Sea creatures, woodland animals, bears, pets, birds, spiders, farm animals, jungle animals, raptors, frogs, and mice are just a few possible subjects for animal-based units. I think the reason animal units are so popular with young children is that kids can easily make connections to our feathered and furry friends. With Jeff Corwin and the Kratt Brothers providing a wealth of animal footage and info, I often find myself turning to my 5-year-old animal experts to clarify the pronunciation of "capybara" or "cassowary." The following animal books will help build your animal background and entertain your students faster than you can say "leapin’ lizards"!
Written by Joy Cowley
Photographs by Nic Bishop
Your students have probably already enjoyed the beautiful animal photography of Nic Bishop. (He’d actually make a great author study.) Chameleon, Chameleon will not disappoint, with its colorful photography and easy-to-follow storyline. My kids were entranced as the chameleon made his way in search of food. As a bonus, the book ends with a “Did you know?” section and features interesting facts like, “Chameleons come in many sizes, from as large as a big squirrel to as tiny as a matchstick.”
Written by I. C. Springman
Illustrated by Brian Lies
If Brian Lies’ choice of rich colors and energetic viewpoints don’t make More a Caldecott contender, I don’t know what will. Aside from the gorgeous illustrations, the simple math-themed text lends itself beautifully to teaching terms like "more," "fewer," and "most." Try my math extension page for some math practice on "more" and "fewer."
Oh No, George!
Written and Illustrated by Chris Haughton
“I hope we get to read this book again!” is how the children concluded the first reading of Oh No, George! The book follows the antics of George the dog as he tries to behave himself. The line “What will George do?” was followed by groans and laughs in my classroom. Your students will love the open-ended conclusion to this title. Have children use their imaginations as they try the story extension sheet.
And be sure to compare the end papers at the beginning and end of the book!
A Zeal of Zebras
Written and Illustrated by Woop Studios
If you’re looking for a book that combines cutting-edge graphic design and poetic text, you need this book for your classroom. The folks at Woop Studios have put their hearts and talents into a fun alphabet book that doesn’t skimp on gorgeous graphics and animal facts. My students loved the starfish endpapers, and that was just the beginning. I loved the play on words, with page headings like "A Down of Rabbits," "An Aurora of Polar Bears," and "A Troubling of Goldfish." It’s a great title to begin a descriptive writing activity.
Written by Judy Sierra
Illustrated by Marc Brown
If you’re like me, you’re always on the lookout for ways to bring drama and imagination into your reading instruction. With ZooZical, author Judy Sierra has done most of the work for you. She tells a rhyming story of how a zoo full of grouchy animals beats its blues by staging a show. She follows up this fun story with a free downloadable script and poster, complete with notes on music and set design. I’ll update you as we make plans to put on our own version of ZooZical.
The Story of Walter Rothschild and His Museum
Written and Illustrated by Lita Judge
The text in this book may be more appropriate for older students, but it is worth paraphrasing for your students. They’ll enjoy learning about a little boy, born in 1868, who grew up to create his own animal museum outside of London. The book is nicely illustrated and will introduce some interesting vocabulary to your class.
This red-winged blackbird activity was inspired by I. C. Springman’s book More. To create the background, I used some grass-themed gift wrap and added to it some strips of green construction-paper grass. To create a three-dimensional effect, I twisted and bent some of the grass before stapling it to the board. I used brown paper for the cattails and cut them out freehand. (To create the cattail shape, think hotdog with a point on one end.)
To create the birds, print out the PDF to create a template. Trace the bird body onto black construction paper, and the wing and two wing stripes on colored craft foam.
Have the children cut out the birds and wings. The stripes may be too small for them to cut out on their own. Use hot glue to attach the stripes and the wing. To create a three-dimensional wing effect, glue a small bead under the joint of the wing, causing it to stick out from the body of the bird.
To really create the illusion of space, place some of the birds on the surrounding walls and off of the bulletin board. I hung some as far away as neighboring classroom doors. What a colorful sign of spring to greet the students and staff!
Our finished bulletin board display, ready for spring!