Man in top hat and waistcoast lifts a lemur up while 2 nineteenth century children look on.Before you visit the zoo next time, read this book. Then look for all the ways that Abraham Dee Bartlett helped create your zoo experience: informational signs, veterinary care, naturalistic habitat, all of them can be traced back to this self-taught nineteenth century zoo director.

The book begins with Bartlett’s childhood, with one-on-one encounters with wild animals and much private study. We see him get a job as an adult preparing taxidermied animals for display and then finally rejoice with him when he’s named the director of the London Zoo, where he can work with live animals. The book shows Bartlett’s sensitivity to both human visitors and to his animal kingdom residents. He comes up with innovations to make the visitors’ trips more informative and interesting and he insists that animals be treated compassionately, not an obvious proposition in his time.

If you’re looking for a mentor text to teach alliteration, this would be a fun title. As the title promises, there are lots of examples of alliteration within the text: “feel of their fur,” “fulfill his fondest wish,” “camels and coatis, lemurs and leopards.”

Mostly, though, this is a book for zoo-lovers everywhere.

On her website, Maxwell talks about her pastel with paper collage method, used in the illustrations here. One minute book trailer here.  And don’t forget to spend time with the fun endpapers; they’re covered in bits of text and scraps of image that didn’t make the cut into the main text of the book but are, nonetheless, fascinating.

Thanks to one of my favorite blogs, The Nonfiction Detectives, for telling me about this book.

Fur, Fins, and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo by Cassandre Maxwell. (Eerdmans: 2015)

CorneliusSometimes everyday people are the true heroes of history. Here’s a book that celebrates one of those heroes.

Cornelius Washington was a New Orleans trash collector. After Hurricane Katrina, despite the devastation and discouragement, he stayed in his job. Trash collectors like Cornelius were vital to making it possible for others, people from New Orleans and all around the country, to clear out the debris left in the wake of the storm and start a new life.

Phil Bildner makes Cornelius into a folk hero–one who piled bags into “perfect pyramids” and who danced in the streets while he picked up trash–who inspires everyone to work together. The language is infectiously bouncy, full of alliteration (“The barbers, bead twirlers and beignet bakers bounded behind the one-man parade” of  Cornelius) and onomatopoeia (“Hootie Hoo!”) and fun to read aloud.

The back matter carefully draws a line between the invention that is in the story and the nonfiction basis of that invention:

…while Cornelius was certainly a showman, he may not have twirled lids like tops or clapped them like cymbals. He had signals and calls, but they weren’t the exact ones described here. The garbage bags he threw into his hopper probably didn’t land in perfect pyramids….And though he was celebrated and beloved in his neighborhoods, he was not called Marvelous Cornelius.

But he deserves to be.

This book reminded me of the beauty of a life well-lived and of the power we have as individuals to lift others, even when the problems we face are enormous.

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane  Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans, by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra. Chronicle Books: 2015.

daylightDiurnal. Crepuscular. Nocturnal. This book pairs animals who are active at different times of day, implicitly inviting you to see similarities and differences between them (and explaining the technical chronotype terms in the back matter). The paintings are lovely–as one expects with Wendell Minor!–but the language was what most surprised and delighted me. It’s full of vivid words, lots of alliteration, and is fun to wrap your tongue around while reading aloud.

At night, pink-nosed opossum plods through the field and forages for food with her family on her back.

In the back matter, Minor mentions that he has seen all the creatures in this book in his own backyard. What a great challenge, to see how many creatures creep through your yard throughout the day!

Daylight Starlight Wildlife by Wendell Minor. Nancy Paulsen Books: 2015.

Ben Franklin  This book is based on a passage in a letter (helpfully included in the book’s back matter) where Franklin describes his youthful invention of a swimming aid: swim fins and flippers! Using that single paragraph as her starting point, Barb Rosenstock imagines the process young Ben Franklin–or anyone–would follow to invent something new.

The book is a buoyant read. Every page is filled with “s” alliteration in lists of verbs telling what Franklin did to develop his invention:

speculated…stared…sprinted away

sketched…snapped up…shaped…sanded…strung on…strapped on

sprinted…stood…stripped off…strapped…stuck…spread…stomped…splashed in…sunk

And this is just the beginning of the “s” lists! Many of the verbs are helpfully highlighted, which would make this book a dream to teach in a lesson on alliteration.

Ben’s invention doesn’t really work that well. In fact, you could say it was a belly flop. But Rosenstock’s text leaves us with a shiver of giddiness rather than a feeling of defeat.

It’s a fun story about the process of invention, the scientific method, and one of America’s founding father. What’s not to like?

Ben Franklin’s Big Splash: The Mostly True Story of His First Invention by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by S.D. Schindler. Calkins Creek: 2014