What Do the Grown-ups Do? Gordon the Wildlife Filmmaker

Author: Mairi McLellanPublisher: Matador

As a consequence of the economic downturn post-2008, the UK faced a severe job shortage. Even now, 6 years on, unemployment levels have only just started approaching pre-crash levels. In this environment, knowing exactly what you want to do professionally and how to best go about it is a huge asset. Mairi McLellan’s successful What do the grown-ups do? series is therefore a valuable resource in helping to prepare children for the decisions they face.

In this latest installment, McLellan’s charismatic child characters, Ava, Skye and Gracie, interview Scottish wildlife filmmaker Gordon Buchanan about the pros and cons of his unusual profession. After a brief introduction to the Mackenzie girls, which makes this book enjoyable both as a standalone read as well as part of the series, readers are quickly drawn into the story in which the girls speak to wildlife filmmaker Gordon about his job.

As with the other books in the series in the series, it is this animated style of conversation between the title character and the girls which really make McLellan’s books stand out. The questions the children ask Gordon are well written and read as though a child was asking them, exploring multiple angles of the profession; everything from “How do you find the animals?” to “What is the most scared you’ve ever been?” and “Do you like animals or people better?” – questions which I don’t doubt many adults would be tempted to ask. All the answers Gordon gives are carefully phrased to strike the balance between being straightforward enough for children to understand without being patronising, and McLellan does not shy away from including relevant terminology where appropriate, explaining these in parentheses for younger readers.

The story is enlivened by the clever use of picturesque photos rather than illustrations, which both emphasise and complement the factual nature of the book. Playing a more central part in this book than others in the series  – perhaps due to the nature of the job being examined – the wide selection of photos really bring the wonders of nature to life right from the start, initially showing off Scotland’s windswept beaches, native wildlife and picturesque seaside towns before moving on to exotic photos of Gordon’s exploits: polar bears, pit vipers, guano-encrusted caves and Amur tigers.  The photo captions are also well thought out, explaining issues that younger readers may question on seeing the image, such as why glacier ice is blue.

In also discussing issues surrounding the stories that feature in the conversation, the book succeeds not only in educating its readers about the exciting profession of a wildlife film-making, but also about associated topics – including black bears.

However, despite the glamorous image portrayed of a wildlife filmmaker’s job, McLellan also discusses its tougher aspects by giving an accurate overview of what the profession is really like: physical hardship, rudimentary living, and spending long periods away from family and friends. This balanced overview is what gives the book such great educational value.

In a nutshell therefore, ‘Gordon the Wildlife Filmmaker’ is a great asset both to McLellan’s already strong series and to children’s educational literature in general, presenting the situations encountered by a wildlife filmmaker in a humorous, easy to read and informative way. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone – of any age – who wants to find out more about this astonishing profession.

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