Amazing Animals, From the Pectinator to the Sea Sparkle

Featuring mesmerizing facts, dazzling visuals, and fun-to-browse formats, these nonfiction offerings will grab readers and inspire young naturalists.
Featuring mesmerizing facts, dazzling visuals, and fun-to-browse formats, these nonfiction offerings will grab readers and inspire young naturalists. Animal Attributes Focusing on animal behaviors and/or physical characteristics, these gorgeously illustrated books encourage kids to make observations about different species, think about similarities and differences, and draw conclusions about each creature’s way of life. Use them to introduce animal classification, begin discussions about evolution and adaptation, and build understanding about the diversity of life on Earth. Steve Jenkins and Robin Page’s Who Am I? (HMH, 2017; PreS-Gr 1) conveys information about animal traits in an invitingly interactive guessing-game format. One spread presents zoomed-in visual clues depicting a critter’s physical attributes, habitat, and/or diet along with descriptive text (“I have…a sticky, flicky tongue,/bumpy green skin,/two bulging eyeballs,/ten webbed toes,/a floating lily pad,/and I like to eat flies! Who am I?”), while a turn of the page reveals the answer (“I’m a frog!”) and a large image of the animal in action. The colorful cut-and torn-paper collages are filled with vivid details and textures that encourage kids to look closer, while also retaining a spring-to-life realism. The book design invites young readers to hone listening and observation skills, formulate a hypothesis, and experience an empowering sense of satisfaction when their guesses are correct. Backmatter identifies each species and fills in details about size, range, diet, and some of the highlighted characteristics (e.g., the American bullfrog’s “bulging eyes” allow it to look around above water while remaining mostly beneath). In Jennifer Ward and Jing Jing Tsong’s Feathers and Hair, What Animals Wear (Beach Lane/S&S, 2017; PreS-Gr 1), simple rhymes and enchanting artwork draw readers’ attention to the incredible variety of body coverings found in the animal kingdom. “Some animals wear armor” (the double-spread illustration shows an armadillo with dense-looking textured skin); “Some wear a traveling shell” (a ponderous tortoise is paired with a tiny hermit crab); “Some wear tough and pointy horns that serve them very well” (a closeup of a rhinoceros’s substantial protuberance fills the spread while a delicately-antlered gazelle lingers in the background). In addition to encouraging children to make observations about physical appearances, many of the entries invite further discussion of animal adaptations and behaviors, such as why owls “dress plain” (the illustration shows how the birds’ brown-speckled feathers blend into their tree-trunk habitat) or why polar bears would need to wear “extra fur.” The book culminates with the only creature that “wears clothes form head to toes…That animal is you!”—further reinforcing the concept of the purpose and importance of animal body coverings. Melissa Stewart and Steve Jenkins combine playful text, vivacious collage artwork, and solidly presented information to explore the topic of animal sounds. Can an Aardvark Bark? (Beach Lane/S&S, 2017; K-Gr 3), queries the first spread, which displays a large illustration of the featured creature; the answer is also provided (“No, but it can grunt”), along with a brief description of the aardvark’s behavior in smaller text. A page turn reveals other animals that make a similar sound—a river otter grunts while playing or grooming, Hamadryas baboons greet one another with soft grunts, white-tailed deer have an entire repertoire of grunts, and an oyster toadfish grunts when angry or afraid. Other spread pairings focus on creatures that bark, squeal, whine, growl, bellow, and laugh, and include intriguingly diverse examples from across the animal kingdom. The book’s interactive format invites children to learn about different species and the noises they make, while also inviting discussion about how—and why—animals communicate. In Shell, Beak, Tusk (HMH, 2017; Gr 1-5), Bridget Heos provides an accessible look at convergence evolution, animals that are not related “but have adapted the same traits separately in order to survive in their environments.” Attractive spreads pair lively text with crisp photos of wildlife to introduce these shared characteristics and explain their importance to the survival of each species. For example, “A shell is for hiding,” whether it adorns a box turtle or a snail. Closeup photos of both animals invite readers to compare the coverings of these two very different species, “not even distant cousins,” and think about how they provide protection from predators. Other examples point out that “Wings are for flying,” whether made from feathers (birds) or cartilage (bats); beaks allow for food crushing, for both parrots (nuts and seeds) and octopi (crabs and mollusks); both penguins (birds) and orcas (mammals) utilize a black-and-white color pattern for camouflage; tusks (teeth that grow 3-foot-long on a walrus or up to 10 feet an elephant) can be used for “lots of things” (fighting, etc.); and more. Moira Butterfield and Tim Hutchinson employ a colorful and clever book design to introduce the basics of How Animals Build (Lonely Planet, 2017; Gr 3-5). Spreads effectively utilize fold-out pages and lift-the-flap insets to show a breathtaking assortment of animal architects hard at work, whether occupying the branches and hollows of a European oak tree (gray squirrels, gall wasps, and more), burrowing into the ground (meerkats in South Africa, North American prairie dogs, Florida’s gopher tortoises, and naked mole rats in East Africa), constructing a variety of bird nests, or eking out shelters in the ocean. Several entries use double fold-out pages to go deep and delve into the ins and outs of a bunny burrow, the structural wonders of a termite mound (which have inspired the designs of human architects), and the incredible—and versatile—building abilities of beavers. This book’s interactive format encourages exploration, while the info-packed presentation inspires kids to draw comparisons among species and think about animal adaptions and why they build structures. I’m the Greatest Kids who love superlatives will enjoy browsing the pages of Steve Jenkins’s “Extreme Animals” series (HMH, Gr 1-5). Organized by an attention-grabbing characteristic, volumes feature a selection of diverse species that earn the title of Deadliest!, Trickiest! (both 2017), Speediest!, or Stinkiest! (both 2018). Each splendidly illustrated entry includes a brief description, a range map, diet, and graphic indicating size. In these fun-to-browse titles, readers meet the dangerous king cobra (with enough venom to kill an elephant), the western hognose snake (which cleverly and convincingly “plays dead” to protect itself from predators), the mantis shrimp (its claw delivers a knock-out punch “400 times faster than the blink of a human’s eye”), and the bombardier beetle (able to fire “a stream of boiling hot liquid from its rear end to defend itself”). Along the way, they just might begin to formulate conclusions about why animals behave the way they do (to hunt or defend themselves, escape danger, etc.). Ten record-breaking animals are introduced from the inside out in Gabrielle Balkan and Sam Brewster’s beguiling Book of Bones (Phaidon, 2017; K-Gr 4). Each entry begins with a large image of a white animal skeleton set against a black backdrop, several clues about the creature’s identity, and a guessing-game challenge (“Who am I?”). A page turn reveals a lushly colored illustration of the critter in its natural habitat (a raised texture allows readers to trace its now mostly hidden bone structure), along with a few more facts. Here, kids discover which animal boasts “The Biggest Bone” (a blue whale’s mandible, the length of three motorcycles sitting in a row); the smallest (the ear bones of an Etruscan shrew, a mammal tiny enough “to bathe in a soup spoon”); the most (an up-to-25-foot long reticulated python, born with 1,000 bones compared to a human’s 300); the thinnest (the skinnier-than-spaghetti phalanges—upper finger bones—of a bumblebee bat); and more. This accessible offering effectively conveys information about each animal’s skeletal structure, how bones impact day-to-day life and behavior, and the broader topic of comparative anatomy (the volume ends with a human skeleton, bringing home to readers that they have a mandible, ear bones, and phalanges too!). Browse the Animal Kingdom Packed with stunning full-color photographs, appealing cartoon drawings, and information tidbits, My Encyclopedia of Very Important Animals (DK, 2017; Gr 1-3) offers fertile ground for young naturalists. Thematic spreads (“Land Animals,” “Extreme Habitats,” “Spineless,” “Feathered Friends,” etc.) keep the approach fresh and varied and introduce a wide variety of species. Other entries focus on specific creatures (e.g., barn owl, red-eyed tree frog, or axolotl) and animal behaviors (diet, camouflage, defense, etc.). The large-size text and inviting format are welcoming to newly confident readers, and kids can use the index to locate entries on their favorite critters or topics. The Animal Book (Lonely Planet, 2017; Gr 2-5) showcases more than 100 creatures from across the globe. Set against soft pastel backdrops, the content is organized by geographical area (Arctic, North and Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, Antarctica, Oceans). Each single- (and occasionally double-) page entry includes an introductory paragraph, a crisp illustration that makes the critter’s distinctive features easily visible, smaller photos (showing the animal in its habitat, depicting a physical of behavioral feature, or highlighting conservation concerns), additional text blocks, and a fact box (scientific name, size, diet, endangered status, and one more amazing tidbit). Showcasing species that range in size from the tiny African Malaria Mosquito to the magnificent blue whale, and portraying more commonly found critters (e.g., pigeon, earthworm, donkey) along with those harder to track down (maned three-toed sloth), this handsome volume demonstrates the breathtaking diversity of animal life found on our planet, and builds awareness of the importance of conservation. Juan Carlos Alonso presents lovely, lifelike sketches of Land Mammals of the World (Quarto/Walter Foster, 2017; Gr 3-6). A quick intro to animal classification (according to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature) and description of the defining features of mammals precede the illustrations, which are arranged into 15 sections by order (monotremes, marsupials, etc.). Carefully identified and introduced with descriptive text (and a summation of range, size and weight, and conservation status), striking portraits of various species in realistic poses are arranged on cream backdrops, with distinctive features labeled and occasional insets showing more detail. Shimmering with warmth and vitality, Alonso’s elegant depictions showcase nature’s grandeur, introduce animals’ interrelatedness, and draw readers in. Showcasing the extraordinary creatures that dwell “beneath the waves,” Kate Baker and Eleanor Taylor reveal Secrets of the Sea (Big Picture, 2017; Gr 3-6). This luscious, oversize volume pairs lyrical text with spectacular artwork to depict marine ecosystems and their inhabitants. Sections cover “sun-drenched” shallows (tide pools and sandy shores), “lush” kelp forests, “precious” coral reefs, open sea, and the ocean’s “darkest depths.” From cyanobacteria (a “primitive photosynthesizing bacteria so small you could fit a thousand on a pinhead”) to the colossal giant Pacific octopus (a 16-footer), each species is introduced with a brief text paragraph, a few additional fact bits, a black-and-white illustration that clearly shows its form, and a dazzling (sometimes dramatically closeup or microscopic) image of the organism. Though some well-known creatures are included (e.g., horseshoe crab, sea star, lobster), the bulk of volume focuses on species that will be unfamiliar to readers—such as sea sparkle (single-celled organisms that “can glow blue at night”), the blue dragon and Portuguese man-of-war (and their unusual relationship), and the deep-sea siphonophore (actually “a colony of individual animals linked together by a long stem”). Sure, everyone knows about hippos, bears, and koalas, but have you ever heard of the Cuban solenodon, the dagger-toothed flower bat, or the banded linsang? These, and 20 other species finally get their day in Martin Brown’s delightfully entertaining Lesser Spotted Animals: The Coolest Creatures You’ve Never Heard Of (David Fickling/Scholastic, 2017; Gr 3-6). Wry text and hilarious cartoon artwork introduce each unsung animal on a spread, and consistently manage to convey information while eliciting chuckles. For example, Speke’s Pectinator, found in northeast Africa and distantly related to hamsters and gerbils, may not run on a little wheel or “have names like Hammy or Billy or Pinky of Fluffy or Smidge or Smudge or Minky.” But it does have “one of the coolest names in the whole animal kingdom…The Pectinator” (accompanied, of course, with an image of the critter wearing Terminator-style sunglasses). On another spread, the giant-size Guar of India and Southeast Asia (weighing in at 2,200 lbs. and known for a “beefy bellow that can be heard a mile away”) glares at readers (a “MOO” is drolly presented in a diminutive dialogue balloon). Fact boxes list each creature’s size (a silvery gibbon is “roughly as big as the six-month baby from next door”), diet, range (an outline map is included), and conservation status. Fun to peruse, these eye-catching and informative offerings will dazzle readers with amazing facts, clue kids in about conservation issues, and motivate further research.
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Barbara Birenbaum

Excellent selections! Interest-grabbing titles. Info galore. How many are also familiar with Groundhogs Across America? An info adventure into species, habitats, and forecasting skills of groundhogs from Alaska to the south, from the southwest to Maine. Be an explorer and discover facts about groundhogs of your area! Award book 2017. Watch out for impostors!

Posted : Feb 19, 2018 10:02


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