Little Black Ant on Park Street

As some of you may already know, I studied ants in graduate school and I still find them fascinating. Therefore, I was thrilled when I received a copy of Little Black Ant on Park Street by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Kathleen Rietz, the newest installment in the Smithsonian’s Backyard series published by Soundprint. Our family already had several titles from the series that we had enjoyed and we were looking forward to seeing one on ants. Little-black-ant

We were not disappointed. As you would expect with a book labeled with the venerable Smithsonian name, it is a quality nonfiction picture book. As with the other books in this series, it also has a fictional flavor. What do I mean by fictional flavor? The author has created a main character, the little black ant, who experiences rising levels of conflict and finally resolution. Overlaying this rich story is amazingly accurate and up-to-date information about the biology of ants.

The name “little black ant” may sound generic, but it is an actual common name of a species of ant. The choice of this species is interesting because they aren’t the usual fare. The ants are tiny, occasionally considered to be pests, and they don’t have the typical ant lifestyle. For example, the colonies of little black ants have multiple queens, rather than a single queen as many ant colonies do. Tiny might mean they are less noticeable to children in real life, but on the other hand, you have to root for these feisty little ants when a big carpenter ant comes to steal their food.

Janet Halfmann is an experienced writer of children’s books and this is her ninth book with Soundprints. She has done a superb job translating technical jargon into age-appropriate language without losing meaning. I can’t emphasize enough what a wonderful job she did of this difficult task.

The illustrator, Kathleen Rietz, created big, vibrant scenes to tell the story at another level. The large illustrations are perfectly scaled for holding the book up and reading to a group. Everyone will be able to see the action. In the back is a list of “Points of interest” in the book that identify the elements in the illustrations, such as the type of flower shown.

We read the softcover version, but the book comes in a wide variety of options. Both the hardcover and the softcover are available, with or without read-along CD’s. The book also comes in a “microbook” format, with or without a plush toy ant. We have several of the microbooks. They are 5 7/8 inches by 4 3/4 inches, a size which definitely attracts youngsters.

Little Black Ant on Park Street is a marvelous little book, sure to inspire children to learn more about ants and the world around them. With so many options, I’m sure you can find a version that fits your needs.

For related activities, try making marshmallow ants and guarding an ant nest at my Growing With Science blog. Here’s more about the biology of the little black ant.

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Soundprint (December 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1607270021
ISBN-13: 978-1607270027

This book was supplied by the publisher.

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Wild About Nature.

Animal Tongues

Animal Tongues by Dawn Cusick is one of those fun nonfiction books that almost jump off the shelf at you. After all, on the cover is a giraffe sticking its very long tongue out. What child can pass that up?

animal tonguesThis fast-paced book is a perfect introduction to animal tongues, a subject most of us have probably not thought a lot about. Cusick starts with the familiar:  people tongues, dog tongues and cat tongues. With that basic understanding, she then moves into some wilder beasts.

In addition to clear and colorful photographs, and engrossing text, Cusick throws in some lively activities for kids to do. For example, she gives a quick activity to make a comparison of how long our tongue would be if we were a nectar bat. Fun!

Unfortunately, a few facts might have needed a bit more checking. On page 26, the author says “birds that suck nectar have hollow, straw-like tongues.” Okay, she doesn’t say hummingbirds, but my son immediately said, “That’s a myth about hummingbirds, mom.” I looked it up, and sure enough hummingbirds do not have tongues like straws. See for example, this website about hummingbird anatomy. Maybe she meant some other nectar-feeding birds.

On page 31 we ran into something I knew more about. In this case, she says a house fly has a “tongue like a soda straw.” After years of giving insect mouthpart demonstrations, I know house fly mouthparts are actually more like sponges. It’s too bad she missed this, because having a sponge for a tongue is really cool.

In any case, this is still a highly entertaining book. I think it is a good way to get children interested and inspired to find out more about animals.

If you want to learn more about human tongues and the sense of taste, I put up a few related activities at my Growing With Science blog, plus a video of a flower fly using its tongue to feed on a dandelion flower.

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 36 pages
Publisher: EarlyLight Books, Inc.; 1 edition (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0979745519
ISBN-13: 978-0979745515

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Wendie’s Wanderings.

Dragonflies of North America for Children

Dragonflies of North America: A Color and Learn Book With Activities by Kathy Biggs and Tim Manolis (Illustrator) is not your average coloring book. First of all, the author has written two field guides to dragonflies, as well as maintains a website about the dragonflies of California. You can tell by the quality of the text that she has a great understanding of, as well as passion for, dragonflies. Did you know that dragonflies often perch with only four legs, and use their front legs to wipe their eyes like windshield wipers? This book is filled with interesting information as well as the illustrations that are meant to be colored. dragonflies-of-north-america

Dragonflies of North America covers the basics nicely, such as the differences between dragonflies and damselflies, and the dragonfly life cycle. Then the author presents the characteristics of a number of different kinds of dragonflies, with enough detail so you could actually distinguish one from another. Although written for children, this is one of those books that is also perfect for the interested adult beginner.

The best part is that there is not one correct way to color the pages. In the “Publisher’s Note” right in the front of the book states that the colors of many dragonflies change as they get older (No wonder I have always had trouble telling the apart.) Children are encouraged to look up other pictures of the dragonflies, in addition to those provided inside the covers, and decide what colors they want to choose. Another activity would be to visit a lake or wetlands to observe the colors first hand.

You also might want to check this webpage where Kathy Biggs discusses her road to becoming an author. It all started when she put a pond in her yard. Now there’s an idea of a great project with children!

Note to Librarians: Although this book is consumable, it is also available as a CD.

Paperback: 48 pages
Publisher: Azalea Creek Pub (June 21, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0967793440
ISBN-13: 978-0967793443

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Simply Science.

Nic Bishop Butterflies And Moths

In most areas it is probably too cold for butterflies and moths to be active, but here in Arizona you can still see quite a few. You can spot monarchs on their long migrations to Mexico or California, as well as queens, painted ladies and fritillaries. What a perfect time to pick up Nic Bishop Butterflies and Moths.

butterflies-and-moths

The insects are the star in Nic Bishop’s book and when you open it, the photographs bring those insects right to your fingertips. Shot from unusual angles and incredibly close up, you can see adult butterflies, moths and caterpillars in detail that speaks volumes. This book would be a conversation piece even if it didn’t have a single word, but Bishop manages to create a lively and informative text as well.

In addition to nailing the text, Bishop gives proper emphasis to the immature stages, with 14 pages devoted to caterpillars and pupae. The double gatefold of a butterfly in flight is sure to induce some gasps of astonishment. Amateur photographers are going to immediately ask, “How did he do that?” In the real treasure of the book, Nic Bishop writes in the end how he captured some of the wonderful photographs. It is in this section his passion and incredible hard work reveals itself. For one shot, he jumped on a plane for a flight to Costa Rica to photograph one rare caterpillar!

Actually, knowing how much he put into the photograph of the caterpillar that mimics a snake I can not criticize at all, but I really wish he had included a small photo of what the caterpillar looks like normally. I bet children would have been even more amazed at the transformation from mild-mannered caterpillar to ferocious snake.

Nic Bishop has made a well-deserved name for himself as a photographer and author of children’s books. His previous books have won numerous honors, and this book is clearly of the highest caliber. It has been nominated for the Cybils award in the category of nonfiction picture book.

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Nonfiction (March 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0439877571
ISBN-13: 978-0439877572

Nic Bishop Butterflies And Moths by Nic Bishop

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at bookstogether.