August 07, 2008


Dr. Seuss Beginner Concept Cards: Opposites. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $10.99.

Dr. Seuss Beginner Counting Cards. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $10.99.

What Are Clouds Made Of? And Other Questions about the World Around Us. By Geraldine Taylor. Illustrated by Amy Schimler. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $10.99.

Planet Earth: Animals of Africa. By Lisa L. Ryan-Herndon. Scholastic. $3.99.

Planet Earth: Animals and Their Prey. By Tracey West. Scholastic. $5.99.

      There are so many wonderful books to help kids learn about themselves and the world around them – and so many more coming out all the time, in so many clever formats! The Dr. Seuss Beginner Cards, decks of oversize cards using illustrations from Dr. Seuss books to help kids enjoy themselves as they learn a variety of basic concepts, are winners from start to finish. “Start” was the first two sets, about the alphabet and about colors and shapes. “Finish,” at least for the moment (although more cards sets are planned), includes a pair of flip-top boxes (with hidden magnetic closures) that teach young children about opposites and numbers. Opposites includes 12 cards with words on both sides – opposite words on opposite sides, of course. For example, “Pup is UP” shows a Seussian puppy rising into the air above one side of a see-saw made from a board and a rock; “Pup is DOWN” shows the pup landing back on one side of the board. Like all the Seuss card sets, this one comes with an instruction sheet that sometimes seems quite unnecessary (“Learning can be fun when you and your child play with these cards”) but that at other times explain the cards’ purpose in useful ways (the cards teach a child “to understand words that represent different spatial relationships and other abstract concepts”). Counting includes 12 cards that cover the numbers one through 10, the math signs for plus, minus and equal, and simple math problems showing what happens when you add one or take one away. The instructional elements in both card sets are as basic as they come – and the illustrations make them far more enjoyable than they often are when kids go to school (teachers, take note!).

      There is learning of a different sort in What Are Clouds Made Of? This is a very clever collection of actual questions asked by young children about themselves and the world – with the answers hidden under flaps or behind illustrations that are fully revealed with a child pulls a tab. Geraldine Taylor picks very good questions to include, but it is the book’s design and the illustrations by Amy Schimler that really make this work outstanding. For example, “How does a baby bird get out of its egg?” is printed next to an egg that rests in a nest. To get the answer, a child pulls on a tab (indicated by an arrow), and the egg opens up – revealing the words, “It cracks the shell with the tip of its beak, called an egg tooth.” The kids’ questions included here show a more sophisticated thirst for knowledge than books for children often acknowledge. “How did the water in the ocean get there?” “Why can’t it be sunny every day?” “Why do flowers smell nice?” (The answer to this one involves opening up a flower petal, which turns into a full flower.) “What do worms eat?” “Can fish hear things?” Parents may find they themselves have wondered about some of these questions – and been unable to answer them. The result is a wonderful book of discovery for the whole family.

      The Planet Earth books, a collaboration between Scholastic and the British Broadcasting Corporation, go into more depth about the world we live in. How much depth depends on each book’s format. Animals of Africa is a “Level 3: Growing Reader” book, at the top of the four-level scale of the Scholastic Readers series (which runs from Pre-1 to 3). Intended for kids in first to third grade, it uses top-notch BBC photos to show habitats of Africa and some of the animals that live in each one – from the Walia Ibex, a type of goat that lives in highland meadows, to the desert-dwelling Augrabies Flat Lizard. There are well-known species, too, such as elephants, lions and hyenas, with brief information on where each one lives and how it interacts with its environment. Older children interested in the same sort of material will find greater detail in Animals and Their Prey, which looks at a variety of habitats throughout Earth and discusses some specific animals that live in them: wolverine, mako shark, Siberian tiger, Mexican free-tailed bat and more. There is nothing comprehensive about this book, but its superlative photos and clear, easy-to-read text will certainly give kids more appreciation of the biodiversity of our planet and the interconnectedness of the many species that inhabit it – our own included.

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