LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Think of your favorite animal. Maybe it's a cuddly panda or perhaps a giraffe. Well, Jacob Lentz thinks that for too long, certain animals have gotten by on good looks and charm while more impressive species are ignored by the nation's children and stuffed animal manufacturers.
A couple of years ago, Lentz and a friend set out to right this wrong. They began a blog called the "Animal Review." It's exactly what the name implies: reviews of critters, not unlike the review you'd read of a car or gadget, complete with letter grades. The ladybug gets an A-. The bald eagle gets a C+.
Jacob Lentz's blog has now become a book, and he joins us from NPR West to talk about it. Welcome.
Mr. JACOB LENTZ (Author, "The Animal Review"): Hi, Linda, thanks for having me.
WERTHEIMER: Now, could you take us back to your first notion that species needed a critic? I mean, how on earth did this occur to you?
Mr. LENTZ: Well, my buddy Steve Nash and I were watching Animal Planet, and we just started arguing about which animals were better. I mean, you know, as single men with too much time on our hands, that's kind of where your thoughts lead you. And pretty soon, I came to the very strong conclusion that pandas were terrible.
WERTHEIMER: Well, I'd like to just Sy(ph), can we just ask you to pause there for a minute because citizens in Washington, D.C., and San Diego and other panda places are horrified at the thought that pandas were are not good. We sent one of our producers out to the National Zoo to find out how people there would grade the animals, and here is how one important critic from Spring Lake, Michigan, graded the panda.
Ms. TANA SAMIASI(ph): I'm Tana Samiasi, and I'm 11 years old. Either A or A+. I can't decide. I like how they have six fingers, and I like how they eat.
WERTHEIMER: So there you go. And Jacob Lentz, you give the panda an F?
Mr. LENTZ: Yeah, well, that's why children aren't put in charge of grading animals.
WERTHEIMER: Why does the panda get an F?
Mr. LENTZ: Nature exists, and species exist, their whole purpose from a biological standpoint is to reproduce, and pandas have absolutely no interest in reproducing. And then every once in a while, by accident, they'll mate, and then everyone loses their minds.
But here's the thing. This is my this is a big part of my argument. If they don't want to mate, let's not make them. Like, that could be nature kind of hinting around the fact that they should collectively shovel off this, you know, mortal coil.
WERTHEIMER: Well, I don't know. I dont know. I think we're going to get mail. Now, I would we would like to bring in one more off-the-street expert.
Mr. LENTZ: Okay, great.
WERTHEIMER: This is Lynn Roy(ph) from Louisville, Kentucky, at the National Zoo.
Ms. LYNN ROY: I would give the octopus a B+, a wonderful animal with the tentacles, but the only animal that gets an A is a jellyfish.
WERTHEIMER: Now, there is a person who knows what they think.
Mr. LENTZ: I respect people who know what they think. That doesn't mean that she's totally right.
WERTHEIMER: I see.
Mr. LENTZ: But she does I mean, I respect the strength of her opinions and her willing to make distinctions among species. That being said, we gave the octopus an A because it would make a great superhero. They're super-smart. They can solve puzzles. They can remember things. They can change their bodies so they slip through tiny crevices. There's a lot and they shoot ink.
I mean, there's all kind of cool stuff with the octopus that doesn't get talked about enough because we're spending all our time talking about pandas.
WERTHEIMER: I mean, what is your do you have standards for these judgments that you make about animals?
Mr. LENTZ: Judging animals is more of an art than a science, and it takes years. It takes at least two years of blogging to really get good at this. And it's - I can't expect laypeople to just start judging animals accurately. It's probably best left to me and Steve.
WERTHEIMER: Well, you know, you take a couple of animals that are seriously not admirable, I mean scary animals like the king cobra and the great white shark, and you give them very good grades. Now, what is so great about these death-dealing critters?
Mr. LENTZ: Well, I don't know about you. Maybe you're much braver than I am, but I'm not going to be the one who gives the king cobra a B+.
WERTHEIMER: Good point.
Mr. LENTZ: I only have good things to say about those animals, and if they're listening, I just want to tell them that I think they're amazing, and there's a ton to recommend them to anyone, whether they're planning to kill you or not.
King cobra, largest venomous snake. They can inject enough venom to kill an elephant. You have to respect that a lot. And the great whites, like, they're the largest predatory fish. Good for them. You know, that's amazing. They sometimes jump out of the water. They're one of two shark species that will get airborne, which, I'm pretty sure, is because they're trying to attack airplanes. But they - that's awesome.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LENTZ: And I really good for them, you know. They're just roaming the seas, looking for stuff to eat. God bless them.
WERTHEIMER: Do you have a broader mission with this book? Is this purely for humor? Did you do it for the money? I mean, what is the deal?
Mr. LENTZ: You know, it's funny. We're supposed to we're making a comedy book. We also hope that maybe it'll get, like, one or two people interested in the natural world and science. That can't hurt, maybe give people a little bit of a head's up about the panda.
I don't know. We make hundreds of millions of dollars on it, those kind of things.
(Soundbite of laughter)
WERTHEIMER: Well, very good luck to you on that.
Mr. LENTZ: Thank you so much, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: That's Jacob Lentz. He co-wrote "The Animal Review" with his friend Steve Nash. In his spare time, he writes for "Jimmy Kimmel Live." To see how Jake rates other animals or to tell him why he's wrong about the panda, go to npr.org, where that debate is already raging.