For our upcoming book, we wanted to not just give information on how to navigate the trails of Kansas, but some of the interesting pieces of natural history. In our reading and research, we came across the book A Kansas Bestiary by Jake Vail, Doug Hitt, and illustrated by Lisa Grossman.
The book was recognized as a Kansas Notable Book in 2013, and it’s a short and lovely book of fantastic facts and entertaining stories of 15 animals that make their home in Kansas with beautiful illustrations of each animal.
The bestiary is “compendium of beasts.” It’s a book style/genre that was popular in the Middle Ages and the focus was combining natural history information along with illustrations and often with a moral lesson.
The animals included in this book range from the commonplace like the grasshopper and meadowlark and bison to the more threatened, secretive, or even endangered like the black-footed ferret, prairie chicken, and badger.
The descriptions of each animal have a clear dose of scientific research and support with often fanciful and compelling writing, which makes it easy to read and unlike any other book we’ve read about Kansas’ animals. The moral lessons of bestiaries past isn’t really present like bestiaries in the past, though along with natural history, there’s often a discussion of or musings on how an animal has been represented in human history in the past and the intrinsic worth it has to its ecosystem. Here’s an example of a small part of one of the entries:
Badger “Loose-skinned, low-slung as a surfboard, Taxidea taxus skulks the prairie waves mainly in the dark, skirting the edges of perception while looming large in the subterranean imaginations of Homo sapiens…”
If you’re looking for a uniquely Kansas book to gift to yourself or to a loved one, this should definitely be on the top of your list.
You can buy the book at a selection of local bookstores and tourist attractions around the state, or you can email: kansasbestiary [at] gmail [dot] com for information about how to pay by check or money order.