Welcome to the KidLit Conservation blog. Here, I’ll share the research I do on conservation education for kids, as well as review children’s books that I feel can be powerful teaching tools for zoos, nature centers, and schools to use, both here in North America, and in animal range countries. I hope you’ll join me and scan below for new posts!
Tammy Cloutier’s debut picture book, Painted Dog Pursuit tells the story of Kane, a painted dog living with his pack in Africa. When Kane goes for a hunt with his pack, we are introduced to elephants, giraffes, wildebeests, and lions. Thomas Block’s richly-colored, realistic illustrations pair nicely with Tammy’s short, informative text.
Kane is separated from his pack and must find his way back to them, a theme all children will connect with. And while he does indeed reunite with his family, children will be disappointed that the hunters return to the rest of the pack without food, creating a teachable moment for interpreters who want to build understanding and empathy for predators. A “Did you know?” section on the final page gives five additional fun facts about painted dogs. Tammy hopes to have additional teaching resources on her website in time.
Tammy has worked in AZA facilities (including The Wilds, in Ohio), and is currently pursuing a PhD with a focus on painted dog conservation–her passion. She is generously–an understatement!–donating 100% of the book’s proceeds to painted dog conservation.
This is a must-have book for zoos who teach about the importance and struggles of predators in any habitat, those who teach about African habitats, and of course those who focus on the painted dog.
Painted Dog Pursuit is currently available on Amazon, but if you want a signed copy, you can purchase those by contacting Tammy at the link provided above. And, as the last page promises that Kane’s story is “to be continued,” we’ll be watching for Tammy’s next book too!
Sometime ago, I became fascinated with nocturnal animals. These seemingly invisible creatures, some of which live right outside our back doors, only appear at night. it’s like magic! After I began managing some feral cats, I began seeing skunks and possums regularly and I began referring to them as the night creepers. And, I began thinking about a book about them to introduce kids to both nocturnal animals (a term I find that many elementary kids are familiar with) and crepuscular animals (a term that I find no elementary kids, and very few of their teachers are familiar with).
I decided to create a sleepy, quiet, rhyming text: “Waking up // Noisy pup // Flutter High // Gliding by….” Each stanza has its own page, depicting an animal, and a sidebar of information about that species. The result is a two-leveled book–one that works well for younger children as well as older ones.
Shennen and I hope you enjoy Night Creepers! I’ll post again when the paper copies release.
I have to admit that the reason I grabbed for Laurence Pringle’s latest book was because of the illustration on the cover (Kate Garchinsky). Boyd’s Mills Press’s The Secret Life of the Red Fox is, in a word, gorgeous. It follows a female fox, Vixen, through several months, through the spring, until the fall–prior to the birth of her kits, until they leave her. It contains some very basic information about foxes in the main text, and an authors note at the end fleshes that out further. There is also a glossary and recommended reads at the end.
While kids will be taken in by Vixen’s stories, adults will find themselves wowed by the illustrations. This book could be useful to zoo educators who talk about foxes or crepuscular animals, and is a must-have for educators in nature centers.
I didn’t love Pup the Sea Otter, by Jonathan London (West Winds Press) as much as I wanted to, perhaps because I felt it left many unanswered questions. While it references Pup being wrapped in kelp so he doesn’t float away, it doesn’t describe how this is done. It mentions a pocket under the the otter’s forearm, but doesn’t describe what exactly that is–and because this is intended for young, literal thinkers, I felt this was also warranted. Finally, at 8 months old, Pup seems to miraculously go from living with his mother to other males, with no explanation as to how or why.
Other places, I found the text charming and child-appropriate “He’s too buoyant and pops back up like a rubber duck!”
London’s son, Sean, did a wonderful job with the illustrations. Pup is portrayed as a cutie-pie with kid appeal. The colors are vibrant. I wish we were shown a “raft” of other mothers and pups, so we could know what that is like.
Back matter delves into the value of and threats to sea otters, but overall this book feels thin. While the Author’s Note mentions pollution being the biggest current threat to sea otters, none of that comes out in the story. No mention is made of sea otters as keystone species. Despite these things, skilled interpreters could use this book as a jumping off point when engaging children about these animals.
Grades Pre-K – 3
All Ears, All Eyes, (Atheneum) by Richard Jackson and illustrated by Katherine Tillotson is a special book. Every page of it is a gorgeous, with vivid, blurred color and hidden images–an analogy for the wild world. The rhyming text contains interesting and unexpected rhythms. It focuses, briefly, on many nocturnal animals–owls, bats, raccoons, flying squirrels and more. The text is lovely:
Comes a breeze–they bend and bow–and behind these, beyond those deep in the dark, near to brimming now, Nature’s ark glows…
I wonder, though, if this is more a book for adults than children. Yes, it is gorgeous. Yes, it conjures images in our minds, (though that’s hardly necessary, given the visuals here) but what does it teach children about the natural world?
This is a book that begs to be poured over again and again, so that children can find the abstracted animals on the pages, and listen to the beauty of language. It would be wonderful in the home–a terrific bedtime read. In a teaching setting, it could be paired with another book about nocturnal animals–perhaps this one to follow another, so that children know what is being referred to in this book, given what they have learned in a previous one. Regardless of how it’s used, it’s an undeniable treat for the eyes and the ears that nature lovers will embrace!
Grades Pre-K – 3
I knew Suzi Eszterhas‘s photos shine. I’d seen many of them. So when I picked up Moto and Me (Owlkids Books), I expected to love them. What I didn’t expect, is for her voice to shine just as brightly…and it does.
During the day, lots of animals wandered in and out of camp: hippos, hyenas, and even a friendly bull elephant. …But the most exciting animal encounter I had was with a tiny, helpless wildcat named Moto…
Moto’s family lived on the Masai Mara’s savanna, which in like a sea of grass.
Suzi begins with how she came to Africa as a photographer, and became a foster mom for an orphaned baby serval. She is careful to explain that Moto was never meant to be a pet, and had to be taught the skills to live in the wild. She chronicles, in words and pictures, that journey. Back matter includes a page of serval facts.
This book has wow-power, and though it is not a 5-minute read, could be read in its entirety to older students, or used in classes in sections over the course of a couple days. Sections could also be chosen to stand-alone. A definite pick for zoos, organizations that foster wildlife, and those who are promoting the “keep wildlife wild” message.
Author/photographer Doug Welchsler’s book The Hidden Life of a Toad (Charlesbridge) pretty much covers it all. This 48-page book takes readers from toad eggs (Day 1) through Day 1099, and then to “A new Day 1.” It covers a full life cycle, (minus death) with detailed and rather amazing photographs of all of it.
I enjoyed Doug’s child-friendly language:
“Now the tadpole is fat and round in front with a long skinny tail behind. It has the familiar tadpole shape.”
“Time to look for a home. The toadlet goes hopping, hopping, hopping through the forest. It is hardly bigger than a pea.”
The story concludes with a new batch of tadpoles emerging from eggs, but follows with pages devoted to a glossary, the difference between a frog and a toad, toad facts, saving toads, getting the photos, other books and websites to visit, and even a map of North America showing toad ranges, tucked in the back on a credits page.
This book is a must-have in school libraries, in the homes of nature lovers, and in every nature center in toad range. (Love that, “toad range.”)
Age: 4-8 years
The winners of the 2017 Children’s Choice Book Awards were announced on Wednesday, May 31st. Among them, Once Upon an Elephant took the 3rd-4th grade category, being named “Book of the Year”. Of course illustrator Shennen Bersani and I are thrilled! I have been able to take this book into schools and personally share it’s conservation message (the importance of these animals as keystone species) with 20,000 students in the 1+ years it’s been out. What does this award mean in terms for further reach? Frankly, I have no idea. I know this book will find its way into more libraries and schools. Perhaps it will be used in more zoos’ education departments. Right now, one AZA zoo is looking to take 300 copies into elephant range country to give to schools there (more on that coming soon). It will be interesting to see where the next year leads this little book, now with a national award attached to its name. And like a proud mama, I’ll keep you posted!
In 2015, Kali’s Story, by Jennifer Keats Curtis with photos from John Gomes, took the Children’s Choice Book Award, and it’s no surprise why! Baby polar bear…say no more.
Actually, there are quite a few wonderful polar bear books out there, but this one stands out as a true story of a cub who would have died without the intervention of a zoo. Named after the village near where the orphaned cub was found, this book chronicles the three-month-old’s journey to the Alaska Zoo where his is hand reared over the next three months until he is moved to the Buffalo Zoo where he would have a companion. The photos of Kali are simply adorable!
The back matter consists of information about the arctic, including the tilt of the sun and its effect on light and warmth. It also deals with adaptations of polar bears, and polar bear life cycles. There’s even a section of polar bear math.
Lauren Castillo authors and illustrates this fictional book, Melvin and the Boy (Henry Holt, 2011) about a boy who finds a turtle and takes it home. But in the end, he realizes that Melvin, his turtle, would be happier in the wild. This much-needed lesson for kids is valuable to all of us in conservation–wild things need to be wild! Lauren’s short text works for all ages. Her smudgy paintings are, as always, charming and engaging. (Did I mention that Lauren won a Caldecott Honor last year?) The final pages in the book provide turtle facts, including the important, “Remember to wash your hands before and after handling a turtle to protect each other for illness.” A winner!