March 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Browsers’ Delights | Animal Compendiums

It’s a sight educators love to see: a group of children hunched over a book, their heads together, fingers pointing, and a lively conversation emanating from the huddle. In my library, it’s often a Martin Handford “Where’s Waldo” title, a Walter Wick “Can You See What I See” search-and-find puzzler, or, more recently, one of the oversize atlases or animal books that they have discovered that elicits this response. Some of the latter have a fair amount of text surrounding the detailed drawings or stunning photos, while others are pictorial in nature, offering only labels or brief text. Three new, generously illustrated animal books fit this description and will provide browsers with more than an afternoon of delight.

the big book of animals of the worldPresent your youngest students with Ole Könnecke’s The Big Book of Animals of the World (Gecko, 2015; PreS-Gr 1). The sturdy, large format will withstand the most enthusiastic sharing and appreciation. The bottom of each spread spotlights a colorful land or seascape with labels attached to the animals, some flora, and buildings or sites typically seen there, while the many animals that populate the various regions are viewed in profile above against a white background. For example, in the desert, cactus, a tumbleweed, and a bleached-white skull can are depicted along with a roadrunner, rattlesnake, and other denizens of the habitat. Landscapes merge into one another from page to page, sometimes three to a spread, which may have some children asking which animals belong to which region. Fanciful elements enter the pictures through images of mice riding an air balloon or a dromedary, or sailing in the ocean. The final spread offers a world map of the continents and oceans with pictures of notable creatures (e.g., the kangaroo in Australia) in evidence.

amazing animalsThe tea-colored pages and distinctive fonts and layouts provide a decidedly old-fashioned flavor in Amazing Animals (Quarto/Sterling, 2015; K-Gr 5), and may remind adults of a 19th-century naturalist’s notebook, but what children will focus on are the precision and detail of the drawings in this compendium. The book’s arrangement is quirky; animals are presented on spreads sorted by a range of attributes—fabulous wings, amazing beaks, weird ears—as well as size, color, and looks (“incredibly hairy,” “beautiful birds) and all are carefully labeled. Interspersed are pages highlighting smaller creatures by number (30 ladybugs, 50 butterflies and moths, 60 beetles and bugs, and so on). Beyond labels, clues to the arrangement are found along the pages’ borders, which are decoratively framed. An occasional question can be found on spreads (“Do animals with many legs move faster than those with just two?”), with answers supplied on a final page. (“Four legs are faster than two, but for its size, the spider, ant, and centipede can move very fast with more!”)

the wonder gardenChildren will need no encouragement to open Kristjana S. Williams and Jenny Broom’s The Wonder Garden (Quarto/Wide Eyed Editions, 2015; Gr 2-6). The cover scene depicts an open gate—illuminated in gold—surrounded by the dense, colorful flora and fauna of the Amazon Rainforest. This book offers well-written, brief overviews of a number of habitats in addition to the rainforest: the Great Barrier Reef, the Chihuahuan Desert, the Black Forest, and the Himalayan Mountains. For each one, pages of colorful landscapes featuring detailed drawings highlight the animals and astonishing diversity of the habitat. The inviting format includes tidbits of information on the creatures found in these locales from scientific name and personality to habits and special abilities. If the pages in Amazing Animals are reminiscent of a naturalist’s journal, Wonder Garden’s pages will call to mind tableaux seen in natural history museums (here, brightly lit), where the examination of each corner or microscene brings rewards.

Looking for animal titles for older elementary and middle school students? See Vicki Reutter’s round-up of “Creature Features: Starring the Best of the New Animal Compendiums,” published in the December 2015 issue of Curriculum Connections.

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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.