Monday, August 14, 2006


EXTREME ANIMALS by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Neal Layton (Candlewick)

Nonfiction is one of the most interesting genres of children's literature, always surprising in its subject matter and the creative ways it is presented for young readers. All the same, there are precious few nonfiction titles that I await with the same baited breath as a novel. One exception is work written by Nicola Davies. After four re-readings of POOP (granted, I keep it in the commode), I was a fan for life. There has been a growing pile of complaints regarding the unwarranted toilet talk that has permeated children's literature of late, and so it was with great delight to discover a book that does the subject justice. Every page flows over with absolutely fascinating fecal facts, from the double-dose of digesting power that pellets afford to rabbits or the tell-tale dumps of sloths, otters and hippos that speak (or stink) louder than words. The necessity of the dung beetle in the cycle is honored here in a sculpture in South Australia and within these pages, as is the ski-worthy mountains of guano built by bats in Bracken Cave. Earthy, unpretentious illustrations accentuate the vocabulary- and fertilizer-rich content. Overall, POOP was a remarkably engaging and informative science book that rises far above its foul beginnings, and will make a novice scientist out of your favorite fart-joke-teller. A must for any bathroom bookshelf, this winner of the BCCB Blue Ribbon Nonfiction Book Award also makes for a poop-ular classroom read-aloud. (7 and up)

But let's turn our attention to this team's latest tour de force. Extreme animals find life everywhere, from the coldest corner of the world (who knew that polar bears had black skin?) to live volcanoes (yes, there is life there, too), to the murky ocean depths with pressure equivalent to 1,100 atmospheres. In these pages, we meet sponges that can be put in a blender and then rebuild themselves, seeds that can sleep for six thousand years, frogs that are popsicles and an unfortunate spider stuck in a jar, surviving without food or water for eighteen months, to name a few. Of course, the toughest creature on earth is crowned, but you'll have to read the book to find out what it is...I promise, you'll be impressed! As usual, Layton's illustrations are hardscrabble and hardscribble, doodles done with loose, enthusiastic abandon, a perfect pairing for Davies conversational tone. Her background as a zoologist combined with her work as a children's author is like getting a guided tour through the natural world, with just about the best tour guide you could get. You want a book with an extreme "wow" factor? Here you go. (7 and up)

Please feel free to share your favorite nonfiction in the "comments" section!

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Anonymous said...

I think it is horrible when you go to the bathroom at someone's home and there isn't anything to read. There should always be books in the bathroom.

Elise said...

POOP was a huge hit in our house--with the 'grown-ups' and kids alike. I can't wait to get my hands on EXTREME ANIMALS. Nicola Davies does such a great job showing the FUN of science and is unique among kids books authors in showing what scientists DO--like collecting blue whale poop in a net (!)--and why it's important.

My little biologists-to-be also enjoy THE LIFE CYCLE OF A ... series by Bobbie Kalman--not as much humor as Davies' books, but great illustrations and lots of fun facts!! Also, for monthly installments of great creature facts and figures, try the magazine ZOOBOOKS (no ads!)--a different animal (or class of animals) every month delivered right to your door!

Esme, thanks for your great website and now this amazing blog. My kids and I have had a great time reading your selections this summer. All good reads!


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