February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Orders, Species, and Breeds: Animals | Series Nonfiction

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1611-sms-animals1-speciesAnimal books are among the most popular in most children’s collections. For example, at my medium-size public library, the 590s and 636s account for 15 percent of our nonfiction shelves. So what inspires a child to check out a particular title? Many readers look for a specific animal based on personal interest or school assignments. Attractive covers and accessible text can add appeal. What happens after that initial checkout is what really matters, though. Do readers absorb and remember new information? What about critical thinking and analysis? And, most important, will readers’ experience with the book be so enjoyable and so satisfying that they return for more of the same? Fortunately, some of the series below seem very likely to result in that desired positive response.


Archer, Reese. Birds from Head to Tail. ISBN 9781482445350; ISBN 9781482445299.

LeChamp, Don. Hamsters from Head to Tail. ISBN 9781482445398; ISBN 9781482445336.

Mair, Cole. Dogs from Head to Tail. ISBN 9781482445374; ISBN 9781482445312.

Noe, Tristan. Cats from Head to Tail. ISBN 9781482445367; ISBN 9781482445305.

Spunter, Bill. Fish from Head to Tail. ISBN 9781482445381; ISBN 9781482445329.

Trifer, Jen. Turtles from Head to Tail. ISBN 9781482445404; ISBN 9781482445343.

ea vol: 24p. (Animals from Head to Tail). index. photos. Gareth Stevens. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $16.95. ebk. $16.95.

PreS-Gr 1 –Short, declarative sentences with simple vocabulary cover basic facts about popular animals: “Hamsters are very soft. They have fur. They are different colors. They have very small tails.” Dogs identifies different breeds, along with other, more general statements (“Some dogs have big ears.”). A few fact bites suffer from a lack of context. For example, in Turtles, the only information offered about the necks of turtles is that some are long. While the brevity may not add much subject knowledge, the level of content and vocabulary will aid beginning readers. So will the clear, full-page photographs that accompany each page of text, free of labels, captions, or text boxes. For kids with an interest in these appealing animals, the highly readable text and cute pictures may lead to a successful reading experience. VERDICT Solid choices for beginning readers.

Avett, Harper. Coyotes. ISBN 9781 499420173; ISBN 9781499420180.

Lee, David. Jackals. ISBN 9781499420296; ISBN 9781499420302.

McKinnon, Elaine. Dingoes. ISBN 9781499420210; ISBN 9781499420227.

Strauss, Holden. Wolves. ISBN 9781499420258; ISBN 9781499420265.

ea vol: 24p. (Wild Canines). glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. PowerKids. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $23.60. ebk. $23.60.

Gr 3-5 –These volumes provide generally engaging introductions to wild canines. Sections discuss different species and subspecies, with a photographic example of each. The canine family in general is not described in any of the titles, which is disappointing given the series name. Pack behavior, pup-rearing, and hunting strategies are all introduced through smooth, flowing text and a variety of useful images. Full-page photographs are mixed in with smaller spot photos that highlight particular features or behaviors. There’s a nice mix between still portraits and scenes of the animals in action, though the lack of pack hunting scenes is a notable weakness in Coyotes and Wolves. Captions support many photos, and a “That’s Wild” insert adds extra facts to complement the more straightforward text. VERDICT Useful and appealing, despite minor flaws.

Black, Vanessa. Alligators. ISBN 9781620313794; ISBN 9781624964268.

––––. Cobras. ISBN 9781620313800; ISBN 9781624964275.

––––. Geckos. ISBN 9781620313817; ISBN 9781624964282.

––––. Gila Monsters. ISBN 9781620313824; ISBN 9781624964299.

––––. Green Iguanas. ISBN 9781620313831; ISBN 9781624964305.

––––. Rattlesnakes. ISBN 9781620313848; ISBN 9781624964312.

––––. Sea Snakes. ISBN 9781620313855; ISBN 9781624964329.

––––. Tortoises. ISBN 9781620313862; ISBN 9781624964336.

ea vol: 24p. (Reptile World). glossary. index. photos. websites. Jump!/Bullfrog. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $25.65. ebk. $17.95.

K-Gr 2 –Simple sentences detail the typical experiences of an animal’s day. Alligators, for example, shows the reptiles nesting, hunting, basking, and swimming and notes physical characteristics like “long claws.” Text focuses on one or two main activities, without trying to cover every aspect. Basic sentence structure and easy vocabulary provide accessibility to developing readers. Large, vivid images add high appeal and also enhance the intentionally basic text with visual cues. A close-up view of a drop of rattlesnake venom and a lively tortoise fight are just two examples. Some opposing photos of predator and prey are less successful (they are clearly separate images, but the narrative describes the animals interacting). However, for the most part, the strong visual presentation will draw readers right into the animals’ worlds. VERDICT High appeal for new readers of nonfiction.

Ciletti, Barbara. Malaria Parasites. ISBN 9781680720082; ISBN 9781680722727; ISBN 9781680720846.

––––. Roundworms. ISBN 9781680720099; ISBN 9781680722734; ISBN 9781680720853.

––––. Tapeworms. ISBN 9781680720105; ISBN 9781680722741; ISBN 9781 680720860.

Mincks, Margaret. Bedbugs. ISBN 9781680720068; ISBN 9781680722703; ISBN 9781680720822.

––––. Head Lice. ISBN 9781680720075; ISBN 9781680722710; ISBN 9781 680720839.

––––. Ticks. ISBN 9781680720112; ISBN 9781680722758; ISBN 9781680720877.

ea vol: 32p. (Awful, Disgusting, Parasites). charts. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Black Rabbit/Bolt. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $31.35. pap. $9.95. ebk. $31.95.

Gr 3-5 –Plenty of facts and photographs support the “awful, disgusting” promise of the series title. There’s also solid, though sometimes scattered, information about how these creatures live and interact with humans. Each beginning describes an unsuspecting human who crosses paths with a parasite, leading into a discussion of the creature and its potential effect on people and animals. At times, the presentation could be more thorough. In Tapeworms, for example, readers learn that “50,000 people die from tapeworms each year” but nothing on how or why those deaths happen. Photographs are appropriately gross and generally informative and feature several excellent magnified close-up views, specifically in Bedbugs, Ticks, and Head Lice. Useful features include a “By the Numbers” statistics section, a range map, and a life cycle flow chart. VERDICT Readers needing more physiological detail may be disappointed, but these selections work well as introductions to parasites.

Gregory, Josh. Ants. ISBN 9780531230268; ISBN 9780531219324.

––––. Hippopotamuses. ISBN 9780531230275; ISBN 9780531219331.

––––. Hummingbirds. ISBN 9780531230299; ISBN 9780531219355.

––––. Lemurs. ISBN 9780531230312; ISBN 9780531219379.

––––. Rabbits. ISBN 9780531230282; ISBN 9780531219348.

––––. Red Pandas. ISBN 9780531230305; ISBN 9780531219362.

ea vol: 48p. (Nature’s Children). diag. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. Children’s Pr. Sept. 2016. lib. ed. $28. pap. $6.95.

Gr 4-6 –Opening with narratives about the topic animals in action, this series is notable for its broad but thorough coverage. Physical features and behaviors are covered in clear and lively prose. Facts and figures are woven neatly into the descriptions of food, predation, mating, habitats, and other subjects. Full-page photographs and occasional diagrams appear on each spread. Some photograph captions provide helpful species identification, though this varies from book to book (in Rabbits no captions note species, but in Hummingbirds four species are mentioned). Other features include range maps, information about related species, and a closing discussion of human impact on the animals, which in several cases (lemurs, red pandas, and hippopotamuses) has been devastating, along with current conservation efforts. Report writers should find everything they need here, and the attractive, engaging presentation will have strong appeal for recreational readers as well. VERDICT First choices for species coverage for upper elementary grades.

Haelle, Tara. Insects as Parasites. ISBN 9781681916965; ISBN 9781681917979; ISBN 9781681918952.

––––. Insects as Predators. ISBN 9781681916958; ISBN 9781681917962; ISBN 9781681918945.

Mangor, Jodie. Insects as Invaders. ISBN 9781681916903; ISBN 9781681917917; ISBN 9781681918891.

McNeilly, Linden. Insects as a Food Source. ISBN 9781681916927; ISBN 9781681917931; ISBN 9781681918914.

––––. Insects as Healers. ISBN 9781681916910; ISBN 9781681917924; ISBN 9781681918907.

Sirota, Lyn. Insects as Decomposers. ISBN 9781681916941; ISBN 9781681917955; ISBN 9781681918938.

––––. Insects as Pollinators. ISBN 9781681916934; ISBN 9781681917948; ISBN 9781681918921.

Whipple, Annette. Insects as Producers. ISBN 9781681916972; ISBN 9781681917986; ISBN 9781681918969.

ea vol: 32p. (Insects As…). glossary. index. photos. websites. Rourke. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $32.79. pap. $9.95. ebk. $32.79.

Gr 3-5 –Each book in this intriguing series explores the ways insects impact the planet. Generally clear descriptions of processes like decomposition and pollination include basic science information and then move to specific examples of the insects in action. Quick jumps from one topic to the next may challenge readers, and some subjects are introduced without sufficient background, but the parade of interesting facts and broader concepts will be new to many readers. Information about recent scientific research, including up-to-date data, adds further depth. For example, in Decomposers, the cockroach “force boost” research was published in 2015. Most pages feature a photo of at least a half-page, with varied focuses to match the topic. Images in Predators, for example, are all about the animals, while Producers and Healers mix insect photos with people and places with which they interact. However, the lack of captions makes a few photos potentially confusing. VERDICT Mostly successful introductions with engaging information.

Hansen, Grace. Blue Whales. ISBN 9781680805420; ISBN 9781680807103.

––––. Capybaras. ISBN 9781680805437; ISBN 9781680807110.

––––. Giraffes. ISBN 9781680805444; ISBN 9781680807127.

––––. Goliath Beetles. ISBN 9781680805451; ISBN 9781680807134.

––––. Green Anacondas. ISBN 9781680805468; ISBN 9781680807141.

––––. Ostriches. ISBN 9781680805475; ISBN 9781680807158.

ea vol: 24p. (Super Species). glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $19.95. ebk. $34.95.

Gr 1-3 –Each of the six featured species is distinguished by length, height, or weight—sometimes all of the above. Three to four sentences per page accompany a single photograph covering more than half of each spread. Much of the content focuses on the animal’s size. Facts and figures are supported by helpful comparisons: the 3.5-ounce weight of a goliath beetle, for example, becomes more impressive when readers learn it is heavier than a robin. Students also discover how extreme size helps each animal to survive. Large, clear photos provide strong reinforcement for the simple facts. In Ostriches, for instance, successive pages provide great examples of head, legs, feet, wings, and eggs. Though size is the main topic, additional areas, such as food and life cycles, are included, while a closing “More Facts” page adds a few more bits of data. VERDICT Excellent introductions to particularly interesting animals. Recommended.

Klepeis, Alicia. The Language of Cats and Other Felines. ISBN 9781502617248; ISBN 9781502617187.

Kopp, Megan. The Language of Bees and Other Insects. ISBN 9781502617231; ISBN 9781502617170.

––––. The Language of Chimpanzees and Other Primates. ISBN 9781502617217; ISBN 9781502617156.

––––. The Language of Dogs and Other Canines. ISBN 9781502617255; ISBN 9781502617194.

––––. The Language of Dolphins and Other Sea Animals. ISBN 9781502617200; ISBN 9781502617149.

––––. The Language of Elephants and Other Large Mammals. ISBN 9781502617224; ISBN 9781502617163.

ea vol: 32p. (Call of the Wild). diag. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Cavendish Square. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $28.50. ebk. $28.50.

Gr 4-6 –Each book in this series highlights the primary forms of communication for four different animals within the larger group. The structure successfully shows the commonalities and unique qualities of the featured animals. Readers learn that tigers, bobcats, and snow leopards all use scents, for example, but vocalize in very different ways. A final chapter introduces current scientific efforts related to communication, such as the Dognition app and the use of iPads with orangutans, and includes a brief profile of an individual scientist’s work. Despite occasionally awkward sentences, the writing is generally clear and logical, providing substantial information without overwhelming readers. Though communication is the main topic, a “Species Stats” inset offers brief selected facts about particular species within the group. Visuals include a single full-page photo for each chapter, along with two or three spot images. VERDICT Consider this above average presentation where needed.

Markovics, Joyce. My Body Is Tough and Gray (Armadillo). ISBN 9781944102630; ISBN 9781944102845.

––––. My Claws Are Huge and Black (Emperor Scorpion). ISBN 9781944102609; ISBN 9781944102876.

––––. My Feet Are Webbed and Orange (Puffin). ISBN 9781944102623; ISBN 9781944102869.

––––. My Tongue Is Long and Curves (Okapi). ISBN 9781944102593; ISBN 9781944102852.

Rudolph, Jessica. My Ears Are Huge and Fuzzy (Fennec Fox). ISBN 9781944102579; ISBN 9781944102920.

––––. My Mane Is Short and Spiky (Hyena). ISBN 9781944102586; ISBN 9781944102937.

––––. My Teeth Are Sharp and Pointy (Sawfish). ISBN 9781944102562; ISBN 9781944102951.

––––. My Whiskers Are Long and White (Red Panda). ISBN 9781944102616; ISBN 9781944102944.

ea vol: 24p. (Zoo Clues 2). further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. Bearport. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $23.93. ebk. $37.27.

PreS-Gr 1 –A clever visual guessing game introduces unusual animals. Each spread provides a short sentence or two describing one animal feature. The accompanying photograph resembles a jigsaw puzzle with several pieces missing and the partial remaining image showing the body parts hinted at in the text. After seven verbal and visual clues have been given, a spread identifies and reveals the whole animal. Two final pages provide basic facts and a range map. The animals are all lesser-known ones, such as the fennec fox and sawfish, which make the puzzles surprisingly challenging. Opening clues often misdirect: the okapi hints, for example, might lead to initial guesses of horse or antelope. These may not stand up to repeated readings once the answer is revealed, but the interactive format provides an interesting entry into the traits of some unusual animals. VERDICT A well-executed concept useful for new readers and curious animal lovers.

Morey, Allan. Blacktip Reef Sharks. ISBN 9781607539759; ISBN 9781681510095.

––––. Hammerhead Sharks. ISBN 9781607539780; ISBN 9781681510125.

––––. Mako Sharks. ISBN 9781607539797; ISBN 9781681510132.

––––. Whale Sharks. ISBN 9781607539810; ISBN 9781681510156.

Waxman, Laura Hamilton. Basking Sharks. ISBN 9781607539742; ISBN 9781681510088.

––––. Bull Sharks. ISBN 9781607539766; ISBN 9781681510101.

––––. Great White Sharks. ISBN 9781607539773; ISBN 9781681510118.

––––. Tiger Sharks. ISBN 9781607539803; ISBN 9781681510149.

ea vol: 32p. (Sharks). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Amicus. Jul. 2016. lib. ed. $20.95. ebk. $42.80.

Gr 3-5 –Workmanlike presentations cover physical features, behaviors, and life cycles of shark species. One or two paragraphs of text per page present facts in prose that is clear and straightforward, if not particularly exciting. This approach works with sharks, though, since the basic information is so often fascinating. Each spread includes one photograph, ranging from half page to larger than full page. These are mostly effective and occasionally excellent, though some serve more as filler rather than true textual support. Only a few photos show sharks actually capturing prey. Several spreads feature question-and-answer segments that typically provide specific details related to the more general text. A concluding “Sharks and People” chapter looks at shark attack potential and conservation status. VERDICT Solid additions where additional shark coverage is needed.

Nelson, Robin. Crawling Cockroaches. ISBN 9781512408812.

––––. Creeping Caterpillars. ISBN 9781512408805.

––––. Darting Dragonflies. ISBN 9781512408836.

––––. Speedy Centipedes. ISBN 9781512408850.

Waxman, Laura Hamilton. Flashing Fireflies. ISBN 9781512408829.

––––. Slimy Snails. ISBN 9781512408799.

––––. Web-Spinning Spiders. ISBN 9781512408843.

––––. Wiggling Earthworms. ISBN 9781512408782.

ea vol: 24p. (First Step Nonfiction: Backyard Critters). chart. diag. ebook available. glossary. index. photos. Lerner. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $23.99.

K-Gr 2 –With one sentence and one photograph per page, these creature profiles provide just the right amount of text and visuals for new readers. Each book covers physical features, habitat, food, and behaviors with cohesive text, moving from general (“Cockroaches have six long legs.”) to slightly more specific (“Their legs help them run fast.”). Closing sections on behavior highlight one general topic, such as snail slime or spider webs, which keeps the focus tight and clear. Photos are large and usually match the text well. Most images are full-body views that are useful, but not very exciting. With a few exceptions, the photographs offer strong visual context for the words. A labeled photo at the end notes key body parts. VERDICT Well-organized information and solid, if unspectacular, photographs make this series an additional choice for younger readers.

Statts, Leo. Camels. ISBN 9781680791785; ISBN 9781680792621.

––––. Chameleons. ISBN 9781680791792; ISBN 9781680792638.

––––. Cobras. ISBN 9781680791808; ISBN 9781680792645.

––––. Iguanas. ISBN 9781680791815; ISBN 9781680792652.

––––. Komodo Dragons. ISBN 9781680791822; ISBN 9781680792669.

––––. Rattlesnakes. ISBN 9781680791839; ISBN 9781680792676.

ea vol: 24p. (Desert Animals). chart. glossary. index. maps. photos. ABDO. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $18.95. ebk. $33.95.

Gr 1-3 –After leading with an engaging fact about the featured animal, each book covers body, habitat, food, and life cycle in a brief, succinct fashion. Sentences are clear and short, with vocabulary that is manageable for the audience: “Some iguanas live in water. Others live on land. Some people keep them as pets.” The content is focused on the animals rather than the desert environment. Iguanas and chameleons are surprising choices for the series, though there are desert-dwelling species of both. Photographs are of decent quality and used with varied effectiveness. Rattlesnakes, for example, features engaging close-ups of the rattle and fangs but none of babies or skin, which are referred to in the text. Other examples of well-chosen photos can be found in Chameleons and Cobras, whereas Camels and Komodo Dragons each fall a bit short. Clear range maps are neatly set against photos of the terrain, though the images are not all clearly desert habitats. Size comparison charts are of limited use owing to inconsistent scale. VERDICT Adequate introductions that suffer from minor flaws.

Middle to High School

Abramovitz, Melissa. Deadliest Sharks. ISBN 9781682820544; ISBN 9781682820551.

Allman, Toney. Deadliest Mammals. ISBN 9781682820506; ISBN 9781682820513.

Hirschmann, Kris. Deadliest Reptiles. ISBN 9781682820520; ISBN 9781682820537.

––––. Deadliest Snakes. ISBN 9781682820568; ISBN 9781682820575.

––––. Deadliest Spiders. ISBN 9781682820582; ISBN 9781682820599.

Nardo, Don. Deadliest Dinosaurs. ISBN 9781682820483; ISBN 9781682820490.

ea vol: 80p. (Deadliest Predators). further reading. glossary. index. notes. photos. websites. ReferencePoint. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $29.95. ebk. $39.95.

Gr 6 Up –Each title provides an in-depth look at the predatory qualities of six species. There’s lots of information packed into each 10-page chapter, covering the animal’s physical features, range, habitat, and deadliness. The prose is lively and accessible and helps to lighten the weight of data with an engaging, conversational tone. For instance, in Deadliest Spiders, the line “the meal process is messy and gruesome, but effective” is then followed by a step-by-step description of the process. Potential danger to humans is always noted (with the exception of Dinosaurs), such as the ways each animal might harm a person and the likelihood that it might happen. Firsthand examples are often fascinating and include stories as current as 2015. The deadliness is never sensationalized, and the ways the creatures benefit ecosystems and humans are respectfully acknowledged. Three or four photographs (drawings in Dinosaurs) per chapter include full-body views, close-up photographs of key features (python jaws in Snakes and tiger claws in Mammals), and often a scene of the creature attacking prey or feasting. VERDICT First-rate nonfiction on a high-interest topic.

Gagne, Tammy. Bulldogs, Poodles, Dalmatians, and Other Non-Sporting Dogs. ISBN 9781515702993.

––––. Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and Other Toy Dogs. ISBN 9781515703006.

––––. Collies, Corgis, and Other Herding Dogs. ISBN 9781515703013.

––––. Foxhounds, Coonhounds, and Other Hound Dogs. ISBN 9781515703020.

––––. Huskies, Mastiffs, and Other Working Dogs. ISBN 9781515703037.

––––. Spaniels, Retrievers, and Other Sporting Dogs. ISBN 9781515703051.

––––. West Highlands, Scotties, and Other Terriers. ISBN 9781515703044.

ea vol: 32p. (Dog Encyclopedias). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $20.99.

Gr 4-8 –This set covers more than 150 breeds with concise single-page profiles. A group overview opens each title, followed by alphabetically arranged breed descriptions. Brief overviews of appearance, personality, training, and care notes are provided for each, along with country of origin, date of American Kennel Club recognition, and a bit of historical background. The inviting layout includes white space between each bite of information; a clear, full-body photograph; and a “Fun Fact” about the breed accompanied by a smaller photo. The one-page treatment is not intended to offer in-depth coverage, but there’s enough to get a sense of each dog’s key individual traits. Short tips about care and training make the set useful for prospective dog owners as well as more general canine fans. VERDICT An appealing option that fills the gap between one-volume breed guides such as Enslow’s Get To Know Dog Breeds or DK’s Dogs: Facts at Your Fingertips and single-species series such as Capstone’s “All About Dogs.”

This season’s animal books offer strong choices for all age levels. Jump!’s “Reptile World” and Lerner’s “Backyard Critters” provide minimal information, but vocabulary and visuals hit the mark for new readers. ABDO’s “Super Species” goes a step further, with more substantial facts in an easy-to-read format, while Bearport’s “Zoo Clues 2” adds a successful interactive element. For older elementary grades, Children’s Press’s “Nature’s Children” covers individual species well, Cavendish Square’s “Call of the Wild” successfully examines communication across several animal groups, and Capstone’s “Dog Encyclopedias” captures dozens of breeds with just the right amount of data. While animal titles for middle schoolers are less common, ReferencePoint’s “Deadliest Predators” serves as an excellent example of high-quality nonfiction, with in-depth material tied in with research and real-life examples. Consider these materials to engage students in critical thinking that is as fun as it is informative.

Steven Engelfried, Wilsonville Public Library, OR

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This article was published in School Library Journal's November 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.