One of my favorite books is An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton. This book claims to be “the ultimate edition” of terms of venery, or as perhaps more commonly known, collective nouns. Many people know a “pride of lions” or a “murder of crows” but there are hundreds of such terms, and most of them have been used since the fifteenth century.
Unfortunately, they are not used so much anymore, which is a shame, because they are such fun. And while many of them refer to groups of animals, that is not their only use. Clever descriptions of groups of people include “a wince of dentists,” “a pack of smokers” and “a stud of poker players.” As Lipton points out, origins of terms of venery can be divided into six “families” which he lists as:
Onomatopoeia (example: a gaggle of geese)
Characteristic (example: a leap of leopards)
Appearance (example: a knot of toads)
Habitat (example: a nest of wasps)
Comment (example: a richness of martens)
Error (i.e., an incorrect transcription preserved in corrupted form) (example: a school of fish, originally “shoal”)
It is an endlessly entertaining subject (to me, at any rate), and the author of Animal Gallery guessed it would be to children as well.
This book, curated by the late author’s family, is actually a compilation of selections from three of his books: Wild Animals, Birds, and Fishes. Each double-page spread (there are a few side-by-side pictures) is devoted to one (animal) term of venery and a gorgeous painting to illustrate it. Thus kids will see a skulk of foxes (skulking, of course), a shrewdness of apes, a party of rainbow fish, a pandemonium of parrots, and so on.
There is no text except for the term of venery, but the book is a visual banquet that will entertain and stimulate readers, and hopefully, send them looking for other information about the animals depicted and sources of other terms of venery. (For adults I recommend an entertaining online introduction to these terms in a Merriam-Webster blog post with the title “A Drudge of Lexicographers Presents: Collective Nouns” online here.)
Evaluation: If children had “coffee table books” this volume would surely quality. It is delightful in every way. If you’re looking for a wonderful and memorable holiday gift, I highly recommend this book.
Published in the U.S. by Candlewick Studio, an imprint of Candlewick Press, 2020