Best Foot Forward: exploring feet, flippers, and claws; 5 out of 5 stars #bookaday

by Ingo Arndt
Holiday House, New York, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8234-2857-1
Description: 28 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 23 cm
Dewey: 591.47
Subject: Informational nonfiction; animal adaptations; question and answer format
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 3.5
Lexile measure: 920
5 out of 5 stars
Summary from jacket flap: “Whose foot is this? An intriguing close-up of an animal’s foot invites you to guess. Turn the page to find out if you’re right. You’ll discover that feet aren’t only for walking. Some feet are made for climbing, others for digging, or swimming, leaping, or grasping. A tiger silently stalks its prey on velvet paws. A gecko’s ribbed feet enable it to climb walls as smooth as glass. This book’s guessing game format makes learning about natural adaptation fun.

Evaluation: Overall, <i>Best Foot Forward</i> is an amazing picture book that centers around animal feet and the adaptations that make them well-suited to perform different tasks.

Similar to other question and answer books that I have looked at, this book features an opening two-page spread that repeats the question, “Whose foot is this?” An extreme close-up of the foot accompanies the question. This enables the reader and listener to really examine the foot and see the features that make it unique. Once you turn the page for the answer, you find out what animal’s paw we are examining, as well as a general category that fits the paw. The categories include: feet that walk, feet that climb, feet that swim, feet that dig, feet that jump, and extraordinary feet.

In addition to a full-page view of the featured animal, there is brief information about what makes the paw unique and suited to that animal. There is also a text box that talks about the category of feet and where this type of foot is particularly useful. For “feet that swim,” the text box tells us that “animals that swim need feet that help propel them in water.” Each section doesn’t just focus on one animal; up to four animals and their feet may be discussed.

What makes this book exceptional, is the incredible close-up photographs of the different animal feet. Even the foot of a common animal, like a duck, is fascinating when viewed up close.

<i>Best Foot Forward</i> is not as strong of a read-aloud as <i>What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?</i> While the stunning photographs will engage the same age group and are large enough to be seen in a group setting, the text is not as suited for a read-aloud. There is no narrative flow, so the reading is very choppy.

I would really recommend this book to individual readers, especially if they have just listened to a read-aloud of <i>What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?</i> If they liked the question and answer format of that one, this would make a good recommendation for pleasure reading. The short bursts of text are suited to reluctant readers or those who want to stretch themselves and read something a little above their independent level. The close-ups of feet invite the reader to spend time studying the photographs, which is something that is not suited for a read-aloud. There is also an index to the many animals included in the book, so readers can jump around and read about what interests them most.

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.

Grace’s Thanksgiving; 3 out of 5 stars #bookaday

by Lisa Bullard; illustrated by Katie Saunders
Millbrook Press, Minneapolis, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7613-5076-7
Description: 24 pages : color illustrations ; 26 cm.
Dewey: 394.2649
Subject: Narrative and informational nonfiction; Thanksgiving traditions
Interest Level: K-2; Reading Level: 2.8
Lexile measure: 500
3 out of 5 stars

Summary from jacket flap: “Thanksgiving smells fill the house. Grace is making a list of the things she’s thankful for: yummy food, a loving family, and the fact that her dog didn’t eat all the pies. Find out how people celebrate this special time of year!”

Evaluation: The text of Grace’s Thanksgiving is broken up into four different chapters, focusing on traditions on that day, food we eat, how the holiday came about, and giving thanks. Each page contains only one or two sentences, so the text is not overwhelming for younger readers. The text consists of a narrative thread that tells Grace’s story, as well as text boxes that provide further information and facts. As a read-aloud with young children, the reader could choose not to read the text boxes. They would provide an additional level of information for read-alouds to older elementary students.

Both the text and illustrations have a humorous, cartoon-like feel which will capture children’s attention. The illustrations are easy to see in a read-aloud setting, and help to convey the story. The text flows well when read aloud, and there are opportunities for the reader to pause and engage the listeners in thinking and sharing.

The book includes a table of contents, recipe for making turkey cookies, a glossary that includes the name of other harvest feasts celebrated around the world, resources for additional information, and an index.

Bullard keeps details minimal, but accurately portrays the “first Thanksgiving.” A text box states:

Native Americans and these newcomers didn’t continue to get along. War started in 1675. Thanksgiving is a sad day for some Native Americans. It reminds them of bad times.

Grace’s Thanksgiving makes a good read-aloud for young children up to grade 2.

Giving Thanks: the 1621 harvest feast; 3 out of 5 stars #bookaday

by Kate Waters; photographs by Russ Kendall
Scholastic Press, New York, 2001
ISBN: 978-0-439-24395-7
Description: 40 p. : col. ill. ; 24 x 29 cm.
Dewey: 394.2649
Subject: Narrative nonfiction; Thanksgiving traditions
Interest Level: 2-4; Reading Level: 3.5
Lexile measure: 460
3 out of 5 stars

Summary from jacket flap: “Sometime between September 21 and November 9, 1621, the English colonists, whom we call Pilgrims, and the Wampanoag people shared a harvest celebration. That meal has become known as the First Thanksgiving. This is the story of what may have actually happened during those days, as told by Dancing Moccasins, a fourteen-year-old Wampanoag boy, and Resolved White, a six-year-old English boy. Photographed in full color at the Plimoth Plantation, this fascinating reenactment will let readers experience the time when English colonists settled on the rich and fertile land of the Wampanoag people.”

Evaluation: What makes this story unique is that events surrounding the 1621 harvest feast are told from two different points of view – a Wampanoag boy and an English boy. The narrative moves forward by flowing through the alternate viewpoints.

Photographs accompany the story and show recreations featuring actors in period costume. The author and photographer appear to have worked with the staff of Plimoth Plantation to gather information and recreate the photographic scenes.

While the two narrators in the story are based on historical people, the narrative thread of the story is fabricated on the supposition of the author. The author indicates this in the opening which states, “this is the story of what may have happened during those days.”

The back of the book includes a great deal of additional information about the 1621 harvest feast, as well as information about the reenactment. There is also a glossary and a list of further readings on the subject.

This is an interesting look at the story behind the “first Thanksgiving” that attempts to show both the Native Americans and English in a positive light. It would make for an interesting classroom read-aloud for grades 3 and above. To bring more factual information into the read-aloud, the additional information at the back of the book should also be shared and discussed.

Seeds of Change; 4 out of 5 stars #bookaday

by Jen Cullerton Johnson; illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler
Lee & Low Books, New York, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-60060-367-9
Description: 40 p. : col. ill. ; 26 cm.
Dewey: 333.72
Subject: Narrative nonfiction; biography; Kenya; conservation; environment; women’s rights
Interest Level: 3-6; Reading Level: 4.8
Lexile measure: 820
Awards: Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustrations; YHBA nominee
4 out of 5 stars
Summary from the publisher: “A picture book biography of scientist Wangari Maathai, the first African woman – and first environnmentalist – to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for planting trees in her native Kenya. Detailed narrative and vibrant images paint a robust portrait of this inspiring champion of women’s rights and the environment and engagingly capture the people, clothing and landscape of Kenya.”

Evaluation: This biography not only tells the story of Wangari Maathai, but also provides information about the culture of the Kikuyu people. The text flows chronologically and reads like narrative fiction. Children will be interested to learn that most women are not sent to school and that big corporations at one time were destroying the Kenyan landscape.

The scratchboard and oil illustrations are visually captivating and match the tone and style of the text. They invoke images of a green and colorful country. The illustration style resembles quilts and will keep the read-aloud listeners engaged.

The author’s sources are listed in the back of the book, along with a brief update on Maathai and the Green Belt Movement. I recommend this book for both independent reading as well as read-alouds.

Human Body Theater: a non-fiction revue; 5 out of 5 stars #bookaday

by Maris Wicks
First Second, 2015
ISBN 978-1-62672-277-4
Graphic novel, nonfiction, informational
Interest level: 6-8
Reading level: 5.7
5 out of 5 stars

I absolutely loved reading Human Body Theater: a nonfiction revue by Maris Wicks. The text and illustrations are engaging and fun, while at the same time packing a huge amount of facts and interesting information into a very accessible graphic novel. Formatted as if the reader is watching a stage production, the skeleton emcee tackles 10 systems of the body, as well as the 5 senses. The descriptions and illustrations provide just enough detail to inform, yet are simple enough to be grasped by middle school readers without being offensive or disturbing. I especially love the positive message that Wicks conveys when she repeatedly assures the reader that body functions that we consider embarrassing are actually perfectly natural and that everyone does or has them, such as farts. She also provides related information, such as a sign language alphabet when discussing hearing impairment, or ways to relieve a headache when discussing the brain.

I definitely feel this book should be a part of every middle school and high school library collection. While primarily targeting middle school, this book is great for high school hi/lo reading needs, as well as providing a straightforward explanation that is understandable in ways that textbooks sometimes are not.

I was reading the book with an eye for its inclusion in an elementary school library. There is so much in this book that I can see being a benefit to readers in an elementary school. Our fifth grade does a study on the human body and I believe a text like this would make a great supplemental reading to help students understand the different systems. My only concern is Act 8: the reproductive system.

Wicks provides information on male and female reproductive organs and does an amazing job walking the line between detailing the parts of both organs while also keeping the illustrations abstract enough that they might not have meaning for younger children. Human Body Theater is definitely a book intended for a middle school audience, but I saw discussions on Twitter that indicated reviewers of the book had children as young as six and seven who love the book.

The following journals have reviewed the book and recommend it for different audience levels:

Booklist: grades 5-8
Kirkus Reviews: ages 12-14
Publisher Weekly: ages 10-14
School Library Journal: grades 4-8

I have often recommended books for elementary library collections when reviewers recommend them for grades 5-8. The fact that School Library Journal even lowers the grade to 4th is another factor that would make me feel this book would be appropriate in elementary school.

However, I also searched my school district, as well as two neighboring school districts and found that no elementary schools have Human Body Theater in their collections. Until I can do further research and talk to some teachers in my school, I would have to say that I would highly recommend this book for middle and high school libraries.

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.