Helpers and Hunters: Animals | Series Nonfiction

With a range of formats, from encyclopedias to graphic novels, this season’s lineup is sure to get students roaring.


This season’s titles vary widely in scope, style, and format. Some introduce entire classes of animals, while others focus on particular species or characteristics. Along with typical presentations of zoological data, there are true accounts of actual creatures and fictionalized narratives used to convey facts. Visual presentations range from large, captivating photos to spot images and child and pet portraits to graphic novel–style artwork. Each approach is designed to provide information in ways that will capture the interest of young people and provide them with the knowledge and insight that will enlarge their understanding of wildlife.


Amstutz, Lisa J. Fish. ISBN 9781515739296; ISBN 9781515739401.

––––. Mammals. ISBN 9781515739302; ISBN 9781515739418.

Berne, Emma Carlson. Amphibians. ISBN 9781515739265; ISBN 9781515739371.

––––. Crustaceans. ISBN 9781515739234; ISBN 9781515739319.

Dell, Pamela. Arachnids. ISBN 9781 515739241; ISBN 9781515739340.

––––. Birds. ISBN 9781515739272; ISBN 9781515739388.

Riehecky, Janet. Insects. ISBN 9781 515739258; ISBN 9781515739364.

––––. Reptiles. ISBN 9781515739289; ISBN 9781515739395.

ea vol: 32p. (My First Animal Kingdom Encyclopedias). further reading, glossary. photos. websites. Capstone. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $27.32. pap. $7.95.

Gr 3-5 –These ambitious series entries provide a general overview of the animal kingdom. Most of the information is communicated through one-sentence descriptions or definitions. Content moves from general to specific, starting with a look at taxonomy, then shifting to subtopics and individual creatures. Logical organization and creatively varied layouts help make the text accessible. A topic introduction for each spread leads into fact bites that are presented in photo captions, text boxes, and within circular frames that match the round borders of spot photographs. In some cases, images are partially obscured by the many insets and captions, creating a slightly cluttered look. With so many topics and multiple bits of data for each one, the lack of an index may frustrate kids trying to hone in on particular subjects. VERDICT Plenty of factual and visual content to engage readers, despite flaws. An additional selection.

Atlantic, Leonard. 200-Year-Old Bowhead Whales! ISBN 9781482456356.

––––. 80-Year-Old Elephants! ISBN 9781 482456134.

––––. 95-Year-Old Parrots! ISBN 9781 482456189.

Evans, Topper. 100-Year-Old Tortoises! ISBN 9781482456226.

––––. 100-Year-Old Tuataras! ISBN 9781 482456264.

––––. 200-Year-Old Red Sea Urchins! ISBN 9781482455977.

ea vol: 24p. (World’s Longest-Living Animals). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $22.60.

Gr 3-5 –The animals featured in this set share the common quality of longevity, though more general information, including physical characteristics, life cycles, and behavior, make up the majority of the content. Three or four sentences per page provide basic facts, with easy-to-follow sentences opposite attractive full-page photographs. Descriptions of how scientists determine ages aren’t always included (in Red Sea Urchins readers are informed about when scientists learned the maximum age, but not how), though the facts about the unusually long life spans are generally intriguing. For instance, students will discover that elephants typically live longer in zoos than in the wild, and that a harpoon tip can pinpoint a whale’s age. The four titles about land dwellers feature examples of specific creatures, such as a movie star parrot, lending extra appeal. Each book ends with a brief note about threats to survival. VERDICT Solid species treatments with an eye-catching hook that is sure to attract browsers.

Black, Vanessa. Chinchillas. ISBN 9781 620315491.

––––. Gerbils. ISBN 9781620315514.

––––. Hermit Crabs. ISBN 9781620315521.

––––. Horses. ISBN 9781620315507.

––––. Lizards. ISBN 9781620315538.

––––. Rats. ISBN 9781620315545.

––––. Snakes. ISBN 9781620315552.

ea vol: 24p. (My First Pet). diag. ebook available. glossary. index. photos. websites. Jump!/Bullfrog. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $25.65.

PreS-Gr 1 –Appealing photographs are the highlight of these introductory pet books. Simple tips are woven into the text, describing what kids can do for their critters. For instance, in Snakes, “Snakes need to shed. Aidan [a boy] puts out rocks. Jack [a snake] rubs on them.” Names are usually included for both humans and animals: some children are shown in photos, while others are only mentioned in the text, which may challenge budding readers. Not to be confused with care guides, these titles do not include breed details, specific care procedures, and any downsides to pet ownership. Final images show a budding human-animal relationship in an especially endearing pose, supporting the closing comment that pets are cool. VERDICT Consider for preschool collections in need of light, basic pet introductions.

Donner, Erica. Amphibians. ISBN 9781 620315361; ISBN 9781620315903.

––––. Birds. ISBN 9781620315378; ISBN 9781620315910.

––––. Fish. ISBN 9781620315385; ISBN 9781620315927.

––––. Insects. ISBN 9781620315392; ISBN 9781620315934.

––––. Mammals. ISBN 9781620315408; ISBN 9781620315941.

––––. Reptiles. ISBN 9781620315415; ISBN 9781620315958.

ea vol: 24p. (Animal Classification). diag. ebook available. glossary. index. photos. websites. Jump!/Bullfrog. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $25.65. pap. $6.99.

PreS-Gr 1 –These primers on animal classification focus on essential characteristics of six popular groups. Most pages provide one key trait, such as “all birds have beaks.” One or two high-quality photos provide strong visual support. The fact that “insects have skeletons on the outside,” for example, becomes tangible and more memorable thanks to the image of a rhinoceros beetle that demonstrates it so clearly. A variety of species are used to portray different physical features; this also shows the wide-ranging diversity within each class (less true in Amphibians, which mostly features the frog life cycle). Inaccurate generalizations are avoided with carefully worded sentences like “most [reptiles] lay eggs” and “most fish are cold-blooded.” Principles of classification and further specifics are absent, which is the right choice for the intended age level. VERDICT Smart attention to text and image make this set just right for early elementary students.

Duhaime, Darla. Crocodiles. ISBN 9781 683421559; ISBN 9781683421979.

––––. Iguanas. ISBN 9781683421580; ISBN 9781683422006.

––––. Snakes. ISBN 9781683421566; ISBN 9781683421986.

––––. Turtles. ISBN 9781683421573; ISBN 9781683421993.

ea vol: 24p. (Reptiles!). glossary. index. photos. Rourke. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $29.93. pap. $8.95.

PreS-Gr 1 –Basic information about reptiles. Spreads feature one or two sentences and one photograph. Facts are limited to a mere handful, which works for the intended audience. Simple comprehension challenges are included within the text. For example, after reading that “Reptiles are cold blooded” and “Snakes are reptiles,” readers are asked: “Are they cold blooded?” This pattern, used four times per book, offers learning potential, but can disrupt narrative flow. A final page applies this logic sequence to kids: “You have bones and muscles. Are you a reptile?” Some facts are broad and simplified with the age level in mind; though stating that an iguana’s tail can grow back “right away” is misleading. Full-page photographs highlight physical features effectively. Notable images include a snake skeleton, a swimming turtle, and hatching alligators. VERDICT Decent introductions for collections that serve young readers.

Gagne, Tammy. Bighorn Sheep. ISBN 9781635170320; ISBN 9781635170887.

––––. Caribou. ISBN 9781635170337; ISBN 9781635170894.

––––. Coyotes. ISBN 9781635170344; ISBN 9781635170900.

Hogan, Christa C. Mountain Lions. ISBN 9781635170368; ISBN 9781635170924.

Klepeis, Alicia Z. American Beavers. ISBN 9781635170283; ISBN 9781635170849.

Mihaly, Christy. Moose. ISBN 9781635170351; ISBN 9781635170917.

Omoth, Tyler. American Alligators. ISBN 9781635170276; ISBN 9781635170832.

––––. American Bison. ISBN 9781635170290; ISBN 9781635170856.

––––. American Black Bears. ISBN 9781635170306; ISBN 9781635170863.

––––. Bald Eagles. ISBN 9781635170313; ISBN 9781635170870.

ea vol: 32p. (Animals of North America). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. North Star. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $28.50. pap. $9.95.

Gr 2-5 –Accessible overviews of North American animals. Coverage includes habitats, physical features, life cycles, and key behaviors, each presented in straightforward language with plentiful, if unexciting, photographs. Each title includes several “Fun Fact” insets and one “That’s Amazing” feature that focuses on a notable trait. Double spacing and clean layouts, along with a consistent reading level and content that is not too challenging, make the books accessible to middle elementary readers. A range map and a life cycle diagram are useful; there’s also a quiz to check reading retention and critical thinking. The photos are mostly full body, still shots. Perhaps a few close-ups or action scenes might have been more visually engaging. VERDICT Solid overviews worth considering for subject coverage where needed.

Gagne, Tammy. Giant Galápagos Tortoise. ISBN 9781680784664.

––––. Gray Wolf. ISBN 9781680784671.

––––. Grizzly Bear. ISBN 9781680784688.

Lanser, Amanda. California Condor. ISBN 9781680784657.

Mooney, Carla. American Alligator. ISBN 9781680784626.

O’Keefe, Emily. Humpback Whale. ISBN 9781680784695.

Yasuda, Anita. American Bison. ISBN 9781680784633.

––––. Bald Eagle. ISBN 9781680784640.

ea vol: 48p. (Back from Near Extinction). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $37.79.

Gr 3-6 –Well-organized accounts of animal populations that have declined, then recovered to various degrees. Explanations of how each group became threatened are thorough; they include solid historical background and insights into the complex factors that impacted each situation. California Condor, for example, examines the impact of man-made structures, microtrash, and lead poisoning, along with the more obvious factor of habitat loss. Concluding chapters are cautiously optimistic, detailing efforts of governments, scientists, and activists that have so far turned the tide. Photographs show examples of conservation initiatives and dangers to species, along with a number of wildlife shots. Several critical thinking challenges provide optional activities based on the main text and excerpted sources. Population statistics are included within the text, but there are no charts or graphs showing growth and decline. VERDICT A standout series that will pair well with environmental studies lessons.

Gilbert, Sara. Dire Wolves. ISBN 9781 608187652; ISBN 9781628323733.

––––. Giant Short-Faced Bears. ISBN 9781 608187669; ISBN 9781628323740.

––––. Mammoths. ISBN 9781608187676; ISBN 9781628323757.

––––. Monster Birds. ISBN 9781608187683; ISBN 9781628323764.

––––. Saber-Toothed Cats. ISBN 9781 608187690; ISBN 9781628323771.

––––. Stag-Moose. ISBN 9781608187706; ISBN 9781628323788.

ea vol: 24p. (Ice Age Mega Beasts). diag. ebook available. illus. maps. photos. Creative Education. Feb. 2017. lib. ed. $28.50. pap. $8.99.

Gr 2-4 –The animals featured in this set all lived in North America and died around the time of the last Ice Age. Basic facts about physical features, behaviors, and environment are described in simple sentences that are generally clear, though not especially lively. In addition, details on traits are not consistent. For instance, the size and weight of teratorns are provided with numbers and diagrams, but the size of the stag-moose’s antlers are not (“Its antlers were wide and flat”). Some titles include comparative diagrams of varied levels of usefulness (in Saber-Toothed Cats the size of the cat’s prey is shown, but not the saber-toothed cat itself).Visual support includes drawings and photos of adequate quality. Maps in each volume show glacier coverage of the last Ice Age, plus the location of a key fossil find, but not the habitat range of the animal. Despite flaws, most of these animals are not often covered in single volumes (Stag-Moose, Giant Short-Faced Bears, and Monster Birds in particular), so they may fill subject holes. VERDICT Consider for topical coverage.

Hansen, Grace. American Paint Horses. ISBN 9781680809251.

––––. Clydesdale Horses. ISBN 9781 680809268.

––––. Gypsy Horses. ISBN 9781680809275.

––––. Miniature Horses. ISBN 9781 680809282.

––––. Quarter Horses. ISBN 9781680809299.

––––. Thoroughbred Horses. ISBN 9781 680809305.

ea vol: 24p. (Horses). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $28.50.

K-Gr 2 –With two or three sentences per page, this set introduces the most basic traits of horse breeds. Most of the content focuses on physical features and the ways horses are used by humans, along with a bit about their temperament. The writing uses short, direct sentences that are generally clear enough for early readers, with only occasional awkward or stilted phrasing. There are some challenging words, which are usually, but not always, defined in the glossary (in Miniature Horses “to scale” is defined as “with a uniform reduction,” which is arguably a more challenging phrase). A closing “More Facts” page provides a few extra tidbits. Clean layouts feature a single photograph across each spread, accompanied by large text against a white background. Though not terrifically exciting, the photos, mostly full-body shots, show a variety of horses in different situations to provide a solid visual overview. VERDICT Serviceable introductions for the youngest of horse enthusiasts.

Keogh, Josie. What Are Sea Mammals? ISBN 9781680486056.

Machajewski, Sarah. What Are Mollusks? ISBN 9781508103875.

Martin, Bobi. What Are Fish? ISBN 9781508103837.

Quinlan, Julia J. What Are Sea Invertebrates? ISBN 9781508103899.

Shea, Therese. What Are Crustaceans? ISBN 9781508103851.

Steinberg, Lynnae. What Are Sea Plants and Algae? ISBN 9781508103929.

ea vol: 32p. (Let’s Find Out! Marine Life). diag. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Britannica. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $24.45.

Gr 3-6 –Each title explores a broad group of ocean life, introducing general characteristics along with specific traits of selected examples. Fish, for instance, describes attributes such as scales and cold-bloodedness that are shared by most fish, but also includes a short section on sharks and a quick look at several unusual members of the class. Sea Invertebrates includes examples of mollusks and crustaceans; both are covered in separate books within the series in more detail. There are many bits of information on multiple topics, which could challenge some readers, but the plethora of facts is helped by logical organization and writing that is generally smooth and concise. Half-page photographs on each page and occasional diagrams offer solid visual support. Text insets include vocabulary definitions and reader-directed questions to encourage critical thinking. Closing pages look at human interactions, survival status, and prospects for the future of each group. VERDICT Fine overviews of marine life for upper elementary schoolers.

Lawrence, Ellen. Arapaima. ISBN 9781 684020331.

––––. Black Caiman. ISBN 9781684020324.

––––. Bull Shark. ISBN 9781684020355.

––––. Electric Eel. ISBN 9781684020362.

––––. Giant Otter. ISBN 9781684020348.

––––. Green Anaconda. ISBN 9781 684020317.

––––. Harpy Eagle. ISBN 9781684020294.

––––. Jaguar. ISBN 9781684020300.

ea vol: 24p. (Apex Predators of the Amazon Rain Forest). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Bearport. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $23.93.

Gr 3-5 –Each featured beast fills an apex predator role in the rain forest ecosystem. Content focuses on predation in the first half, including the subject’s diet and hunting methods, with photos that show some of the action of the hunt. Life cycles and habitats are also introduced. Writing is clear and direct, avoiding generalization. Readers learn, for example, that a bull shark is an apex predator in the Amazon, but not in the ocean. While apex predators are defined with examples provided, their impact on rain forest food chains is not explored. Captioned photographs highlight key physical features, while occasional close-ups and insets also support factual details effectively. Other features include a range map, a “science lab” activity, and question boxes that actually promote critical thinking, rather than repetition of facts from within the text. VERDICT Well-rounded species profiles suitable for reports.

Marsico, Katie. Bears. ISBN 9780 531227251; ISBN 9780531232767.

––––. Big Cats. ISBN 9780531227268; ISBN 9780531232774.

––––. Elephants. ISBN 9780531227275; ISBN 9780531232781.

––––. Gorillas. ISBN 9780531227282; ISBN 9780531232798.

––––. Rhinos. ISBN 9780531227299; ISBN 9780531232804.

ea vol: 48p. (A True Book: The Most Endangered). further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Children’s Pr. Feb. 2017. lib. ed. $29. pap. $7.95.

Gr 3-6 –Well-known endangered animals are given thorough, straightforward treatments. Each opening chapter introduces the creature and its main threats. An overview covering physical features, behaviors, and ecosystem impacts comes next, followed by closer looks at threats to survival and current conservation efforts. The writing is lively and cohesive, covering a variety of related topics in an organized, accessible style. Half-page and full-page photographs show critters in the wild and sometimes interacting with scientists and other people; there are no sensationalized images of animals suffering (Gorillas does show a caged gorilla, but it’s been rescued). Other useful visual support includes population bar graphs, charts of species characteristics, and range maps. Back matter includes an array of avenues for young conservationists and a thought-provoking “Big Debate” feature, which presents two sides of a conservation issue, such as the impact of zoos and oil drilling. VERDICT Excellent profiles of endangered animals, a first choice for most collections.

Spilsbury, Louise & Richard Spilsbury. Animal Adaptations. ISBN 9781626175853.

––––. Animal Homes and Hangouts. ISBN 9781626175860.

––––. Animal Traps and Lairs. ISBN 9781626175877.

––––. Born Survivors. ISBN 9781626175884.

––––. Deadly Predators. ISBN 9781 626175891.

––––. Killer Plants. ISBN 9781626175907.

ea vol: 32p. (Engineered by Nature). charts. diag. ebook available. further reading. glossary. photos. websites. Bellwether. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $25.95.

Gr 3-5 –Each title introduces 11 species, focusing on adaptive characteristics and behaviors of particular interest, ranging from the tentacles of the box jellyfish to termite mounds. Eye-catching layouts feature darkly colored backgrounds and large photos, with an uncluttered placement of text and insets. A couple of paragraphs describe one or two key facets of the featured animal, with a few related facts included. Information about the frilled lizard’s defense methods, for example, is supported by insets describing the frill’s size and the lizard’s hunting strategies, along with a useful umbrella analogy. Most of the photographs depict the particular adaptation effectively, though some examples are more generic. VERDICT Strong visuals, solid organization, and topical focus make this an easy choice for browsers.

Middle to High School

Jeffrey, Gary. Dawn Horse. illus. by Alessandro Poluzzi. ISBN 9781625884077.

––––. Giant Hunter. illus. by Alessandro Poluzzi & Oliver West. ISBN 9781625884084.

––––. Giant Sloth. illus. by Alessandro Poluzzi. ISBN 9781625884091.

––––. Mega Shark. illus. by Alessandro Poluzzi & Oliver West. ISBN 9781625884107.

––––. Sabertooth Tiger. illus. by Alessandro Poluzzi. ISBN 9781625884114.

––––. Terminator Pig. illus. by Alessandro Poluzzi. ISBN 9781625884121.

––––. Terror Bird. illus. by Alessandro Poluzzi. ISBN 9781625884138.

––––. Woolly Mammoth. illus. by Alessandro Poluzzi. ISBN 9781625884145.

ea vol: 24p. (Graphic Prehistoric Animals). ebook available glossary. index. Smart Apple. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $21.95.

Gr 4-7 –After an opening spread with a brief overview, graphic novel–style illustrations depict the experiences of a prehistoric creature as it tries to survive and thrive. Present-tense narration describes behavior, not emotion, avoiding personification. Sequential art conveys basic details and dramatic sequences effectively. Varied panel sizes and shifting perspectives help to pace the narrative and heighten dramatic moments, most of which are attacks and battles. Though not spectacular, the drawings provide enough visual information and action to engage interest. Each of the featured species interacts with several others during its adventures, so readers learn a bit about contemporaries and see them in action. The giant sloth’s quest for food, for example, includes encounters with feeding saber-toothed cats and a pair of fighting doedicurus. Several of the books cover lesser-known animals (especially Dawn Horse, Giant Hunter, and Terminator Pig) and could fill subject gaps nicely. VERDICT Effective use of the graphic novel format makes this series a strong contender for middle schoolers.

Miller, Mirella S. Search and Rescue Dogs on the Job. ISBN 9781503816152.

Morey, Allan. Hunting Dogs on the Job. ISBN 9781503816121.

––––. Sled Dogs on the Job. ISBN 9781503816176.

Terrell, Brandon. Police Dogs on the Job. ISBN 9781503816145.

Troup, Roxanne. Detection Dogs on the Job. ISBN 9781503816114.

––––. Military Dogs on the Job. ISBN 9781503816138.

Ventura, Marne. Service Dogs on the Job. ISBN 9781503816169.

––––. Therapy Dogs on the Job. ISBN 9781503816183.

ea vol: 24p. (Helping Dogs). ebook available. further reading. index. photos. websites. The Child’s World. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $27.07.

Gr 4-7 –Facts about service dogs and real-life examples of their work are combined with mixed results. Each opening chapter introduces a real dog and a particular challenge it faced. That story is completed in the final chapter, interrupted by a middle section providing general information about the ways these canines help people. Opening narratives are generally engaging, though splitting them into two parts is somewhat awkward. The true tales in Therapy Dogs and Hunting Dogs are less involving then the more heroic exploits in the other titles. Photographs typically depict breeds other than the one described in the story, which may confuse some readers. Several are named or shown without breed identification, adding to the disconnection between words and images. Using real stories makes sense for this topic, but inconsistent visual support weakens the impact. VERDICT Likely to appeal to dog lovers, but overall an uneven effort.

Several of the best titles from the sets reviewed above cover similar subject matters. Capstone’s “My First Animal Kingdom Encyclopedias” uses taxonomy as a framework for a wealth of animal facts for upper elementary grades, while Jump!’s “Animal Classification” successfully introduces that complex field to little ones. Children’s Press’s “A True Book: The Most Endangered” mixes general animal information with conservation elements. ABDO’s “Back from Near Extinction” focuses a bit more on endangerment and recovery, but both are excellent. Bellwether’s “Engineered by Nature” highlights a variety of unusual animal characteristics, while Gareth Stevens’s “World’s Longest-Living Animals” centers on longevity. Both are good choices for browsers. Of the books that utilize narrative stories to convey information, Smart Apple’s “Graphic Prehistoric Animals” is the most successful, though Jump!’s “My First Pet” has appeal for new readers.

Steven Engelfried, Wilsonville Public Library, OR

For the latest nonfiction series reviews, check out the Spring 2017 Series Made Simple

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Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

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