The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest--and Most Surprising--Animals on Earth

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest--and Most Surprising--Animals on Earth Book Poster Image
Richly layered, fascinating book kids will enjoy for years.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value
The Animal Book is a thorough primer on animal biology, including taxonomy, origins, behavior, and evolution, for starters. Well-organized chapters detail key concepts, ending with helpful graphics and charts. An index, a glossary, and a bibliography provide still more information, and there's a special section explaining how a book goes from an idea to a finished publication.
 
Positive messages
The book celebrates the diversity and immensity of life on Earth.
 
Positive role models & representations
Examples abound of animals working together to raise their young and protect one another.
 
Violence & scariness
Predators and prey, and the techniques they use for hunting or self-defense, make up much of the book. A two-page spread presents animals that kill the most humans. Some of the illustrations of sharp-toothed predators and assorted creepy-crawlies may be unsettling to sensitive children.
 
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Animal Book is a beautiful, comprehensive overview of the animal world. It walks readers through basic taxonomy, describes how animal life evolved, and showcases some of the remarkable traits and behaviors animals use to hunt, survive, mate, and raise their young. Some of the ideas are a bit advanced for young readers, who may also be sensitive to details about the more dangerous animals. A two-page spread showcases animals that are especially hazardous to humans, including the mosquito.
 

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What's the story?

THE ANIMAL BOOK is a sweeping compendium of animal life on earth, from the first single-celled organism to the abundant species today. It starts with the basics: what animals are and how they're sorted and classified by different characteristics. From there it's a wild tour of animal behavior: family life, senses, predators and prey, and so on. The final chapter tells the story of life from Earth's beginnings, explaining key concepts in the theory of evolution. An appendix provides still more information on the diet, habitat, and traits of the 300 animals author-illustrator Steve Jenkins presents in the book.

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Is it any good?

Absorbing and encyclopedic, The Animal Book is a treasure for the entire family. For the youngest readers, it's an introduction to fundamental ideas in biology, simply explained and illustrated with small snippets of text. Older readers will appreciate the clear graphics and charts at the end of each chapter, which offer context for such concepts as the food web, an ecological pyramid, and life spans. It's the type of book children will rediscover many times over the years.
 
Some of The Animal Book's vocabulary and concepts are too complex for young kids, but adults will enjoy browsing the book with them. It's studded with jaw-dropping facts: a snail that shoots a venomous barb deadly to humans, an ant that erupts with sticky goo amid attackers, a prehistoric rat that weighed as much as a large bull. Steve Jenkins uses his beautiful torn- and cut-paper artwork to illustrate the book. Some of the material on predators, prey, and dangerous animals may upset sensitive kids.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the diversity of animal life and how author and illustrator Steve Jenkins sorts and organizes species. Talk about some of the categories he uses, and sort animals you come across in books, at the zoo, or in your own backyard.
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  • Use your imagination to make up a new animal, combining some of the interesting things you learned from The Animal Book. Borrow a defense tactic from one creature, add the predatory skills of another, and so on.

  • Jenkins details how he creates his books, from conception to publication, in a special section. Encourage children to follow his outline to create a book of their own -- it could even be a family project.
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Book details

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