|Grades:||5 - 7|
|Guided Reading Level:||R|
9/1/04 Science Books & Films
These well-written and enjoyable children's books are about animal communication and play activities. The overall quality of the books is good. Photographs are abundant and of high quality, with only a couple (including one of the author) not in sharp focus. The close-up, full-page, dramatic and unusual photograph of the raven playing with snow in How Animals Play is a delight. The books have four or five regular chapters, plus an introductory chapter, a glossary, an index, a list of supplementary sources, and a personal note from the author about why and how she wrote the book. Although the latter section is superfluous, a child may nonetheless benefit from it.
The books are a pleasure to read and relate some facts that even an adult reader is not likely to know. Especially delightful is the mixture of taxonomic groups used as examples, such as marine invertebrates (in How Animals Communicate), instead of the more familiar groups (e.g., bees and dolphins). Books such as these often are overly anthropomorphic, so the author's general use of restraint is admirable. My only real complaint about the writing is in How Animals Communicate: The author wants to present so many examples that sometimes the text reads as a rather stilted compendium of examples. In general, the book would benefit from tighter organization and more introductions and summaries interwoven into the text. A more focused discussion of how scientists determine whether an animal is playing for pure enjoyment would also have been useful.
Overall, the scientific information presented is accurate, although some of the definitions in the glossary are rather narrow in scope (e.g., in How Animals Communicate); "inhibitor" is defined only in terms of olfaction.
In sum, these books would be a useful resource for an elementary school library, both for enjoyment and to supplement class discussions or projects on animal behavior and ecology. Fifth and sixth graders may find the tone a little juvenile, but the books will work well for other elementary grades (although first and second graders may need them to be read aloud). I plan to donate them to my local elementary school library.