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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: zoos, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. What's New? The Zoo! - a review

Krull, Kathleen. 2014. What's New? The Zoo!: A Zippy History of Zoos. New York: Scholastic.  Illustrated by Marcellus Hall.



What's New? The Zoo? is an illustrated overview of zoos that combines history with hard science and social science.  Kathleen Krull outlines the history of zoos, and offers insight into what compels us to keep animals, what we've learned from them, and what has changed in zoos since the founding of the first known zoo,

4,400 Years Ago, The Sumerian City of Ur, in Present-Day Iraq
The king of beasts lunges and roars.  The King of Ur roars right back, feeling like the ruler of all nature.  How delicious to wield his power over dangerous animals!  It's the world's first known zoo, and all we're sure about (from clay tablets in libraries) is that is has lions.
From this beginning, Krull highlights transitional moments in zoos throughout the ages and across the globe.  Just a few examples include:

  • Ancient Egypt and Rome where zoos were created to impress
  • Ancient China where the zoo was a contemplative and sacred place
  • Sweden where the science of zoology was established in 1735
  • The U.S. National Zoo where the concept of zoos protecting threatened species was introduced
  • South Africa's Kruger National Park where the protection of rhinos was so successful that rhinos were delivered to other zoos
  • Germany, 1907, where the "cageless zoo" concept is introduced
(Did you know that Aristotle wrote the first encyclopedia of animals?)

On most pages, humorous, watercolor illustrations nestle around paragraphs of simple font against white space.  Several pages, however (including one depiction of fifteen buffalo waiting for a train at Grand Central Station, 1907), are double-spreads with many amusing details.

The very talented Kathleen Krull never disappoints!  If you like your science accessible and entertaining, this is the book for you.

A SLJ interview with Kathleen Krull on the history of zoos.

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2. Investing for feline futures

By Rachael A. Bay


For tigers, visiting your neighbor is just not as easy as it used to be. Centuries ago, tigers roamed freely across the landscape from India to Indonesia and even as far north as Russia. Today, tigers inhabit is just 7% of that historical range. And that 7% is distributed in tiny patches across thousands of kilometers.

Habitat destruction and poaching has caused serious declines in tiger populations – only about 3,000 tigers remain from a historical estimate of 100,000 just a century ago. Several organizations are concerned with conserving this endangered species. Currently, however, all conservation plans focus increasing the number of tigers. Our study shows that, if we are managing for a future with healthy tiger populations, we need to look beyond the numbers. We need to consider genetic diversity.

Genetic diversity is the raw material for evolution. Populations with low genetic diversity can have lower health and reproduction due to ‘inbreeding effects’. This was the case with the Florida panther – in the early 1990s there were just 30 Florida panthers left. Populations with low genetic diversity are also vulnerable when faced with challenges such as disease or changes in the environment.

Photo by Rachael A. Bay

Photo by Rachael A. Bay

Luckily for tigers, they don’t have low genetic diversity. They have very high genetic diversity, in fact. But the problem for tigers is that losing genetic diversity happens more quickly in many small, disconnected populations than in one large population. The question is: how can we keep that genetic diversity so that tigers never suffer the consequences of inbreeding effects.

We used computer simulations to predict how many tigers we would need in the future to keep the genetic diversity they already have. Our study shows that without connecting the small populations, the number of tigers necessary to maintain that variation is biologically impossible. However, if we can connect some of these populations – between tiger reserves or even between subspecies – the number of tigers needed to harbor all the genetic variation becomes much smaller and more feasible. Case studies have shown that introducing genetic material from distantly related populations can hugely benefit the health of a population in decline. In the case of the Florida panther, when individuals from another subspecies were introduced into the breeding population, the numbers began to rise.

We do need to increase the number of tigers in the wild. If we can’t stop poaching and habitat destruction, we will lose all wild tigers before we have a chance to worry about genetic diversity. But in planning to conserve this majestic animal for future generations we should make sure those future populations can thrive – and that means trying to keep genetic variation.

Rachael A. Bay is a PhD candidate at Stanford University, and co-author of the paper ‘A call for tiger management using “reserves” of genetic diversity’, which appears in the Journal of Heredity.

Journal of Heredity covers organismal genetics: conservation genetics of endangered species, population structure and phylogeography, molecular evolution and speciation, molecular genetics of disease resistance in plants and animals, genetic biodiversity and relevant computer programs.

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Image credit: Tigers at San Francisco Zoo. Photo by Rachael A. Bay. Do not reproduce without permission.

The post Investing for feline futures appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. Disposable captives

By Lori Gruen


The decision by the administrators of the Copenhagen Zoo to kill a two-year-old giraffe named Marius by shooting him in the head in February 2014, then autopsy his body in public and feed Marius’ body parts to the lions held captive at the zoo created quite an uproar. When the same zoo then killed the lions (an adult pair and their two cubs) a month later to make room for a more genetically-worthy captive, the uproar became more ferocious.

Animal lovers across the globe were shocked and sickened by these killings and couldn’t understand why this bloodshed was being carried out at a zoo.

The zoo’s justification for killing Marius was that he had genes that were already “well represented” in the captive giraffe population in Europe. The justification for killing the lions was that the zoo was planning to introduce a younger male who was not genetically related to any of the females in the group.

Sacrificing the well-being and even the lives of individual animals in the name of conserving a diverse gene pool is commonplace in zoos. Euthanasia, usually by means less grotesque than a shotgun to the head, is quite common in European zoos. In US zoos, contraception is often used to prevent “over-representation” of certain gene lines. The European zoos’ reason for not using birth control the way most American zoos do is that they believe allowing animals to reproduce provides the animals with the opportunity to engage the fuller range of species typical behaviors, but that also means killing the undesirable offspring. In both European and US zoos, families are broken up and individuals are shipped to other facilities to diversify and manage the captive gene pool.

If this all has a ring of eugenic reasoning, consider what the executive director of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Gerald Dick, had to say: “In Europe, there is a strict attempt to maintain genetically pure animals and not waste space in a zoo for genetically useless specimens.”

A stuffed giraffe, representing Marius, at a protest against zoos and the confinement of animals in Lisbon, 2014

A stuffed giraffe, representing Marius, at a protest against zoos and the confinement of animals in Lisbon, 2014

The high-profile slaughter of Marius and the lions that ate his body focus attention on an important debate about the purpose of zoos and more generally the ethics of captivity. Originally, zoos were designed to amuse, amaze, and entertain visitors. As public awareness of the plight of endangered species and their diminishing habitats grew, zoos increasingly saw their roles as conservation and education. But just what is being conserved and what are the educational lessons that zoo-goers take away from their experiences at the zoo?

A recent study suggests that zoo-goers learn about biodiversity by visiting zoos. Critics have suggested that the study is not particularly convincing in linking the small increase in understanding of biodiversity with the complex demands of conservation. Some zoos are committed to direct conservation efforts; the Wildlife Conservation Society (aka the Bronx Zoo) and the Lincoln Park Zoo are just two examples of zoos that have extensive and successful conservation programs. Despite these laudable programs, these WAZA-accredited zoos, like the European zoos, are also in the business of gene management and a central tenet of the current management ethos is to value genetic diversity over individual well-being.

Awe-inspiring animals such as giraffes and gorillas and cheetahs and chimpanzees are not seen as individuals, with distinct perspectives, when viewed, as Dick says, as either useful or useless “specimens.” They are valued, if at all, as representative carriers of their species’ genes.

This distorts our understanding of other animals and our relationships to them. Part of the problem is that zoos are not places in which animals can be seen as dignified. Zoos are designed to satisfy human interests and desires, even though they largely fail at this. A trip to the zoo creates a relationship in which the observer, often a child, has a feeling of dominant distance over the animals being looked at. It is hard to respect and admire a being that is captive in every respect and viewed as a disposable specimen, one who can be killed to satisfy a mission that is hard for the zoo-going public to fully understand, let alone endorse.

Causing death is what zoos do. It is not all that they do, but it is a big part of what happens at zoos, even if this is usually hidden from the public. Zoos are institutions that not only purposely kill animals, they are also places that in holding certain animals captive, shorten their lives. Some animals, such as elephants and orca whales, cannot thrive in captivity and holding them in zoos and aquaria causes them to die prematurely.

Death is a natural part of life, and perhaps we would do well to have a less fearful, more accepting attitude about death. But those who purposefully bring about premature death run the risk of perpetuating the notion that some lives are disposable. It is that very idea that we can use and dispose of other animals as we please that has led to the problems that have zoos and others thinking about conservation in the first place. When institutions of captivity promote the idea that some animals are disposable by killing “genetically useless specimens” like young Marius and the lions, they may very well be undermining the tenuous conservation claims that are meant to justify their existence.

Lori Gruen is Professor of Philosophy, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Environmental Studies at Wesleyan University where she also coordinates Wesleyan Animal Studies and directs the Ethics in Society Project. She is the author of The Ethics of Captivity.

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Image credit: Sit-in protest in Lisbon. Photo by Mattia Luigi Nappi, 2014. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The post Disposable captives appeared first on OUPblog.

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4. Xander's Panda Party: Linda Sue Park & Matt Phelan

Book: Xander's Panda Party
Author: Linda Sue Park (@LindaSuePark)
Illustrator: Matt Phelan (@MattPhelanDraws)
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

Xander's Panda Party, by Linda Sue Park, is, as you might expect, a picture book about a panda named Xander who wants to throw a party. It's also about inclusiveness and about battling loneliness. 

Xander wants to have a rip-roaring panda party. But this turns out to be a bit tricky, as he is the only panda in the zoo. So he expands his idea to invite all of the bears. But it turns out that Koala is actually a marsupial. He doesn't want to leave her out, so Xander has to expand the party to encompass all mammals. But then Rhinoceros wants to bring his bird, and so on, and so on, until everyone at the zoo is invited to the bash. Xander's generosity of spirit is rewarded at the end, when a very special new friend arrives at the zoo. 

Park's text is poetic, using lots of rhyme without being sing-songy. Like this:

"But Xander was the only panda. Just one panda at the zoo.
Xander sat and chewed bamboo. He changed his plans and point of view."

Doesn't that just beg to be read aloud?  And this:

"Xander's party preparations took great pains and perspiration.
"The menu needs some taste sensations, plus the proper vegetation!""

Delightful! This is a book that parents will be able to read over and over again, because the cadence is so enjoyable. There are also plenty of strong vocabulary words, like "congregating" and "fidgeted." 

The message of inclusiveness, while certainly present, is surrounded by the gentle humor of the story, such that it doesn't feel overwhelming. I like that it's not always obvious to Xander that he should keep expanding his party. He really struggles with the decision each time. This having to work to decide to do the right thing will certainly make the book resonate more with young readers. 

As rendered in ink and watercolor by Matt Phelan, Xander is adorable. His loneliness at the start of the book is palpable. His joy at the end will bring a smile to any reader's face. The other animals are sketched in, interesting though not quite realistic, but the focus remains on Xander. My favorite page is one filled with small vignettes, as Xander races about the zoo, inviting other creatures to his party, leaving a trail of colored envelopes behind. 

It sounds a bit trite to say that a picture book is heart-warming. But what can I say? Xander's Panda Party is heart-warming, entertaining, and eminently read-aloudable. It is not to be missed. 

Publisher: Clarion Books (@HMHKids
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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5. A Trip to the Zoo with Animal Helpers: Meet Austin Zoo Director Patti Clark

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in a zoo? In the newly released Animal Helpers: Zoos, author Jennifer Keats Curtis worked with four zoos to learn more about the duties of a zookeeper and what it takes to care for so many different types of animals. This week we meet Patti Clark of the Austin Zoo and learn what it is like to be the director of the zoo, and why everyday brings a new adventure.

Patti Clark never fails to play the Texas Lottery.

As Director of the private, nonprofit Austin Zoo & Animal Sanctuary—a volunteer position that occupies her 364 days a year—she hopes to someday use those winnings to construct a new keeper building that would include keeper office space, food prep space, an infirmary, and onsite vet clinic for the animals.

austinzoo1Despite the tremendous number of hours she puts in, Patti never takes a vacation. “There is something magical about this place,” says Clark, who somehow manages to also serve on four other nonprofit boards in her “spare” time, “I’m afraid I’ll miss something exciting and fun!”

What began as a goat ranch nearly three decades ago has become a permanent home to more than 350 animals including big cats; primates; birds; reptiles; amphibians; mammals, such as llama and deer; and one marsupial—a big red kangaroo initially misrepresented as a much smaller wallaby.

With a meager staff of 26 employees, Clark and her crew ably manage to help these hundreds of exotic and animals, 95% of whom were rescued from neglect and abuse, unwanted by owners, or surrendered to Animal Control officers.

The Austin Zoo & Animal Sanctuary, one of four zoos featured in the new Animal Helpers: ZOOS, differs from traditional zoos because the rescued animals are on exhibit to unescorted visitors. Guests have a chance to see these animals, to learn about different species, and to get first-hand education and information about the harm that exotic pet ownership and roadside circuses can cause for these creatures. Patti jumped at the chance to be part of this new book because education is a crucial part of the Zoo’s mission.

Even though there are days when she feels chained to her desk, Patti’s day is never dull.

In January, she says, calls from the 4-H Clubs roll in, as children realize that the animals they have raised are going to be slaughtered.

Last month, they took in a two-foot-long alligator, who arrived in a tiny ferret cage.

This week, she was heavy on tortoise calls. “People buy these tiny cute tortoises in pet stores,” she explains, “That animal grows, and it grows fast until it becomes two feet across or more and no longer fits into that small glass aquarium. Once he gets in the backyard and starts eating all of the vegetation, the owner does not want him anymore. We currently have 15 tortoises here.”

Patti also answers a lot of calls about unwanted birds and snakes, mostly big pythons and boas that apartment dwellers can no longer keep.

Most of the eight tigers and five lions who now reside at the zoo were purchased as babies and hand-raised by folks who thought it seemed like a good idea at the time. One trucker kept his tiger cub in the truck cab with him for company…until the feline became too big and aggressive.

image

Leroy the Lion (pictured) is one of Patti’s favorites, though he had a similarly troubled past. Leroy served as a “junkyard lion” until he was rescued and brought to his new home in Austin. At first, Leroy, who is maneless because he is neutered, was terribly thin and sick with mange, a skin disease. When he tried to stand, his anklebone shattered. Although scars from the mange still show under his coat, thanks to Austin Zoo vets and staff, Leroy is healed, happy and healthy. His favorite toys? Old tires, which he carries around the yard and guards as if they were prey. He then lunges at, bites and claws the durable rubber. “We get deer donated that have been culled from game management ranches and from a deer processor located close to the Zoo,” explains Patti, “Leroy is quiet while stalking his prey. It is amazing that such a large animal can move soundlessly across the enclosure yard. He does like to join in roaring with our two other male throughout the day.”

Since the Austin Zoo & Animal Sanctuary is currently at capacity for some species, Patti spends a portion of nearly every single day networking with other zoos and rehabilitation facilities to find permanent placement for these unwanted animals.

Despite some of the everyday frustrations that come with managing the staff and animals—and not having limitless funds—Patti clearly loves what she does. “In the Zoo, you won’t get rich with money, but your life will be rich,” she says.

austinzoo3

To learn more about the Austin Zoo & Animal Sanctuary, please visit their Facebook page and website, http://www.austinzoo.org/.

If you want to learn more about the book Animal Helpers: Zoos go to the Sylvan Dell book page http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com/bookpage.php?id=AH_Zoos


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6. To The Zoo! (caption contest #2)

It’s summer, and you know what that means… it’s time to hit the zoo.  Heres a handy zoo locator to get you goin’.  Go… shoo… scat… 

 

Fine, keep reading…

 

I may get a strongly worded letter from PETA for saying so, but I think zoos are good for people and for animals. There is just something different about seeing an animal up close with your own eyes instead of on TV.  There is a primal connection that happens deep down when a child sees the immensity of an elephant, or the cold black stare of a boa and this is important when we are teaching our children to be good stewards of the environment.

 

Oooooo, scary...

Oooooo, scary...

 

Pruned has a great post about an art installation at a Vienna Zoo that is doing just that.  Through a series of exhibits, the zoo is making a statement about pollution and its effects on the animals’ habitats.  Now, even idyllic zoos aren’t safe from barrels of TOXIC WASTE.

 

(Photo by Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf.)

(Photo by Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf.)

 

When Beth was creating the illustrations for the book ”What Animal Are You“, she insisted on realistic habitats for her animals as part of their educational value.  Perhaps we should have had a few more discarded plastic bottles and McDonalds wrappers!  Beth is quite handy at animal drawings,  and a zoo is one of the best places for your child to hone their budding sketching or photography skills.

 

Beth Link's Animal Alphabet Book

Beth Link's Animal Alphabet Book

 

Of course, I would rather we could all see these fantastic animals in their natural habitats instead of cooped up behind plexiglass and concrete moats, but sometimes, their enclosures can be quite accomodating, unlike some enclosures I know of…

 

       Cubicles

 

Which brings me to my next topic: PEOPLE WATCHING.  I’m an avid people watcher, and have the binoculars to prove it…  Actually, it is a lot of fun to plunk yourself down on a park bench, or mall cafeteria and just observe who goes by.  If any of you have pets, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself what they must think about all your strange actions.  That’s exactly what I wondered about when I saw this little guy at the LINCOLN PARK ZOO:

 

Meercat Thought Bubble

 

What’s this little guy thinking???  Take a guess in the comments section and you could WIN BIG! 

….

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7. To The Zoo! (caption contest #2)

It’s summer, and you know what that means… it’s time to hit the zoo.  Heres a handy zoo locator to get you goin’.  Go… shoo… scat… 

 

Fine, keep reading…

 

I may get a strongly worded letter from PETA for saying so, but I think zoos are good for people and for animals. There is just something different about seeing an animal up close with your own eyes instead of on TV.  There is a primal connection that happens deep down when a child sees the immensity of an elephant, or the cold black stare of a boa and this is important when we are teaching our children to be good stewards of the environment.

 

Oooooo, scary...

Oooooo, scary...

 

Pruned has a great post about an art installation at a Vienna Zoo that is doing just that.  Through a series of exhibits, the zoo is making a statement about pollution and its effects on the animals’ habitats.  Now, even idyllic zoos aren’t safe from barrels of TOXIC WASTE.

 

(Photo by Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf.)

(Photo by Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf.)

 

When Beth was creating the illustrations for the book ”What Animal Are You“, she insisted on realistic habitats for her animals as part of their educational value.  Perhaps we should have had a few more discarded plastic bottles and McDonalds wrappers!  Beth is quite handy at animal drawings,  and a zoo is one of the best places for your child to hone their budding sketching or photography skills.

 

Beth Link's Animal Alphabet Book

Beth Link's Animal Alphabet Book

 

Of course, I would rather we could all see these fantastic animals in their natural habitats instead of cooped up behind plexiglass and concrete moats, but sometimes, their enclosures can be quite accomodating, unlike some enclosures I know of…

 

       Cubicles

 

Which brings me to my next topic: PEOPLE WATCHING.  I’m an avid people watcher, and have the binoculars to prove it…  Actually, it is a lot of fun to plunk yourself down on a park bench, or mall cafeteria and just observe who goes by.  If any of you have pets, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself what they must think about all your strange actions.  That’s exactly what I wondered about when I saw this little guy at the LINCOLN PARK ZOO:

 

Meercat Thought Bubble

 

What’s this little guy thinking???  Take a guess in the comments section and you could WIN BIG! 

….

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8. Going to the Zoo, zoo zoo!

Last week we were on holiday! We had a fantastic time, saw many wonderful things, caught up with some great friends and all in all just got a buzz from life :-)

We spent one entire day at the zoo being thrilled, amazed and occasionally disgusted by the various creatures we saw. M went crazy over the Komodo Dragon, whilst J fell in love with the fish and bugs.

Now we’re back at home we wanted to relived the exploring and excitement of that day at the zoo, and fortunately (thanks to a comment left here by Kelly from We Are Here) , I had the perfect book at hand – Welcome to the Zoo by Alison Jay.

Welcome to the Zoo tells a myriad of stories about events which take place one day at a zoo. There’s the boy who loses his balloon, the ostrich who escapes from his keeper, the monkey who steals a picnic, the poodle who causes havoc in his determination to chase after a woman’s hat blown off by the wind, and more…

These stories are told entirely without words but simply through observing all the tiny, funny and beautiful detail in Jay’s rich illustrations. The book opens with a map of the zoo, and ends with some suggestions of animals or details to look for, but otherwise the stories are waiting there for you to construct yourself.

This is what I both enjoy and (if I’m honest) sometimes feel less enthusiastic about with wordless picture books – if I’m tired I’m happier with a text to follow, but if I (or the girls) have more energy, wordless picture books can be exhilarating in a way that books with a (more or less) “set text” sometimes can’t. The inferences M makes to tie a (wordless) story together are often surprising, giving me wonderful insights into her view of the world.

In my experience wordless storytelling stimulates imaginative leaps in ways that books with text don’t always manage to achieve. Tanya, from books4yourkids.com has written a really wonderful guest post all about “How to Read a Book without Words (Out Loud)” over at The Well-Read Child – I encourage you to read what she has to say!

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9. Texas Independence Day! Big giant lizards!

Happy Independence Day!

It's the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence, so I thought I'd do a post on big giant lizards in Houston.

One of the more entertaining aspects of writing novels, in general, and a Cretaceous time-travel novel, in particular, is the research. With THE CHRONAL ENGINE, I had to (re)create an entire ecosystem, which provided an excuse to, among other things, go to zoos and natural history museums.

While (non-avian) dinosaurs are no longer with us, we still have the descendants and/or relatives of many creatures that survived the K-T extinction, including alligators and monitor lizards (and birds, of course). Above, is a photo of me at the Houston Zoo in front of their komodo dragon, the largest monitor lizard. Although its bite is septic, the komodo doesn't really look all that fearsome, particularly behind three-inch glass. Appearances of course can be deceiving, though, and I really wouldn't want to encounter one in the wild.

It's of particular interest to me, though, for a couple reasons: first, monitor lizards are known from the Cretaceous (dinosaurs weren't the only great big scaly things in the ecosystem back then!).

Second, it's related to the mosasaur, the orca-sized (20-30 feet long) aquatic predator from the North American inland sea of the late Cretaceous. Shown below is the Onion Creek mosasaur, on display at the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin:


Below, I'm still at the Houston Zoo, peering at the albino alligator.


Immediately below is a close-up of the animal's forelimb. It's kind of fascinating, how much you can see of the scales on the white animal.


Below, at the Houston Natural Sciences Museum, I'm standing in front of what I believe is a Nile crocodile.

1 Comments on Texas Independence Day! Big giant lizards!, last added: 3/2/2011

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10. The Midnight Zoo - a review

My review of The Midnight Zoo  (as it appeared in the March 2012 edition of SLJ)

The Midnight Zoo (unabr.). 4 CDs. 4.33 hrs. Prod. by Bolinda Audio. Dist. by Brilliance Audio. 2011. ISBN 978-1-7428-5126-6. $49.97.

Gr 7–10-- Like a 20th-century version of Avi's Crispin, who fled across 14th-century England, 12-year-old Andrej is without parents and adrift in Europe during World War II with his younger brother, Tomas, and infant sister in tow. Without destination or an understanding of the war that has divided them from their nomadic Roma clan, the siblings travel by night and sleep by day, sensing danger at every juncture. Andrej scavenges for their food and necessities for the baby. One moon-drenched evening, the trio arrives at a zoo in the ruins of a bombed village. They encounter a menagerie of talking animals, trapped in zoo cages with neither keeper nor keys. Throughout a surreal evening, the boys and animals share life stories. Through the animals, Andrej and Tomas begin to understand the nature of man and war. This understanding, however, offers more questions than answers. Richard Aspel's, rich and sonorous voice creates memorable characterizations for the many humans and animals in Sonya Harnett's novel (Candlewick, 2011), including German-speaking soldiers; his Aussie pronunciation requires a keen ear. Listeners who persevere will be rewarded with a stellar performance. With some aspects of fable, minimal dialogue, and heavy use of allegory, this artfully crafted look at the character of man and the concept of freedom may have limited popular appeal.

Copyright © 2012 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. Reprinted with permission.


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11. National Zoo and Aquarium Month

June is National Zoo and Aquarium Month! 

The zoo is a fantastic place for children to get up close to animals that live on all ends of the earth where learning and exploration is fun even to an adult. However, there is so much more to a zoo or aquarium than meets the eye.  What you don’t see is the rehabilitation programs where zookeepers work with injured animals, animal behavior research and endangered species research to keep these animals around for us to enjoy.

These are the people that help our authors, research the animal behaviors featured in Sylvan Dell books, and check the For Creative Minds sections for accuracy. We would like to thank all the wildlife specialists for their help through the years, and encourage Sylvan Dell readers to support and visit their local zoos and aquariums this month and throughout the year!


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12. Q&A with Andy from Animal Andy

…………………… Today, Kid Lit Reviews would like to welcome Andy Ohman, from Animal Andy by Kathy Sattem Rygg.  Andy is the main character in this crazy zoological story about the Aksarben City Zoo. The Zoo is facing budget cuts and must quickly find a way to make up the difference. If they do not, the [...]

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13. Animal Andy by Kathy Sattem Rygg

4 Stars Animal Andy Kathy Sattem Rygg 144 Pages    Ages: 8 to 12 .................... .................. Back Cover:  Ten-year-old Andy Ohman is spending his summer working at the Aksarben City Zoo where his dad is the curator. There are rumors the city might close the zoo due to budget cuts. An anonymous donor has given the [...]

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14. Don’t Feed The Boy by Irene Latham

5 Stars Don’t Feed the Boy by Irene Latham Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin Pages:  288     Ages: 8 to 12 ……………………. Back Cover:  No kid knows more about zoo life than Whit. That’s because he sleeps, eats and even attends home-school at the Meadowbrook Zoo. It’s one of the perks of having a mother who’s the [...]

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15. Animal Attraction: Exploring Animals with Picture Books


Children love animals, so it's not surprising that the canon of children's literature is populated with iconic rabbits, bears, elephant, and mice. So how can we continue to take advantage of this connection with animals as students enter their upper elementary and middle school years?

Below I've listen ten ideas for making the most of students' animal attractions. Feel free to leave a comment to share how you've used animal books in your own classroom.

1. Fantastic Fables
Project Type: Creative Writing
Suggested Grades: 2 and up

The Ancient Greeks understood the power of storytelling for instructing youth. Traditional ancient fables typically feature animals acting with human traits (anthropomorphism) and conclude with a moral, whether explicitly stated or not. 

A popular version of this genre is Aesop's Fables by Charles Santore, a reinterpretation of twenty-four of the illustrator's favorites, told and illustrated in a classic manner. My favorite illustration depicts "The Hare and the Tortoise" in a trifold page, featuring the entire cast of animals posed against a rolling landscape forested with crumbling Greek pillars, witnessing the triumph of the Tortoise. In choosing the tales and creatures to include, Santore explained:

"Each animal - the wolf, the clever fox, the silly crow - represents and symbolizes some particular aspect of the human condition. Whatever the situation, the animal's reaction is always predictable. This is true of all the creatures that populate the fables, and they never disappoint us. They are never more or less. That is the great lesson and the essence of the fable."

One modern take on this topic is Arnold Lobel's original Fables, told in plain English with the morals plainly stated. A lesser known but entertaining new look at fables can be found in Yo, Aesop! Get a Load of These Fables by Paul Rosenthal and illustrated by Marc Rosenthal. Each of these thoroughly modern fables in presented in a tongue-in-cheek way, followed by a critique and commentary by Aesop himself.

Classroom Extensions:
  • After reading several fables, ask students to describe which human traits are typically assigned to which animals. Why these animals? What is it about their physical traits or behaviors that makes them deserving of these attributes? Challenge students to assign human traits to some animals not traditionally seen in fables.Then ask, "If you were depicted as an animal in a fable, which animal would you be? Why?"
  •  Provide each student with a moral. Using one of your own, model how a story might be created to illustrate its lesson. Challenge each student to choose a cast of animal characters and write an original fable (they could even include themselves from the activity above). Need some moral ideas? Check out American English Proverbs for some thought-provoking lines. 
  • Select an illustration from one of the books described above. Challenge students to write the fable it illustrates. Another terrific source for traditional fables is Jerry Pinkney's Aesop's Fables.
  • Squids Will Be Squids is Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith's collection of fantastically original fables. Check out the related teaching ideas at Scholastic.
2. Peerless Predators
Project Type: Argumentative Essay/Research
Suggested Grades: 4 and up

Animal research projects are so common as to be cliche. So much of what we call "research" amounts to simple regurgitation of facts that are, in isolation, somewhat meaningless. So how can we revamp this assignment to make it more meaningful for students and their audience alike? I suggest an assignment called The HOWL Museum.

To practice argumentative writing skills, students are told that the HOWL (Hunters of the Wild Lands) Museum is seeking nominations for predators to be included in their exhibits. In order for a predator to be selected, students need to prove that their nominee is a well-equipped and skilled hunter. Students are then assigned predators for research, and they begin to organize initial ideas on a Google Drawing doc template (notes could also taken using Read Write Think's Persuasive Map). In my case, students draft their work directly into online digital portfolios hosted at wikispaces. See an essay example here; most were later revised for printing in conjunction with an image.

While students used several Internet sources for research on this project, many students used trade books as well. One favorite was Predators by John Seidensticker and Susan Lumpkin (one of the INsiders series published by Simon and Schuster), as it featured not only profiles of some of the world's top hunters, but also sections on the weapons and instincts that make these killers the pinnacles of their food pyramids. The text reads like any excellent nonfiction text, with plenty of illustrations, captions, text boxes, and cut-away diagrams.

Top 10 Worst Killer Animals You Wouldn't Want to Meet by Fiona Macdonald and David Antram boldly counts down the top killers from around the world, providing curious readers answers to questions such as, "How do jellyfish feed?" and "How do you avoid a shark attack?" Kids find this book fascinating since it profiles not only the predators, abut also those malevolent creatures that carry infection and kill by disease.

But perhaps the hottest commodity was Predator Showdown: 30 Unbelievably Awesome Predator vs. Predator Faceoffs by Lee Martin. Students loved the grudge-matches depicted on the pages, along with the vital stats of each contender. Rather than reveal the winners immediately, the author lists the winner on the book's final page, along with a short explanation of why one animal would overcome the other. I think students enjoyed the format because its competitive nature mirrored the fierce loyalty they began to feel for their own nominee to The HOWL Museum. Unfortunately, it seems that book is out of print, so if you can't find it at your library I'd alternatively suggest Nature's Deadliest Predators by Shelly Silberling. While it is limited to sharks, bears, tigers, and alligators and crocodiles, this text demonstrates the interactions between these predators and the humans who increasingly compete with them for limited habitable space.

Classroom Extensions:
  • Assign each student a predator, and direct them to learn about that animal's physical traits and behaviors. Below is a list of predators to get you started.
  • Use a simple checklist to allow students to peer review first drafts. One of our checklists can be accessed below.
  • Publish the essays and post them with an announcement about the HOWL Museum. To create the illusion of a grand opening, I used the image editing site Photo505 to create some "publicity shots." To this day, some students think the museum is real! See the photos below, and feel to use them as well.
 
  • If you're not crazy about the notion of predators, consider research projects on animals that live in productive harmony through symbiosis, a "close, prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but does not necessarily, benefit each member" (wordnik.com).

3. Crazy Critters
Project Type: Creative Writing/Art
Suggested Grades: 2 and up 

Kids love the idea of mixing and matching animal parts! Explore some picture books that celebrate these crazy mixed up animals, and then let your students loose to give it a try themselves. 

In Scranimals, written by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Peter Sis, animals are not only combined with other animals, but with fruits, vegetables and flowers as well! Thus we get spinachickens, broccolions, and bananacondas. Fun poems accompany each full spread illustration. In Animals that Ought to Be: Poems about Imaginary Pets, Richard Michelson and Leonard Baskin exercise equal creative liberties in morphing creatures that are both creepy and utilitarian, such as the Nightmare Scarer which feeds upon bad dreams. In a third book of poems, author Keith DuQuette offers up some hilarious homemade hybrids in Cock-a-Doodle-Moo: A Mixed Up Menagerie.

Classroom Extensions:
  • Explore the concept of portmanteau words with your students. Unlike compound words that simply combine two smaller words, or contractions which drop letters, portmanteau words combine words and lose letters to form new words entirely. Thus smoke and fog create smog, and breakfast and lunch create brunch. Scranimals is a terrific choice for introducing this concept.
  • Have students cut apart magazine images of animals to create collage critters. Students can then write descriptions of these animals, including the unique abilities they're granted given their hybrid qualities.
  • Explore the online possibilities for creating crazy animal combinations using a site like Switch Zoo or Build Your Wild Self.

4. Beasts of Burden
Project Type: Creative Writing/Research
Suggested Grades: 3 and up 

In addition to language and the wheel, perhaps nothing defines human evolution more than the ability to domesticate animals. In fact, according to Keltie Thomas, there are some Animals that Changed the World:

From furry felines to hard-working horses, animals have had a tremendous impact on world history. For example, rats, through the diseases they carry, have probably killed more people than any war or natural disaster, goats may have been the first to discover coffee and, thanks to camels, people were able to survive for long periods in the desert and open up trade routes between Europe and Asia.

In this amazing book, the author describes how 20+ animals have had a profound impact on human history for good (dogs, camels, horses) and bad (rats, mosquitoes). A fascinating nonfiction read for the students 10 and up, this full-color text features photos, diagrams, maps, and timelines, paired with easy-to-understand text. Overall the information is organized by topic (Animals at Work, Secret Agents of Disease, etc.) and also by individual animal. See some sample pages from publisher Annick Press.

If you're interested in getting "up close and personal" with some amazing animals who have found their ways into our human history, check out Tales of Famous Animals by Peter and Connie Roop, illustrated by Zachary Pullen. These true tales tell how amazing animals, from the time of Alexander the Great to the present, have played critical roles in the lives of humans they've encountered. Find familiar names like Koko the Gorilla and Smokey Bear, and not-so-familiar names such as Quest and Old Abe. While some critics may argue that animals serving humans are in bondage, this book clearly illustrates that affectionate and respectful relationships between humans and animals are mutually beneficial. Highly recommended as a read aloud!

In addition to working with humans, younger readers may also be interested to learn how animals work together. In Do Animals Work Together?, author Faith Hickman Brynie describes the many ways that animals communicate among their colonies, packs, and herds. What's neat about this book is that each spread features a picture page and a text page, with the text page containing new reader sentences at the top, providing basic information, and a fluent reader section at the bottom, providing more details. One text section isn't dependent upon the other, and both can be read without sounding redundant. Enslow Publishing provides an educator 's guide for this book, as well as all books in the I Like Reading About Animals series. (Win this book! See bottom of the post).

Classroom Extensions:
  • Assign each student an animal that has played a significant role, for good or bad, in human history. After they've researched their animal, allow students to present to the class in a creative way. For example, what would each animal have to say about its life's work in a retirement speech? Would it be proud of its accomplishments?
  • Using Animals that Changed the World and other resources, students can practice writing simple expository essays describing how animals assist people. While children can likely generate three ways that dogs are useful to people, including a resource text reinforces the the importance of backing arguments with facts and quotes.
  • Pair individual accounts of animal labor from Animals that Changed the World with related fiction texts (for example, real-life sled dogs paired with Stone Fox) or related nonfiction texts (camels and their role in the Silk Route).

5. Creature Comparisons
Project: Poetry/Figurative Language
Suggested Grades: 3 and up

Curious as a cricket, happy as a lark, slow as a snail. See where this is going? Students enjoy creating simple similes, and their vast store of animal knowledge makes these comparisons easy.

A wonderful mentor text for this activity might be Shakespeare's Zoo (Volume 1) by Laudea Martin. It was "a very old (c. 1896) and well-loved boxed set of the complete works of William Shakespeare, which once belonged to Laudea's great grandmother... that sparked her interest in the richness of Shakespeare's written words." The author soon discovered that in many of Shakespeare's works, both famous and obscure, the Bard employed animal imagery to paint perfect pictures of human passions and pratfalls. 

From the book description:
Shakespeare's brilliance shines through, not just in his most famous lines, but in every line. The tiniest snippet of his work contains fantastic wordplay and depth of imagery. This book takes some of his less-known bits about various animals and pairs them with Laudea Martin's unique illustrations assembled from textured layers.

And, like all Shakespeare, each page will become easier to understand the more you read it. The brilliant words of Shakespeare are meant to be heard, not seen, so read the words aloud and listen to the rhythm. Read them again and again, and let your imagination fill in the details of the scene.

Each illustration was digitally constructed using layers of textured color. Some textures will be immediately recognizable, such as wood grain or leaves; others may be more difficult to discern, but all come together to create whimsical representations of just a few of the animals mentioned by Shakespeare.

Simple nonfiction picture books can provide students with countless ideas for writing about their own traits. In About Hummingbirds, for example, author Cathryn Sill discusses in plain language how hummingbirds are brightly colored and fast (we knew that!) while at the same time stealthy and even quarrelsome! Illustrator John Sill's images back up the text with vivid details, showing the reader in fine detail what could never be seen in real life by the naked eye. 

For students seeking more details, the creators included a plate-by-plate addendum providing more data about each image, including information on habitats, physical dimensions, and behaviors, with rich words such as iridescent, preening, and vigorously. See other books in the award-winning About... series, or Win this book! See bottom of the post for more information.
Classroom Extensions:
  • Students can create biographical poems by first selecting adjectives that they feel describe them (pretty, busy, fast, etc.) and then selecting animals that match those adjectives. Students can pair the adjectives and animals in simile form, such as, "I snore like a lion when I'm really, really tired," and "I'm busy as a beaver every day when I get home."
  • Creating a flip book is a fantastic way to show off and illustrate the comparisons described above, and the sizes of the books can vary from tiny to huge.
  • Collect a pile of animal poem books and let students browse them and share their favorites. Then offer trade books or simply pictures of an assortment of animals, and ask students to write simile poem inspired by a favorite critter. 

6. Pack Behavior
Project: Analytic Essay/Novel Extension
Suggested Grades: 5 and up
 
We all know that wolves and dogs are pack animals, but did you realize that humans are as well? If you don't believe me, ask Cesar Millan, who in Be the Pack Leader has this to say:

The power of the pack idea doesn't just apply to dogs. It applies to another species of pack animals whose destinies have been intertwined with those of dogs for tens of thousands of years.That would be our very own species, Homo sapiens.

I've had a good deal of success with partnering books on wolf pack behavior with books that deal with similar "pack" behavior in humans. Holes, The Outsiders, Wringer, and Lord of the Flies are just a few of the books that demonstrate the irresistible hold a dominant alpha can have over a pack, leading subordinates to follow blindly, even when consequences might prove disastrous. The boys of Group D in Holes, for example, certainly adhere to a ranking system, and protagonist Stanley Yelnats quickly learns that small concessions on his part can improve his own position in that ranking. 

And of course, I'd recommend a quick study in pack behavior before reading any novel dealing with dog packs, such Island of the Blue Dolphins, Julie of the Wolves, and Call of the Wild, to name just a few.

For picture books I would recommend Scruffy: A Wolf Finds His Place in the Pack by Jim Brandenburg,  Wolves by Sandra Markle, and Face to Face with Wolves, also by Jim Brandenburg.

Classroom Extensions:
  • Choose a fact-rich picture book such as Scruffy: A Wolf Finds His Way in the Pack. Once students have read and discussed the text, have them write a simple essay explaining how pack behavior is critical to survival.
  • Later, assign students the challenge of drawing comparisons between the group behavior observed in your novels and the previously studied pack behavior.

7. Feathered Friends
Project: Poetry/Research
Suggested Grades: 5 and up 


Screenshot of a LinoIt discussion of Dunbar's The Sparrow (see below)
In his classic poem The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe describes the unsettling midnight visit of a raven to the windowsill of a melancholy and mournful narrator. When that narrator asks repeatedly if the raven will provide solace and comfort, the raven simply answers, "Nevermore." Similarly, poet Paul Laurence Dunbar is visited by a sparrow who, unlike Poe's raven, seems to offer reprieve from the author's toil and dullness. The sparrow's attempts to distract the poet are rebuffed.

If you suspect a theme is developing, you would be correct. Poets in particular seem to enjoy expounding upon serendipitous meetings with birds, taking some delight in reading their stoic expressions and wondering about their mysterious lives (see Emily Dickinson's A Bird Came Down the Walk, Paul Laurence Dunbar's The Sparrow, and Edwin Morgan's A Gull).

Classroom Extensions:
  • Share some of these poems with students, particularly Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." This poem's fantastic vocabulary, figurative language, and creepy author's tone can be explored interactively The Interactive Raven and Knowing Poe: Annotated Poe  
  • Compare and contrast Poe's poem with others about chance meetings with birds. This post discusses using a cool collaborative site called LinoIt to create online discussions, complete with stickies, images, and videos.
  • Assign each student a bird, asking them to explore its history and mythology, as well as its physical characteristics and habits. Armed with this information, challenge students to write a poem about a meeting with this bird, basing it upon some of the exemplars above.
  • Check out the haunting poem Carrion Crow by John Heath-Stubbs (definitely share the audio!), which describes a literal bird's eye view of history. After discussing the text and researching the battle to which it refers, ask students to write a similar poem as observed from a bird's point of view.
  • If you feel that this activity is for the birds, consider allowing students to write poetry about their own choice of animal after conducting some basic research. Eric Carle's Animals Animals features animal poems by some of the literary greats (think Kipling, Carroll, Sanburg, Rossetti) accompanied by his signature cut-paper illustrations. These poems might also serve you if you choose to tackle any of the Creative Comparisons activities listed above.
8. Who's to Choose When It Comes to Zoos?
Project: Argumentative Essay/Research
Suggested Grades: 6 and up

Should zoos exist? The SCAN post titled Simple Questions Lead to Complex Learning is a good jumping off place for getting started with this topic (as well as many others).

For ages 8 and up, the dilemma of animal captivity is thoughtfully explored in Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan, the 2013 Newbery Winner. From the Author's Biography: Katherine was inspired to write The One and Only Ivan after reading about the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, the "Shopping Mall Gorilla." The real Ivan lived alone in a tiny cage for twenty-seven years at a shopping mall before being moved to Zoo Atlanta after a public outcry. I highly recommended this text as a read-aloud, or as a class novel for grades 4 and up. Check out the official book trailer below.

Classroom Extensions:
  • Let students explore a number of zoo and circus themed picture books. What messages about zoos and their purposes seem to be conveyed in those texts? Have more recent titles on these topics attempted to redefine the roles of these institutions?
  • Assign students to prepare both pro and con arguments for zoos, and then divide the class arbitrarily to debate the issue.
  • Upon the debate's conclusion, invite students to write an argumentative essay for the position they would like to take, being certain in their writing to address the claims of the opposing viewpoint.


9. Animal Allies
Project: Art/Research
Suggested Grades: 5 and up

Animal Tribe introduces students to the mythologies and wisdom of animals as celebrated by various indigenous peoples from around the globe. Explore that site to see what's offered, and consider ways that these studies could be incorporated into your existing curriculum.

A logical connection to this project is research in how animals are being threatened by their struggles to share this planet with humans. Books such as Once a Wolf: How Wildlife Biologists Fought to Bring Back the Gray Wolf by Stephen R. Swinburne and Dorje's Stripes by Anshumandi Ruddra can get this discussion started.

In the latter book, a beautiful Royal Bengal Tiger arrives one day, broken and tired, at a small Buddhist Monastery in Tibet. He begins to lost his stripes as his fellow tigers are poached from the surrounding countryside. Hope for the future shines, however, when one day a single stripe, and a beautiful female tiger, return. ((Win this book! See bottom of the post).

Classroom Extensions:
  • Visit Animal Tribe and see how that site's activities can be adapted to your lesson plans.
  • Rather than traditional animal research projects, assign each student an animal that is threatened or endangered. In addition to describing the causes of their animal's predicament, they should offer possible solutions that serve all parties involved.
  • In connection with a text such as Once a Wolf, appoint students to play various roles including ranchers, conservationists, tourists, etc. Plan a debate with each interest group required to provide support for their point of view.

10. Home Sweet Home
Project: Creative Writing
Suggested Grades: 2 and up

Almost every child at one time or another has dreamed of owning an exotic pet. Many books have explored the possibilities and pitfalls of this fantasy. Perhaps the most well-known of this genre is The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer. In this simple yet beautiful story, a child patiently counters his mother's every protest against his plan to adopt a salamander and transform his bedroom into a forest refuge. The question-answer format of storytelling is a familiar one, but the facts we learn about salamanders and the illustrations by Steve Johnson are alone worth the price of admission.

Not Inside This House! written by Kevin Lewis and illustrated by David Ercolini, addresses this same topic in a much more humorous way.

A curious boy named Livingstone, who finds ordinary toys and diversions a bore, loves to explore. To his mother's horror, however, he enjoys bringing the results of those explorations home. From the book:

His wary mom?
She did implore...

"Livingstone Columbus Magellan Crouse,
I'll have no bugs inside this house!
I'll say it once. Won't say it twice.
To speak again will not suffice."

As you can see, Kevin Lewis' text is replete with wonderful words, and David Ercolini's vivid illustrations beg closer inspection. See more here at the artist's site.

Classroom Extensions:
  • Play devil's advocate using The Salamander Room. Is it right for Brian to keep this wild creature in his home? If the salamander's comfort demands so many changes to Brian's room, then is this the best place for it?
  • In Not Inside This House, the pets Livingstone chooses to bring home become increasingly large and troublesome. When his mother finally relents and agrees that he can have the one bug he started with, we have to wonder, Is this what he had planned all along? Have students choose an extraordinary animal they'd like to adopt, and then create both sensible and outlandish reasons they'd give for why this animal should be permitted.
I hope this list gives you a few ideas to try out in your classroom, as well as a few new titles to add to your library! Please comment below and share with your fellow readers how you use animals books in your classroom. 

Also, be sure to enter the raffle below to win one of three books: About Hummingbirds, Dorje's Stripes, and Do Animals Work Together. The raffle ends on 2/21/13, at which time winners will be notified. Good luck to all who enter!

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