April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Flora, Fauna, & Food Chains: Life Science | Series Made Simple Fall 2014

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Here’s a decidedly mixed bag of natural science offerings suitable for classroom sharing, assignment reading, individual study, browsing, or a combination of uses. A wide variety of subjects are tackled: plants, the human body, biomes, and more. Most of these titles are aimed at children in primary grades. Some are new, while others (as noted) are revised editions of earlier—though not necessarily outdated—titles or additions to continuing series. With noted exceptions, all end with at least perfunctory indexes and leads (either in the book or posted on a dedicated web site) to further sources of information in print or online. The better series also offer such extras as summary reviews, quizzes, and hands-on projects. All are illustrated, but the quality of the image selection and production tends to drop off as the reading level rises.

Preschool to Grade 4

Bodden, Valerie. Apple. ISBN 9781 608184040. LC 2013029617.

––––. Eagle. ISBN 9781608184057. LC 2013029623.

––––. Snake. ISBN 9781608184064. LC 2013029626.

––––. Spider. ISBN 9781608184071. LC 2013029625.

ea vol: 32p. (Grow With Me). bibliog. diag. further reading. glossary. index. notes. photos. websites. Creative Education. 2014. lib. ed. $20.95.

Gr 1-3– The topics of these additions to a continuing series may be random, but the high production values and big, riveting—often extreme close up—photographs provide consistent viewing pleasure. Both Snake and Spider offer multiple shots taken from, seemingly, an inch or less away, along with you-are-definitely-there scenes of the creatures chowing down on prey and of eggs hatching, or, in the case of a boa constrictor, giving live birth amid streams of blood and slime. Eagle focuses on eggs and (unlovely, except possibly to eagle parents) nestlings, but also includes glimpses of various species in soaring flight. For squeamish readers, Apple offers informative and less disturbing views of seeds, seedlings, grown trees, and flowers maturing into delicious-looking fruit. Pitched to somewhat older audiences than the publisher’s “Creepy Creatures” and “Living Wild” series, the accompanying commentaries provide select but specific detail notes on physical characteristics, diets, reproduction, and life cycles. The last is also summarized in a recap at the end of each title.

Colby, Jennifer. Flowers. ISBN 9781 631880353; ISBN 9781631881213.

––––. Growing New Plants. ISBN 9781631880360; ISBN 9781631881220.

––––. Healing Plants. ISBN 9781631880377; ISBN 9781631881237.

––––. Plants Need Sunlight. ISBN 9781631880384; ISBN 9781631881244.

––––. Plants We Eat. ISBN 9781631880391; ISBN 9781631881251.

––––. Plants We Wear. ISBN 9781631880407; ISBN 9781631881268.

––––. Trees. ISBN 9781631880414; ISBN 9781631881275.

––––. What Is a Plant? ISBN 9781631880421; ISBN 9781631881282.

ea vol: 24p. (Plants). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Cherry Lake. 2014. lib. ed. $25.64. ebk. $17.95.

Gr 2-4 –Like their predecessors, these revised versions of titles originally published in 2008 offer basic introductions to plant types, parts, and uses with interspersed suggestions for activities designed to sharpen powers of observation and comparison. Some issues with the earlier volumes have been addressed; helpful labels have been added to selected photos in each, and specific terms like stomata and pistil are introduced and clearly explained. Still, readers may be confused to find cuttings listed among the otherwise natural ways that plants propagate, and differences between the spruce and cedar needles are described in Trees but not depicted. More problematically, the necessary cautionary note in Plants That Heal appears at the end rather than the beginning, and (poisonous!) rhubarb leaves are recommended as edible in Plants We Eat. Until, perhaps, the next revision, the latter two volumes should be avoided; the rest will serve as adequate, if unexceptional updates.

Gray, Susan H. The Circulatory System. ISBN 9781626873346.

––––. The Digestive System. ISBN 9781 626873353.

––––. The Muscular System. ISBN 9781 626873360.

––––. The Nervous System. ISBN 9781 626873377.

––––. The Respiratory System. ISBN 9781 626873384.

––––. The Skeletal System. ISBN 9781 626873391.

ea vol: 24p. (The Human Body). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. The Child’s World. 2014. lib. ed. $27.07.

Gr 3-5 –This revised edition of the 2003 series combines rewritten texts, bright new illustrations, and a freshened up, more visually inviting design. Nonetheless, for all these changes, more is still promised than delivered: in The Digestive System, excretion is not discussed or even mentioned, and a chapter on the senses in Nervous System names only five. The existence of the endocrine and reproductive systems are not acknowledged at all. Furthermore, though some of the illustrations are micrographs or labeled, comprehensible schematic images, most of the pictures are uninformative filler photos of happy children at play or rest. The systemic approach and slightly higher level of detail make these natural companions for the publisher’s “Take a Closer Look” series (2013), but neither are dependable first choices for serious study or assignment work.

Owen, Ruth. How Do Animals Help Plants Reproduce? ISBN 9781477771419.

––––. How Do Meat-Eating Plants Catch Their Food? ISBN 9781477771532.

––––. How Do Plants Defend Themselves? ISBN 9781477771570.

––––. How Do Plants Make and Spread Their Seeds? ISBN 9781477771457.

––––. How Do Plants Make Their Own Food? ISBN 9781477771495.

––––. What Do Roots, Stems, Leaves, and Flowers Do? ISBN 9781477771372.

ea vol: 32p. (The World of Plants). further reading. glossary. photos. PowerKids. 2014. lib. ed. $25.25.

Gr 2-4 –In specific, methodical language (with rare fumbles: “When the animal then goes to the bathroom some time later, the seeds leave its body…”), Owen offers solidly informative explanations of how plants nourish themselves, grow, and reproduce. What Do Roots, Stems, Leaves, and Flowers Do? serves as an overview of topics covered in greater detail in the other volumes and a useful introduction to plants in general. Each volume features a mix of close-up color photos ranging from standard views of pollen-encrusted bumblebees to rare glimpses of a fly peering out through the “bars” of a Venus flytrap and a tropical pitcher plant claimed to be big enough to entrap rats. Each also ends with directions for two relatively inexpensive “investigations” that are well designed to extend and enrich understanding of the content. That some of that material overlaps does not affect the overall value of this series for assignment use and serious inquiry.

Patkau, Karen. Who Needs a Desert?: A Desert Ecosystem. ISBN 9781770493865.

––––. Who Needs a Prairie?: A Grassland Ecosystem. ISBN 9781770493889.

––––. Who Needs a Reef?: A Coral Reef Ecosystem. ISBN 9781770493902.

ea vol: 32p. (Ecosystem). ebook available. glossary. illus. Tundra. 2014. Tr. $17.99.

Gr 1-3 –“We all do” is the given answer to the titular question in each of these mediocre additions to a 2012 series. Like the three preceding volumes, each surveys a particular biome with a combination of simple observations and painted landscape (or aquatic) scenes. Along with muddy, low contrast colors, the busy illustrations have a flattened look, as if images of wildlife are laid down over generic backgrounds. Not until a note under the map at the end of each volume are readers informed that they have gotten not a general worldwide overview but a profile of a particular desert, reef, or prairie. Moreover, closing galleries of previously introduced flora and fauna supply additional facts but are disconnected from the preceding contents, as the volumes are unpaged.

Royston, Angela. Desert Food Chains. ISBN 9781484605219.

––––. Grassland Food Chains. ISBN 9781484605226.

––––. Mountain Food Chains. ISBN 9781484605196.

––––. Ocean Food Chains. ISBN 9781484605172.

––––. Rain Forest Food Chains. ISBN 9781 484605189.

––––. River Food Chains. ISBN 9781 484605202.

ea vol: 32p. (Food Chains and Webs). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Heinemann-Raintree. 2014. lib. ed. $26.65.

Gr 1-3 –Similar in scope and overall approach to the publisher’s “Protecting Food Chains” series (2011) but aimed at a younger audience, these studies progress from examining each element in a simple food chain to a more complex one. They then move on to a food web, before ending with very brief observations about environmental damage and conservation efforts. Each volume focuses on three selected examples of a particular habitat and in accessible language—general enough to be similar, though not identical, from volume to volume—explains the relationships among the elements in the chain or web from plant or other energy producer to top predator. Along with simplified world maps (oversimplified in Desert Food Chains, as Antarctica is not included in the tally), the illustrations include photos of flora and fauna caught in natural settings but not in the midst of actually chowing down. Consider this series as a geographically broader alternative to Paul Fleisher’s “Early Bird Food Webs” (Lerner, 2008).

Rustad, Martha E.H. Hearing. ISBN 9781620311158.

––––. Seeing. ISBN 9781620311165.

––––. Smelling. ISBN 9781620311172.

––––. Tasting. ISBN 9781620311189.

––––. Touching. ISBN 9781620311196.

ea vol: 24p. (Senses in My World). glossary. illus. index. Jump! 2014. lib. ed. $17.95.

K-Gr 2 –In these bright introductions for emergent readers, close-up photos of delighted looking children using their senses in easy to understand ways (“Eli smells his stinky feet. Ew! He knows he needs a bath.”) accompany short, explanatory notes in large type. Though the amount of detail is skimpy (smell is said to be triggered by “scent bits,” and the fifth taste, umami, is not mentioned in Tasting), each volume does close with a simplified but recognizable graphic depiction of the relevant sense organ featuring (nontechnical) labels. Each also ends with a leading question—a ploy that Rustad flubs in Smelling with a confusing “What things do you smell? What do they tell you?” but elsewhere are sure to spark animated discussions. An excellent alternative or replacement for Katie Dicker’s “Sparklers: My Senses” series (Black Rabbit, 2010).

Spilsbury, Louise. Superstar Birds. ISBN 9781477770603.

––––. Superstar Fish. ISBN 9781477770689.

––––. Superstar Insects. ISBN 9781477770641.

––––. Superstar Mammals. ISBN 9781477770528.

––––. Superstar Plants. ISBN 9781477770726.

––––. Superstar Reptiles. ISBN 9781477770566.

ea vol: 32p. (Nature’s Got Talent). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. Jan. 2015. lib. ed. $25.25.

Gr 2-4 –Focusing on a wide variety of species—from the bee hummingbird to the blue whale, the rhinoceros beetle to the New Guinea singing dog—these select galleries show off the amazing diversity of forms and abilities on display in the natural world. Each volume features 11 exemplars (plus several additional cameos from “Secret Stars”) capped by a discussion of the difference between “physical” adaptations, such as the tarantula hawk wasp’s venom, and “behavioral” ones, like the bull ant’s vicious aggressiveness. Though Plants seems like the odd one out, it extends the series’ examination of such adaptations beyond the animal world. The level of detail here is too superficial for research—readers wanting to know where, for instance, bull ants live will have to look elsewhere—but Spilsbury is careful to link the particular abilities she highlights, such as flying speed or the ability to thrive in challenging habitats, with distinctive physical characteristics. On each spread, the text is scattered in easily digestible bits around two or three dramatically posed color photographs. Both random browsers and budding younger naturalists will come away with a greater understanding of how plants and animals adjust to their environmental niches.

Grades 5 & Up

Anniss, Matt. Fighting Cancer. ISBN 9781482414530.

Colson, Mary. Fighting AIDS. ISBN 9781482414523.

––––. Fighting Polio. ISBN 9781482414356.

Hardyman, Robyn. Fighting Malaria. ISBN 9781482414547.

––––. Fighting the Flu. ISBN 9781482414332.

Royston, Angela. Fighting Smallpox. ISBN 9781482414370.

ea vol: 48p. (Tiny Battlefields). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. 2014. lib. ed. $31.95.

Gr 6-9 –Some of public medicine’s greatest triumphs as well as ongoing struggles are highlighted in these examinations of modern plagues. Historical backgrounds are sketched in, but along with describing each malady’s causes and effects, the authors focus chiefly on current incidence, treatments, public awareness campaigns, and research toward cures. Except for several stomach-churning photos of victims in Fighting Smallpox, the illustrations are largely generic, less-than-informative depictions of lab scientists sporting white coats, Third World residents, and melodramatic graphic representations of viruses. Aside from Fighting Cancer—which contains alarmist generalizations about cell phone radiation, a sweeping claim that “men under the age of 30 are particularly at risk from testicular cancer,” and an observation that breast removal, à la Angelina Jolie, is an effective preventive measure—these titles nonetheless make serviceable complements and updates for the equivalent titles in Rosen’s 2010 series “Epidemics and Society.”

Cuthbert, Megan. Africa. ISBN 9781489609342; ISBN 9781489609359.

––––. Europe. ISBN 9781489609502; ISBN 9781489609519.

Daly, Ruth. North America. ISBN 9781489609540; ISBN 9781489609557.

Goldsworthy, Steve. Antarctica. ISBN 9781489609380; ISBN 9781489609397.

Myers, Jenna. Australia. ISBN 9781489609465; ISBN 9781489609472.

Sirota, Lyn. South America. ISBN 9781489609588; ISBN 9781489609595.

Yasuda, Anita. Asia. ISBN 9781489609427; ISBN 9781489609434.

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

Gr 4-7 –This spin-off from the publisher’s “Continents” series (2012) narrows the focus to each geographical area’s flora, fauna, and ecosystems. Aside from slight variations in Antarctica and elsewhere, the overall design, order of presentation, and even chapter headings adhere to a rigid template—from opening descriptions of each continent’s location and major land and water biomes to closing cautionary spreads on invasive species (“Maintaining Balance”) and the need for careful conservation. In between, samplers offer small photos with descriptive notes on a very select handful of distinctive animals and plants, plus sidebars filled with a mix of facts and “factoids” (“A piranha’s jaw is so strong that it can crush a human hand within 10 seconds.”). Along with a project and quiz, each volume comes with a code that unlocks video and other media on a dedicated website. Though place names and natural features are not labeled on the biome maps and the sections are so programmed that the information and even some of the language are virtually identical from volume to volume, these surveys offer serviceable support for ecosystem studies.

Beginning readers will enjoy the bright colors and occasional humor in Jump!’s solid “Senses in My World,” and despite their randomly chosen topics (snakes, spiders, and…apples?), the various volumes of Creative Education’s “Grow with Me” score high in visual appeal. Powerkids’s “Nature’s Got Talent” is well designed for assignment and pleasure-driven reading. Powerkids Press’s “World of Plants” will strengthen the natural science section in any library or classroom collection serving lower grades. Upper-grade students will find plenty of food for thought as well as rich troves of research material in most of Gareth Stevens’s “Tiny Battlefields” titles. Except as noted, the other series are acceptable additional purchases.

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