Nonfiction animal picture books for back-to-school adventure and learning

Teachers love using picture books to teach concepts to students from kindergarten through middle school. Picture books are usually easy to understand, and the visuals help all kinds of learners access the information. They can be entertaining as well, so children learn reading is fun, not work. Here are some wonderful new picture books to share with the children in your life.

Little Kids First Nature Guide: Bugs

National Geographic Kids consistently presents picture books that are filled with information and are superbly put together for maximum interest and visual pleasure. Two new books don’t disappoint. For younger readers, “Little Kids First Nature Guide: Bugs” is a smaller book aimed at younger readers. But make no mistake, this nonfiction read still contains important nonfiction text features like a table of contents, a glossary, an index, and engaging photos, and it’s all in logical order. Clever alliteration makes this an enjoyable read. Kids will want to linger on the photos and ask more questions about bugs. In a classroom, this book would be a great start to individual projects on different kinds of bugs. (National Geographic Kids)

Can’t Get Enough Shark Stuff

Equally engaging by National Geographic Kids is “Can’t Get Enough Shark Stuff,” which is a larger softcover book all about sharks. The cover claims “fun facts, awesome info, cool games, silly jokes, and more!” and I would concur. In addition to stunning photos, there are colorful computer-created images, bright background colors and highlighting to emphasize certain text. There are, indeed, jokes and quizzes. One is titled “Which Shark Hangout is Right for You?” It’s a book that kids can peruse over and over as they search for their favorite shark or just read the jokes to share with friends. “What kind of card games do sharks play?” Answer: Go Fish. This is a great choice for home and school libraries and classroom bookshelves. Even preschoolers will enjoy the photos, but older kids will devour the information and smile at the clever jokes. My grandson loves this book. (National Geographic Kids)

Ensemble: Animals in Harmony

An oversized picture book filled with information about animals and the group names for them (like flamboyances of flamingoes) is “Ensemble: Animals in Harmony” by Joanna Rzezak. This stunning book is incredibly appealing visually. The use of bright colors in block printing and the stylized images of the animals are very engaging. For example, the green vipers (a generation) are drawn in rows twisting and turning to look like a bunch of plumber’s pipes, with darker green heads and red tongues. There is information about them as well. Perhaps my favorite illustration is of a harem of zebras. They are shown in a row, drinking from water, their black stripes reflected in blue in the swath of water. I especially like this image because that is how they really do drink, often in a row, and I have photographs from my trip to Kenya to prove it! There is a glossary with the group terms listed. I can see children returning to this book repeatedly to learn the group names and gain new tidbits of information about the animals. (Peter Pauper Press)

A Parliament of Owls

“A Parliament of Owls” by Devin Scillian and Sam Caldwell is another picture book about group names for animals. (Interesting aside: What do we call a group of books? A bookstore? A library? A reading pile? I believe the correct answer is: a collection.) The previous book points out that a group of vipers is a generation, but here we learn that a group of cobras is a “quiver.” And a rhumba of rattlesnakes is featured with a pride of lions. The group name is shown in bold text along with the noun naming that animal, so “rhumba” and “rattlesnake” are both in bold, making the noun and adjective easy to spot. These illustrations are more cartoonish in nature, full of bright colors and animals with human-like expression on their faces. I would love to see classrooms with both books and a teacher who reads them aloud and then does a compare and contrast exercise. What would be more fun that a lesson on language that’s filled with animals? (Sleeping Bear Press)

The Seagull and the Sea Captain

“The Seagull and the Sea Captain” by Sy Montgomery with illustrations by Amy Schimler-Safford is the real story of a New England sea captain and the wild seagull who became his friend. Sy Montgomery is known for her nonfiction writing about animals, and she has written about octopi, hummingbirds, hawks, and a children’s book about Temple Grandin. She writes adult books and children’s books. This one is definitely for children, although adults will also enjoy reading about this unusual friendship. When the sea captain sailed his family’s schooner out from Gloucester Harbor, he didn’t know what the day had in store for him. A gull landed on the boat, right next to the captain. As they looked at each other, the captain noticed that the gull was missing one toe. He tossed her a snack, and the gull returned every day that summer. They called him Polly Five Toes and the passengers loved to see him. What is especially touching is that after flying south for the winter, Polly Five Toes returned to visit with his captain, and he has done so every summer since. (Simon & Schuster)

Please note: This review is based on the final books sent by the publishers for review purposes.