November 18, 2017

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Friendly & Fearsome Animals | Series Made Simple

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From land to water to air, the usual array of animals is attended to this season. What makes these selections timely is twofold: first, a large portion of the animals are either approaching or at the edge of extinction. The other feature of this season’s crop is the continuing refinement of content to support the Common Core State Standards. Rich photos and graphics of various types are becoming standard features. Comprehension and extension tools are more widespread, which adults will appreciate as well. Another exciting trend is quality nonfiction written specifically for the youngest readers. The strongest series here will update or supplement collections nicely. With so many options in this popular and crowded category, librarians can afford to be selective.

Preschool to Grade 4

Baer, Jasper. Itty Bitty Ants. ISBN 9781 433998744; ISBN 9781433998768; ISBN 9781433998751.

Baer, T. H. Itty Bitty Geckos. ISBN 9781 433998782; ISBN 9781433998805; ISBN 9781433998799.

Griff, Peter. Itty Bitty Hummingbirds. ISBN 9781433998867; ISBN 9781433998881; ISBN 9781433998874.

Lumpy, Alex. Itty Bitty Guppies. ISBN 9781433998829; ISBN 9781433998843; ISBN 9781433998836.

Moose, Jay. Itty Bitty Mice. ISBN 9781 433998904; ISBN 9781433998928; ISBN 9781433998911.

Quick, Gunner. Itty Bitty Tree Frogs. ISBN 9781433998942; ISBN 9781433998966; ISBN 9781433998959.

ea vol: 24p. (Itty Bitty Animals Series). glossary. index. photos. Gareth Stevens. 2014. lib. ed. $22.60. pap. $8.15. ebk. $22.60.

K-Gr 2 –Simple sentences opposite a full-page color photo fit the formula for easy readers. The single sentence-per-page-treatment rambles through a series of facts. Other than in Ants and Frogs, the photos work well with the texts. The inclusion of a pseudo table of contents (though the book contains no chapters or headings), a picture glossary (which only includes words easy to visualize), and an index are all examples of the Common Core State Standards gone awry. Whether the addition of these nonfiction tools are apropos to the 24-page book is apparently irrelevant. In many cases, the assignation of the “chapter” titles in the table of contents seems random, and explaining the connection between the titles and content will leave adults nonplussed. That aside, many young readers will appreciate cutting their reading teeth on a topic of interest, and that alone makes this set worth considering.

Bell, Samantha. Sea Horses. ISBN 9781 624316043; ISBN 9781624316166; ISBN 9781624316401. LC 2013040968.

––––. Sea Turtles. ISBN 9781624316029; ISBN 9781624316142; ISBN 9781 624316388. LC 2013031931.

Gray, Susan H. Jellyfish. ISBN 9781 624316005; ISBN 9781624316128; ISBN 9781624316364. LC 2013031301.

––––. Rays. ISBN 9781624315992; ISBN 9781624316111; ISBN 9781624316357. LC 2013031216.

Kennington, Tammy. Beluga Whales. ISBN 9781624316036; ISBN 9781624316159; ISBN 9781624316395. LC 2013032298.

––––. Penguins. ISBN 9781624316050; ISBN 9781624316173; ISBN 9781 624316418. LC 2013032298.

Thomas, Elizabeth. Bottlenose Dolphins. ISBN 9781624315985; ISBN 9781624316104; ISBN 9781624316340. LC 2013040970.

––––. Octopuses. ISBN 9781624316012; ISBN 9781624316135; ISBN 9781 624316371. LC 2013041379.

ea vol: 32p. (21st Century Skills Library: Exploring Our Oceans Series). bibliog. diag. further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. Cherry Lake. 2014. lib. ed. $28.50. pap. $9.95. ebk. $.28.50.

Gr 3-5 –Some of the most popular species or types of sea animals are described here, covering the usual: appearance, habitat, behaviors, diet, life cycle, and population status. Clearly designed for instruction, the titles include tools to encourage close reading. One box in each of the five chapters features a specific reading skill or strategy. “Look Again” boxes ask readers to scrutinize or use a photograph, applying what they’ve read, while “Think About It” boxes require recall and summarization, and “Go Deeper” asks readers to use background knowledge and make comparisons. Four additional “Think About It” questions end the titles and help readers apply their reading and critical-thinking skills further. Some of the titles use this same questioning technique in the photo captions. Photos are routine and usually support the predominant text, although Beluga Whales fails to make the connection between images and captions several times. Overall, these are handsome but sedate offerings, without flashy extras.

Bodden, Valerie. Beagles. ISBN 9781 608183609. LC 2013005511.

––––. Bulldogs. ISBN 9781608183616. LC 2013005511.

––––. German Shepherds. ISBN 97816081 83623. LC 2013005518.

––––. Poodles. ISBN 9781608183630. LC 2013005519.

––––. Retrievers. ISBN 9781608183647. LC 2013005520.

––––. Terriers. ISBN 9781608183654. LC 2013005521.

ea vol: 24p. (Fetch! Series). further reading. glossary. index. photos. reprods. websites. Creative Company. 2014. lib. ed. $18.95.

K-Gr 3 –Between the heart-melting covers, readers will find a balanced look at each breed. An opening chapter encapsulates the breed with a single descriptor: beagles are friendly, bulldogs are loving, German shepherds are smart, and terriers are energetic. Physical and behavioral characteristics, history, varieties, and required care are all covered. One section discusses how ideal the dog is as a pet, including its comfort level with children. A unique feature of this series is an entire chapter focused on dogs in movies or cartoons and a concluding look at a famous example. Adorable full-page photos, along with smaller images, are silhouetted against white backgrounds. The strong visuals, controlled text, and abundant white space make these titles surefire hits for young dog owners and wannabes alike.

Boothroyd, Jennifer. Endangered and Extinct Birds. ISBN 9781467713306; ISBN 9781467724937.

––––. Endangered and Extinct Fish. ISBN 9781467713313; ISBN 9781467724944.

––––. Endangered and Extinct Invertebrates. ISBN 9781467713337; ISBN 9781467724951.

––––. Endangered and Extinct Mammals. ISBN 9781467713290; ISBN 9781467724968.

––––. Endangered and Extinct Reptiles. ISBN 9781467713344; ISBN 9781467724975.

Ransom, Candice. Endangered and Extinct Amphibians. ISBN 9781467713320; ISBN 9781467724920.

ea vol: 32p. (Lightning Bolt Books: Animals in Danger Series). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Lerner. 2014. lib. ed. $25.26. ebk. $18.95.

Gr 2-4 –Each title in this colorful series about endangered and extinct species introduces the main characteristics of each animal’s group, then presents five examples. A concluding section on what can be done to help the endangered animals gives a general overview plus a list of age-appropriate suggestions, although some are less than inspiring. The titles conclude optimistically with an endangered animal success story. While the treatment is understandably superficial, some statements are misleading, with Amphibians having the most issues. There are plenty of large and vivid spreads, photos, and illustrations that are characteristic of this publisher; however, for many of the examples, there are no images. This series would have made a bigger impact by including more modern examples of extinct animals—after all, even preschoolers know dinosaurs are extinct.

Johnson, Jinny. Armored Disnosaurs. ISBN 9781625880123. LC 2013004258.

––––. Dinosaur Giants. ISBN 9781625880130. LC 2013003429.

––––. Flying Reptiles. ISBN 9781625880147. LC 2013003432.

––––. Mighty Killers. ISBN 9781625880154. LC 2013000083.

––––. Peaceful Plant-Eaters. ISBN 9781625880161. LC 2013004256.

––––. Speedy Hunters. ISBN 9781625880178. LC 2013004259.

ea vol: illus. by Graham Rosewarn. 24p. (Discovering Dinosaurs Series). diag. glossary. illus. index. Smart Apple Media. 2014. lib. ed. $25.65.

Gr 2-4– These books group dinosaurs by unifying characteristics. After a brief introduction, including the major time divisions of the Mesozoic Era, a noteworthy member of the group is introduced along with a cross-section diagram showing the bone structure, followed by several other dinosaur species. A fact box with size and age range accompanies each animal, while the text provides physical and behavioral information. Dinosaur names are broken down into syllables, with a rudimentary pronunciation guide. Details reflecting the new thinking on dinosaurs’ appearance are evident from the illustrations, and the occasional background is done in low-contrast washes. In spite of an assurance that “There weren’t any people on Earth when dinosaurs were alive,” the child illustrated on every spread as a size reference may prove confusing for casual browsers. With so many dinosaur series available, new ones have to stand out; this set doesn’t.

Johnson, Jinny. Beaver. ISBN 97816258 80314. LC 2013000064.

––––. Brown Bear. ISBN 9781625880321.

––––. Gray Wolf. ISBN 9781625880383. LC 2013000066.

––––. Mountain Lion. ISBN 9781625880352.

––––. Prairie Dog. ISBN 9781625880345.

––––. Raccoon. ISBN 9781625880369.

––––. Sea Otter. ISBN 9781625880376. LC 2013000065.

ea vol: 24p. (North American Mammals Series). glossary. illus. index. notes. photos. websites. Smart Apple Media. 2014. lib. ed. $25.65.

Gr 2-4 –In these titles written from an individual animal’s perspective, the author keeps the content factual without slipping into anthropomorphism. The books open with each animal introducing itself; each species then goes on to describe its early life and family, special physical features, diet, and defensive techniques. Most titles end with the animal anticipating its transition to adult and parenthood. Mountain Lion begins with a grown animal and ends with a litter, while Brown Bear and Sea Otter stop short of adulthood. Photos are carefully matched to the text, and close-ups and labels are used occasionally. Beaver and Prairie Dog describe the animals’ below-the-surface homes but never show them. The presentation has a scrapbook feel and makes use of a variety of text colors. A final facts page assumes the third-person voice and includes a size comparison between the grown animal and an average seven-year-old. Only Mountain Lion, Prairie Dog, and Sea Otter mention dwindling numbers.

Kuskowski, Alex. Miniature Birds. ISBN 9781624030642. LC 2013022895.

––––. Miniature Dogs. ISBN 9781624030659. LC 2013022902.

––––. Miniature Farm Animals. ISBN 9781 624030666. LC 2013022906.

––––. Miniature Mammals. ISBN 9781 624030673. LC 2013022903.

––––. Miniature Primates. ISBN 9781 624030680. LC 2013022907.

––––. Miniature Reptiles. ISBN 9781 624030697. LC 2013022908.

ea vol: 24p. (Mini Animal Marvels Series). glossary. maps. photos. ABDO. 2014. lib. ed. $22.78.

K-Gr 2 –Each title briefly introduces an animal type and then looks closer at four examples. Content varies between species; one animal’s treatment may include diet, while the next describes sleep patterns. Vocabulary and space limitations sometimes result in confusing explanations, but the glossary provides a better description. Designed for new readers, the text is separated in white boxes overlaid on colorful background banners and photos. Size comparisons to humans and a location map are included with each animal (though Dogs and Farm Animals don’t contain maps). Controlled vocabulary, short sentences, and a small format make these titles possible choices for early readers.

Markovics, Joyce. My Eyes Are Big and Round: What Am I? ISBN 9781627241106; ISBN 9781627241625. LC 2013035383.

––––. My Legs Are Long and Strong: What Am I? ISBN 9781627241083; ISBN 9781627241601. LC 2013035387.

––––. My Nose Is Long and Fuzzy: What Am I? ISBN 9781627241113; ISBN 9781627241632. LC 2013035384.

––––. My Skin Is Gray and Wrinkly: What Am I? ISBN 9781627241090; ISBN 9781627241618. LC 2013035385.

––––. My Tail Is Long and Striped: What Am I? ISBN 9781627241076; ISBN 9781627241595. LC 2013035386.

Rudolph, Jessica. My Body Is Striped and Leafy: What Am I? ISBN 9781627241120; ISBN 9781627241649. LC 2013036948.

––––. My Claws Are Large and Curved: What Am I? ISBN 9781627241144; ISBN 9781627241663. LC 2013036946.

––––. My Fangs Are White and Sharp: What Am I? ISBN 9781627241168; ISBN 9781627241687. LC 2013036955.

––––. My Fur Is Thick and Spotted: What Am I? ISBN 9781627241137; ISBN 9781627241656. LC 2013036949.

––––. My Skin Is Bumpy and Slimy: What Am I? ISBN 9781627241151; ISBN 9781627241670. LC 2013037790.

ea vol: 24p. (Zoo Clues Series). bibliog. index. Bearport. 2014. $23.93. ebk. $22.95.

K-Gr 2 –Simple vocabulary and concise sentences make this series accessible, while the guessing-game format gives it panache. Each book begins with a brightly colored photo on the cover that reveals only the body part from the title. The opening spread reminds readers to look at each body part (eyes, teeth, ears, etc.), and a short sentence or two describes the mystery animal part by part, spread by spread. Finally, the mystery animal is uncovered at the end. A superimposed jigsaw outline reinforces visual skills, both emphasizing and obscuring animal parts. The highlighted animals are not the standard early-elementary fare (among the offerings are lemurs, Komodo dragons, and giant anteaters), adding to the suspense and building curiosity. Additional features include a facts table and a map. This series will leave young readers wanting more—not a bad thing when it comes to developing reading skills.

Murray, Julie. Howler Monkeys. ISBN 9781624031892. LC 2013025491.

––––. Jaguars. ISBN 9781624031908. LC 2013025493.

––––. Piranhas. ISBN 9781624031915. LC 2013028913.

––––. Poison Dart Frogs. ISBN 9781 624031922. LC 2013026907.

––––. Sloths. ISBN 9781624031939. LC 2013025486.

––––. Toucans. ISBN 9781624031946. LC 2013025496.

ea vol: 32p. (South American Animals Series). glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. ABDO. 2014. lib. ed. $28.50.

Gr 2-4 –Each of these titles introduces readers to the continent and the high-interest animal’s territory before covering physical characteristics, unique features and behaviors, diet, reproduction, and young. The final chapter (“Survivors”) explains the negative and positive impact of human beings on the animals’ habitat. The nine to eleven brief chapters use vocabulary that sometimes misses learning opportunities. Inconsistent use of terms such as “omnivore” and “carnivore” or the use of “bugs” instead of “insects” is a disservice to young readers. “Uncovered” insets share interesting facts, as does the “Wow! I’ll Bet You Never Knew” final section. The color photos work well with the text, and captions add information. Richly colored backgrounds provide visual appeal but sometimes cause legibility concerns. The large font, simple sentences, and bright presentation will appeal to casual readers and report writers alike.

Owen, Ruth. Anglerfish. ISBN 9781 477762578; ISBN 9781477762585; ISBN 9781477762608. LC 2013028224.

––––. Box Jellyfish. ISBN 9781477762707; ISBN 9781477762691; ISBN 9781477762721. LC 2013035041.

––––. Giant Squid and Octopuses. ISBN 9781477762615; ISBN 9781477762622; ISBN 9781477762646. LC 2013029147.

––––. Great White Shark. ISBN 9781477762493; ISBN 9781477762509; ISBN 9781477762523. LC 2013025766.

––––. Moray Eels. ISBN 9781477762530; ISBN 9781477762547; ISBN 9781 477762561. LC 2013026401.

––––. Stingrays. ISBN 9781477762653; ISBN 9781477762660; ISBN 9781 477762684. LC 2013029245.

ea vol: 32p. (Real Life Sea Monsters Series). diag. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. 2014. lib. ed. $25.25. pap. $10. ebk. $25.25.

Gr 3-6 –Each sea creature’s most frightful and dangerous feature (the stingray’s venom, an octopus’s tentacles) provides an entry point into its world. The author offers general information on diet, habitat, and reproduction in addition to discussing each animal’s most intimidating characteristic. Interesting details are scattered throughout. Examples of these creatures’ interactions with humans are included, ranging from the benign to the cautionary to the unfortunate. Readers are reminded that swimmers are entering the sea creatures’ territory and that the animals are reacting naturally. Stingrays and Shark mention overfishing and dwindling numbers. The design enhances these books, through labeled and captioned action-packed photographs, bright yellow overlaid text boxes that have a bite mark taken out of them, and orange “warning sign” fact boxes. Students will come away with new respect for these animals.

Royston, Angela. Save the Giant Panda. ISBN 9781477760420; ISBN 9781477760468.

––––. Save the Gorilla. ISBN 9781477760505; ISBN 9781477760512.

––––. Save the Tiger. ISBN 9781477760291; ISBN 9781477760314.

Spilsbury, Louise. Save the Cheetah. ISBN 9781477760338; ISBN 9781477760390.

––––. Save the Chimpanzee. ISBN 9781 477760437; ISBN 9781477760482.

––––. Save the Humpback Whale. ISBN 9781477760413; ISBN 9781477760444.

ea vol: 32p. (Animal SOS! Series). further reading. glossary. index. websites. Windmill. 2014. lib. ed. $25.25. ebk. $18.95.

Gr 3-5 –The devastation to these animal populations is linked directly to humans and their activities: climate change, poaching, destruction and loss of habitats, and disease. The resulting food scarcity and close contact with humans are also explored. On the brighter side, parks and reserves; the role of zoos, both pro and con; and current conservation and education efforts are explained. Added details or facts are highlighted in “Animal SOS!” boxes. “Rescue the [insert animal’s name here]!” insets suggest concrete, age-appropriate activities, which often skew toward money-raising ideas for international animal conservation groups. Occasionally, the books take a more emotionally loaded tone through word choices such as “wonderful bears” or “some poor chimps.” In other places, factual errors are introduced, such as the statement that humans transmit the Ebola virus to chimps and gorillas, rather than the other way around. Location maps would have been a nice addition.

Grades 5 & Up

Claybourne, Anna. Tigers. ISBN 9781 432981105; ISBN 9781432981242. LC 2013013023.

Guillain, Charlotte. Cheetahs. ISBN 9781 432981051; ISBN 9781432981129. LC 2013013017.

––––. Jaguars. ISBN 9781432981068; ISBN 9781432981136. LC 2013013022.

––––. Pumas. ISBN 9781432981099; ISBN 9781432981211. LC 2013013021.

Throp, Claire. Leopards. ISBN 9781 432981075; ISBN 9781432981143. LC 2013013018.

––––. Lions. ISBN 9781432981082; ISBN 9781432981204. LC 2013013123.

ea vol: 48p. (Living in the Wild: Big Cats Series). diags. glossary. index. maps. photos. Heinemann-Raintree. 2014. lib. ed. $32.65. pap. $8.99.

Gr 4-6 –These comprehensive examinations of some of the world’s most charismatic animals cover physical features, adaptations, life cycles, behavior, intelligence, and diet. Big cats are differentiated from smaller cats, and the books close with a strong message on human threats and the organizations helping them, with suggestions for getting involved. A final table and labeled photo review vital statistics and characteristics. The titles include well-chosen color photos, high-interest and background insets, and brief bios of field scientists. A classification triangle and occasional diagrams are included. The books contain several oversights and mistakes, such as the faulty eye diagram in Tigers, incomplete maps and mismatched keys in a few titles, and an inaccurate bio in Lions that erroneously states that Born Free was written about Christian the lion, instead of Elsa. For browsing and report writing, Cheetahs, Jaguars, and Leopards are your best choices.


Give beginning readers the nonfiction they crave with “Zoo Clues,” “Miniature Animal Marvels,” and “Fetch.” The open layout, engaging photos, and solid information presented here will keep these titles flying off the shelves. For the intermediate crowd, selections become more serious. These series almost universally mention the growing extinction tragedy, setting them apart from many comparable books. “Real Life Sea Monsters” blends the fear factor with solid information while avoiding the macabre. For those looking for books on endangered creatures, “Animals in Danger” is the way to go, with Birds and Mammals offering the best of the bunch. If motivation for community action is needed, these may provide inspiration.

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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