Charles Ghigna, the Father Goose of children's books and no stranger to this blog, has done it again. But this time, it's not a clever book in rhyme for the youngest readers. Strange, Unusual, Gross, and Cool Animals (Animal Planet, 2016) will appeal to kids of all ages who want to get up close and personal to some very weird animals.
The animals are divided the way the title predicts: Strange, unusual, gross, and cool. Within each section there are four types of pages: a gallery spread which shows animals that live in different parts of the world but have adapted to their environment in similar ways; a featured creature that highlights one phenomenal animal through details about its life, stats, and maps; a creature collection which compares and contrasts a large group of animals; and macroview pages which show tiny details of very small animals.
Charles Ghigna gave me a "behind-the-scenes" look at the book's creation. After he agreed to write this book in nine months, he realized it would be a book that was, "Full of facts. No fanciful word play. No imaginative nonsense rhymes for toddlers. My tranquil treehouse would become the center of the universal pursuit of the biggest, baddest, best creatures on the planet. No more loose and loony alliteration. This was serious business."
Enter Strange, Unusual, Gross and Cool Animals--an accessible, factual, humorous book that will make every young reader want to learn more about the animal kingdom--even if she's scared of snakes and spiders like me. And guess what? Ghigna couldn't resist including a rhyme or two.
Strange how we as humans
view creatures great and small--
for we who see their strangeness
are the strangest of them all!
How strange is the star-nosed mole? Pretty strange. "It's nose is covered in 22 sensitive appendages that are so good at detecting vibrations they can tell when earthquakes are coming...It can even smell underwater by blowing bubbles it then breathes in through its nose." (p. 10)
Unusual is what we callThe weird, the fast, the rare.
We classify each creature--
But do they really care?
The thorny dragon looks like it comes from prehistoric times. Besides having a camouflaged body covered in hard, sharp spikes and two horns--it also has a false head growing on its shoulders! The sharp spines make it difficult for a predator to swallow. Besides, as Ghigna points out, "Who would want to eat a thorny, two-headed , puffed-up dragon?"
Gross is used instead of yuck
for words like poop and pus,
but all these animals agree--
it's only gross to us!
From my experience with kids, many are delightfully intrigued by gross stuff. From finding out that honey is really regurgitated nectar and millipedes can secrete yucky liquid that burns other bugs, discovering parrotfish who poop out sand, reading about a Goliath bird-eating spider that can be up to five inches long and when threatened, has a hiss that can be heard 15 feet away--readers looking for gross animals will find it in these pages.
Cool is how we think we look
when we try to impress,
but animals are born that way-
with lots of cool finesse!
Because of its translucent skin on its belly, "you can see through the glass frog and see its liver, heart, and intestines without an X-ray machine, just like Superman can!" (p. 108) Some see-through creatures include glasswing butterflies, the pelagic octopus, and the big skate that looks like a slimy ghost! Other cool animals glow in the dark, sport blue feet (blue-footed booby) or climb walls like Spider Man (mwanza flat-headed rock agama).
A book to leaf through or read from cover to cover, young readers will enjoy discovering new animals just as much as Ghigna did: "The Blobfish first caught my eye. Icky pink and bulbous looking. Voted the “World’s Ugliest Animal,” I knew that one would become a hit with the 8-12 year old crowd. Who could resist the Rosy Wolfsnail, the fastest snail on earth? Who just happens to be a cannibal from Hawaii. And who just happens to inhabit my home state of Alabama and throughout the Southeast. Or the Fangtooth Fish whose teeth are so large it can never close its mouth?"
Ghigna told me, "I am glad I could be a part of this irresistible collection of amazing creatures whose lives will be explored by an endless parade of curious kids who might even put down their iPhones to ponder these scary, stunning pictures of exotic animals from around the world taken by some of the world’s top photographers."
In mid-July Joyce Hostetter and I will publish our summer issue of Talking Story on "The Great Outdoors." Since all of these animals can be classified as existing somewhere in that category, I'm going to give away this tremendous classroom resource through Talking Story. Leave me a comment here (with your email address if you are new to my blog) and I'll enter your name once. Follow the directions to enter the Talking Story giveaway (and if you don't know about this quarterly newsletter for teachers and librarians here is a link to the spring issue. You can subscribe through the link) and your name goes in twice. Winner will be drawn on July 21.