Thursday, January 21, 2010

Book Review - Food Chains

The series Follow That Food Chain from Lerner Publishing uses the "choose your own adventure" format to provide readers with an exciting new way to learn about the food chain. The books in the series examine food chains by situating them in different ecosystems and then allowing readers to choose an animal to follow through the chain. Ecosystems explored include the Australian Outback, cloud forest, coral reef, desert, estuary, Galápagos Islands, mangrove forest, Nile River, rain forest, savanna, temperate forest, and tundra.

Each book begins with an introduction to the ecosystem or biome that is the focus of the book. The Rain Forest book focuses on rain forests of south America, while the Temperate Forest book focuses on the woods of North America. The next step is for readers to select a tertiary consumer to follow through the chain. In the case of the temperate forest, readers can select the American black bear, gray wolf, great horned owl, Canada lynx, or bald eagle. In the rain forest they can select the jaguar, anaconda, or harpy eagle.

From the outset, there are two things that work really well here. First, one page of text fully describes the members of the food chain (consumers, producers, and decomposers) and their role in it. Then readers are told how to use the book. Here's an excerpt.
Begin your journey through the temperate forest food web by choosing a tertiary consumer. These large carnivores, or meat eaters, as at the top of the food chain. That means, for the most part, they don't have any enemies in the woods (except for humans).

When it's time for the tertiary consumer to eat, pick its meal and flip to that page. As you go through the book, don't be surprised if you backtrack and end up where you never expected to be. That's how food webs work--they're complicated. And watch out for those dead ends! When you hit one of those, you have to go back to page 7 and start over with another tertiary consumer.
So, knowing the task at hand, I chose the gray wolf and turned to page 28 to begin my adventure. Ostensibly, these books are about the food chain, right? That's what the title says. But here's the second thing I really appreciate about these books. They're just as much about the ecosystem and animals as the food chain. The interdependence of all these things becomes apparent as you read. When I got to page 28 I learned a whole lot about gray wolves before I even got to the next phase of food chain investigation. Here are a few examples.
  • Wolves hunt over more space than any other land mammals, except humans.
  • Until the 1960s, rewards were offered for killing gray wolves.
  • Wolves can go up to two weeks without eating.
  • Wolves have been known to eat up to 22 pound in one feeding. (That's almost 1/3 their weight!)
After reading about wolves the text reads, "Last night for dinner, the pack tracked down ..." On the facing page are a series of choices. They include:
  • a pine marten caught scampering across the pine needles
  • a raccoon rubbing his food in a river
  • a panicked white-tailed deer that gave a good chase
  • burying beetles on their way to a new carcass
  • a northern flying squirrel that surprised the pack as he glided to the ground
  • an elk that's been sick all winter
  • an American beaver distracted by the fall of a large tree
I chose the poor elk and flipped to page 14 to read on. This is where I hit a dead end. DRAT! So, I went back to the beginning and chose a great horned owl. From here I followed the chain to a raccoon (the owl ate a baby left alone), then a Canada goose (the raccoon ate goose eggs hidden in the tall grass), then grass and plants near the water (a goose's preferred food), and finally to the earthworms decomposing materials in the soil (which eventually served as nutrients for the plants). PHEW!

The rain forest food chain was just as interesting. I started with the anaconda and was surprised to see the sentence stem read, "Last year for dinner, the anaconda swallowed ..." Last year! The anaconda ate a capybara swimming in the river, which ate leaves from a kapok tree. Once you get to the producers, the cycles takes you to decomposers and you start again. My second trip through the text took me from jaguar to green iguana to rhinoceros beetle (accompanied by the word crunchy!) to fungus growing on a tree trunk. That particular decomposer allowed me to choose from a host of carcasses, including the jaguar, giant armadillo, giant anteater, harpy eagle, anaconda, army ants, bromeliad flower, and nuts from a cacao tree.

I had a great deal of fun reading through these books and learned a lot in the process. Readers will learn about much more than food chains as they work their way through these texts. The two books in this series that I reviewed were thoughtfully planned and dense with information. Students in the upper elementary grades are sure to be intrigued and excited about this interactive format. Highly recommended.

Source of Books: Review copies received from publisher.


  1. Both of these books sound amazing, and are perfect fits for my kids in science. Thanks so much for the review! Going to buy them right now.

  2. What a brilliant idea to use the choose your own adventure structure to lead readers through the book - I loved this type of (fiction) book when I was a kid (I could never work out how an author could possible write such a book!), and to see it used for a non fiction book is great.

  3. What a clever concept! I'm seeing a whole new dimension for learning science in our home education endeavor.