinforcement for the text from Volker Mehnert, an experienced journalist. The illustrations and text also form a successful symbiosis in this non-fiction picture book. Not only does it treat a fascinating and surprisingly rare subject in German-language children’s non-fiction, but it also has a very unusual format.

A lot of information awaits readers on six foldout pages on thin paper. Lena Schaffer commented, "I wanted to make it look very different from classic non-fiction books, in order to surprise readers. The foldout pages invite readers to be amazed and to explore, introducing them to a classical subject of biology in a playful manner." The formal structure of the pages is always the same and involves two levels.

First is a busy scene of the habitat in a landscape format with pictures of the respective animals and plants. The lower half of each page is divided into several segments. An entertaining and understandable, reader-friendly text explains each symbiotic relationship, with the illustrations focusing on the animal teams. At the lower right there is a world map indicating the geographical region under consideration, in which the environment of the presented animals is marked. Each page is rounded off with a legend listing more than forty animals. When the lower page is folded out, the corresponding busy scene can be viewed in full size. Thanks to the numbering, readers can match up the pictures with the colorful animal names, thereby discovering a lot of new animals and plants.

The animals are drawn in a stylized, reduced manner, and the coloring is not always realistic. Lena Schaffer first draws the lines with pencil, then elaborating the drawing with a fineliner or black felt-tip pen. Coloration and possible corrections, as well as the finishing touches, are done on the computer. According to the artist, "When creating the animal drawings I get inspired mostly from animal drawings in old biology books, color lithography prints of animals and plants, and documentary films. My goal is to create a balance between informative and fictional illustration."

The conclusions regarding the phenomenon of animal symbiosis that can be drawn together with the children are wonderful. As human beings, we too can usually progress better with others than alone, thus following the example of these great natural collaborations.
Antje Ehmann

By Antje Ehmann, 25.10.2017

Antje Ehmann is a freelance journalist. Specialising in books for children and young adults, she writes for various publications including ‘Neue Zürcher Zeitung’, ‘BuchMarkt’, ‘BÜCHER-MAGAZIN’, ‘dpa-Kindernachrichten’ and ‘mare’. From 2011 to 2014 she was a member of the Critics’ Jury for the German Youth Literature Prize (Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis), and in 2016 she became a member of the jury for the Illustration Prize for Children’s and Youth Literature (Illustrationspreis für Kinder- und Jugendliteratur) offered by the Gemeinschaftswerk der evangelischen Publizistik.

Translated by Allison Brown