Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gift Books for Kids Who Love Animals

Lots of folks around the kidlitosphere have joined in the effort to promote buying books as gifts for the holidays. This is a no-brainer for me, as I always give books. I am however, a year-round shopper, so when I see the perfect gifts for my friends and family, I buy them. Whether or not I remember or can find the gifts come holiday time is another matter entirely!

In honor of this effort, I thought I would put together a series of thematic lists containing the titles of some of my favorite books. Today I'm focusing on books about animals.

For the kid in your life who can't get enough of "animal fact" books, here are some nonfiction titles you may want to consider. This list is organized around a few authors that routinely publish engaging and highly readable texts for elementary age readers.

Steve Jenkins (Visit his web site.)
For kids who want to examine the world of animals thematically and not by species, Jenkins has written (sometimes along with his wife Robin Page) and illustrated a number of books that explore animals through shared, yet distinctive traits. The books listed here are the ones my 7-year old and I return to again and again.
Biggest, Strongest, Fastest - This book highlights animals in the extreme, from the biggest to smallest, fastest and slowest, and more. Jenkins calls them "the record holders of the animal world."

How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly? - The newest book from Steve and Robin looks at animal ingenuity. Did you know animals are problem-solvers? You will after reading this book. Each double-page spread includes a question with an introductory statement and illustrations of six animals on the left, with an enlarged image of the question's focus on the right. Readers will learn how animals hatch eggs, use leaves, snare fish, and much more.

Living Color - Why do animals come in so many colors? This 2007 Cybils finalist in nonfiction picture books examines what color says about a variety of animals. Red says things like "I'm all grown up," "Don't even think about it," and "It must have been something I ate." Readers will learn about an amazing array of colorful creatures. Back matter includes more detailed information on animal color and a brief description of each animal in the book.

What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? - How do animals protect themselves from danger? This book introduces a variety of animals and their defense mechanisms, from spurting ink, to expanding in size, shooting hot chemicals and more.

What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? - In this Caldecott honor book written with Robin Page, Jenkins asks readers to consider why animals have structures shaped in certain ways. On each double-page spread, the highlighted body part of five different animals accompanies the question "What do you do with a __ like this?" The next double-page spread shows the five animals in full and offers a brief explanation for the structure and function of that body part.
Sneed Collard III (Visit his web site.)
The author of more than fifty books for children, Collard's science books explore the wonders of the natural world. I am particularly enthralled by the thematic books that examine animal parts in detail.
Beaks, illustrated by Robin Brickman - This one is all about birds, providing a veritable feast of information. Each spread highlights one or two species and how they use their beaks. Readers will have many opportunities to consider the enormous variety of beak shapes, sizes, and functions.

Teeth, illustrated by Phyllis V. Saroff - While we most often think of teeth as tools to chew food, they are also used to warn predators and attract mates. Readers will learn about different types of teeth, how they are used, the number of teeth animals have, and how they grow. The differences between teeth and horns or antlers is also explored.

Wings, illustrated by Robin Brickman - This book isn't strictly about birds, because other animals have them too, like bats and insects. Collard explores the enormous diversity of wing styles, including differences in size, color, and covering, as well as the mechanics of flight.
Gail Gibbons (Visit her web site.)
A prolific author and illustrator of nonfiction, Gibbons has published a number of titles on specific animal species, both wild and domestic, as well as books on habitats. This list focuses on wild animals, but for kids crazy about Cats, Dogs, Horses, Pigs and other farm animals, be sure to look for those titles.
Bats - One of my favorite books about this much maligned mammal, Gibbons explores their physical characteristics, habits, and life cycle, as well as the myths that surround them. (You can read my review.)

Elephants of Africa - The newest in a long line of animal books, Gibbons explores the world's largest land animal and how they are threatened. Readers will learn about their trunks, tusks, skin, ears, eyes, and teeth, as well as many interesting facts about their social groups and how they live from day to day.

Giant Pandas - Gibbons explores the physical characteristics, habits, life cycle, and present status in the wild and in zoos in this book. A final page of facts and statistics is included.

Grizzly Bears - Packed with information, this book examines where grizzlies live, what and how much they eat, and their seasonal habits, life cycle, and much more.

Owls - Numerous species of owls exist in North America. This book explores this variety while looking closely at the habitats in which they live, as well as anatomy, behaviors, life cycle, and more.

Penguins - What kid isn't crazy about penguins? Gibbons introduces readers to the seventeen species of penguins and shares information about where they live, what they eat, their lifestyles nesting/brooding habits, and predators.

Polar Bears - This completes the trio of bear books, offering readers information about polar bears and where they live, what they eat, how they find food, rear young, and much more.

Snakes - This book explores everything about snakes, from their physical characteristics to how they give birth, how they eat, where and how they live, and much more.
Nic Bishop (Visit his web site.)
While the books listed above are all illustrated in various forms of media, Nic Bishop's books contain the most amazing photographs I have ever seen. The writing is equally engaging. I couldn't pry his most recent work out of my son's hands, and that is saying something.
Backyard Detective: Critters Up Close - In seven double-page photo collages, readers explore the various forms of life that live in the backyard. Each double-page spread is followed by a description of the animals found in the collage.

Forest Explorer: A Life-Size Field Guide - Double-page spreads highlight an area of the forest. Readers search to see what they can find and then turn the page to learn all about the animals pictured there.

Nic Bishop Spiders - This Sibert honor book provides an intimate and extensive view of spiders. Readers will learn that more than 38,000 types of spiders exist today, as well as an incredible amount of information, like the difference between spiders and insects, how they eat, reproduce, and much more. Cool and quirky facts abound in this winning volume.

Nic Bishop Frogs - In this, the year of the frog, could any book be more appropriate? Just like the volume on spiders, readers will be dazzled by the photographs and mountain of information. (You can read my review.)
That's it for now. If you have a favorite author or animal book you'd like to share, please let me know. I'd be more than happy to expand this list.


  1. Thanks - I know and love Jenkins... many of these others are new to me.

  2. Ok, now you're just showing off. That is a flawless list of awesome. Love all these picks. The awesome is leaking out of my ears right now. Need to get an awesome mop...

  3. I need my mop, too. Another tour de force of lists!!

  4. Thanks so much for these suggestions, Tricia. I LOVE Steve Jenkins!

  5. I have been wanting to check out Gail Gibbons. What a great list--thank you!

  6. Thanks for the list. Looks like lots of good titles and I am always on the lookout for great non-fiction. Just one question did you have to put the picture of the spider book? Totally freaked me out especially considering I just killed a black widow in my basement. When I recovery I will have to check the book out.

  7. My five year-old daughter loves dogs and enjoys the picture book "The Perfect Puppy for Me." The young boy in the book wants to learn about dog breeds so he can select the right puppy for his family. It's not an in-depth non-fiction title, but instead a fun overview for younger kids.

  8. Ewww, that spider book looks a little too scary - even for me ;-)

    My kids and I were just talking about this today. We watched The Golden Compass, which I think is pretty violent for little kids. I remember when my kids were little and I put on The Wizard of Oz, they started crying when the Flying Monkeys came on the screen. Kids get scared pretty EZ.

  9. Thank you for a great list. Many ideas for both of my daughters, one of whom plans to become a pandaologist.