Spring is here and it’s time to enjoy the outdoors — while safely keeping social distance, of course. And for those shut inside on rainy, gloomy days, what could be more enjoyable than reading about animals in nature while at the same time learning fascinating and important facts about the world around us? These five picture books are perfect for reading and will become favorites at bedtime.
I love “The (NOT) Bad Animals” by Sophie Corrigan. The cover gives a clue to the cuteness and direction of the pages inside. Against a backdrop of blue sky and green grass, animals including birds and spiders hold signs about how they are NOT bad animals. The black cat’s sign says, “Not bad luck.” The vulture’s sign says that he recycles, and the mouse holds up a sign that says they make cute pets. A bat flutters in the sky with a sign that proclaims, “NOT a real vampire.” Each set of pages is carefully created. The first two-page spread for each animal includes illustrations of the featured animal repeating all the incorrect myths about that animal. For example, take rats. I have a special place in my heart for rats and have had two sets of rat pets. They were clean and used their litter box. Even when they were old and in pain, they never bit but were always gentle and sweet. The first page with a darker background shares all the myths about rats, including that they are dirty, sneaky, and prone to attack in packs. The two-page spread with the facts, which for every animal has a white background and includes the facts, reveals the myths as fiction. In truth, rats are adorable. They clean themselves often throughout the day. They are shy creatures, which is why they may feel safe in sewers where they can hide. They do chew things, but only because otherwise their teeth grow uncontrollably. They make wonderful pets because they learn tricks and love to play with toys. They communicate with each other and can remember human faces. Not mentioned in the book is that they have cute little pink hands. From seagulls to squid, pigs to pigeons, “scary” dogs to snapping turtles, this lovely book celebrates animals and lets readers know, for example, that orcas are intelligent and majestic and shouldn’t be kept in tanks. It’s also filled with fascinating information that will have kids (and adults) appreciating these wild animals just a bit more. Did you know that while foxes are related to dogs, they have some cat-like characteristics? (Also, not in the book: when foxes are selectively bred for personality for generations, they end up with some physical doggy traits like curled tails and tipped ears.) There is information about “scary” dogs like Doberman pinschers, pit bulls, and German shepherds, who actually make great family pets and can be as gentle as any poodle or golden retriever. This book is all about fairness and the discrimination that some animals face. It’s a book that will be reread many times. As a matter of fact, there are so many facts about the many animals that repeated readings are virtually required to really take in the majesty and beauty of these “bad” animals. The lesson? There really are no “bad” animals. (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)
“About Parrots: A Guide for Children” is by Cathryn Sill and illustrated by John Sill. This informative book is filled with not only information about parrots from all over the world, but strikingly beautiful watercolor illustrations of the brightly hued birds. The illustrations are worthy of framing, and the simple text will keep kids interested in the topic. This is a fabulous nonfiction book that is accessible to even primary students while still having enough information to interest fifth graders. It’s a superb choice for elementary school libraries and classroom bookshelves. While the text is simple, the Afterword offers more in-depth details about each illustration (Plate) and includes more complex vocabulary like “zygodactyl feet, which means each foot has two toes facing forward and two toes facing backward.” There is also a glossary and suggested reading for more information. It’s a wonderful book for nonfiction readers. (Peachtree Publishing)
“Mae the Mayfly” is by Denise Brennan-Nelson and illustrated by Florence Weiser. It’s a picture book that skirts the border between nonfiction and fiction because while there is much factual information about mayflies and their lifespan, it’s about a particular mayfly appropriately named Mae. The author is an experienced picture book writer, and her experience is reflected in the rhyme and cadence of the text, which is a pleasure to read aloud with lines like the beginning, “Near the bank of the river one warm spring day, a new life began, and her name was Mae.” The story follows the doings of Mae’s day, which is typically the entire lifespan of a mayfly, but also cleverly incorporated is an Aesop-like story of “The Lion and the Mouse,” but with Mae and a trout. At the end of this story is “Mae’s Mindful Message,” which encourages being mindful of the moment and being aware of what each life experience brings. There is even a meditation exercise for readers to try. And on the facing page are “Did You Know?” facts about the mayfly. Also worthy of mention are the illustrations by Florence Weiser, which seem to encompass many media, including watercolors, which perfectly suggest the feeling of the watery expanse of the trout’s environment. (Sleeping Bear Press)
“50 Reasons to Love Animals” by Catherine Barr and illustrated by Hanako Clulow is another book that celebrates animals. But while it’s filled with fascinating information about animals, organized by habitat, it also includes important (but depressing) information about why many of these animals are endangered. Throughout the pages are special pleas encased in what looks like a round seal asking readers, for example, to “show why you love a pangolin.” The text in this round icon continues, “Pangolins are little known but very endangered animals. Discover 10 facts about pangolins and share them with your class at school.” Other “seals” feature different animals and different activities. Kids will enjoy learning the 50 interesting facts about the wild animals, and they will learn the sad reality that we need to step up and help these animals if they are to remain on our planet and not become extinct. (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)
“Fly, Firefly!” by Shana Keller with illustrations by Ramona Kaulitzki is a story inspired by a real event experienced by famed author Rachel Carson and her niece. Narrated in rhyming text, it’s based on an outing when Rachel Carson saw a firefly flying over the ocean — apparently having seen the bioluminescence in the ocean and thinking it was other fireflies. She rescued the firefly and documented the event in a letter she wrote to a friend. This picture book includes information at the end “About Rachel Carson” and also about “Living Light,” the page which informs readers about insects and bioluminescent organisms. There’s much information in this picture book which might just inspire readers to explore Rachel Carson and how she changed our world by exposing the dangers of chemicals and how they harm the environment, or bioluminescence and how it exists in nature and its purpose. (Sleeping Bear Press)
Please note: This review is based on the final books provided by the publishers for review purposes.