Have you been hearing too much lately about how we no longer need children’s nonfiction books because children get all their information from the Internet? Check Keith Schoch’s post about Nurturing a Sense of Wonder with Nonfiction Books at Teach With Picture Books. He reviews a book that actually encourages children to write their own nonfiction books.
Finally, a book about praying mantises that doesn’t perpetuate the myth that female praying mantises always eat their mates. Sandra Markle writes in Praying Mantises: Hungry Insect Heroes, “Scientists report that mantises rarely do this in the wild.” It turns out that the myth was started when people kept praying mantises indoors to observe them. Female mantises require a lot of food to produce eggs and the people who fed them rarely supplied enough. The ravenous females ate anything presented to them at that point. When kept outside, the praying mantis often has enough to eat and her mate doesn’t become lunch.
Sandra Markle starts with a detailed look at the outside and the inside of a praying mantis. This is helpful for someone who has never looked closely at a praying mantis. Throughout the book are fabulous photographs and quick “mantis facts” that help capture a reader’s attention as he or she skims through. At the end, between “Digging Deeper” and the index, there are two activities. The first, strike time, relates to how extremely fast a praying mantis can grab its prey. The activity is easy to do and doesn’t require a mantis. The second is to observe a mantis up close in a jar for a day or two and then let it go. Just remember from above, it is hard to keep a praying mantis well fed.
We have had a praying mantis on the same plant for weeks now. Every morning we check to see that it is still there, and we’ve developed a fond feeling towards it. After reading this book we can now take our observations to another level.
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Library Binding: 48 pages
Publisher: Lerner Publications (December 15, 2007)
If you’d like to see a photograph of our mantis, check my Growing With Science blog praying mantis post.
Babies are always cute, but some people might have trouble with using the words cute and spider in the same sentence. Those readers may change their minds after picking up Sneaky, Spinning Baby Spiders by Sandra Markle. In this book Markle has combined spectacular photographs of baby and adult spiders with carefully crafted text. For example, the photograph on page five of a jumping spider flying through the air as it pounces is amazing.
The accompanying text is exactly the right balance of factual and lively to make it informative and fun to read. It must have been difficult not to slip into anthropomorphism when the subject is babies, but the author kept just the right tone. Markle writes “mother spider,” but not “mom.” She also uses feminine pronouns instead of the neutral “it.” Those touches draw the young reader in.
Although the author has done a great job with the text, I did find one inaccuracy. Whenever an author is not an expert on a topic and has to rely on others for photographs, a chance for errors creeps in. In this case, the spider identified on page 24 as a “slender sac spider,” genus Chiracanthium, is actually a giant crab spider, genus Olios. One the plus side, the photographs also represent spiders from throughout the world, instead of from only one area or continent as so often is the case.
At the end of the book, the map of where the spiders are found is a nice touch. I also like Markle’s paragraph about how she was inspired to write this book by finding a spider’s web intact after a severe storm. It is a warm, personal note that sets the tone for the entire book.
All in all, Sneaky, Spinning Baby Spider is a wonderful addition to any library.
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers (October 28, 2008)
(Borrowed this photo from
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“The North American porcupine waddles through the forests of North America” begins Porcupines by Sandra Markle. As part of the Animal Prey series, this book explains what prey and predators are and how porcupines are prey. Porcupines can defend themselves with their quills, special hairs that are stiff and needlelike.
In contrast, Porcupines by Jen Green starts out with a Fact File summary of information and then asks, “What animal is pricklier than a pincushion?” This version is part of the Nature’s Children, Second Series, a revamped version of the popular earlier Nature’s Children series.
Both books have amazing photographs of porcupines, and in fact it is obvious that some of the photographs came from the same sources. With a larger size, the photographs in Markle’s book are stunning and definitely attract your eye. Green’s smaller format book, however, fits comfortably in smaller hands. While Green’s book starts out with a Fact File summary, Markle’s has a “Looking Back” section at the end, which is an interesting way to review the material.
As far as information, both books cover how porcupines are nocturnal, that they eat plants and that they crave salt. Both mention that porcupines have a waddling gait and that they are surprisingly good swimmers. Markle’s book states that porcupines have a fatty substance on the quills that acts as an antibiotic and protects the porcupines from infection should they stab themselves accidentally. I never thought that a porcupine might be a danger to itself!
Green’s book reveals on page 16 that porcupines smell like “sawdust or old wood.” I have to admit I picked these two books up because I was interested in how porcupines smell. I had seen a television show that listed porcupines in the top 10 smelliest animals. The porcupine at our zoo was named “Stinkerbell.” I had read that the fatty substances on the quills create odors that serve to warn animals away. Somehow, “old wood” doesn’t sound like a warning smell. I guess I have to keep researching that topic.
Overall, Markle’s book might be easier to find for the average parent because the Nature’s Children Series seems to be sold as part of a set for schools or libraries. Both would be helpful and informative to a child who wants to learn more about porcupines.
Porcupines (Nature’s Children, Second Series) by Jen Green
Grolier (Scholastic) Series
7 1/4″ x 8 5/8″
More information available at Scholastic
Porcupines by Sandra Markle
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 39 pages
Publisher: First Avenue Editions (February 2008)