Review of How Old Is a Whale? by Lily Murray, illustrated by Jesse Hodgson

How Old Is a Whale?

Animal Life Spans from the Mayfly to the Immortal Jellyfish

by Lily Murray
illustrated by Jesse Hodgson

Big Picture Press (Candlewick), 2023. First published in the United Kingdom in 2022. 64 pages.
Review written April 22, 2024, from a library book.

Here’s an oversized awesome-for-poring-over children’s cool animal facts book that looks at them from the perspective of how long do these creatures live? The subtitle gives away the beginning (Mayfly: 5 minutes to 24 hours) and ending (Immortal jellyfish: Immortal, in a manner of speaking) creatures. In between, there are 25 others, including the Monarch Butterfly (2 weeks to 8 months), Periodical Cicada (17 years), Trapdoor Spider (Female: 20 to 40 years; Male: 5 to 7 years), Echidna (45 years), Orange Roughy (100+ years), and Glass Sponge (11,000 years). Each creature is featured in a page or spread with lots of interesting facts about them and about their lifespan.

Here was an interesting fact I hadn’t known:

At birth, all mammals (other than humans) have the same lifetime supply of heartbeats: a limit of around one billion. Smaller mammals tend to live shorter lives than larger mammals because their hearts beat more quickly. This is particularly true of the Etruscan shrew, one of the world’s smallest mammals, which burns through its heartbeats at a furious rate of up to 1,500 beats per minute.

I was also alerted to the impact of lifespan on conservation in the text about the Orange Roughy fish, whose lifespan is over 100 years long:

They take at least twenty years to mature, grow very slowly, and do not breed every year. It is this slow-paced life that has made them so vulnerable to overfishing. It was once thought that orange roughy only lived for thirty years, and it was presumed they would cope with being fished in huge numbers, with their populations recovering quickly. Instead, their numbers crashed. Even in places where fishing for orange roughy has been restricted, it will take fifty years or more for the population of these remarkably long-lived fish to recover.

We’ve all known the kid who likes collecting interesting facts about unusual animals. This book will satisfy any such appetite.

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Review of The Bug Girl, by Sophia Spencer with Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Kerascoët

The Bug Girl

(A True Story)

by the Bug Girl herself, Sophia Spencer,
with Margaret McNamara
illustrated by Kerascoët

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020, 40 pages.
Starred Review
Review written 02/20/2020 from a library book

This picture book is written in the voice of the author, who is a fourth-grade student – and does a marvelous job of telling other kids that it’s okay to love bugs.

Sophia begins with her first encounter with a bug – when she was two years old, in a butterfly conservatory, one butterfly landed on her and decided to stay the whole time she walked around the conservatory.

After that, Sophia became obsessed with bugs. She got books and videos about them and learned all she could about them. She collected bugs, and her mom let her keep them out on the porch.

In Kindergarten, other kids thought Sophia’s obsession with bugs was cool. But that changed when she got to first grade. Now they started teasing her and calling her weird. There’s a very sad page in that section:

Then I brought a grasshopper to school. I thought the kids would be so amazed by the grasshopper that they’d want to know all about it. But they didn’t. A bunch of kids crowded around me and made fun of me.

“Sophia’s being weird again,” one of them said.

“Ew! Gross!” said another. “Get rid of it!”

Then they knocked that beautiful grasshopper off my shoulder and stomped on it till it was dead.

Sophia became afraid to talk about the bugs she loved. She continued to be teased and excluded at school and called weird. She thought she’d have to give up her passion.

But Sophia’s mother was sad to see her so unhappy.

She wrote an email to a group of entomologists asking for one of them to be my “bug pal.” She wanted me to hear from an expert that it was not weird or strange to love bugs and insects. “Maybe somebody will write back,” said my mom.

“Maybe,” I said.

“Or at least call.”

We thought those scientists would be too busy to respond.

But an email came from an entomologist named Morgan Jackson who asked to put the letter online.

He asked other bug scientists – all around the world – to let me know if they had any advice for a girl who loves bugs.

That set off a flood of responses, with a hashtag: #BugsR4Girls

I couldn’t believe how many people around the world loved bugs as much as I did. And how many of them were grown-up women!

Some were scientists who wrote about the work they do in their labs. Others shared videos of themselves with bugs on their arms and sent pictures of themselves hunting bugs in the wild.

The response also set off more publicity of its own – Sophia got interviewed by newspaper reporters and even appeared on television.

Now, as a fourth-grader, Sophia has many other interests, but she still loves bugs.

This picture book presents all this in a child-friendly way with bright pictures and simple text. At the back are six pages of cool bug facts from Sophia.

margaretmcnamara.net
rhcbooks.com

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Review of The Superpower Field Guide: Ostriches, by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Frith

The Superpower Field Guide

Osriches

by Rachel Poliquin
illustrated by Nicholas John Frith

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 96 pages.
Review written April 23, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is the second Superpower Field Guide, and I just put the first one written, Beavers on hold. These are some of the most entertaining books about animals I’ve ever read.

The tone is conversational, directly addressing the reader. Although the writer includes scientific terms, she starts out with kid-friendly descriptions, so it’s all easier to understand.

To give you an example, here she is talking about Superpower #7, the Impossible Ever-Flow Lung:

First, bird lungs aren’t balloons. They are stiff tubes. The fancy word for these tubes is parabronchi, but I’ll just call them tubes. At either end, these tubes are connected to balloons – seven to twelve in total, depending on the bird. Ostriches have ten. These balloons take up about a fifth of the space in a bird’s body – that’s a lot! They squeeze around a bird’s organs; some are even inside its hollow bones.

Now, bird balloons are part of the whole lung system, but they are not actually lungs. And they are not made from millions of tiny alveoli like your lungs. They are just basic balloons. They all have names, but I’ll keep it simple. I’ll divide them into two balloon teams: TEAM FRESH and TEAM STALE.

What follow is an explanation, with diagrams, of how breathing works for ostriches (and other birds) so that fresh air is always flowing through their lungs, whether they’re breathing in or out – an amazing fact that I certainly didn’t know before reading this book.

Rachel Poliquin is good at making amazing facts about animals sound amazing. That’s the whole focus of the Superpower Field Guides. The superpowers she attributes to ostriches are: Colossal Orbs of Telescopic Vision, Thighs of Thunder, Toe Claws of Death, Super-fantastic Elastic Striders, Two-toed Torpedoes, Do-it-all Dino Flaps, the Impossible Ever-Flowing Lung, Epic Endurance, the Egg of Wonder, and the Hydro-hoarding Heat Shield.

Reading these books, you do realize how surprising some of these abilities truly are. These are the kinds of books I want to read more of because they’re so interesting, and I have no doubt they’ll have the same effect on kids.

rachelpoliquin.com
nicholasjohnfrith.com
hmhco.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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*Note* To try to catch up on posting reviews, I’m posting the oldest reviews I’ve written on my blog without making a page on my main website. They’re still good books.

Review of Nature’s Ninja, by Rebecca L. Johnson

Nature’s Ninja

Animals with Spectacular Skills

by Rebecca L. Johnson

Millbrook Press, 2020. 48 pages.
Review written May 1, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This book was made to be booktalked to elementary age kids! I wish we were doing in-person booktalks this year, but I’m going to make a note to myself to be sure to include this book next year.

The book presents nine ninja skills, with their Japanese names, and then nine animals that demonstrate those skills in amazing ways.

I also want to say that books about animals with strange characteristics are a booktalking staple, but I hadn’t heard about any of these abilities before, except maybe the sticky feet of the gecko – but I didn’t know why they are so sticky, or about their microscopic suction cups.

The most striking skill to me was the same one the author said prompted her to write the book — shuriken-jutsu, Ninja throwing stars. It turns out that the collector sea urchin throws small parts of itself at predators. They’re shaped like mini-throwing stars, and they open and close their jaws to bite a would-be attacker.

Other animal ninjas include the sailfish with its sword-wielding skills, the alkali fly and its ability to stay dry underwater, ground spiders with their abilities to throw web silk to attack, and fish-scale geckos that easily escape by releasing their scales and skin.

Each chapter features a ninja skill and an animal or animals that demonstrate the skill. Then in “The Science Behind the Story,” we learn how scientists discovered this animal’s amazing abilities.

This book is short at only 48 pages, but it packs a lot of surprising science.

rebeccajohnsonbooks.com
lernerbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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*Note* To try to catch up on posting reviews, I’m posting the oldest reviews I’ve written on my blog without making a page on my main website. They’re still good books.

Review of Butt or Face? Revenge of the Butts, by Kari Lavelle

Butt or Face?

Revenge of the Butts

Can You Tell Which End You’re Looking At?

by Kari Lavelle

Sourcebooks eXplore, 2024. 48 pages.
Review written April 19, 2024, from a library book.
Starred Review

They’re back! The wildly popular kid-pleaser Butt or Face? has a sequel!

Kari Lavelle didn’t change the winning format. You’ve got close-up photographs of an unusual creature’s front end or back end. And the question is posed:

Is it a BUTT or a FACE?

Turn the page for the reveal, where you see the full animal, including how the part you’ve already seen fits into the whole. Pertinent facts are displayed about the animal and how it’s particular butt or face helps it live its life (if this is known).

The animals featured in this book include such goodies as a warty frogfish, a dugong, an axolotl, and an alien butt spider.

I like the Author’s Note at the back that tells us the author got the idea when she read about farmers in Botswana painting eyes on the behinds of cattle to scare away lions.

These books are a fantastic way for your child to pick up trivia about wild animals and have giggling fun while they’re doing it. Who could ask for anything more?

karilavelle.com
sourcebookskids.com

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Review of Little Larry Goes to School, by Gerry Ellis with Mary Rand Hess

Little Larry Goes to School

The True Story of a Timid Chimpanzee Who Learned to Reach New Heights

by Gerry Ellis
with Mary Rand Hess

National Geographic Kids, 2019. 32 pages.
Review written October 7, 2020, from a library book

Here’s a sweet picture book, beautifully illustrated with photographs, about an orphaned chimpanzee baby who was afraid to climb trees.

It’s all a true story and they took plenty of heart-warming photos along the way. Little Larry suffered an accident that injured him and left him an orphan when he was only a few days old (and that’s all the detail they give about the accident). So human caregivers at a sanctuary in Africa cared for him and nursed him back to health.

Little Larry had to learn how to live with other chimpanzees in the forest of the sanctuary. This book shows the process he went through, with plenty of cute photos of Little Larry.

Little Larry’s new chimp companions had fun jumping and climbing in the trees, but Little Larry preferred the forest floor. The book shows the slow process Little Larry went through to overcome his fear and learn to climb with the others.

There’s fun information at the back, including a page “Speak like Little Larry” that shows three of the sounds Larry makes – the Food Grunt, the Play Face, and the Pant-Hoot – what they mean, and how to imitate him.

This book is visually so interesting, if I ever get to booktalk in the schools again, it will be an easy winner. The message of overcoming your fears – even if you’re a chimp – is inspiring as well.

natgeokids.com

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Review of The Spirit of Springer, by Amanda Abler, illustrated by Levi Hastings

The Spirit of Springer

the Real-Life Rescue of an Orphaned Orca

by Amanda Abler
illustrated by Levi Hastings

Little Bigfoot (Sasquatch Books), 2020. 52 pages.
Review written July 27, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

The Spirit of Springer is in picture-book format, but it tells a sophisticated story of an orphaned baby orca who had traveled hundreds of miles from her pod and was rescued by scientists.

In 2002, a little orca on her own was discovered in Puget Sound, near Seattle. First, it took scientists to figure out where she belonged and which pod she had come from. Using her calls as well as other data, they determined that she was three hundred miles away from her family and that she was an orca who had been named Springer.

She was also in poor health and was not doing well on her own. The scientists also established that her mother was dead, but they needed to figure out how to get her back to her family.

This book tells about that endeavor, which was ultimately successful. It uses the perspective of two scientists who worked on the project, with notes in the back about many more people who were involved, along with more details about the pod where Springer belonged.

I expected a light-hearted, shallow story about saving an orca when I saw the cover. What I got was a detailed and inspiring story of the best efforts of humans to bring a little creature back to her family.

I thought it was especially fascinating how much is known about orca sounds and dialects. They know enough to be able to determine this when Springer was brought back to the waters of her family (in a holding pen until scientists were sure she was ready for release).

For a moment, Springer fell silent. This was the first time she had heard another orca calling in her dialect in over a year. She was so excited she could only make nonsense whale sounds, just like someone might scream, “Ahhh!” when surprised at a birthday party.

Besides giving so many scientific details, this book also is written with heart. You come to love Springer and cheer at the happy outcome.

SasquatchBooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of How Do Bridges Work? by Roman Belyaev

How Do Bridges Work?

by Roman Belyaev

b small publishing, 2020. First published in Russian in 2020.
Review written August 6, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This book does exactly what the title suggests – clearly explains how bridges work. There are plenty of pictures to help the reader understand.

Along the way, they show many actual examples. They look at the different ways bridges are structured and actual examples of each. Then the book looks at the many different ways bridges have been built.

In the back, there’s a fun section about actual bridges. We see the most unusual bridges, record-breaking bridges, and iconic bridges, finishing up with bridges in mythology and bridges in art.

I liked this bit of insight introducing record-breaking bridges:

Since there is no standard way to design or build a bridge, all world records are a relative concept. For example, to name the tallest bridge, first we have to specify what we mean by “height”: the height of the road deck or the height of the entire structure itself, including the pylons.

Once I opened this book, I couldn’t stop reading. The concepts are presented logically and clearly, and the reader will discover that bridges can be fascinating.

bsmall.co.uk

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Mars Is, by Suzanne Slade

Mars Is

Stark Slopes, Silvery Snow, and Startling Surprises

by Suzanne Slade

Peachtree, 2021. 48 pages.
Review written July 28, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This book consists of close-up photographs of Mars, enhanced with color, taken by HiRISE, an advanced camera on a spacecraft orbiting Mars. The pictures are highlighted with simple text printed in very large letters, and then more detailed text explaining a little more.

Here’s an example of a spread that features an interesting swirly and sparkly photograph:

Mars is slippery snow and ice,

During winter, these sandy dunes in the Northern Hemisphere of Mars become covered with snow and big sheets of dry ice. When the sun shines in springtime, the ice begins to crack. soon, gas escapes up through the cracks and carries dark sand to the surface, painting beautiful, swirling designs.

Because the book has the simple and large text, you could use this book even with preschoolers, simply focusing on the general ideas. As kids get older, they’ll be fascinated by the details.

And anyone – child or adult – will enjoy looking at these amazing images from another world.

suzanneslade.com
peachtree-online.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

*Note* To try to catch up on posting reviews, I’m posting the oldest reviews I’ve written on my blog without making a page on my main website. They’re still good books!

Review of Encyclopedia of Strangely Named Animals, Volume One, by Fredrik Colting & Melissa Medina, illustrated by Vlad Stankovic

Encyclopedia of Strangely Named Animals

Volume One

by Fredrik Colting & Melissa Medina
illustrated by Vlad Stankovic

Moppet Books, 2020. 52 pages.
Review written November 14, 2020, from a library book

This book is too much fun not to write a review. This “Encyclopedia” is for young readers. It lists twenty-eight strangely named animals. Each animal gets at least a page, sometimes two, with a large picture and a short and simple paragraph about the animal. It’s straightforward – but so much fun to browse.

Here’s an example, without the impressive pictures:

Sarcastic Fringehead

The Sarcastic Fringehead is a small fish with a very big mouth that makes its home in empty shells off the coast of California. When two Sarcastic Fringeheads get into a territorial argument over a shell, they settle it by pressing their huge mouths against each other. And just like sarcastic people, whoever has the biggest mouth is the one who wins the argument.

Other strangely named animals listed here include the Chicken Turtle, Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla, Sparklemuffin (a kind of Australian spider), Pleasing Fungus Beetle, White-Bellied Go-Away Bird, Pink Fairy Armadillo, Boops Boops, Tasseled Wobbegong, and Striped Pajama Squid. This book is a delight for curious people of all ages.

moppetbookspublishing.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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*Note* To try to catch up on posting reviews, I’m posting the oldest reviews I’ve written on my blog without making a page on my main website. They’re still good books!