by Catherine Thimmesh

Price at time of review: $16.99
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Boston, MA
ISBN: 9780547390109

Grade Level: K-2

Reviewed by CBC Reviewer

For decades, any hint of emotion in the animal behavior described in children's literature was considered unscientific "anthropomorphism." But today modern neuroscience has identified the same neurotransmitters and behavioral genes in many animals that help humans form bonds and survive.

We know that there are strong reasons for "friendship" in the animal world. Denning patterns may result in protection from the elements, pack instincts help the young of a species survive, and imprinting and modeling help young animals learn the behaviors they will need to hunt or hide. This book tells the true stories of cross–species animal relationships where these instincts are evident. An abandoned baby macaque, an injured basset hound, a huge Asiatic bear in the unnatural confines of a zoo—all have instincts to form bonds with other animals. Because most of the stories are about rescued, injured, or captive animals, a second theme of the book is that humans are also friends to animals.

Each double page spread begins with large text verse, ideal for reading aloud, and then provides an adult–level explanation of the relationship that is depicted in the large photos. This NSTA/CBC Outstanding Trade Book works on a number of levels. Students might research the natural habitat and instincts of each of the diverse species and then discuss their behaviors in captivity. They might think about how the animals' instincts are adapted to their unnatural surroundings.

The inevitable result of this literature in most classrooms will be discussions of human friends and a greater appreciation of diversity. That's the third unwritten subtext of this book; friendships enrich everyone. Any grade from K through middle school could infer that theme and build bridges after reading it.

Review posted on 1/26/2012

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