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.


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.

Into the Deep with William Beebe

The first thing you notice about the reviews of Into the Deep: The Life of Naturalist and Explorer William Beebe by David Sheldon is that they are all about William Beebe. David Sheldon has done such a great job of presenting his subject that details of the book are in the background. William Beebe is the star from page one.


And what an exciting star he is. A naturalist, explorer and prolific writer, William Beebe accomplished a great deal in his lifetime. Although called Into the Deep in reference to Beebe’s record breaking descent into the ocean in the pioneering Bathysphere, the story actually covers Beebe’s entire life. Beebe explored nature around his home and made collections as a child. He even had an owl for a pet. Later he traveled around the world, first on collecting expeditions and later to study animals in their natural habitat. After his retirement, he founded a research station in Trinidad. He was a man of many hats, being a naturalist, pioneer in the field of ecology, explorer of ocean depths, and an ardent conservationist. To paraphrase David Sheldon, William Beebe did what many of us only dream about (after all, who gets to have an owl as a pet?)

As for the book, you have to admire people who are more than capable as authors and illustrators, too. David Sheldon has done a lovely job capturing both the exotic animals Beebe encounters and the look of wonder and joy on Beebe’s face. At the end is a “Diving Deeper into the Story” section with more details of Beebe’s life and quotes from his books. A glossary and list of resources are also included, making this book a very useful reference as well as an interesting biography.

I didn’t know much about William Beebe before reading Into the Deep. Now I can’t wait to find Beebe’s books listed in the “Resources” and read more about his adventures.

If you are interested in some ocean-inspired activities, try my Growing With Science blog.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing; New edition (July 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1580893414
ISBN-13: 978-1580893411


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 Playing by the Book.

Sibert Award Winner Announced

This year’s Sibert Award winner was announced this week. The Sibert Award is for the American Library Association’s choice for the most distinguished informational book of the year.

And the Sibert Medal goes to:
Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, by Tanya Lee Stone, published by Candlewick Press

Sibert Honor Books
The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tony Persiani, published by Charlesbridge.

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 written and illustrated by Brian
Floca, published by Richard Jackson/Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip
Hoose, published by Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, an imprint
of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

Congratulations everyone!

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


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.