November 20, 2017

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From Hunters to Helpers, from Amazing to Endangered: Animals | Series Nonfiction

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SMS1504-Animals1-EndangeredAbout half of these series rely on topical themes to introduce creatures with common features, including predation, bioluminescence, and cannibalism. Some highlight unusual animals using topics such as extreme habitats, odd physical features, or just plain cuteness. Other sets are grouped by geography and classification, while three new series are devoted to animals that are, or were, endangered. The trend of attaching obligatory Common Core features seems to have ebbed, but many of the books contain engaging, thought-provoking content that effectively fosters critical analysis, reflection, and other learning elements. While all of these series have merit, the standouts tend to share common qualities: writing that goes beyond basic presentation of facts; illustrations that support and extend the words; and attention to detail that ensures accuracy, clarity, and ultimately a memorable reading experience for young and curious learners.

Preschool to Grade 4

Gagne, Tammy. The Most Adorable Animals in the World. ISBN 9781491420539.

––––. The Most Endangered Animals in the World. ISBN 9781491420515.

––––. The Strangest Animals in the World. ISBN 9781491420546.

––––. Working Animals of the World. ISBN 9781491420522.

ea vol: 24p. (All About Animals). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. 2015. lib. ed. $24.65.

Gr 2-4 –Each title looks at nine animals, with a couple of basic facts per page, usually focusing on one or two particular characteristics. Framed photographs provide fairly strong visual appeal, though not all directly support the text. (Each book includes two “Critical Thinking” questions at the end.) These are usable but unexciting, and Most Adorable Animals misidentifies an animal with one of its questions. Thematic grouping is strongest in Most Endangered Animals, which describes the main threats to each animal. Working Animals refers to behavior that indirectly benefits humans, such as the shark’s role in the food chain, rather than animals working closely with people. Most Adorable Animals takes advantage of very cute pictures; all of the “most adorable” are mammals. Strangest Animals offers a wider range and introduces rarely covered animals—the fossa and the dumbo octopus. VERDICT Suitable choices; purchase as needed.

Hesper, Sam. Black Widow Spiders. ISBN 9781477757451.

––––. Bullfrogs. ISBN 9781477758182.

––––. Fire Salamanders. ISBN 9781477757611.

––––. Ground Squirrels. ISBN 9781477757505.

––––. King Cobras. ISBN 9781477757659.

––––. Praying Mantises. ISBN 9781477757710.

ea vol: 24p. (Animal Cannibals). glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. 2015. lib. ed. $23.60.

Gr 3-5 –The series title and red-spackled page backgrounds suggest that these books will emphasize the disgusting nature of animals, but this set features general species information, including habitat, physical features, and life cycles, with only one spread devoted to cannibalism. Frequency of cannibalism varies among the featured species, so readers may gravitate more toward those where the behavior is more common. It’s not always clear how often the animals eat their own kind: while it’s appropriately noted that black widows rarely do so outside of laboratories, details of ground squirrel cannibalism are vague. Photographs are mostly effective, with clear close-ups that highlight other features. VERDICT All six titles are suitable resources, but Praying Mantises, King Cobras, and Bullfrogs have the strongest relation to the set theme.

Howell, Sara. Fireflies. ISBN 9781499401141.

––––. Lantern Fish. ISBN 9781499401479.

McAneney, Caitie. Flashlight Fish. ISBN 9781499401202.

Machajewski, Sarah. Coral. ISBN 9781499400762.

Nagelhout, Ryan. Plankton. ISBN 9781499401752.

Rajczak, Kristen. Glowworms. ISBN 9781499401264.

ea vol: 24p. (Glow-in-the-Dark Animals). glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. 2015. lib. ed. $23.60.

Gr 3-5 –Bioluminescence makes for an intriguing and potential hook for the animals in this series. Each title examines the physical process through which the creature generates illumination, along with the ways this trait helps it to survive. When specific theories are still unproven, such as the role of bioluminescence in coral spawning, the authors clearly acknowledge the uncertain status. The main text is supported by “News Flash” tidbits and photo captions that also provide extra facts. Each title includes multiple photographs with examples of glowing creatures along with more general views depicting other characteristics. Though not dazzling, most of the images of luminescence are eye-catching. The writing does not always flow smoothly and is occasionally unclear. VERDICT Though these books make some missteps, the topic of bioluminescence has strong appeal, and the generally accessible information and quality photographs should draw some readers.

Madison, Amelia. Predators of Asia and Australia. ISBN 9781502601766.

––––. Predators of Europe and Africa. ISBN 9781502601797.

Tylers, Michael. Predators of North America. ISBN 9781502601858.

––––. Predators of South America and Antarctica. ISBN 9781502601827.

ea vol: 32p. (World’s Scariest Predators). further reading. glossary. illus. Cavendish Square. 2015. lib. ed. $28.50.

Gr 3-5 –Each geographically themed title provides information on six predators, with generally clear text supported by drawings, photos, a range map, and a size scale. Despite the series title, some featured animals, such as the platypus and frigate bird, are not especially frightening to anyone but their prey. Photographs are of adequate quality, but none depict the animals hunting or attacking, and predatory features such as teeth and claws are only sometimes shown. The drawings do a better job of demonstrating the creatures’ aggressive sides but offer limited visual excitement. Information about hunting methods is occasionally unclear. Platypus venom is mentioned, for example, without clarification that it is not used for hunting. VERDICT The variety of animals may provide subject coverage, but kids looking for predators in action can find more suitable titles, such as Jim Arnosky’s Tooth and Claw: The Wild World of Big Predators (Sterling, 2014), Camilla de la Bedoyere’s “Animal Attack” series (QEB), and Gareth Stevens’s “Animal Attack!” books.

Petrie, Kristin. American Crows. ISBN 9781624036583; ISBN 9781629691640. LC 2014024347.

––––. Cottontail Rabbits. ISBN 9781624036590; ISBN 9781629691657. LC 2014024348.

––––. Garter Snakes. ISBN 9781624036606; ISBN 9781629691664. LC 2014024642.

––––. Hummingbirds. ISBN 9781624036613; ISBN 9781629691671. LC 2014024662.

––––. Raccoons. ISBN 9781624036620; ISBN 9781629691688. LC 2014024636.

––––. Squirrels. ISBN 9781624036637; ISBN 9781629691695. LC 2014024643.

ea vol: 32p. (Backyard Animals). glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. 2015. lib. ed. $27.07. ebk. $27.07.

Gr 3-5 –Each book takes a fairly comprehensive look at the featured animal, covering habitats, behavior, physical features, diet, and defense in straightforward, fact-filled fashion. Though the prose is sometimes awkward, the logical organization and consistent pace provide plenty of material for report writers and other learners. The straightforward narratives are occasionally enlivened by intriguing facts, like the cottontail’s practice of eating its own waste, and examples of specific animal behavior, such as hummingbird defense strategies. Varied species within each group are noted within the text and sometimes, but not always, identified in the photographs. High-quality photos are neatly arranged to support the textual topic and provide plenty of visual variety. Nearly all of the images show the animals in the wild, though, rather than interacting with human environments as the series title might suggest. VERDICT Although not highly dynamic, these are fine choices to fill subject needs.

Royston, Angela. Amphibians. ISBN 9781484607497.

––––. Birds. ISBN 9781484607503.

––––. Fish. ISBN 9781484607510.

––––. Invertebrates. ISBN 9781484607527.

––––. Mammals. ISBN 9781484607534.

––––. Reptiles. ISBN 9781484607541.

ea vol: 32p. (Animal Classification). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Heinemann-Raintree. 2015. lib. ed. $26.65.

Gr 2-4 –This introduction to animal classification presents key facts about each group, then provides examples that demonstrate common characteristics. Brief chapters vary between general topics, such as “Fins,” to specific animals, like “Seahorses.” There’s a brief information about many animals, which works well for younger readers. Half-page photos on every page offer strong visual support. Most photographs are directly relevant to the information in the text, and some extend it a bit with brief captions. Specificity of material is inconsistent at times. Sentences such as “Anacondas can grow to long lengths,” with no measurement data or photos showing the snake’s full size, have limited impact. Each book ends with a two-page feature on a particularly unusual species or type (the Arctic tern or “deep-sea fish”). A simple “Who Am I?” quiz closes each book, with thumbnail photos to lead readers back to the page with the answer. VERDICT Despite some flaws, suitable additions.

Schuh, Mari. Cicadas. ISBN 9781620311608.

––––. Cockroaches. ISBN 9781620311615.

––––. Grasshoppers. ISBN 9781620311622.

––––. Praying Mantises. ISBN 9781620311639.

––––. Stink Bugs. ISBN 9781620311646.

––––. Walkingsticks. ISBN 9781620311653.

ea vol: 24p. (Insect World). ebook available. glossary. index. photos. websites. Jump! 2015. lib. ed. $25.65.

PreS-Gr 1 –Highly engaging photography supports basic information, making this set a good fit for preschoolers and new readers. Short, simple sentences offer readability rather than drama; the excitement comes from the crystal-clear photographs. Large main images include full-body views and extreme close-ups that highlight different features of each insect. In Grasshoppers, for example, an up-close photo of a spitting grasshopper is followed by a riveting view of the insect’s takeoff, and another page turn captures it in mid-flight. Sequences in which larger animals threaten insects are less successful, since no true interaction is shown in the photos. For the most part, though, the use of minimal text and carefully selected, high-quality photographs is just right for the intended audience. VERDICT Wonderful choices for this age group.

Grades 5 & Up

Bell, Samantha S. 12 Amphibians Back from the Brink. ISBN 9781632350008.

––––. 12 Insects Back from the Brink. ISBN 9781632350022.

––––. 12 Reptiles Back from the Brink. ISBN 9781632350053.

Furstinger, Nancy. 12 Birds Back From the Brink. ISBN 9781632350015.

––––. 12 Mammals Back from the Brink. ISBN 9781632350039.

––––. 12 Marine Animals Back from the Brink. ISBN 9781632350046.

ea vol: 34p. (Back From the Brink). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Amicus/12-Story. 2015. lib. ed. $28.50.

Gr 4-6 –This attractively designed, useful set highlights conservation success stories with clear, well-organized information. Descriptions of each animal, focusing on its threatened status, lead to news about successful efforts to address the dangers. Explanations are clear and concise. Readers learn how a variety of protection strategies, which include government intervention, captive breeding, and citizen activism, have resulted in improved outlooks for these creatures, though many are still in serious peril. Smooth writing avoids the sensationalism that the topic sometimes engenders, and headlinelike chapter titles add appeal. Fact-boxes provide current statistics, while occasional “Think About It” features ask readers follow-up questions related to the text. Though not exceptionally eye-catching, all of the photos include useful captions with additional species information. The lack of range maps is one disappointing feature in an otherwise strong series. VERDICT Robust selections.

Gray, Susan H. Animals Helping to Detect Diseases. ISBN 9780531212141; ISBN 9780531212882.

Orr, Tamra B. Animals Helping to Keep the Peace. ISBN 9780531212134; ISBN 9780531212875.

Raatma, Lucia. Animals Helping at Home. ISBN 9780531212585; ISBN 9780531212851.

Squire, Ann O. Animals Helping at Work. ISBN 9780531205099; ISBN 9780531205358.

––––. Animals Helping With Healing. ISBN 9780531205082; ISBN 9780531205341.

Zeiger, Jennifer. Animals Helping After Disasters. ISBN 9780531212578; ISBN 9780531212868.

ea vol: 48p. (A True Book: Animal Helpers). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Children’s Pr. 2015. lib. ed. $29. pap. $6.95.

Gr 4-6 –Thorough, accurate, and consistently engaging, these titles explore the fascinating ways that animals help people. Coverage includes widely known animal helpers, such as therapy dogs, as well as creatures in more uncommon roles: narwhals that collect research and rats that detect tuberculosis. There’s a good mixture of historical background, current animal programs, and even a consideration of potential animal helpers of the future. The presentation of information covers multiple aspects, from training procedures to step-by-step descriptions of the animals at work. True stories of people and their helpers add a strong personal touch. When animals appear in more than one book, such as carrier pigeon Cher Ami, the books avoid overlapping material, presenting different aspects or details. Every page includes at least one photograph, most of which show animals in action, often with humans. Time lines and statistics provide relevant background without overwhelming readers. VERDICT This is first-rate nonfiction for browsing, doing research for reports, or reading from cover to cover.

Harris, Tim. ed. The World of Endangered Animals: Africa. ISBN 9781781210796.

––––. The World of Endangered Animals: South and Central Asia. ISBN 9781781210772.

––––. The World of Endangered Animals: North and South America. ISBN 9781781210758.

––––. The World of Endangered Animals: Australia and Southeast Asia. ISBN 9781781210789.

––––. The World of Endangered Animals: Europe. ISBN 9781781210765.

ea vol: 64p. (Facts at Your Fingertips). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Black Rabbit/Brown Bear. 2015. lib. ed. $39.95.

Gr 6 Up –Each volume features two fact-filled pages on 20 animals, arranged by class. After introducing general features and behaviors, articles examine the threats to each creature’s survival, often with historical context. Many conclude with a look at future prospects, including interesting details about conservation efforts. A “Data Panel” provides basic statistics, such as size, diet, and breeding, along with the animal’s endangered status. A large color photograph and useful range map are also included. The smooth prose features a good balance between narrative description and statistics, providing a thorough overview that will meet the needs of most report writers. This is the second of two series, so students will need to use the 2011 first set to find many other well-known endangered animals. A handy list of those covered in the first series in included here, though there is no cumulative index for this second set. VERDICT Solid choices.

Royston, Angela. Hostile Homes. ISBN 9781482422429.

Spilsbury, Louise. Animal Bodies. ISBN 9781482422306.

––––. Creeping Killers. ISBN 9781482422344.

––––. Eat or Be Eaten. ISBN 9781482422382.

––––. Kill or Die. ISBN 9781482422467.

––––. Survival of the Fittest. ISBN 9781482422504.

ea vol: 48p. (Extreme Biology). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. 2015. lib. ed. $31.95.

Gr 4-8 –A focus on some remarkable aspects of animals and other life-forms, conveyed through text and photographs, makes this set a strong choice for a variety of readers. Organization varies appropriately depending on the topic: Animal Bodies is grouped by classification while Eat or Be Eaten arranges chapters by biomes. Some half-page photographs are set off in frames; others blend into the text page. Most are quite effective, providing strong visual references for the fascinating facts introduced in the text, aided by useful captions. Each spread includes an “Extreme” text box, which adds an extra detail about the featured animal or plant. The octopus spread highlights its protective coloring and shape, for example, and the text box adds more about its beak. Parallels drawn among different plants and animals and even bacteria lead readers to synthesize species-specific details with the surprising commonalities among living things. VERDICT Great selections for browsers and report writers alike.

Smuskiewicz, A.J. Endangered Animals of Africa. ISBN 9780716656210.

––––. Endangered Animals of Asia. ISBN 9780716656227.

––––. Endangered Animals of Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Islands. ISBN 9780716656234.

––––. Endangered Animals of Europe. ISBN 9780716656241.

––––. Endangered Animals of North America. ISBN 9780716656258.

––––. Endangered Animals of South America. ISBN 9780716656265.

––––. Endangered Animals of the Oceans. ISBN 9780716656272.

––––. Extinct! ISBN 9780716656289.

ea vol: 48p. (Endangered Animals of the World). glossary. index. photos. websites. World Book. 2015. lib. ed. $209.

Gr 5-8 –Most of the 20 or so entries in each volume feature a page of species information opposite a striking full-page color photo of the animal, while the text describes the characteristics, habitat, and behavior. Articles conclude with a summary of threats and, where applicable, current conservation efforts. Fairly large maps identify the species’ range, and official conservation status is provided, but most articles lack hard data. Report writers will likely need to note the current population of a species, which is only occasionally stated. Extinct! includes more specifics than the six other volumes and may serve as a stand-alone title. VERDICT Many unusual animals are introduced here, and there’s strong visual appeal, but the set falls short as a top reference for endangered species.

Most of the titles above will be useful, but several rise to first-choice status. Bullfrog’s latest “Insect World” set maintains the series’ successful approach of combining basic text and high-quality images to reach the youngest readers. Gareth Stevens’ “Extreme Biology” highlights the behavior and features of some fascinating creatures that should intrigue readers who are especially drawn to the unusual aspects of animal life. There’s surprisingly little duplication of coverage between the two endangered species sets for older readers. Stronger data content makes Brown Bear’s “The World of Endangered Animals” the choice over World Book’s attractive but limited “Endangered Animals of the World.” From 12-Story, “Back from the Brink” is a fine series in the same field for younger readers, with a welcome focus on successful conservation efforts to preserve threatened species. Scholastic’s “First Books” on animal helpers is the standout that succeeds on all levels, with excellent writing, strong visuals, and smooth synthesis of ideas and information.

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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