Once Upon an Elephant Wins the #CCBA17

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!


Book Review: Kali’s Story

In 2015, Kali’s Story, by Jennifer Keats Curtis s-l1000with 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.


Book Review: Melvin and the Boy

Lauren Castillo authors and illustrates this fictional book, Melvin-and-the-BoyMelvin 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!


Book Review: Moon Bear

9780805089776Moon Bear (Henry Holt, 2010) written by Brenda Z. Guiberson and illustrated by Ed Young has a short, simple text, perfect for young listeners. It follows a year in the life of a Moon Bear in the simplest, most basic (and lovely) way. Caldecott award-winning Ed Young is one of the most brilliant illustrators of our time, and while his collage illustrations are gorgeous and creative, some young ones will need help understanding the images on a couple of the pages. Luckily, there is back matter that provides photos of Moon Bears. Also in the back matter is an author’s note which includes a discussion of animal sanctuaries for Moon Bears and a “you can help” section. A nice selection for anyone teaching about animal sanctuaries, bears of any sort, life cycles, hibernation,  and Asian animals.


Book Review: Buffalo Music

Buffalo Music (Clarion Books, 2008) by Tracey E. Fern and illustrated by Lauren Castillo, is a beautiful book based on the life of conservationist61Pp180ElVL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_ Mary Ann Goodnight, who is credited with creating the first captive buffalo herd in the 1800s when numbers of buffalo had plummeted. Goodnight eventually used her herd to re-populate Yellowstone National Park. Tracey’s story is told in folksy voice, and Lauren’s loose, child-friendly illustrations draw the reader in. An author’s note at the end gives further information about Molly Ann Goodnight, as well as a suggested reading list for more information on the American Bison.

This book is a great pick for those teaching about North American animals, endangered species, over-hunting, and bringing species back from the brink. The length of the text makes if more appropriate for mid to upper elementary kids. Preschoolers would likely have a difficult time sitting still for this one. Still, a great pick!


Book Review: Been There Done That: Reading Animal Signs

In keeping with the current theme of my month, (which is school author visits with friend and college, Jen Funk Weber, most days this month) I am reviewing Jen’s book, Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs (Arbordale, 2016). 61-+hU9EitL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Jen is a world traveler, having visited a Japan, Africa, Greece, Italy, the Galapagos Islands, and more. However this book focuses on the animals that live right outside her back door, in Alaska. In this book, two children hike in Alaska, looking for wildlife. But wildlife is stealthy, and is often there watching us, even when we don’t see them. Instead, the kids see signs that the animals have been there, have done that. A twist ending, leaves this a very memorable book!

Andrea Gabriel’s beautiful water colors  illustrate the walk, as Helena, the Alaska-living character in the book explains the signs she sees to her friend and visitor, Cole. Through the book, readers get a glimpse into the lives of snowshoe rabbits, salmon, eagles, beavers, moose and bear.  As with all Arbordale books, there are interesting activities in the back matter to further  the learning experience, and a free online teacher’s guide found here.snowshoe-hares-580w

This book would be a wonderful addition to programs dealing with North American animals, or a program that promotes hiking, getting outdoors, or forest therapy (a concept that intrigues me!)

Book Review: Once Upon an Elephant

Sometimes a person has a great idea, and sometimes not. Beginning a blog at the end of April? What was I thinking?

Each year, I spend most of May in schools doing author visits, where I teach on literacy, science, and conservation topics. I hope I can keep up with this blog during this busy time! Since we’re all new here, I figured it would make sense to begin with my current book, Once Upon an Elephant, but I promise that the vast majority of books I share here will be other authors’ books.6a00d8345407c169e201b7c871404a970b-320wi

Once Upon an Elephant came as a direct inspiration from the work I did for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium writing their book, Beco’s Big Year: A Baby Elephant Turns One. While working on Beco, I learned about keystone species. To find out more about how one book led to another, here’s the four-minute video I did to share my story.

Once Upon an Elephant, (Arbordale Publishing, 2016) shows kids how elephants are keystones due to their following actions: digging for water and minerals, maintaining both savanna and forests, creating firebreaks, and even by creating footprints that catch water, forming small pools. To help teachers share the topic further, Arbordale not only has further information and teaching activities in the back of their books, but they also produce free online teaching materials, found here.

Once Upon an Elephant is a finalist in the International Reading Association‘s Children’s Choice Book Awards, as well as Pennsylvania’s Keystone to Reading Book Award. It’s also a recommended book by the National Science Teacher’s Association.