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As we have progressed through the animal kingdom over the past few months in our unit studies, the titles on our bookshelf have become progressively more difficult to choose. Sure, books about mammals are plentiful, and there are some all-time classics about birds, but now that we have arrived at our fish-themed unit, the choices are less...inspiring. The main problem is getting around books that are about fishing or starting an aquarium. Once we excluded those, some pleasant choices emerged. As usual, we are emphasizing either non-fiction titles,with a few fiction or poetry books, to round out the choices. Let's dive in. (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)
DK Eyewitness Books: Fish is first on the list, as it represents the kind of kids' science book that we have come to love. The DK series is a reliable source of quality nonfiction books for kids. The layout of each page is what stands out the most: photographs and illustrations that splash across pages, each captioned with very informative text that helps the reader comprehend what is being presented. This book is a broad overview of the world of fish, which is another benefit for the student who wants to explore a new topic as thoroughly as possible. From early fossil specimens, to the wildest and weirdest species, to conservation issues and everything in between. This is a good place to start for solid readers who love fish.
National Geographic Kids Everything Sharks: All the shark facts, photos, and fun that you can sink your teeth into is about the most accurate book title I've ever seen. No questions about what this book is about: sharks, sharks, and more sharks. Indeed, some of the images and facts about these incredible creatures are sobering if not altogether frightening. Yet, to their credit, National Geographic manages to balance out the grim stuff with some light humor and photos of peaceful interactions between shark and man. Basically, this book is a young shark lover's dream. Older shark fans will enjoy it too.
City Fish, Country Fish takes the most creative approach to the problem of making fish more interesting to study. As we noted earlier, fish don't have much in the way of personality, so it's a challenge to entice young readers to read about them. Enter Mary Cerullo and Jeffrey Rotman. It never occurred to me to think of coral reefs as cities, and open ocean as the country, but surprisingly, it works. The focus on habitat adds another dimension to the fish featured in the book; some character to go along with their beautiful colors and elaborate fins and scales. In all, it adds up to a reader-friendly experience, with amazing photography and a narrative style that makes it easier for kids to follow, rather than just bombarding them with facts. It's a refreshing approach that made this book one of the best on our shelf this week.
Parrotfish (Nature's Children. Set 7) is a simple title from one of those book series that fill the shelves at your local library. The Grolier-produced Nature's Children Series is nice enough; they typically feature simple, straightforward writing that kids can read easily and understand, and feature lots of full-color photographs. So why include one here? And why parrotfish? Well, it turns out that one of the best approaches to the problem of making fish interesting is to focus on one species. In the Montessori model, students are encouraged to explore specific topics within a subject area as they work through the elementary years. Having materials available that highlight one species of animal, for example, can really help foster this self-initiated exploration that is so central to the Montessori approach. This is a good example of a book that meets that need perfectly.
Seahorses is another great example of how focusing on one species makes for a more engaging and enjoyable book. Jennfer Keats Curtis and Chad Wallace team up to tell the story of how a baby seahorse grows, develops, mates and raises its' young, all told with simple text and beautiful illustrations. Our kids, especially Princess, seem to really enjoy non-fiction books that are told in a story-like narrative. Seahorses are so unique in nature that a book about the seahorse life cycle is a no-brainer. But, the combination of Curtis' sweet, poetic text with Wallace's soft, dream-like pastels tell the story beautifully while sticking to the facts. A winning formula for most young readers.
Trout, Trout, Trout!: A Fish Chant (American City Series) seems to give up on the question of making fish interesting, by focusing instead on how ridiculous some of their names are. The creative team (Sayre and Park) have produced a handful of children's books in the same style as this one. Park pairs his highly stylized paintings of each fish with the really obscure and hilarious fish names chosen by Sayre. Park seems to really relish illustrating them all of their absurdist glory. The rhymes are fun, and the chant-like nature of the text make it extra fun to read out loud. This is Bulldozer's favorite book on the shelf this week.
The Pout-Pout Fish is the only purely fictional book on our shelf this week, and what a choice it is. Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna seem to have noticed that fish have no real personality, so why not make that the central premise of the book? The pout pout fish just looks sad and repeatedly tells all the other sea creatures that he can't get himself to look at things any other way besides, "blub, bluuub, bluuuuub." That is, until a new fish in the area appears on the scene and takes a different approach to cheering up the old pout pout fish. This story has a lot of fun rhyme schemes and clever fish-related word play, but the moral of the story is the key; positive and simple without being overbearing or heavy-handed. This book has become a huge hit on Amazon and is a New York Times bestseller. For us, the book lives up to it's reputation, for the simple reason that it finally gave us a fish with a personality.
You can look forward to our newest fish unit coming soon!