November 17, 2017

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Trash Eaters, Shark Divers, & Other Wonders: Wild Animals | Series Made Simple Fall 2014

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With so many animal titles published each year, it can be hard to distinguish one from another. Sometimes the series premise helps: a straightforward grouping by animal type, such as insects, sharks, or big cats can fill key collection needs. Finding diverse creatures with common features, such as those who scavenge for food or feature unusual physical adaptations, can intrigue curious readers. Series that include less commonly covered critters, such as cuttlefish or flesh flies, might warrant extra consideration. However the subjects are organized, though, the most successful books share common qualities of engaging age-appropriate writing, eye-catching images, and organizational concepts that combine words and images in innovative ways that promote significant learning.

Preschool to Grade 4

Amstutz, Lisa J. Thorny Devil Lizards and Other Extreme Reptile Adaptations. ISBN 9781491401682.

Rake, Jody Sullivan. Mudskippers and Other Extreme Fish Adaptations. ISBN 9781491401651.

––––. Star-Nosed Moles and Other Extreme Mammal Adaptations. ISBN 9781491401675.

Wheeler-Toppen, Jodi. Orchid Mantises and Other Extreme Insect Adaptations. ISBN 9781491401668.

ea vol: 32p. (Extreme Adaptations). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $26.65.

Gr 3-5 –From a giraffe’s tongue to the dung beetle’s diet, the animal characteristics highlighted here are sure to draw interest. Chapters group the creatures by common size, behavior, or habitat, a logical approach that will help readers keep track of the parade of odd and amusing facts covering more than 20 animals per book. The writing is lively and engaging, with a consistent focus on the ways in which adaptations are essential for survival. Most of the high-quality photos directly hone in on featured adaptations, such as the tail of the saltwater crocodile and the camel’s double rows of eyelashes. Several animals in Thorny Devil Lizards and Mudskippers are described without accompanying images, so the more consistent visual support in the other two titles is preferable. Three “Critical Thinking” suggestions at the end provide workable but unexciting lead-ins to Common Core aspects. Attractive, adequate offerings.

Barnes, Nico. Basking Sharks. ISBN 9781629700649; ISBN 9781629701622.

––––. Great White Sharks. ISBN 9781629700656; ISBN 9781629701639.

––––. Hammerhead Sharks. ISBN 9781629700663; ISBN 9781629701646.

––––. Mako Sharks. ISBN 9781629700670; ISBN 9781629701653.

––––. Whale Sharks. ISBN 9781629700687; ISBN 9781629701660.

––––. Zebra Sharks. ISBN 9781629700694; ISBN 9781629701677.

ea vol: 24p. (Sharks). glossary. index. photos. ABDO. 2014. lib. ed. $28.50. ebk. $28.50.

K-Gr 2 –Simplicity of presentation makes these shark titles accessible and inviting to the youngest readers, despite slight weaknesses in content. Spreads with two-to-three sentences per page offer simple facts, with straightforward language, while opposite, a large photo fills the page. Though most information is clear, the sparse text is occasionally overly vague (readers learn that “Zebra sharks are long” and that “Makos are small sharks,” but the text and images offer no sense of context). However, a closing “More Facts” page provides some specifics. Text and images often work well together, offering clear views of a mako’s “long, skinny teeth” and the coloring of a great white shark. A few photograph choices are less successful, however (such as using a spotted zebra shark to illustrate that pups “have stripes when they are born”). Engaging and useful additions, even with some flaws.

Berne, Emma Carlson. Coyotes. ISBN 9781477766071.

––––. Flesh Flies. ISBN 9781477765883.

––––. Opossums. ISBN 9781477766026.

––––. Raccoons. ISBN 9781477765975.

––––. Ravens. ISBN 9781477766125.

––––. Yellow Jackets. ISBN 9781477765968.

ea vol: 24p. (Scavengers: Eating Nature’s Trash). glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. 2014. lib. ed. $22.60.

Gr 3-6 –The habits of animal scavengers may appeal to readers who like the disgusting side of nature. While these titles provide appropriately detailed descriptions of decayed flesh and rotten fruit, they also offer broader information about each creature, including life cycles, diet, and habitats. Strong layouts feature white print against black pages, along with angled frames that set off the photographs well. Captioned photos provide strong support for the main text, from several vivid close-ups of flesh flies in action to an appealing scene of a coyote pup copying its mother. Some titles feature more gore than others; raccoon foraging is much tamer than flesh-fly eating habits. However, the tone stays scientific rather than sensationalized, and the engaging images are solidly balanced with useful perspectives on the scavengers’ role in their ecosystems.

Costain, Meredith. Mammals Great and Small. ISBN 9781477769409.

––––. Reptiles. ISBN 9781477769362.

Coupe, Robert. Cats of the Wild. ISBN 9781477769447.

––––. Predators and Prey. ISBN 9781 477769560.

Einspruch, Andrew. Migration. ISBN 9781 477769485.

Mcfadzean, Lesley. Birds. ISBN 9781 477769300.

––––. Insects. ISBN 9781477769522.

Stephens, David. Sharks. ISBN 9781 477769263.

ea vol: 32p. (Discovery Education: Animals). glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. 2014. lib. ed. $25.25.

Gr 3-6 –These overviews of large animal groups are neatly organized, with a good mix of general information and specific details. Structures vary depending on the group: Cats of the Wild, for example, highlights a different species on each page or spread, while Birds examines key features such as wings and nesting. Each section starts with a one-paragraph long topic overview, while multiple illustrations and fact boxes fill the rest of the spread. It’s usually clear when information applies to the broader groups or specific species. Illustrations are mostly drawings of standard quality, with the occasional photograph mixed in, providing useful visual context, though limited excitement. There’s a wealth of intriguing information in each book. Occasionally, too much data is crammed into one box, but effective layouts and solid writing offers strong appeal to browsers looking for lots of animal factoids. The series was printed in Australia in 2011 with slightly different titles and covers, so libraries with the earlier set can pass on this current version.

Daly, Ruth. Lion. ISBN 9781489609267; ISBN 9781489609274.

Diemer, Lauren. Jaguar. ISBN 9781489609182; ISBN 9781489609199.

Goldsworthy, Steve. Cheetah. ISBN 9781 489609106; ISBN 9781489609113.

––––. Leopard. ISBN 9781489609229; ISBN 9781489609236.

Riddolls, Tom. Tiger. ISBN 9781489609304; ISBN 9781489609311.

Tomljanovic, Tatiana Megan Cuthbert. Cougar. ISBN 9781489609144; ISBN 9781489609151.

ea vol: 32p. (Big Cats). ebook available. glossary. index. photos. Weigl. 2014. lib. ed. $28.55. pap. $13.95.

Gr 3-5 –Though not terrifically exciting, each book introduces the featured animal with well-organized information and photos that have solid visual appeal. Standard areas of habitat, food, life cycles, and conservation are covered. A page on “history” offers information not typically included in similar series, although the use of a range map from the past, without a current version as well, may confuse readers. Simple, direct words provide plenty of information, though they don’t always flow smoothly. Color photos include spreads along with spot images, with a good mixture of activities and behaviors. A spread on “features,” with labels and captions, works especially well. Sections on eating are disappointing, as the photos only show the prey, with no sign of a feline predator. Closing materials include a quiz with answers provided and activities involving creating charts and drawing pictures that are unlikely to engage most readers.

Hansen, Grace. Alligators. ISBN 9781 629700571; ISBN 9781629701554.

––––. Chameleons. ISBN 9781629700588; ISBN 9781629701561.

––––. Iguanas. ISBN 9781629700595; ISBN 9781629701578.

––––. Komodo Dragons. ISBN 9781 629700601; ISBN 9781629701585.

––––. Snakes. ISBN 9781629700618; ISBN 9781629701592.

––––. Turtles. ISBN 9781629700625; ISBN 9781629701608.

ea vol: 24p. (Reptiles). glossary. index. photos. ABDO. 2014. lib. ed. $28.50. ebk. $28.50.

K-Gr 2 –Each page in these books for early readers offers two to three sentences on a topic, such as food, appearance, and habitat. The facts are basic, and the language is plain but interesting enough to engage readers. Excellent photographs fill more than a page; most images depict the animals in the wild through eye-catching close-up scenes. Most do a stellar job of directly demonstrating the text (“Chameleons can look two ways at once,” for example, is perfectly supported by a close-up view displaying those oddly independent eyes). A couple of images are less successful, but for the most part the connection between images and words is effective. The set successfully shows how simple language combined with well-chosen photos can result in fun and exciting nonfiction.

Herrington, Lisa M. It’s a Good Thing There Are Bees. ISBN 9780531223598; ISBN 9780531228319.

––––. It’s a Good Thing There Are Butterflies. ISBN 9780531223635; ISBN 9780531228357.

––––. It’s a Good Thing There Are Snakes. ISBN 9780531223611; ISBN 9780531228333.

––––. It’s a Good Thing There Are Spiders. ISBN 9780531223604; ISBN 9780531228326.

Mattern, Joanne. It’s a Good Thing There Are Ladybugs. ISBN 9780531223581; ISBN 9780531228302.

Mattern. Joanne. It’s a Good Thing There Are Bats. ISBN 9780531223628; ISBN 9780531228340.

Shepherd, Jodie. It’s a Good Thing There Are Earthworms. ISBN 9780531223642; ISBN 9780531228364.

ea vol: 32p. (Rookie Read-About Science: It’s a Good Thing There Are…). glossary. index. photos. websites. Children’s Pr. 2014. lib. ed. $23. pap. $5.95.

K-Gr 2 –These books open with a short list of “good things” that each animal contributes to the ecosystem opens these books. Bats, for example, eat insects and spread pollen and seeds. The content then shifts to more general information about physical features, life cycles, and habitats. Full-page photos of mostly high quality match the simple text effectively, aided by useful labels. Interesting details are judiciously woven into the broader overviews, some within the main text and others through “fun facts” insets. The titular “good things” return in a concluding spread, which restates the benefits, using effectively captioned photos. An additional “creature feature fun” section includes riddles, an activity suggestion, and more facts, along with photos. The theme of creatures helping the world may draw curious readers, while the solid presentation of information introduces each animal at a level that works for new readers.

Lee, Sally. Ankylosaurus. ISBN 9781491408087.

––––. Diplodocus. ISBN 9781491408094.

Riehecky, Janet. Triceratops. ISBN 9781491408117.

––––. Velociraptor. ISBN 9781491408131.

Wegwerth, A. L. Stegosaurus. ISBN 9781491408124.

––––. Tyrannosaurus Rex. ISBN 9781491408100.

ea vol: 32p. (Little Paleontologist). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $27.32.

Gr 2-4 –These dinosaur profiles cover key information at a good level for middle elementary readers. Text flows nicely, with simple vocabulary and age-appropriate analogies (for instance, “an egg smaller than a soccer ball”). Readers will get a sense of how scientists use fossils to make educated guesses about dinosaurs, and the difference between fact and speculation is clearly noted. Labels and fact boxes balance the narrative neatly; most expand on the information provided in the main text. Key features are supported by appealing illustrations, which include drawings, photos of models, and diagrams. Though a few spreads are overcrowded, the visuals should have strong appeal. Details of sizes, ranges, and eras are all covered well, though one phonetic pronunciation is inaccurate. Kids will likely ignore the three Common Core questions at the end, but these might be useful to teachers. The dinosaurs featured here are covered in most series, but these are solid additions in an always popular subject area.

Markovics, Joyce. Little Brown Bats. ISBN 9781627243155; ISBN 9781627243711.

––––. Monarch Butterflies. ISBN 9781627243162; ISBN 9781627243728.

––––. Wood Frogs. ISBN 9781627243193; ISBN 9781627243759.

Sawyer, J. Clark. Barn Swallows. ISBN 9781627243148; ISBN 9781627243704.

––––. Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrels. ISBN 9781627243179; ISBN 9781627243735.

––––. Timber Rattlesnakes. ISBN 9781627243186; ISBN 9781627243742.

ea vol: 24p. (Little Bits: In Winter, Where Do They Go?). further reading. index. maps. photos. Bearport. 2014. lib. ed. $23.93. ebk. $30.60.

Gr 1-3 –Focusing on animal behaviors in winter, each title examines hibernation or migration from fall to spring. Three to four large-type sentences per spread, supplemented by fact boxes, should be easy for young readers to navigate. The basic vocabulary limits the excitement level of the text, so the books are most engaging when the content is especially amazing, such as when the author emphasizes the wood frog’s frozen hibernation. Most highlighted features relate directly to the animal’s winter habits, so readers learn about the little brown bat’s hooked claws but not about more general subjects, such as echolocation. Many spreads feature a large photograph, with occasional captioned insets. Though the majority of the images are of decent quality, the impact is sometimes limited. Range maps and a closing list of facts round out these solid and simple introductions.

Schuh, Mari. Dragonflies. ISBN 9781620310830.

––––. Fireflies. ISBN 9781620310847.

––––. Mosquitoes. ISBN 9781620310854.

––––. Moths. ISBN 9781620310861.

––––. Termites. ISBN 9781620310878.

––––. Wasps. ISBN 9781620310885.

ea vol: 24p. (Insect World). glossary. index. photos. Jump! 2014. lib. ed. $25.65.

PreS-Gr 1 –Excellent photographs support basic information written at a beginning reader level. Titles focus on a few key areas, such as wasps’ nests and stingers, rather than trying to cover too much for new readers to absorb. Most books describe the activities of a single insect, though different species are depicted in the photos. Many images provide strong visual details that will leave an impression, such as an egg-laying moth and a dragonfly munching on a bee. In most but not all cases, photographs directly support the written text. Language is deliberately easy to understand, and the author has kept the earliest readers in mind, so simplifications such as skipping the larva and pupa stage of the mosquito’s life cycle are acceptable. Kids can find plenty more details in other books, but in many ways these are ideal for those making that first step into independent nonfiction reading.

Schuh, Mari. Gorillas. ISBN 9781620311097. LC 2013042374.

––––. Iguanas. ISBN 9781620311103. LC 2013042376.

––––. Jaguars. ISBN 9781620311110. LC 2013044260.

––––. Sloths. ISBN 9781620311127. LC 2013044264.

––––. Toucans. ISBN 9781620311134. LC 2013044265.

––––. Tree Frogs. ISBN 9781620311141. LC 2013045665.

ea vol: 24p. (My First Animal Library). glossary. index. photos. Jump! 2014. lib. ed. $25.65.

PreS-Gr 2 –With simple sentences; sharp, uncluttered photos; and just a handful of facts, these animal profiles are generally on target for the intended audience of new readers. Each book narrates one day in the life of the animal, introducing basic behaviors within the story. Iguanas, for instance, mentions the importance of tails, scales, and other specifics, neatly reinforced by well-chosen photographs. The absence of details such as size and geographic range is appropriate, given the consistently simple vocabulary and minimal text. The daylong narrative format is not completely effective. While words describe a particular animal’s day, photos clearly depict several different species. Attempts at drama have limited impact because the described interactions with other animals, such as an eagle’s search for a sloth are obviously two separate, unrelated photographs. The set will answer only the most basic questions about these animals but should spark the interest of the youngest readers.

Grades 5 & Up

Bell, Samantha. Boxfish. ISBN 9781631880179.

––––. Cuttlefish. ISBN 9781631880186.

Didier, Dominique A. Moray Eel. ISBN 9781631880209.

––––. Sea Anemone. ISBN 9781631880223.

Gray, Susan H. Lionfish. ISBN 9781631880193.

––––. Nudibranch. ISBN 9781631880216.

––––. Sea Star. ISBN 9781631880230.

Murphy, Julie. Anglerfish. ISBN 9781631880247.

ea vol: 32p. (Exploring Our Oceans). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Cherry Lake. 2014. lib. ed. $28.50.

Gr 4-6 –Solid, well-organized writing and effective use of photographs introduce some particularly unusual sea creatures. Physical features and behaviors of each animal are covered with a nice balance between straightforward information and engaging content, such as fascinating facts about nudibranch defense methods, the three hearts of the cuttlefish. Vocabulary is fairly sophisticated; some terms are defined within the text; others only in the glossary. Photos are no bigger than a half page, but the clear images capture the variety of species and support points made in the text. Body diagrams in each book are somewhat helpful, despite the sparseness of labeled parts. Each of the five chapters includes a well-chosen prompt for readers to “go deeper” or “look again,” based on what they’ve read or seen in the book. These, along with three to four “think about it” suggestions at the end, provide solid support for Common Core follow-up.

Cerullo, Mary M. Journey to Shark Island: A Shark Photographer’s Close Encounters. ISBN 9780756548872.

––––. Searching for Great White Sharks: A Shark Diver’s Quest for Mr. Big. ISBN 9780756548841.

––––. Seeking Giant Sharks: A Shark Diver’s Quest for Whale Sharks and Manta Rays. ISBN 9780756548858.

––––. Sharks of the Deep: A Shark Photographer’s Search for Sharks at the Bottom of the Sea. ISBN 9780756548865.

ea vol: 40p. (Shark Expedition). further reading. glossary. illus. index. websites. Compass Point. 2014. lib. ed. $31.32.

Gr 4-7 –Centered on the experiences photographer and diver Jeff Rotman, this set offers exciting insight into the world of sharks. Information on diving, photography, and Rotman’s life are interwoven with plenty of facts about the animals he studies. Rotman’s high-quality photographs are varied, incorporating insets, full-page images, and two-page spreads. Some are amazing close-up views of sharks; others show the intriguing process of underwater photography. The diver’s accounts are woven into the narrative as he describes hitching a ride on a whale shark’s fin and other daring exploits. Useful statistics, diagrams, and fact boxes provide details to support the photographer’s first-hand experiences. Readers will also learn how a wildlife photographer impacts conservation efforts. With their focus on more spectacular species, Seeking Giant Sharks and Great White Shark have the highest appeal, but all four books are fresh looks at an always popular subject.


All of the series reviewed above are strong enough to warrant consideration, but a few stand out. Compass Point’s “Shark Expedition” is an unusual and incredibly well-executed focus on a diver’s thrilling work with sharks. PowerKids Press’s “Scavengers” titles vary in levels of grossness, but all of the books have strong visual appeal and solid information. All five sets for younger children provide accessible introductions for new readers; ABDO’s “Reptiles” and Bullfrog’s “Insect World” use minimal text and just-right photographs especially effectively. Several series look at animals already covered in most collections, including dinosaurs (Capstone’s “Little Paleontologist”), big cats (Weigl’s “Big Cats”), so purchase decisions can be based on the condition of currently owned titles. Other sets introduce more unusual species: Capstone’s “Extreme Adaptations” offers short entries on many creatures, while Cherry Lake’s “Exploring Our Oceans” devotes a full book to each of six fairly uncommon underwater animals. While several series insert Common Core material with teachers in mind, ABDO’s “Snakes”, Cherry Lake’s “Exploring Our Oceans,” and Children’s Press’s “It’s a Good Thing…” do a better job of integrating textual and image analysis in ways that might engage readers even without adult guidance.

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

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