A Frog’s Life by Irene Kelly, illustrated by Margherita Borin

Published by Holiday House

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Summary:  A thorough look at frogs and toads (according to this book, a toad is a kind of frog; personally, I can never remember the distinctions) that includes anatomy, habitat, reproduction, and prey and predators.  Each page includes labeled watercolor illustrations of a great variety of frogs. The last couple pages discuss the different reasons why frogs are endangered, and the back matter includes ways kids can help them, as well as an index.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  Whether a reader is interested in research or simply learning more about frogs, this book would make an excellent starting place.  The information is engagingly presented, and the large colorful illustrations will appeal to amphibian aficionados.

Cons:  A list of additional resources would have been a nice addition to the back matter.

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Camp Panda: Helping Cubs Return to the Wild by Catherine Thimmesh

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Pandas almost disappeared from China after poaching and habitat destruction nearly wiped them out.  Yet over the last few decades, the number of pandas has slowly risen, thanks to intensive conservation efforts.  The author examines both the issues of what caused their decline and how scientists have slowly helped reintroduce pandas into the wild.  Early efforts didn’t always succeed, and these are documented as well. Interestingly, there are those who believe pandas should be allowed to die out as part of the natural order, and this point of view is also explored.  The final chapter summarizes successes, not only in the panda conservation movement, but in helping other endangered species. Includes glossary, sources, index, and a list of ways to help endangered species. 64 pages; grade 4-7.

Pros:  Sibert medalist Catherine Thimmesh (Team Moon) gives a complete, engaging picture of the state of the panda, an animal whose adorableness has led to it becoming the face of the World Wildlife Fund.  And speaking of adorable, readers of all ages will enjoy the many photos illustrating the text.

Cons:  I know they’re an important part of the conservation process, but it’s hard for me to take the guys in panda suits seriously.

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Misunderstood Shark by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Scott Magoon

Published by Orchard Books

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Summary:  A crew of underwater creatures is interviewing Shark to present fun facts to the folks watching back home.  Shark keeps getting doing shark-ish things, like eating a baby seal or going after a human who has a cut on his knee. When caught, he always has an excuse: “I was just helping her find her family!” “I brought boo-boo strips!”  Interspersed with the hi-jinks are some actual facts about sharks. Shark feels so misunderstood that he needs a hug; the squid broadcaster provides one, but then gets eaten…or is Shark really just playing hide and seek? The show signs off with a voice from inside Shark’s stomach.  48 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Who wouldn’t love a goofy shark story?  There will be plenty of laughs in the audience, both from the text and the illustrations.

Cons:  I can’t help being a bit disturbed by the ending.

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A Round of Robins by Katie Hesterman, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

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Summary: A male and female robin build a nest; before long, there are four eggs inside. Twelve days later, the babies hatch. After a period of mostly sleeping and eating, the fledglings are ready to fly. They learn to find their own food and defend themselves, and before long, Mom and Dad have an empty nest. Not for long, though; the mother lays four more eggs, and twelve days later….40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros: The first part of a robin’s life cycle is described with playful rhymes and cute illustrations that reminded me of P. D. Eastman’s The Best Nest and Are You My Mother?

Cons: Some back matter would have helped explain some of the poems and made this more useful as an informational book.

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They Lost Their Heads: What Happened to Washington’s Teeth, Einstein’s Brain, and Other Famous Body Parts by Carlyn Beccia

Published by Bloomsbury

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Summary:  17 chapters recount the fates of the body parts in the title, as well as Sarah Bernhardt’s leg, Vincent Van Gogh’s ear, Elvis’s wart, and more.  Each chapter is followed by several more short tales of relevant anatomy.  20+ pages between the last two chapters go into greater detail about cloning, stealing body parts, and some pretty disgusting food and beverage trivia.  The writing is breezy and irreverent, with lots of humorous footnotes, and there are plenty of illustrations throughout.  Includes an extensive bibliography and index.  192 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  The humor targets the age group perfectly; readers will enjoy grossing out their peers and elders while inadvertently learning some history and science.  The black and white etchings reminded me a little bit of Edward Gorey’s art.

Cons:  Some of the stories, particularly those involving ingesting body parts and fluids, were a little over the top for me.  But then, I am not a 12-year-old boy.

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The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill

Published by Groundwood Books

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Summary:  As she did in The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, Jan Thornhill tells the story of the interaction between birds and humans.  This one has a happier ending, though, as house sparrows have proven to be incredibly adaptable, often becoming pests that feed on agricultural grains.  The birds have spread around the globe with humans, traveling on ships with Roman soldiers to Great Britain and being introduced to the United States by homesick immigrants.  Despite their peskiness, sparrows also eat a lot of insects, as Chairman Mao discovered in 1958; his campaign against the Eurasian Tree sparrows led to a devastating famine in China. In the early 1980’s, the population of sparrows began to fall, and the author offers several theories–all of them based on human factors–for this decline.  In some places, this is starting to level off, offering hope that the house sparrow’s adaptability is helping it to survive in a changing world. Includes a map showing where the house sparrow lives; its life cycle; a glossary; and additional resources. 44 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Beautifully illustrated and engagingly narrated, this informational book will help students learn more about animal adaptation and the relationship that exists between humans and animal species.

Cons:  I’ve always thought sparrows were kind of cute, and didn’t realize they are considered “the most despised bird in human history.”

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Baby Animals Moving by Suzi Eszterhas

Published by Owlkids

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Summary:  Young animals are shown on the move.  Some, like the zebra, can move independently practically at birth, while others, like kangaroos, get a ride with parents.  Each two page spread shows one or two animals moving with their parents, and includes a sentence or two of text describing what’s going on.  Suzi Eszterhas introduces herself on the last two pages, showing additional photographs taken for this book, and explaining a bit about her work as a wildlife photographer.  24 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  Another work of almost unbearable cuteness by Suzi Eszterhas.  Kids will love looking at the pictures, and the text is accessible for preschoolers.  Look for other books in this series: Baby Animals Eating and Baby Animals Playing.

Cons:  There’s not a lot of information if readers are doing any kind of research.

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