As a gorgeous oversized watercolor-and-ink illustrated picture book and poetic tributes, The Late, Great Endlings by Deborah Kerbel, illustrated by Aimee van Drimmelen (Orca Book Publishers, 2022) is a visual delight to peruse. Add to that the factual STEM-theme about extinct animals, and it’s also a necessary reminder that humans have a direct impact on the living environment, specifically lonesome remaining creatures that die as the last of their kind.
Subtitled Stories of the Last Survivors, Kerbel’s book explains that endlings are the final creatures still living before an animal’s species becomes extinct. But The Late, Great Endlings is not a general nonfiction text about extinction and the tragic ways that humans have led to this. Rather, this is a poetic tribute to the faces and names of the last creatures of now extinct species. Each two-page spread provides information with at least one stanza of an ABAB-structured poem and additional text. About four two-page spreads provide general information about extinction (such as explaining the term “endlings”), while the remaining eight two-page spreads are dedicated to the last animals of the species.
The pages about specific animals provides a lot of details. In addition to a poetic stanza (which reads like an epitaph), the pages shows an lovely illustration, the name of the animal, the date he or she died (thus sending that species into extinction), the scientific name, and a few sentences to describe the species, the circumstances of his or her death, and the history of its extinction.
It is such a lovely and tragic book. Humans were the reason for most of these extinctions, and it seems appropriate to give tribute to these creatures: the last of the passenger pigeons (Martha), heath hens (Booming Ben), Pinta Island tortoises (Lonesome George), Tasmanian tigers (Benjamin), Carolina parakeets (Inca), Pyrenean iobex (Celia), Polynesian tree snails (Turgi), and Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frogs (Toughie).
I think it’s notable that the dodo bird is not even listed with a name. It became extinct in the 1600s, before humankind even acknowledge the impact our hunting and invasive species had on the unique species in the world. May we be more aware of the endlings of the world in the future and strive to give them a different fate.