Thursday, December 20, 2012

Book #355: A Strange Place to Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats & The Animals That Call Them Home by Marilyn Singer, Illustrated by Ed Young

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Highly adaptable animal survivors are the focus of the 14 poems in this illustrated collection. Each poem highlights a specific animal, the seemingly inhospitable habitat they live in, and the unique ways they have adapted to their harsh homes. From penguins that live in warm weather to monkeys that huddle in the snow, from blind albino cave fish to vibrant pink flamingos who feed in salt flats, the poems in this book will have readers eager to learn more about the animals that live in the world’s most dangerous habitats.

Singer’s poems cleverly incorporate science while also conveying her amazement and respect for these animals. Poems are written from a third person perspective and Singer’s words evoke the hot, cold, arid, wet, of these hazardous locales. The preface discusses the possible reasons an animal might move to a harsh environment. A note about poetry forms is included in the back of the book, explaing that most of the poems use free verse or a regular rhyme scheme without set rules. Singer also denotes which poems were written using formalized structures, such as triolets, haikus, cinquains, and terza rimas. The endnotes include a solid paragraph on each animal, their scientific name(s), and more about their adaptation to their habitat (although it would be nice to have a list of sources or recommended further reading). Young’s earthy collage illustrations use a variety of materials (many papers, cardboard, shiny plastic, woven mats, etc.) to create layered compositions. Some illustrations show the animals close up and larger than life, such as the big-eyed petroleum flies, while others show more of the animals environment, such as the snow monkeys and the urban foxes.

Singer uses a rich vocabulary to describe the animals and their homes, making this book ideal for elementary school aged kids. It maybe helpful to define words, such as “carrion,” “altitude,” “nutrients,” and “adaptation,” before reading poems. You can also read the poem once through for enjoyment, define words, and then read it a second time.

Singer does not shy away from depicting adaptations that some might consider gross, such as the fact that flies can be born in water, soil, oil, or carrion. However, all “disgusting” elements are rooted in fact and there’s something attractive about grossness, especially for young boys.

Bring in photographs of the animals, as well as their habitats, to show to kids. Spread out a map and find the areas that the animals live in. Bring in non-fiction books about harsh locations and their inhabitants. Encourage children to pick an animal and write a poem about the environmental challenges and how the animal has adapted.

Use individual poems from this book as part of a storytime on a certain animal to widen your audiences’ perception of where that animal lives, what it eats, etc. For instance, if you have an under the sea theme, read the poem about blind cave fish, “Out of Sight,” or “Down in the Depths” about the tube worms that live near deep-sea hydrothermal vents.

Read the poem “City Living” about foxes who have adapted to living in cities and the perils they face. Ask children for examples of other animals that have adapted to city living, such as raccoons and pigeons. What other animals can you find in your city? Have kids keep a log of all the animals they see during a day or a week. Tell them to write a description of the animal if they aren’t sure what it’s called. Compare logs at the end of the day/week. Use the information to make charts or graphs. You can also have children keep notes on the location they saw the animal and then plot the points on a map. Maybe many children saw the same animal in the same location.

One of the reasons that animals adapted to these dangerous habitats is that more temperate climates, although more comfortable and home to more food sources, are also challenging because there are many predators and fierce competition for food. Talk about predators and read the poem “Top of the World,” about goats that have adapted to live high in the mountains to be safe, “living where enemies cannot intrude / it succeeds indeed at this altitude.” Follow up by reading all or some of What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? by Steve Jenkins.


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