Saturday, October 20, 2007


The Book: Helen Lester, SCORE ONE FOR THE SLOTHS. Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. Houghton Mifflin, 2001. Inscribed: "11-01. Fodder for your fascination! Love, Peggy & Scott."
First read: 2001
Owned since: 2001

I love sloths. It's hard to imagine an animal that has adapted better to its environment, the rain forests of Central and South America. Leaves are what they have to eat, so they eat leaves, though they'll eat other things too. Leaves don't provide much in the way of energy, so sloths conserve energy. Their metabolic rate is about half that expected for a mammal of comparable size, and their body temperatures range from 89-93F, well below the average mammal's. Every so often they get too cold, and have to warm themselves up by sunning.

An accident of physiognomy makes sloths look like they're smiling, but three-toed sloths are solitary, and will slash with their big claws if provoked. They can swim, but they don't; they mostly hang from trees, letting the rain sluice off them. They come down every eight days to defecate, which makes me wonder who's watching to time this (and why eight? Why not seven? Why not nine?).

Someone I know who has seen sloths in the wild says that they smell bad and are notorious carriers of all kinds of bugs. Nevertheless, if I lived anywhere near a rain forest, I would want one for a pet.

This book was a 36th birthday present from my sister Peggy and her husband, Scott, who know my fondness for these creatures. It's a clever story about the Sleepy Valley Sloth School, where the students don't go home until dusk because no one wants to open the door when the bell rings at 3:00 p.m. An energetic new sloth named Sparky arrives, tries to get things moving, and makes herself very unpopular -- but when the local school supervisor (from the Society for Organizing Sameness) arrives for an inspection, Sparky manages to make the sloths' lack of activity look productive.

One might quibble about a children's book that celebrates creative methods of disguising idleness, but it's a lesson that's bound to come in handy. Especially on a cloudy Saturday morning...

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