February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Animal Antics: Books & Activities for Independent Readers | Chapter Book Chat

Welcome to Chapter Book Chat, a new column exploring and recommending great books for emerging and newly emerged readers. The transition from simple texts and works with mostly illustrations to books with increasing amounts of text, less images, and a more “sophisticated” big-kid look can be one of the most exciting—but also challenging—times in a young reader’s life. This column will help highlight themes and subjects of great appeal to this audience, suggest fun activities or lesson plan tie-ins, and offer tips and best practices for engaging independent readers in your library.

Ask a class of elementary school kids, “Who likes animals?” and you’re certain to get a loud response. Animal stories let kids experience the lives of pets or wild animals vicariously, often including details about animal behavior or care that allows children to experience having a pet, whether or not they actually have one in their home. Pet owners, meanwhile, are often eager to read more about the animal members of their family.

Animals see the world differently than humans, and anthropomorphized animal stories challenge kids to look at the world in a different way. We might assume that a teacher and students are in charge, but as Humphrey, the classroom hamster from Betty Birney’s series shows us, he’s really the one taking care of everyone. Animals are often small—many are even smaller than children—and the way they experience the big world around them speaks to a child’s point of view.

No matter the reason, many newly independent readers are drawn to these tales and will happily devour book after book in a series. Here are a few recent titles perfect for chapter book readers.

Rescue on the Oregon Trail (Ranger in Time: Bk.1) by Kate Messner. Scholastic. 2015.Ranger in Time
Dog lovers will jump on board this historical adventure story. Ranger, trained as a search-and-rescue dog, loves nothing more than helping humans…except maybe chasing squirrels. When he digs up an enchanted artifact in his backyard, he finds himself transported back in time to the Oregon Trail, where he comes across a family to watch over. Historical details are included organically, making this book a good fit for kids who enjoy learning about history as much as they love animals.

Activity or Lesson Plan Tie-in: Books in the “Ranger in Time” series would blend in nicely with social studies units about different time periods in history. Or, pair this book with a nonfiction title such as Wilderness Search Dogs, from Sara Green’s “Dogs to the Rescue” series (Pilot, 2013), to give kids a better idea of rescue work.

Check out the book trailer for Rescue on the Oregon Trail here: http://www.scholastic.com/bookfairs/books/book-trailers/ranger-time-1-rescue-oregon-trail

And don’t miss Scholastic’s classroom guide: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lesson-plan/ranger-time-series-classroom-guide


The World According to Humphrey by Betty Birney. Putnam. 2004.
The sassy hamster narrator of this series is definitely the star of the show. As Humphrey watches The World According to Humphreyover the children (and adults) in Room 26, he figures out ways to help them solve their problems, from encouraging the shiest student to speak up to helping the custodian find a girlfriend. This is a great choice for kids who like funny books. It would make a great read-aloud, especially for classes safeguarded by pets of their own.

Activity or Lesson Plan Tie-in: Pair this series with nonfiction books about pet care, especially for kids who have or are interested in getting a pet. See if a volunteer from your local animal shelter could visit your class to talk about choosing a pet and becoming a responsible owner. Students could practice descriptive writing by focusing on their pets or practice persuasive writing by arguing why they should get a pet or why theirs is the best ever.

Work with students to create lists of the tasks the students carry out to take care of Humphrey and the projects the hamster undertakes to look after the humans. Discuss and vote on who is really in charge of Room 26.

Penguin has created a helpful classroom guide for this series: http://www.penguin.com/static/images/yr/pdf/HumphreyGuideUpdate12.pdf


Nuts to You by Lynn Rae Perkins. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. 2014.Nuts to You
After Jed the squirrel is picked up by a hawk, he manages to escape, but he’s dropped far away in an unknown part of the forest. Luckily, his bushy-tailed friends are watching over him, and they set off to rescue their wayward pal. Along the way, the critters realize that humans are cutting down trees and they must get back home to warn their community that they’re in the path of destruction. Though there is danger, this is a fun story with a highly developed squirrel society; readers may particularly enjoy hearing the names Jed and company have for the human creations in their forest, such as the “frozen spiderwebs” (cell phone towers). It also has a strong ecological message and will interest kids who care deeply about nature.

Activity or Lesson Plan Tie-in: This is a great book to highlight when talking about ecology. What actions do the squirrels take to protect their community and what can kids do to help protect the environment? Take a nature walk and try to see the world through a “squirrel’s eye-view”. What names would the furry creatures give to the human objects that you would see?


Abby Johnson About Abby Johnson

Abby Johnson is the youth services manager at the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library in Southern Indiana. You can find her on the web at abbythelibrarian.com.

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  1. Love this new column. For about two years I wrote a blog of the same name that reviewed chapter books as well as industry info. I’ve been on sabbatical from the blog, so I’m happy to see someone else take up the torch. Let’s hope lots of parents, teachers and readers find you. I’ll also put a link to this on my blog since it still gets views.