crabsThis book (by my critique partner, Lisa Kahn Schnell) came in the mail today and our whole family sat down together to read it aloud. It’s packed with fascinating information about horseshoe crabs and the web of life they’re part of. The book is structured around a series of elegantly simple two word sentences, one on each spread of the book:

“They’re coming…It’s happening…They’re feasting…”

Those sentences tell the story concisely; they’d be great to read by themselves to wiggly toddlers. But my fifth and sixth grader lapped up the more in-depth information also included on each spread. Unready for the book to end, we read the back matter aloud together, too (did you know that almost every medical device doctors use on you is dependent on horseshoe crabs?).

Now we just have to plan a trip to Delaware Bay during horsehoe spawning season.

High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs, by Lisa Kahn Schnell, illustrated by Alan Marks. Charlesbridge: 2015







I loved this collection of poems, each about a different species of bird. The language was vivid and evocative, the rhythms and rhymes surprising and satisfying. Plus, all the poems were short.

This would be a great read-aloud, both at home and school, and a great mentor text before going outside to do nature drawing and writing. Plus, the poems are really fun!  Just one to whet your appetite:

The Oriole and the Woodpecker

Music lovers fast await

the first duet

of summer.

Oriole is vocalist.

Woodpecker is drummer.

On the Wing by David Elliott, illustrated by  Becca Stadtlander. Candlewick: 2014.



I was fascinated by the structure of this story. The first half of the book seems to be a natural history of peregrine falcons. We see a pair return to their nest, watch the male display for the female, and see them hunt. We see the mother lay a clutch of eggs.

Then, suddenly, there is a human in the illustration. She’s rapelling down the side of the cliff, where the nest is, and she steals the eggs! We’re as mystified as the birds, but they get on with their lives and lay a second clutch of eggs. Tragically, all but one of the eggs breaks before chicks hatch.

And there, in the middle of the book, we move away from the natural history and learn about what made the falcon eggs so dangerously thin and brittle: the pesticide DDT. We watch a protest against DDT, and breathe in relief as it is banned.

In the concluding section of the book, we see what the scientists are doing to help the peregrine falcons recover. We get to see those chicks, hatched from the stolen eggs, and watch how the scientists work with them to preserve their species.

The illustrations of the peregrine falcons are beautiful, and it’s a fascinating and inspiring book that gets into the nuts and bolts of what it takes to help a species back from the brink of extinction.

Skydiver: Saving the Fastest Bird in the World, by Celia Godkin. Pajama Press: 2014.


“Every September the great white sharks return to San Francisco. Their hunting grounds, the Farallon Islands, are just thirty miles from the city. While their 800,000 human neighbors dine on steak, salad, and sandwiches, the white sharks hunt for their favorite meal.”

This opening catapults us into the hunt. And what are those great white sharks hunting for? Katherine Roy builds up suspense with a series of brilliant page turns (in which I was wondering–is it people?) until we see that they are hunting seals.

After that engaging, page-turning opening, the book is organized to give us details, page by page, of the process of a shark actually consuming that yummy prey, the seal. We learn why the seal is an ideal food source for the shark, how the shark’s body helps him move as a hunter, how the shark’s jaws actually function during an attack, and much, much more.

There’s even a subplot to this book! Just when it feels like the book is coming to an end, Roy introduces the scientists who are trying to study the sharks, and we learn how they study them and what they’ve learned from those studies.

Roy’s watercolor illustrations are gorgeous (even if they are a bit gory). The book is absorbing and fascinating–a definite page turner!

Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands, by Katherine Roy. Roaring Brook Press: 2014.

best noses

Sorry, we don't have that EAN, yet In this inventive nonfiction picture book, each page is written in the voice of an animal who is arguing about why its nose (or ear or eye) is the “best.” These are great examples of persuasive writing, and along the way we learn a lot about how animals specialize to fit their individual environmental niches.

This form begs to be replicated: choose another animal or another body part, and make your best argument. It would be a great mentor text when teaching persuasive writing, or even a fun springboard for dinnertime debate.

This book is a translation from the Swedish.

The World’s Best Noses, Ears, and Eyes by Helen Rundgren, translated by Helle Martens, illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius. Holiday House: 2013.


 Despite the title, this book doesn’t have anything to do with school or classes (check out Snow School if you’re looking for an animals-school comparison). Instead, it’s a clever rhyming picture book outlining the different characteristics of vertebrate classes: amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles.

Lord uses rhyming couplets, each with 7 or 8 syllables. She establishes a strong rhythm that carries throughout the book. In fact, when I closed this book and opened the next one on my stack, it took me several pages to stop trying to wrest those (prose) lines into her very chant-able rhythm.

There’s lots of great information packed into her rhymes. Did you know, for example, that mammals, “People, rabbits, even deers,/all of them have stick-out ears”?

A handy chart in the back matter lays out for you the characteristics she’s covered, an exception to the common characteristics, and some of the species in each class.

Animal School: What Class Are You? by Michelle Lord, illustrated by Michael Garland. Holiday House: 2014


“Birds and feathers go together, like trees and leaves, like stars and the sky.”

Melissa Stewart’s lyrical voice makes this information-packed book a great read aloud. The layered text structure is elegantly simple. Each spread compares a function of feathers to something in a child’s frame of reference–“Feathers can shade out sun like an umbrella”–and then smaller print (the second layer of text) explains that sweeping generalization in greater detail.

The first layer of text is very short–only about 175 words–but it provides a perfect framework for understanding all the information packed more densely in the second layer of text.

In the back matter, Stewart talks about the scholarly articles about feathers that first piqued her interest and about her struggle to find the right structure for this information.

Feathers: Not Just for Flying, by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen. Charlesbridge: 2014.


This is not your everyday counting book! No 1-2-3 or babyish illustrations here. Instead, Lola Schaefer attacks the idea of averages for middle grade readers. The mathematics are sophisticated but she keeps the text simple and clear. Brevity and consistency are the heart of the book. Every spread has a sentence in exactly the same format:

In one lifetime, this [animal] will [verb] [number] [item].

For example:

In one lifetime, this alpaca will grow 20 different fleeces.

The consistency of the text and the consistently increasing numbers provide all the structure this book needs.

Extensive back matter not only gives more detail about each featured animal but also walks the reader through the author’s calculations. Other sections explain mathematical averages and challenge the reader to solve math problems.

A great book for anyone who thinks he’s outgrown counting books!

Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. Chronicle Books: 2013.