Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Animal Whisperer: Rescue at Lake Wild

Rescue at Lake Wild, by Terry Lynn Johnson, (Apr. 2021, HMH Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780358334859

Ages 8-12

Twelve-year-old Madi wants to be an “animal whisperer” like her wildlife rehabber grandmother was; her town doesn’t have a wildlife rehabber since her grandmother died, and her mother has forbidden her to bring home any more animals. If she does, her upcoming trip to meet Jane Goodall will be canceled. But what is Madi supposed to do when she and her best friends, Aaron and Jack, discover two orphaned beaver kits? She saves the kits and cares for them in secret when the friends discover another murdered beaver in the process. There’s a secret to be uncovered here, and Madi, Jack, and Aaron mean to be the ones to do it: as long as Madi can stay out of trouble with her mom, that is. A fast-paced adventure story about friendship, found families, and wildlife rehab, Rescue at Lake Wild has elements adventure readers will love: action, a mystery to solve, and a determined, smart protagonist with a love for animals and nature. Author Terry Lynn Johnson writes action-adventure nature stories, including 2019’s Dog Driven and The Survivor Diaries, and readers who love the I Survived series will dive right in. She has knowledge to share, and she does it in a way that respects and nudges the reader into wanting more: more storytelling and more learning. Have readers who loved Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot and Celia C. Pérez’s Strange Birds? This is the next book for them.


Terry Lynn Johnson writes about the wild with the wisdom and passion of someone who has spent her life working to preserve and protect it – both as a backcountry canoe ranger in Quetico Provincial Park and in her current job as a conservation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. She lives at the edge of a lake in northern Ontario, Canada, where she loves watching all wildlife, including beavers. Visit her online at

Twitter: @TerryLynnJ

Instagram: terry_lynn_johnson

Video extra! Terry Lynn Johnson talks about the inspiration behind Rescue at Lake Wild here

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

February Non-Fiction is all about the animals!

River Rescue, by Jennifer Keats Curtis & Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, Inc./Illustrated by Tammy Yee, (Feb. 2019, Arbordale), $17.95, ISBN: 9781607188230

Ages 5-8

River Rescue illustrates how an oil spill – even one drop of oil – can be devastating to plan and animal life. Introducing readers to the Wildlife Response Team at Tri-State Bird & Rescue, a Delaware-based organization that rescues and rehabilitates animals affected by oil, River Rescue teaches readers about the delicate cleaning process and the care so critical to helping evaluate, treat, and rehabilitate affected animals.

There are so many questions to ask: is the animal alert on arrival? What kind of oil is on the animal? The cleansing process brings more questions: what kind of bird is this? Is it a flocking bird, or a solitary one? Is it a water bird or a land bird? After the rehabilitation process, animals are released back into the wild, preferably in the area where they were rescued.

River Rescue provides an informative look into animal rescue and rehabilitation and encourages good environmental citizenship among readers. The earth-toned art is realistic and the text is easy to understand. Back matter includes a 4-page For Creative Minds section allowing teachers, parents, and caregivers to photocopy and distribute activities on identifying wildlife, a Q&A with Tri-State Executive Director Dr. Lisa Smith, and information on preventing oil spills and helping animals.

The Long and Short Tale of Colo and Ruff, by Diane Lang/Illustrated by Laurie Allen Klein, (Feb. 2019, Arbordale Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 9781607187387

Ages 4-7

Colo is a cougar and Ruff is a wild cat. The two friends want to play, but Ruff’s short tail prevents him from jumping as far as Colo can. As the two search for a new tail for Ruff, they encounter all the different things other animals can do with their tails and Ruff decides that his tail is just right after all.

This fun story is nonfiction with fiction wrapping: great for preschoolers and kindergartners! Colo and Ruff are realistically illustrated, but with softer artwork, playing up the cute factor. They encounter lizards, hawks, skunks and gophers on their search for a new tail, and callout facts throughout provide information that’s perfect for pleasure reading or an animal report. The For Creative Minds back matter includes a table comparing three kinds of cats and cat habitat maps.

Animal Noses, by Mary Holland, (Feb. 2019, Arbordale Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 9781607188056

Ages 4-9

Noses, beaks, tongues, antennae – animals have a bunch of different ways to use their senses of smell, and Animal Noses is all about animal noses, how animals transmit messages through scent, and which animals have super noses versus which animals don’t. Loaded with sharp, full-color photos and facts, this is a nice add to science sections, especially when teachers come in looking for books on the five senses – always fun to throw something unexpected, like this, into my readers’ advisory, and show the similarities and differences between how we use our senses versus how animals use theirs.

Arbordale always has good back matter, too: their For Creative Minds sections allow for photocopying and distribution for educational use. The Animal Noses For Creative Minds covers fun facts about scent, a match the nose game, and spotlights animals with great senses of smell.


If a Mummy Could Talk…, by Rhonda Lucas Donald/Illustrated by Cathy Morrison, (Feb. 2019, Arbordale Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 9781607187370

Ages 7-10

Meet some mummies and hear their stories: this volume contains stories about 12 different mummies: elephants, bison, dogs, cats, and humans, including the world’s most famous mummy, King Tut. Each spread focuses on one mummy, providing its date and location, and “before” and “after” illustrations that show readers what the animal or person most likely looked life while alive, and what its mummy looks like today. Facts gleaned from research and scientific observation bring each mummy’s story to life for readers, and provide clues to each demise. Discussions about different types of mummification, a mummy map of the world, and features on scientists’ tools and technology make up the back matter For Creative Minds section.

There are better books on mummies available, but this is an entertaining introduction for intermediate readers with an interest in natural history. The illustrations are realistic and colorful, and callout fact boxes appear throughout the book, clarifying bits of information contained in the text.


Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Jenni Desmond talks elephants in her latest nonfiction work

The Elephant, by Jenni Desmond, (Nov. 2018, Enchanted Lion Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781592702640

Ages 5-8

Jenni Desmond’s latest nonfiction book takes a look at one of our world’s largest animals: the elephant. Using a young boy’s exploration as a vehicle, we see him pick a book and be drawn into an elephant’s world through breathtaking, realistic color artwork. Informative facts throughout include the difference species and subspecies of elephants and the fact that they appear light on their feet because they mainly walk on tiptoe; they have sensitive skin and detect a fly landing on a leg or the rumbling of other elephants from as much as six miles away! Elephants can favor a tusk, much like humans have a preferred hand to write with. The author notes factors endangering elephants, including poachers who seek elephants’ ivory tusks.

The collage, paint, and colored pencil artwork is stunning, rendering detailed, realistic elephants on every page, while keeping readers aware that this is a child’s journey; the boy shows up, cartoon-like, in spreads, sporting a red crown and, sometimes, a friend.

This superb volume is a wonderful way to connect reading, imagination, and nonfiction – nonfiction is great for dreamers, too, after all! Jenni Desmond received the 2016 New York Times Best Illustrated award for The Polar Bear. This is her third book on endangered animals, joining The Polar Bear and The Blue Whale (2015). The Elephant has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist, and is a Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of 2018. Add this one to your wildlife nonfiction collections.

Posted in Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Bridge to the Wild: Zoos connect people and animals

bridge-to-the-wildBridge to the Wild, by Dr. Caitlin O’Connell/Photographs by Timothy Rodwell, (Aug. 2016, HMH Books for Young Readers), $18,99, ISBN: 9780544277397

Recommended for ages 10 and up

I’m about to gush here. If you read my reviews often enough, you probably have guessed that I love any nonfiction book about animals, conservation and preservation, and even better when the ideas are combined. In Bridge to the Wild, Dr. Caitlin O’Connell begins by recalling a childhood visit to the zoo – back when animals were still largely kept in cages (I remember it well), and saw a gorilla, seemingly in deep despair over living in a cage not much bigger than he was.

Thankfully, those days are (mostly) over. Zoos are more like natural preserves now, offering many animals larger spaces to roam; conservation and preservation is the order of the day, with zoo staff rescuing and caring for animals all over the world. As more animals face extinction at the hands of poachers, habitat devastation, and pollutants that contaminate their environment, zoos are playing a bigger part in keeping our wildlife alive, and conducting valuable research on improving their conditions and our world. Bridge to the Wild is Dr. O’Connell’s manifesto, where she lays out the valuable ways zoos are a bridge for humans, to the wild outside our doors.

Dr. O’Connell spent a week working with the staff at Zoo Atlanta –  a private, nonprofit wildlife park and zoo – to observe the relationships between animals and caretakers, to help strengthen this bridge. After all, what we see as observers is only the tip of the iceberg; many, many loving and brilliant people are behind the scenes, learning about and learning from the animals, caring for them, loving them. From the Dawn Chorus – the morning symphony conducted by the tenants as the day begins, to the Dusk Chorus, when they start winding down for the night, Dr. O’Connell and Tim Rodwell introduce us to the inhabitants of Zoo Atlanta, from the pandas, to the hornbills, meerkats, gorillas, tigers and more.

There are anecdotes and beautiful photographs, a “Keeper Feature” that profiles the different keepers at Zoo Atlanta, and a fantastic note on ignorance and extinction, which is a real call to action to end senseless poaching of animal parts for talismans and “remedies” that simply don’t work. A full bibliography and sources are available and provide more research opportunities, and data sheets encourage budding zoologists to do some research on their own, guided by Dr. O’Connell, who lays out simple experiments to observe and record behaviors.

Animal books are hugely popular with my Corona Kids, and I’ve been stacking my collection with plenty of rescue, preservation, and conservation titles for them, to drive home the point that this planet doesn’t only belong to us. Bridge to the Wild is going to be one of those books I talk endlessly about, especially since my library is about a stone’s throw away from the Queens Zoo. I may even slip copies of this book into teachers’ hands during class visits, with a “hint, hint” nudge for a class trip activity (sorry, kids!). That’s how important this book is to me.

Bridge to the Wild has received a starred review from School Library Journal. Learn more about Dr. O’Connell’s work and books at her author website.

Take a peek at a chapter excerpt on meerkats, then go order this book for your animal lovers!



Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

National Geographic talks Angry Birds!

angrybirds_natgeoNational Geographic: The Angry Birds Movie-Red’s Big Adventure, by Christy Ullrich Barcus (Apr. 2016, National Geographic Children’s Books), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1426216848

Recommended for ages 8-12

The Angry Birds have arrived on the big screen, and NatGeo Kids is there to celebrate with the release of their twelfth and latest Angry Birds title, Red’s Big Adventure. The book, set in the world of the Angry Birds movie, is set up in four levels: Bird Island, Bird Village, The Search for Mighty Eagle, and Beyond the Island, readers are introduced (or, really, familiarized with – they likely know most of these birds already) to the Angry Birds: Red, Matilda, Chuck, Bomb, Terence, Judge Peckinpah and Cyrus, the Mighty Eagle, and that rascally pig, Leonard. Each character gets a spotlight and a bio, and Red’s adventure is a thread that runs through the course of the book.

What we also get are breathtaking pictures and facts on  the animals and plants, the environments and natural wonders of the world’s islands, from Greenland to Galapagos. Learn how a bird’s beak is better than a Swiss Army knife in terms of multi-purpose use: it’s a weapon, a utensil, a mating signal, and a sensory organ. Learn about mountain ranges and how glaciers are formed; learn to create maps or navigate using the stars, like our forefathers did. Find out about some of the biggest animal migrations in history, or discover an island inhabited by pigs (is that were Leonard and his friends came from?)!

I love the NatGeo books. They have the perfect combination of fun and learning, whether it’s their handy, schoolbag-sized fun facts books, like the Angry Birds and the Weird But True books, their sticker books (my living room coffee table currently has all the Dino Sticker Activity book stickers on them, like it’s a mini-Jurassic Park), the First Big Books, or their atlases and almanacs. The photos are incredible, and the information is easily digestible and exciting in its presentation. My kids love them, and the kids at my library go berserk for them. I celebrated the Angry Birds movie release with an Angry Birds Treasure Hunt around the children’s room, where they had to locate different pictures of the birds and pig for a prize. I honestly wasn’t sure how it was going to go over: were younger kids that into Angry Birds anymore? The answer was a resounding YES.  About 30 kids took part in the treasure hunt, ensuring that this book and the 11 other NatGeo Angry Birds books will be in my next ordering cart.

Add to collections where nature books and Angry Birds are popular. You’ll be happy you did!


Posted in History, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Book Review: Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (HarperCollins, 1971)

Recommended for ages 8+

Most people know Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories, if not through her books, then through the long-running television series, Little House on the Prairie. A a pioneer child who wrote down her experiences and later had them published, Ms. Wilder wrote nine Little House books, originally published between 1932 and 1943. The series resonated with girls and young women and is popular to this day.

Little House in the Big Woods is the first book in the Little House series, and introduces the reader to the Ingalls family: Laura, her older sister, Mary, baby sister, Carrie, and parents, Ma and Pa (Caroline and Charles). The family lives in the Big Woods in Wisconsin in the later part of the 19th Century, shortly after the Civil War. (Laura even mentions a family member who is “wild since he came back from the army”.)

We go through each of the seasons with the Ingalls family and learn how families lived, ate, and had fun. There are family dances and visits, trips to town, and encounters with bears and bees. There is always time for work, though, and this is where the book acts as a primer. Laura details the process of preserving meats and vegetables to keep the family fed through the lean winter months; how Pa prepares an animal skin to be used as leather goods; how to get sap from a tree, and how to smoke bees out of a hive to be able to get to the honey. It’s a fascinating look at a different time, and while it is written with a girl’s voice, this is should not be considered a “girl’s book”: boys and girls alike can learn much about the wildnerness life.

Laura writes in a clear voice, drawing her readers in because her stories are real. The love of family and nostalgia as she looks back on her life bring to mind the feeling a child gets when listening to a parent or grandparent talking about their childhood. Black and white drawings by Garth Williams add to the book.

There is a wealth of information about Laura Ingalls Wilder online. Wilder’s home in Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri, where she wrote the Little House books, is now the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum and word finds, quizzes and coloring pages. The Little House Books website features a family tree tracking the girls of the Little House series from Laura’s great-grandmother to her daughter, Rose. The site also offers games and craft ideas, as well as information for teachers interested in teaching the book.