Animal Ark: Celebrating our wild world in poetry and pictures

Animal Ark is a visual treat that combines animal photographs with haiku poetry.

Picture book, nonfiction, poetry
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 4.3
4 out of 5 stars


This is a very interesting picture book collaboration between Joel Sartore, founder of the National Geographic Photo Ark, and Kwame Alexander, the Newbery medal winning poet. While I was first interested in reading this book because of my love for all things Kwame Alexander writes, I must admit that I think the photographs steal the spotlight.
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All of the animals are shown with either a white or black background. This lets the reader really focus on some of the details that can be noticed in the close-up photographs. The other thing the lack of background does is renders each animal at roughly the same size. Frogs, birds, tigers, millipedes all appear the same size. This was intentional on the photographer’s part as he didn’t want any animal to appear larger or more important than the others. It reflects the idea that all creatures are equally important to the world.

In the Note from the Photographer at the back of the book, Sartore states:

By introducing the entire world to thousands of photographs of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and even insects, I hope we can get everyone following, liking, texting, tweeting, and even talking about this wondrous world of ours…I want people around the world to look these animals in the eye, and then fall in love with creatures as dazzling as a pheasant or as odd as an octopus. And once we love something, won’t we do anything to save it?

Alexander has provided the poetry to narrate the story of the different animals. This is not a picture book that is meant to educate about the animals that we see, but is instead meant to make us feel and connect us to them. For most of the book, each animal has a three-line, haiku-style poem that captures the essence of the animal. In the Note from the Writer, Alexander makes a connection between poetry and photographs:

Both have the ability to bypass the skin and enter through the heart, transforming what is often difficult to convey into something universal.

Located roughly in the middle of the book is a longer narrative style poem, surrounded by small photos of more animals. This poem is meant to connect the reader, a human, with the world of the animals and implores us to “take care of our home.”

Animal Ark is a young reader companion book to the larger work, Photo Ark. Children will love to look at the stunning photographs, where they will notice new details about even the most familiar of animals. The short poems that accompany each photograph enhance the mood of the animal image and sound wonderful when read aloud. The longer poem on the full-page gatefold might be over the heads of very young children, but could be used with older children to open conversations about extinct and endangered animals.

A funny, blooper-style outtakes video showing the photographer at work can be found here: https://shop.nationalgeographic.com/product/books/books/animals-and-nature/the-photo-ark. This would be a hit at a read aloud of the story!

More information about the Photo Ark project can be found on the National Geographic website: http://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/photo-ark/


Animal Ark: Celebrating our wild world in poetry and pictures
Photographs by Joel Sartore; Words by Kwame Alexander
National Geographic, 2017
ISBN 978-1-4263-2767-4

One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree

Young children will love this adventure to the inside of a snake. Good read-aloud!

One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree
Story by Daniel Bernstrom; pictures by Brandan Wenzel
Katherine Tegen Books, 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-235485-3
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 24 x 27 cm
Picture book, fiction
Interest level: PreK-grade 1; reading level: 1.4
4 out of 5 stars


This story reads like a combination of a cumulative tale–“There Was an Old Lady”–and a folktale. A boy with a “whirly-twirly toy” is skipping along in the shade of a eucalyptus tree when he is gobbled up by a giant snake. The boy, still holding his toy, is actually unconcerned by this turn of events and uses his cunning to convince the snake to keep eating other animals that can be found in the eucalyptus tree. All the animals that end up in the snakes belly appear to be having a pretty good time, until the snake eats one last apple and ends up burping out the entire menagerie.

Brendan Wenzel’s illustrations are colorful and full of wide-eyed animals. Bernstrom uses fun and descriptive language, and the repetitive use of the word “eucalyptus” makes the text a delight to hear out loud. If you are going to use this book for a read-aloud experience, you will definitely want to practice a couple times first. It is easy to get tongue-tied!

Suryia & Roscoe: the true story of an unlikely friendship; 4 out of 5 stars #bookaday

by Bhagavan Antle with Thea Feldman; photographs by Barry Bland
Henry Holt and Co., New York, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9316-2
Description: 32 unnumbered pages : color illustrations, color maps ; 24 cm
Dewey: 599.883
Subject: Narrative nonfiction; unlikely animal friendship
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 2.0
Lexile measure: 430
4 out of 5 stars


Summary from the publisher: “Who can imagine an orangutan being friends with a dog? Is it even possible? With Suryia and Roscoe it is! Dogs and orangutans rarely meet, and when they do, they are naturally shy around each other. But when Suryia the orangutan first meets Roscoe, a stray dog, they become best friends from the start. Set on a preserve for rare animals, The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.) in South Carolina, here is a true story of a remarkable friendship between two unforgettable animals.”

Evaluation: This lower level text is brimming with the author’s excitement, and when read out loud with enthusiasm, will quickly capture children’s attention. The text reads like a conversation and details when Roscoe, the dog, first met Suryia, the orangutan. Children will love all the photographs of the two friends.

There is an author’s note in the back that provides more information about the wildlife preserve where Suryia and Roscoe live, as well as a map indicating where orangutans live in the wild. If you are reading to a group, the map is a little too small for listeners to view without placing it on a document camera.

The engaging topic, fun text, and silly photographs all combine to make this a hit as a read-aloud for younger children.

Guess What Is Growing Inside This Egg; 4 out of 5 stars #bookaday

by Mia Posada
Millbrook Press, Minneapolis, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-8225-6192-7
Description: 29 p. : col. ill. ; 27 cm.
Dewey: 591.4
Subject: Narrative and informational nonfiction; eggs/baby animals; question and answer format
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 4.0
Lexile measure: 890
4 out of 5 stars


Summary from jacket flap: “Look! Animal babies are hatching from their shells. Study the picture and read the clues to find out what animal it will be. Can you guess? The charming verse and enchanting watercolor collages portray the many ways animals care for their eggs and young. This book is filled with fascinating facts about animals, hatchlings, and their environment.”

Evaluation: This book is very similar in style and format to What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? The illustrations are done in a collage format with a close-up on the questioning page, and then a full-view of the animal that hatches from the eggs on the follow-up answer page.
Posada also employs the use of repetition by beginning each section with a four-line hint that rhymes, followed by the question, “Can you guess what is growing inside this/these egg(s)?” The answer is provided by the animal being named, accompanied by a short paragraph that provides basic information about the animal, such as where it lives, how it hatches, and what it does as a baby. Six different animals are featured.

Additional information is at the back of the book. There is a visual that shows the actual size of the eggs compared to each other, a look at the inside of a duck egg, with information about incubation times for each of the animals.

With slightly more text that What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?, this book would be suited for a slightly older audience, or you could select just a few sections to read. Young children would probably get a little restless if you read the entire book.

The rhyming sound, combined with the repeated question, exclamation of the animal name, and informational paragraph all combine to make for different reading sounds. The rhyming hints are sometimes a little awkward to read, so practice beforehand is essential.

The illustrations are visually appealing and little clues to the animal are just visible enough that children will enjoy guessing the animal. The different sounds of the text, combined with the question and answer format and some repeated phrases, make this a good read-aloud with the potential for a lot of interaction with the listeners.

Guess What is Growing Inside This Egg is just as suited for a read-aloud as What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? The audience for Guess should be older than for What, or only portions of the book should be read in one sitting.

Whose Tongue is This? 3 out of 5 stars #bookaday

by Joanne Randolph
PowerKids Press, New York, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4042-4455-9
Description: 24 p. : col. ill. ; 19 x 20 cm.
Dewey: 590
Subject: Expository nonfiction; animal tongues; question and answer format
Interest Level: PreK-1; Reading Level: 2.6
Lexile measure: 590
3 out of 5 stars


Summary from publisher: “Simple text challenges young readers to identify animals based on images and descriptions of their tongues.”

Evaluation: This book is very similar in style to What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins. However, this book is geared for a much younger audience. The question and answer format is similar between the two books, but that is about all.

Whose Tongue is This? has minimal text. The first part of each section has a one sentence question with a short description of the tongue, and the answer is also one sentence that identifies the animal and repeats the description that was in the question.

Whose tongue is small and pink?

This kitten’s tongue is small and pink.

Randolph uses photographs, close-ups and full views of each animals, to keep readers engaged and guessing the animal. There are five different animals featured, and they range from a kitten to a giraffe to lizards.

This book includes a table of contents, page numbers, highlighted keywords, an index, and a website address to find links to additional information.

This would make a great beginning nonfiction read-aloud experience for very young listeners, but is too simple for children over 5.

Pink is for Blobfish

by Jess Keating; with illustrations by David DeGrand
(The World of Weird Animals). Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. ISBN: 9780553512274.
Picture book, informational, explanatory genre
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 4.5
5 out of 5 stars


There is a lot to love in this unique informational picture book by Jess Keating. Keating has a Masters of Science in Zoology, which she has combined with her love of writing to create a new series, The World of Weird Animals. Pink is for Blobfish is the first book in this series, and young readers will learn to think about the color pink in new ways, while learning about seventeen unique animals.

Each two-page spread features a new pink animal, with each animal being introduced by the recurring phrase, “Pink is for…”. A color photo showcasing the animal is accompanied by brief text highlighting basic animal facts. A cartoon drawing of the animal goes with an interesting tidbit that details what makes this animal unique, and finally a sidebar contains all the formal animal information such as species name, size, diet, habitat, and predators & threats. The book includes a map showing where each animal can be found in the world, a glossary, and resources for finding more animal information.
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The book is colorful and visually interesting and will appeal to a wide range of young readers. The text is pretty complex, featuring words such as gelatinous, carrion, and eusocial, so upper elementary students in grades 4 and 5 will find challenges in reading comprehension. All readers, including adults, will learn about lesser known animals in a fun format. People should never view pink as a girly color after reading Pink is for Blobfish!

Pink is for Blobfish could be used as a mentor text to students writing animal reports. It includes basic factual information, throws in bizarre and unique information, and includes captivating photos and fun illustrations.

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You can find out more information about Jess Keating, and blobfish, by visiting her website at http://jesskeating.com/.