Elem. – Over and Under the Canyon

Messner, Kate. Over and Under the Canyon. Chronicle Books, 2021. 978-1-452-16939-2. 56 p. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Discover the wonders of a desert ecosystem in the newest edition of Kate Messner’s ecology-based Over and Under series. This story is about one family’s hike through a real-world desert habitat. Messner’s book Over and Under the Canyon aligns perfectly with national science standards with excellent and amazing facts about the animals, wildlife, and wonders that inhabit the desert world. With colorful and vivid illustrations by award-winning artist Christopher Silas Neal, this picture book is undoubtedly driven by an engaging narrative packed with STEM content. In addition, the content within the story provides many opportunities to discuss the importance of natural habitats and ecosystems and how to preserve our natural wonders. As a result, readers will be engaged in every page turn. 

THOUGHTS: Science-loving readers will want to explore this fact-filled story about animals and wildlife. Curiosity may grow with each page, and educators will be able to dive into the well-researched content. Messner’s other books in this series include: Over and Under the Pond and Over and Under the Rainforest. Add this gorgeous book to your science collection! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Animal Architects

Cherrrix, Amy. Animal Architects. Illustrated by Chrish Sasaki.  Beach Lane Books, 2021. 978-1-534-45625-9. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

This charming picture book gives the reader a glimpse into the intricate and wondrous creations of over 12 different animal species across the globe. Some animals work on teams and some on their own to create their unique structures. Each animal is given a four page spread showing the work they do and then the amazing end result of their labors. Includes a bibliography of additional resources on the topic.

THOUGHTS: Could be used in conjunction with a unit on animal homes and habitats to inspire student artwork.

591.56 Ecology          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

Elem. – The Octopus Escapes

Meloy, Maile. The Octopus Escapes. Putnam, 2021. 978-1-984-81269-8. $17.99. 32 p. Grades K-2.

An octopus is captured from his undersea home and placed in an aquarium to be studied. The octopus soon realizes that he cannot stay in his small glass enclosure and plots his escape.  

THOUGHTS: After watching My Octopus Teacher, I have to admit I’m a bit obsessed with octopus! This sweet little story sends a subtle message about conservation and studying animals in their natural habitats.

Picture Book         Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School

Elem. – Except Antarctica!

Sturgell, Todd. Except Antarctica! Sourcebooks. 978-1-728-23326-0. 40 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

When an unseen animal fact writer shares that turtles are found on every continent except Antarctica, one bold turtle sets off to prove him wrong. Along the way, he befriends an owl and a dung beetle who also live everywhere except Antarctica. They too join the turtle on his quest to reach the frozen continent. Soon, a snake, a mouse, a bee, and a frog join in, determined to prove the fact writer wrong and show that they are indeed found in Antarctica. The band of unlikely friends ultimately reach their destination, only to discover that the bitter temperatures, howling wind, and frozen conditions are not their ideal habitats. While in Antarctica, the fact writer mentions how penguins are only found here, and the final pages show one indigent penguin diving off an iceberg in hot pursuit of the turtle and his friends. Several pages of backmatter round out the title and provide additional facts about each featured animal. A section titled “Animals of Antarctica” highlights the continent’s native species, and a section called “The Frozen Continent” details the region’s extreme weather conditions. Also included is Information about how Antarctica is designated as a scientific preserve and a map of each country’s scientific research stations. The book’s final pages discuss climate change and share ideas about how readers can help make the world a better place, including ideas for recycling and planting trees. 

THOUGHTS: Imaginative illustrations, witty dialogue, and a conversational writing style will hook students from page one. They will laugh at the animals’ silly interactions and the fact writer’s frustrations as he tries to keep the book on track. This will be an engaging introduction to units about animals’ habitats and the differences in biomes around the world. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Too Crowded

Podesta, Lena. Too Crowded. Sourcebooks, 2021. 978-1-728-22238-7. 32 p. $17.99. Grades PreK-1.

Gil, a goldfish, feels crowded in his bowl with a plant, a castle, and 138 pebbles (that he cleans every day all by himself).  When Gil bonks his nose on the side of his bowl, he decides he needs a new house; something bigger and roomier. He finds a bird’s nest which is nice and large, but the birds are too noisy. He finds Cat’s house which is quiet, but dangerous as Cat tries to get Gil. Finally, Gil finds Turtle’s house. Turtle questions why Gil is out in the air because fish “can’t breathe air, silly.” As Gil gulps for breath, Turtle gets help from their human to save him. Now, Gil is back in his small, cramped bowl, but it’s not so cramped anymore because it is now Turtle’s home too.

THOUGHTS: This is a delightful introduction for children to animal homes and understanding feelings of loneliness and friendship. Gil’s home is cramped because he is alone, but once Turtle joins him, their home is just right. Too Crowded may also translate for children expecting a new sibling because Gil finds joy in sharing his home and things with Turtle. The illustrations are bright and colorful. They are limited, as is the text, and utilize lots of white space. Details are especially fun throughout as Gil wears sneakers and has a bandage on his nose from where he hit the side of his bowl. One final note…Gil is not identified as he, she, or they in the text. As the reader, I identified Gil as a him, but others may identify Gil as she or they.

Picture Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Habitat Hunter (Series NF)

Potts, Nikki. Habitat Hunter. Ill. Maarten Lenoir, Picture Window Books, 2020. 31 p. $132.24 set of 6. $21.99 ea. Grades PreK-2.

Frog Moves out of the Rain Forest. 978-1-977-11423-5. 
Goat Moves out of the Barnyard.
Meerkat Moves out of the Desert
. 978-1-977-11419-8.
Owl Moves out of the Forest. 978-1-977-11424-2.
Penguin Moves out of the Antarctic. 978-1-977-11422-8.
Shark Moves out of the Ocean.

“Meerkats, meerkats everywhere!” (1), and Meerkat is not happy about it.  She wants a new home she does not have to share, so she sets out to find her new home. Meerkat tries the mountains, but they’re too quiet. She tries a cave, but it’s too cold and has too many bats.  Next she tries a playground; it seems like a great home with all of the tunnels, but the slide is too hot, and the monkey bars are too high. After trying a garden, Meerkat decides her own home is the best home and returns to it.

THOUGHTSMeerkat Moves out of the Desert is a fun way for young readers to learn about meerkats. Combining both pictures and illustrations, readers learn about various homes for Meerkat while also learning why the new habitat isn’t quite right. In the end, Meerkat’s realization that her habitat is the best not only solidifies basic understanding of a meerkat, but it also teaches readers to appreciate their home and family and that something different is not always best.  This title, as with the other titles in this series, also includes a page about the highlighted animal (meerkats) and an “Animal Passport.” This title is also useful for teaching comparing and contrasting because of the various homes Meerkat considers.




Animals        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Snow Birds

Hall, Kirsten. Snow Birds. Abrams, 2020. 978-1-419-74203-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

This delightful work of poetry pays tribute to those birds that stay behind and face the harsh winter. Each two page spread focuses on a different bird. The text is written in assorted rhyming patterns and includes the calls that each species makes. The work begins in autumn with a blue jay foraging for nuts and a wren looking for a home. As the snow begins to fall, snow geese and snow buntings are seen flying amidst the snowflakes. As winter deepens and darkens, a great gray owl chases its prey while a ruffed grouse burrows into its snowy home. A woodpecker searching for insects, and blue jays preparing a nest signal the arrival of spring.  The back matter contains more information about each of the seventeen featured birds and how they adapt to a wintry climate. The beautiful full bleed illustrations by Desmond are done in assorted media and deftly add atmosphere to the text.  One can almost feel a chill when reading about the “shaking quaking” chickadee’s struggles to stay warm and the snowy owl’s venture into the black frozen night.

THOUGHTS: This poetic work is a great introduction to winter birds for primary students and is perfect for a winter themed story time. This is a first purchase for elementary collections.

811.54 Poetry          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elementary NF – Penguin Chicks; Engineered by Nature

Murray, Julie.  Penguin Chicks.  ABDO Kids Publishing, 2018. 9781532100741. 24 p.  $19.00.  K-2.

With attractive photographs and simple text, Murray has written an introduction to the life cycle of the penguin from egg to chick for young readers.  The reader learns about the behavior and physical description of the penguin, as well as some simple terminology.  The book is designed in classic nonfiction style and includes an index and table of contents.  A few words are highlighted in the text, like hatch, thick, webbed and fine and these are defined in the picture glossary.  However, words like krill are not explained. There are one or two sentences on a page in a large font size, while the opposite page contains a full page photograph. Children can access activities and videos about penguins on abdokids.com by using the special code, which is provided.  This book is part of the ABDO Kids: Baby Animals series, but the other books in the series were not available for review.  THOUGHTS:  This book is perfect for teachers to use in the ever popular penguin unit. It will also appeal to children who will enjoy reading about this unique animal independently.  Young readers will be drawn to the charming photographs. This text is a winner and should be added to all elementary collections.

598.47; Birds            Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD


Spilsbury, Louise and Richard. Engineered by Nature. Bellweather Media, 2017. 32 p. $25.95 each. Gr. 3-6.

Animal Adaptations. 978-1-62617-585-3.

Animal Homes and Hangouts. 978-1-62617-586-0.

Animal Traps and Lairs. 978-1-62617-587-7.

Born Survivors. 978-1-62617-588-4.

Deadly Predators. 978-1-62617-589-1.

Killer Plants. 978-1-60686-467-8.

This series focuses on the marvels of nature and the ways in which nature engineers animals and plants for survival. Each title focuses on a different mode of survival, such as physical adaptations or skillfully built animal homes. Every book provides a basic introduction along with 11 mostly well-done examples, such as the large ears of a fennec fox that help keep it cool in the hot desert climate or the intricately dug colonies of prairie dogs which keep them safe from predators. Examples include one or two colorful photographs along with straightforward text. Page layout is clean and often includes Fast Facts or Did You Know? highlights. Each book includes a Table of Contents, Index, Glossary, and To Learn More section. THOUGHTS: An attractive and interesting series for students of many ages.

500s              Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin School District

Series NF Elem./MS – Ecosystems; No Kidding; Science Behind; Paranormal Handbook


Kopp, Megan. Ecosystems Close-Up (series). New York: Crabtree, 2016. 24 p. $14.95 ea. Gr.K-3.

What Do You Find in a Backyard? 978-0-7787-2255-7.

What Do You Find in a Coral Reef? 978-0-7787-2257-1.

What Do You Find in a Pond? 978-0-7787-2259-5.

What Do You Find in a Rainforest Tree? 978-0-7787-2261-8.

What Do You Find in a Tide Pool? 978-0-7787-2265-5.

What Do You Find in a Saguaro Cactus? 978-0-7787-2263-2.

Learning about biomes, habitats and ecosystems feels more valuable to young learners when they can get up close and see the details. This series by Megan Kopp helps to explain and show the connections between life and land in various parts of the world. Each text has a similar pattern of contents, with many nonfiction features such as captions, models, thought bubbles, glossary and even extra activities. The photographs are still the best part since they show what words can only explain and make the reader appreciate the hidden treasures of nature.  THOUGHTS: Great series to support primary units of science need to be relatable and consistent, and Kopp provides just that through her work. I would definitely lend these to teacher seeking nonfiction text features.

Science (Habitats)        Dustin Brackbill, Mt. Nittany Elementary



No Kidding (series). St. Catherines, Ontario: Crabtree, 2016.  32 pp. $20.75ea. Gr. 3-6.

Christopher, Clara. Animal: Jokes, Riddles, and Games. 978-0-7787-2387-5.

Eagan, Rachel. Monster and Creepy-Crawly: Jokes, Riddles, and Games.  978-0-7787-2389-9

Rodger, Anne-Marie. Sports: Jokes, Riddles, and Games. 978-0-7787-2390-5.

Rodger, Marguerite.  Around the World in Jokes, Riddles, and Games. 978-0-7787-2388-2.

Colorful photographs and illustrations are found throughout the series. Each book has “funny bone” sections. The layout offers a table of contents, eight concise chapters, a glossary and index. Additional books are recommended and hall of fame biographies or spotlights are included for the respective topics. Some of the favorite jokes include “why the golfer wears two pants” and  “what did the ocean say to another ocean”. The books offer activities such as making a comic strip baseball card and telling a joke. THOUGHTS: The series provides a link to add humor tied into language arts. Figurative language examples are included. This is a fun series that can draw many readers into many topics with laughter.

808.88; Language Arts    Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School



The Science Behind Natural Phenomena. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, 2017. $20.99 ea. $83.96 set of 4. 32 pp. Gr. 3-6.

Garbe, Suzanne. The Science Behind Wonders of the Sun: Sun Dogs, Lunar Eclipses, and Green Flash. 978-15157-07783.

Garbe, Suzanne. The Science Behind Wonders of the Water: Exploding Lakes, Ice Circles, and Brinicles. 978-15157-07769.

Leavitt, Amie Jane. The Science Behind Wonders of Earth: Cave Crystals, Balancing Rocks, and Snow Donuts. 978-1515707738.

Morey, Allan. The Science Behind Wonders of the Sky: Auroras, Moonbows, and St. Elmo’s Fire. 978-15157-07776.

Designed to answer upper elementary readers’ questions and pique their interest in natural phenomena, this series provides answers to rainbows, clouds, caves, the aurora borealis, comets, and sinkholes including how, where, when and why these phenomena occur. The Science Behind Wonders of Earth covers snow donuts, the sliding stones of Racetrack Playa (CA), caves, giant crystals, basalt columns and sinkholes.  The Science Behind Wonders of the Sky covers auroras, moonbows, comets, meteoroids, cloud formations, St. Elmo’s Fire, and thunder and lightning.  Each phenomena is accompanied by color photographs or illustrations that draw in readers.  The information for each varies from a scant one page (St. Elmo’s Fire) to six pages (cloud formations).  End matter includes glossary, index, further reading, three critical questions, and FactHound.com link for updated online resources.  THOUGHTS: This is geared for upper elementary but can easily find a place in middle-high school as well.  The topics are interesting enough to warrant further resources and research.    

550; Natural Phenomena         Melissa Scott, Shenango High School



Paranormal Handbooks. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, 2017. $20.99 ea. $83.96 set of 4. 32 pp. Gr. 3-6.

McCollum, Sean. Handbook to UFOs, Crop Circles, and Alien Encounters. 978-15157-13098.

McCollum, Sean. Handbook to Ghosts, Poltergeists, and Haunted Houses. 978-15157-13081.

Omoth, Tyler. Handbook to Bigfoot, Nessie, and Other Unexplained Creatures. 978-15157-13111.

Omoth, Tyler. Handbook to Stonehenge, the Bermuda Triangle, and Other Mysterious Locations. 978-15157-13104.

This new series of four books from Capstone covers paranormal phenomena, drawing in readers with eerie covers and copious use of color and illustrations or photos.  Ghosts, Poltergeists, and Haunted Houses covers each of these three topics, giving definitions and well-known examples of each.  While the illustrations or stories may be creepy, McCollum carefully ends each section with clear comments that science has never proven any of the phenomena.  Bigfoot, Nessie, and Other Unexplained Creatures leaves more questions about the existence of these creatures.  For example, after speculation on mermaids, author Omoth concludes, “it’s worth keeping an eye on the water in case an authentic mermaid is lurking nearby” (16).  Omoth reports on Bigfoot, Nessie, mermaids, chupacabra, the Jersey Devil, Mothman, Spring-Heeled Jack, and the Loveland Frogmen.  These titles close with a quiz, glossary, index, further reading, and FactHound.com links. THOUGHTS: Readers of Bigfoot, Nessie, and Other Unexplained Creatures may be frustrated by the mixed messages from the author: basically that there is no proof, but the legend/stories continue, so look out!  This tactic can make the reader feel like the author is joking.  Ghosts provides an “answer” based on investigations: no evidence of ghosts, poltergeists or hauntings has ever been found.  This is an additional selection only for collections whose titles on paranormal topics have aged.

001.942 Paranormal Phenomena         Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

Nature Picture Books – Beyond the Pond; Polar Regions


Kuefler, Joseph. Beyond the Pond. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2015. 978-0062364272. 40p. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

“Just behind an ordinary house filled with too little fun, Ernest D had decided today would be the day that he’d explore the depths of his pond.” Accompanied by his spotted dog, he throws in a variety of objects and is thrilled to determine that his pond is bottomless. He and his dog then plunge in armed with an old diver helmet, flashlight and other “explorer supplies,” and swim through the dark and wondrous deep which opens up on a wild world on the other side. This is a fun and beautifully illustrated book about imagination, exploring, and playing in the wild. THOUGHTS: I read aloud Beyond the Pond along with last year’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, and the 1988 classic Henry the Explorer by Mark Taylor and Graham Booth. This lesson featured a fun compare and contrast discussion; all three books feature a companion dog and some similar tools, but each book takes a different approach to exploring and fantasy vs. reality.

Picture Book    Kathie Jackson, Plymouth Meeting Friends School


about habitats

Sill, Cathryn. About Habitats: Polar Regions. Atlanta: Peachtree, 2015. 978-1-56145-832-5. 48pp. $16.95. Grades K-3.

This nonfiction title pairs straightforward introductory information about the polar regions with stunning watercolor illustrations. On each spread, the left-hand page contains one sentence about either the Arctic or the Antarctic, and the right-hand page features a related illustration. The text describes how animals and plants survive in this harsh environment, and it also describes some of the daylight and temperature fluctuations these regions experience. The realistic watercolor illustrations provide additional insight about the fish, mammals, birds, and plants that make their homes here. The Afterword, at the back of the book, includes additional facts about life in some of the coldest places on Earth. A glossary and list of recommended websites rounds out the backmatter.  THOUGHTS:  This title will be a valuable resource for students studying biomes. The text is easily accessible and unintimidating, yet more in-depth details that will round out research are shared in the backmatter.

Science; Habitats   Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County