Whether you’re reading a book with your child before bedtime or listening to story time in the library, there are moments when nothing compares to the opportunity to look at a beautiful book. Lately we’ve been exploring Curious Critters Marine by David FitzSimmons. While e-books are convenient and easy to access on the go, recently I’ve been thinking that you can’t replace the experience of spending time reading an actual book. This is particularly the case with young readers as their hands feel the texture of the paper and the weight of the book. Their fingers follow the words and pictures as they expend energy flipping the pages back and forth. This takes the flick of a finger on a screen to a whole new level.
Curious Critters Marine – published by Wild Iris press – is part of a series of books. The other books include Curious Critters and Curious Critters Volume Two. Here is what Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods had to say about the first Curious Critters book:
“Fun, Factual and fabulously photographed, Curous Criters demonstrates the important role of literature in helping young readers connect with nature.”
When we first received a copy of this book, I wondered how my children would respond to it. They are 5 going on 6 and love to read. Mostly, though, they read story books. We pick up a book, read the story, look at the illustrations, have a conversation about aspects of the story and we’re done. They aren’t at the point yet where they are reading non-fiction books. I wasn’t sure where Curious Critters Marine fit in on the fiction to non-fiction continuum. But I also know that they will use these types of books more and more. And some of their friends are avid readers of non-fiction books.
Compared to other families in the Pacific Northwest, I wouldn’t say that my family spends a large amount of time at the beach. But we do try to visit the beach and other places where we can learn about marine life. For this reason I thought that this book would be a must read. Plus I could see that the photography in the book is gorgeous. It is hard to choose which of the photographs of marine animals is my favourite. If I had to pick, I think I’d choose the blue American lobster.
David FitzSimmons is a freelance writer and photographer. What we can take from this is that artistically speaking he is doubly gifted. He also used to be a teacher and university professor, so we can imagine that he knows how to present material to children in an interesting and engaging way. Each page of the book features the name of the animal; a large, vibrant photograph and a story introducing the animal. After the 20 animals have been introduced, there is a natural history section where more information about each animal is shared alongside a smaller version of the photographs that were featured initially. After the natural history section, there is a double page with silhouettes of each animal mixed together, along with questions about what the children can discover and find while looking at the silhouettes.
When you look at photographs of my children reading the book, you can see that the photographs really pop. We have been taking the book along with us to doctor’s appointments and other events when my children will have to wait for awhile. Rather than taking out a smart phone, we pull out books like Curious Critters, look at them together and talk about what we are seeing in the book. I have also had the opportunity to loan the book to older children who are also waiting for an event to end. These older elementary aged children also enjoyed looking at the photographs and reading the stories.
As you look at the details in the photographs, you can follow this exploration with search sessions using YouTube. We were able to find a video of an American Lobster, for example. But videos will not give you the level of detail and the brilliance of the colours like the photographs in this book.
Each story about the animals is engaging and beautifully written in the first person. This helps the younger reader to identify with the animal while learning about where it lives, how it eats and survives and the other challenges that it faces. Since the stories are written with a friendly banter, the reader can immediately feel the personality of the animals. Of course this is the author projecting his idea of how they might speak if they could! But the stories are also primarily based on facts known about these animals.
Here is what the American Lobster has to say at the beginning of the story on its page:
Ask any sailor, dock hand, or civilian,
I doubt that they know I am one in two million!
A happy mutation, a change of one gene,
colored me blue, not brown or dark green.
On the Cushion Sea Star page, a few notes of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star are provided along with new words to the song. Here’s how the song starts:
Look at me, a bright sea star,
out beyond the big sand bar.
As the reader goes through the stories, new vocabulary is introduced. While reading about the upside-down jellyfish, the words carnivorous, cultivate, algae, nutrients and mangrove might be new and require some discussion with a nearby adult. But a young reader can also continue to follow the story even if the meanings of the words are unknown.
In Curious Critters Marine, David FitzSimmons dazzles the reader with the beauty of the photography and captivates the imagination with his story telling. While the book is geared towards a school-aged student, adults will enjoy reading it too. It’s the kind of book that you’ll want to tuck in with a birthday gift so that other families can discover it as well. You’ll want to have it lying about on your coffee table or tucked in your bag for those in between times when you are on the road. Whatever you do, don’t leave it hidden on your book shelf.
Disclosure: I received a copy of the book as a gift, however all opinions and views expressed are my own.