November 18, 2017

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From Teacup Pigs to Flying Dragons: Wild and Wacky Animal Books | Series Made Simple

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SMS1404_Animals1aWhether it’s an eye-catching cover, a school assignment, or their own curiosity, children often find their way to the 590s and 630s. Animal books from the series below employ a variety of approaches to draw readers in. Some use different points of view, with narrative sections from kids—or even the “commentary” from the animals themselves! Others highlight exceptional features such as intelligence, size, and diet to thematically unite groups of otherwise vastly different creatures. Animal-human interaction is another engaging theme. Many series integrate current research, reader challenges, and follow-up activities to support Common Core elements, including textual analysis and evaluation of information. Each approach has potential strengths and weaknesses, with the most successful examples sharing the essential qualities of strong narrative and high-quality visuals that work together to bring the wonders of the animal world to the printed (and sometimes digital) page.

Preschool to Grade 4

Coleman, Miriam. Bass Eat Their Own Young! ISBN 9781477728871; ISBN 9781477729748.

––––. Flies Eat Poop! ISBN 9781477728857; ISBN 9781477729724.

––––. Leeches Eat Blood! ISBN 9781477728819; ISBN 9781477731901.

––––. Moths Drink Tears! ISBN 9781477728833; ISBN 9781477729700.

––––. Skua Seabirds Eat Vomit! ISBN 9781477728826; ISBN 9781477731918.

––––. Vultures Eat Rotting Corpses! ISBN 9781477728864; ISBN 9781477731949.

ea vol: 24p. (Disgusting Animal Dinners Series). further reading. glossary. index. notes. websites. PowerKids. 2014. lib. ed. $22.60. pap. $18.95.

Gr 3-6 –As the provocative titles indicate, the grosser aspects of animal behavior take center stage here, rounded out with more general species information. Some animals, such as leeches and vultures, offer an especially rich variety of unappealing behaviors, described in measured, science-based prose that usually avoids sensationalized emotions. Other animals don’t fit the theme as well. The skua’s vomit-eating habits, for example, are covered in one page without any images of the described behavior. Well-chosen photographs, including flies on feces and bloody beaks, will elicit an appropriate mix of fascination and revulsion. Each book features a spread with six or seven “disgusting facts,” along with items that are not gross at all (for instance, the age of the oldest bass). A brief look at how so-called disgusting behaviors actually play important parts in our ecosystems closes each book.

Dell, Pamela. American Quarter Horses. ISBN 9781626870017. LC 2013947299.

––––. Appaloosas. ISBN 9781626870024. LC 2013947281.

––––. Arabians. ISBN 9781626870031. LC 2013947282.

––––. Clydesdales. ISBN 9781626870048. LC 2013947283.

––––. Mustangs. ISBN 9781626870055. LC 2013947284.

––––. Przewalski’s Horses. ISBN 9781626870062. LC 2013947298.

––––. Shetland Ponies. ISBN 9781626870079. LC 2013947285.

––––. Thoroughbreds. ISBN 9781626870086. LC 2013947286.

ea vol: 24p. (Majestic Horses Series). diags. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. The Child’s World. 2013. lib. ed. $18.95.

Gr 3-5 –Through clear, straightforward prose, the author provides a solid overview of each horse, including physical characteristics, behavior, and history. One or two fact boxes appear on each text page, offering relevant bits of information without distracting from the narrative. Each spread includes one page of text opposite a single full-page photograph that depicts a full-body view of the animal. Each book closes with the same labeled diagram that shows 33 horse body parts. Though each horse’s suitability as a pet is mentioned, the focus remains on breed information, rather than pet care or training techniques. Brief mention of conservation efforts is included where relevant, as with Mustangs and Przewalski’s Horses. Though neither the writing nor the photographs are exceptional, the attractive, uncluttered layout and the well-organized progression of information make these effective introductions to horse breeds.

Dicker, Katie. Chicken. ISBN 9781 625880185. LC 2013000056.

––––. Cow. ISBN 9781625880192. LC 2013000057.

––––. Duck. ISBN 9781625880208. LC 2013000058.

––––. Goat. ISBN 9781625880215. LC 2013000059.

––––. Horse. ISBN 9781625880222. LC 2013000060.

––––. Pig. ISBN 9781625880239. LC 2013000061.

––––. Sheep. ISBN 9781625880246. LC 2013000062.

––––. Turkey. ISBN 9781625880253. LC 2013000063.

ea vol: 24p. (Farm Animals Series). bibliog. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Smart Apple Media. 2014. lib. ed. $25.65.

Gr 1-3 –First person animal narrators provide much of the information about their lives on a farm, with mixed results. Appealing covers show the featured animal looking straight at the reader. Inside, it addresses us directly: “I am a chicken. I live on a farm….” Basic descriptions of physical characteristics, diet, and daily life follow. This conversational approach has some appeal but becomes slightly awkward as it shifts into third-person descriptions and back to first person again. High-quality photos depict a nice variety of breeds and activities, with key facts clearly highlighted in unobtrusive text boxes. The use of animal products is mentioned in gentle terms; Pig and Turkey include photographs of cooked meat, an appropriate choice in books that provide a simple and balanced introduction to farm animals.

Hanson, Anders. Elephant. ISBN 9781 624030574. LC 2013023926.

––––. Giraffe. ISBN 9781624030581. LC 2013023935.

––––. Manatee. ISBN 9781624030598. LC 2013023927.

––––. Panda. ISBN 9781624030604. LC 2013023929.

––––. Sea Turtle. ISBN 9781624030611. LC 2013023942.

––––. Whale Shark. ISBN 9781624030628. LC 2013023930.

ea vol: 24p. (Giant Animals Series). glossary. illus. index. maps. photos. ABDO. 2014. lib. ed. $22.78.

Gr 1-3 –With two or three sentences per page and a focus on physical characteristics over behavior, these small trimmed books introduce notably large animals. Section headings are either questions or exclamations that lead into simple factual responses. The information is appropriately brief for the intended young readers and effectively supported by visual examples. We learn just the basics about a giraffe’s spots, tongue, and knobs, for example, but each photograph neatly highlights each feature. A useful opening drawing shows the animal’s size compared to a human. Closing true-or-false quizzes are less exciting but could work as simple review strategies for teachers or parents. The concise, selective presentation of facts works well for the most part. It’s less successful in the “Are You in Danger?” section that concludes three of the titles, however, which presents abrupt, bleak answers, with no context or information about conservation efforts provided.

Johnson, Jinny. Guinea Pig. ISBN 9781 625880291. LC 2013002969.

––––. Hamster and Gerbil. ISBN 9781625880307. LC 2013003425.

––––. Kitten. ISBN 9781625880260. LC 2013002966.

––––. Puppy. ISBN 9781625880277. LC 2013002967.

––––. Rabbit. ISBN 9781625880284. LC 2013002968.

ea vol: 24p. (My New Pet Series). glossary. illus. index. notes. photos. Smart Apple Media. 2014. lib. ed. $25.65.

K-Gr 2 –Narrated by a child whose photo appears on the first page, these titles introduce the basics of pet care and selection. Large print and short declarative sentences make these titles accessible to early readers. Since each child is anticipating the pet they will get, they speak mostly in future tense (“I will be gentle with our new puppy…”). Their words often seem like a list of rules, without the excitement of a pet experience. Animal photos are generally strong, but they are combined with flat, static illustrations that are less appealing. Most books close with a child finally holding the anticipated pet, although it’s a different child than the one who introduced the book. The use of a drawing, rather than a photograph, for that pet arrival scene further lessens its impact. Pet books always circulate heavily, but most young readers will find more engaging titles.

McDonnell, Julia. Being a Sloth. ISBN 9781482400991; ISBN 9781482464993.

Pearce, Kevin. Being an Octopus. ISBN 9781482401363; ISBN 9781482465037.

Ponka, Katherine. Being a Toucan. ISBN 9781482401301; ISBN 9781482465020.

Sabatino, Michael. Being an Orangutan. ISBN 9781482401370; ISBN 9781482465044.

Shea, Mary Molly. Being a Manatee. ISBN 9781482401271; ISBN 9781482465013.

Youssef, Jagger. Being a Bullfrog. ISBN 9781433998584; ISBN 9781433998591.

ea vol: 32p. (Can You Imagine? Series). chart. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. notes. Gareth Stevens. 2014. lib. ed. $25.25. pap. $18.95.

Gr 3-5 –An opening chapter invites readers to imagine themselves as the featured animal, either in fanciful terms (“Would you become an incredible drummer” if you were an octopus?”) or more fact-based ones (“Your back legs are so weak that you can’t walk”) as a sloth. The imagination motif is reprised periodically, mixed neatly into straight descriptions of the distinct characteristics of each animal. Full-page photographs alongside each page of straightforward text are generally high quality and often quite effective at highlighting key features and behaviors, such as a toucan’s fruit-eating technique. Arrow-shaped text boxes provide additional tidbits of information that are directly related to the photos they point toward. The use of bubble-shaped text borders and occasional photos inset on top of each other result in slightly crowded pages, but most of the layouts are effective. Information about endangered status is provided where relevant, with data current as of 2013.

Markovics, Joyce. Police Dogs. ISBN 9781627241205; ISBN 9781627241724. LC 2013032759.

––––. Search-and-Rescue Dogs. ISBN 9781627241229; ISBN 9781627241748. LC 2013032377.

––––. Sled Dogs. ISBN 9781627241236; ISBN 9781627241755.

––––. Therapy Dogs. ISBN 9781627241199; ISBN 9781627241717.

Rudolph, Jessica. Guide Dogs. ISBN 9781627241182; ISBN 9781627241700.

––––. Service Dogs. ISBN 9781627241212; ISBN 9781627241731.

ea vol: 24p. (Little Bits: Bow Wow! Dog Helpers Series). bibliog. index. Bearport. 2014. $23.93. ebk. $30.60.

K-Gr 2 –A dog narrator leads readers through the basics of working canines in these introductory surveys. With a large, clear font and just two or three simple sentences per page, the books are squarely aimed at younger readers. The dog point of view works fairly well, despite occasional forays into emotion over information (“It’s the best job ever!”). General components of the dog’s tasks are covered in the main text, while fact boxes provide more specific details, such as statistics, definitions, and related bits of information. Most photos directly support the text. Not all of the facts shared are terrifically exciting, but the series succeeds as accessible introductions to intriguing canine workers.

Royston, Angela. Animals That Climb. ISBN 9781410961488; ISBN 9781410961556. LC 2013017632.

––––. Animals That Dig. ISBN 9781 410961464; ISBN 9781410961532. LC 2013017630.

––––. Animals That Fly. ISBN 9781410961471; ISBN 9781410961549. LC 2013017631.

––––. Animals That Hide. ISBN 9781 410961495; ISBN 9781410961563. LC 2013017639.

––––. Animals That Hunt. ISBN 9781 410961518; ISBN 9781410961587. LC 2013017641.

––––. Animals That Run. ISBN 9781 410961501; ISBN 9781410961570. LC 2013017640.

ea vol: 32p. (Adapted to Survive Series). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Heinemann-Raintree. 2014. lib. ed. $29.32. pap. $7.99.

Gr 2-4 –This well-conceived series examines a variety of animals who share common attributes. Most spreads introduce a single animal, with four or five sentences focusing on the relevant behavior. Some sections examine one aspect of the adaptation, such as prehensile tails, highlighting several creatures who share the trait. The animals included here range from the expected (digging moles) to rare (flying dragons), along with species not typically expected within the category, such as running beetles. High-quality photographs feature two images on each spread, which often strongly complement each other. An impressive close-up of an owl’s eyes paired with a wider view of its talons about to grab a mouse, for example, effectively highlights the creature’s hunting characteristics. Closing pages list follow-up questions to extend readers’ analysis, along with prompts to imagine new animals with these adaptations (such as wings, feathers, or side fins); both have solid potential to spur Common Core activities.

Thatcher, Henry. Capybaras and Pygmy Mice. ISBN 9781477761144; ISBN 9781477761175. LC 2013023453.

––––. Clydesdales and Miniature Horses. ISBN 9781477761021; ISBN 9781477761052. LC 2013026020.

––––. Komodo Dragons and Geckos. ISBN 9781477761069; ISBN 9781477761090. LC 2013020350.

––––. Mandrills and Marmosets. ISBN 9781477761182; ISBN 9781477761212. LC 2013021153.

––––. Pythons and Garter Snakes. ISBN 9781477761106; ISBN 9781477761137. LC 2013022471.

––––. Wild Boars and Teacup Pigs. ISBN 9781477760970; ISBN 9781477761007. LC 2013028105.

ea vol: 32p. (Big Animals, Small Animals). further reading. glossary. index. notes. photos. websites. PowerKids. 2014. lib. ed. $25.25. ebk. $25.25.

Gr 3-5 –Some muddled writing and less than ideal use of photographs limit the appeal of this set, which compares and contrasts two animals that are related but vastly different in size. Shifts from big animal to small are sometimes abrupt, with no clear visual separation. Depth of information varies: an opening chapter includes three pages on wild boars but just a brief paragraph on teacup pigs. Photographs are clear and sometimes very effective, as in opposing views of python and garter snake mouths. Such useful visual comparisons aren’t plentiful, though, and the lack of scale lessens the impact of the size differences in facing views of two compared animals. Fairly vague descriptions, ineffective analogies, and some needlessly repeated information prevent the books from reaching the potential of the intriguing big/small concept, though lack of other books on some featured animals, notably pygmy mice and teacup pigs, may warrant purchase.

Thomas, Isabel. Fox: City Safari. ISBN 9781432988081; ISBN 9781432988159. LC 2013017408.

––––. Pigeon: City Safari. ISBN 9781 432988067; ISBN 9781432988135. LC 2013017274.

––––. Raccoon: City Safari. ISBN 9781 432988111; ISBN 9781432988180. LC 2013017411.

––––. Rat: City Safari. ISBN 9781432988074; ISBN 9781432988142. LC 2013017277.

––––. Seagull: City Safari. ISBN 9781 432988104; ISBN 9781432988173. LC 2013017410.

––––. Squirrel: City Safari. ISBN 9781 432988098; ISBN 9781432988166. LC 2013017409.

ea vol: 24p. (City Safari Series). bibliog. further reading. glossary. index. notes. photos. websites. Heinemann-Raintree. 2014. lib. ed. $22.65. pap. $6.49.

Gr 1-3 –A raccoon climbing down a fire escape and a traffic-dodging fox are just two of many images that will engage readers in these looks at how and why animals live in cities. Brief two-page chapters cover different aspects of urban wildlife, including food and homes, as well as the advantages and dangers of living near people, in four or five clear sentences. Each page features an excellent half-page photo that depicts the described behaviors effectively. In Rat, for example, the sentence “Black rats are good at climbing” is accompanied by a vivid view of the creature balancing on a fence wire. A binocular icon highlights photos that feature signs that the animals are nearby, such as droppings, footprints, or nests, and a closing page provides tips for spotting the creatures in your own town. Pigeons are certainly easier to find than foxes, but all of the books provide an intriguing entry into the world of urban wildlife.

SMS1404_Animals1b

Grades 5 & Up

Furstinger, Nancy. Dogs. ISBN 97816240 31656. LC 2013027283.

Gagne, Tammy. Dolphins. ISBN 97816240 31663. LC 2013027401.

––––. Elephants. ISBN 9781624031670. LC 2013027427.

Kessler, Colleen. Octopuses. ISBN 9781 624031694. LC 2013029176.

Shaffer, Jody Jensen. Chimpanzees. ISBN 9781624031649. LC 2013027267.

Wang, Andrea. Gorillas. ISBN 97816240 31687. LC 2013029173.

ea vol: 48p. (The Smartest Animals Series). bibliog. further reading. glossary. illus. index. maps. notes. photos. websites. ABDO. 2014. lib. ed. $32.79.

Gr 4-6 –Each title opens with a real life example of a clever animal in action, such as a trio of gorillas breaking a hunter’s snare or an octopus dismantling its aquarium. Further exploration of animal intelligence follows, along with information about habitat, life cycle, and other general topics. Simple sentence structure makes the text accessible, although the prose is not always smooth. Text boxes supplement the main text well, with facts about everything from conservation efforts to research findings. Clear photographs in uncluttered layouts are attractive enough, but readers may wish for more images that directly depict the animals’ smart behaviors. Each book includes a variety of challenges to readers, including questions on recent scientific research, analysis of text, guided web research, and follow-up writing assignments. These features may resonate only with the most highly motivated students but have strong potential use for teachers, with solid tie-ins to Common Core content.


While most of the series above contain enough information, enticing visuals, and topical appeal to earn their space on the animal shelves, some titles in particular merit special attention. “City Safari” demonstrates how simple but pointed prose, supported by meaningfully relevant photographs, can be engaging and informative to even the youngest readers. “Adapted to Survive” stands out for the quality and selection of photography, along with well-executed presentations on individual animals that share similar survival tools. ABDO’s “The Smartest Animals” goes even further with text analysis, offering multiple paths to analyze the information presented, with strong Common Core potential. Most of the animals introduced in these series are covered in other books as well, but libraries looking to fill subject holes should note that these series offer useful and solid material on unique and intriguing creatures not often profiled in other books, such as skuas (from “Disgusting Animal Dinners”), Przewalski’s Horses (from “Majestic Horses”), and teacup pigs, pygmy mice, mandrills, and marmosets (from “Big Animals, Small Animals”).

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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