Lions & Tigers & Whales, Oh My!
Planning a trip to your local zoo or aquarium? Before you head out the door, be sure to visit the American Zoo and Aquarium (AZA) website for a searchable database of AZA accredited zoos and aquariums, ideas for getting involved with animals or conservation or to take a virtual tour of several national zoos through their Web Cams. Once the day is planned, give your kids a preview of what they'll see and do with the following animal-inspired books, videos, and music. Also be sure to check our family travel listings for a zoo or aquarium event in your area.
Penguin Putnam Inc./Dial Books for Young Readers, $16.99 (Hard Cover)
A cheerfully confident giant squid, pictured in extreme close-up on the cover and the opening page, floats through the ocean comparing himself, size-wise, to all the other animals he encounters: shrimp, clams, crabs, jellyfish, turtles, an octopus and even a shark. All in all, a storytelling treat plus a good choice for newly independent readers who will appreciate the clear picture-support as well as the repetitive vocabulary and sentence structure.
Nemo, an adventurous young clownfish, is unexpectedly taken to a dentist's office aquarium. It's up to Marlin (Albert Brooks), his worrisome father, and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a friendly but forgetful regal blue tang fish, to make the epic journey to bring Nemo home. Their adventure brings them face-to-face with vegetarian sharks, surfer dude turtles, hypnotic jellyfish, hungry seagulls, and more. Finding Nemo is a charming, wonderful film, perfect for family viewing.
Baby Neptune focuses on all things water. Divided into categories, such as Water in the Ocean, Water at the Beach, Water in Rivers & Lakes, the tape shows various forms of fish and water-related animals and products, all set to a background of classical music. Puppets are interspersed with quick-paced images of bubbles, water toys, kids with umbrellas and other water objects, as well as majestic footage of live dolphins and whales in 37 short, well-presented segments.
Blue Apple Books, $9.95 (Hard Cover)
Sometimes simple is the hardest thing of all. The text of this blocky little book follows a precise pattern: "Who am I? I have big feet. I have a l-o-n-g nose. I am an elephant." The sentences appear one after another as the page unfolds, quadrant by quadrant, to reveal a large picture of the animal in question. Bold black outlines set against a flat green background and just a hint of grass, create a winsome elephant that fills the page with his stately gray presence. Perfect for introducing zoo animals or for making predictions, this will work beautifully in toddler story hours as well.
Animal parks (i.e. zoos) are great places for children to learn about non-native creatures and their habitats. Here, the most famous indigenous animals of Africa, Australia, and Asia are featured in three separate episodes. At the Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Arizona, we see lions, leopards, ostriches, a cheetah, and elephants, and learn about how to tell an African elephant from an Asian one. The segment on Australia featured koalas, emus, and how to tell the difference between kangaroos and wallabies, as well as a look at New Guinea singing dogs, relatives to the dingo. In the Asia episode, we learn that some of the planet's smallest and largest species are found there: the smallest bears, the giant pandas, tigers (biggest cats on earth), the great apes, and more about Asian elephants, used as draft animals for millennia, unlike their African counterparts.
In the first 30-minute episode, "McSniffley's Birthday Celebration," The Jumpitz decide to have a surprise party for the dog. The second episode, "Animal Adventures", charges the Jumpitz with caring for a box of turtles. In an effort to find out the best way to care for them, they visit the library but become distracted by all the good books and forget their mission. They have a turtle race (which features the funniest song of all, in my opinion) then finally go to the zoo to learn more. There they make the startling discovery that they don't have turtles, but rather, tortoises! With good messages abounding in music ("The World In Books," "Pets Depend on You,") and in narrative, this is sweet and engaging with polished production values.
This is a do-together magazine for parents and preschoolers, filled with fun, age-appropriate features and activities about nature, science and animals. The design of the magazine is creative and dynamic with eye-catching photographs and illustrations. It always has a compelling and the format and size are great for little hands to manage. Captivating animal stories help develop pre-reading and reading skills as well answer questions about kids' favorite creatures.
Along with facts and a beautifully illustrated animal story, kids get to practice phonics, colors and numbers. Backyard games and on-page challenges, including hidden pictures and mazes, keep kids thinking and "doing." The parents' 'Resource Guide' is especially helpful if children are at the upper end of the age range.
Northland Publishing / Rising Moon, $15.95 (Hard Cover)
The classic poem "Down in the Meadow" provides the foundation for this picture book. Younger readers will discover numbers hidden in the illustrations, while older readers will learn about the aquatic life.
Your Big Backyard brings the big world of nature and wildlife right to a child's backyard. With charming, full-color photos and imaginative, illustrated read-to-me stories, kids can see and experience outdoor life up close. Features ask questions and give answers to such common queries as "why do ducks have webbed feet?" or "where do fireflies go in winter?" The interactive text prompts discussion and active learning. Fun crafts and nature projects are geared for family fun.
Sea creatures and colorful treasures are hidden under the sand on the beach, and the one who finds the largest number is the winner. Sand and treasures are safely sealed in the "shake-and-peek" box. Pick a card to see which treasure is to be looked for, then flick the spinner to select the one small section of the beach where you may look. Shaking the box mixes up the "sand" and treasures, and the more you shake, the more likely you are to find the treasure you are looking for.
Punch and paint a zany zoo! Paint bright colors on fun animal shapes and use the added accessories to create a zoo full of wild fun! Activity kit includes 6 cardboard punch-out animals, 12 poster paints, 6 crayon bright crayons, wiggly eyes, glue and easy instructions.
Seven Footer Kids, $17.95 (Hard Cover)
From the endearing content pages to the Can You See That invitation to explore the extraordinarily detailed life-size photos, young readers are immediately drawn to this book of remarkable design. The book's allure is punctuated with enormous foldouts of a giraffe, an elephant, and a rhinoceros. Each of the twenty animals, (twenty one if you count the elephant calf) photographed at Japan's premier zoos, is identified with its name (common and scientific), sex, and age. Right-page borders are illustrated with brief animal facts.Not to be missed.
In this game, players take turns listening to the walkie-talkie for instructions, drawing cards to help solve problems around the zoo, and when prompted, don an animal mask and play a quick round of hide-and-seek. Children learn to take turns, follow directions and playfully solve a problem. The game includes a game board, an electronic walkie-talkie, four sturdy animal masks, and laminated game cards
Boyds Mills Press, $16.95 (Hard Cover)
Readers have only to compare the tiny foot of the tortoise juxtaposed beside the gigantic toenail of an elephant on the cover of this visually striking book to understand that this story will be a study in both contrasts and commonalities. Based on a folktale known to most children as "The Blind Man and the Elephant," this version uses a bat, an octopus, a bird, and a goat as the other actors in the old drama where each animal explores the huge creature only to return with the belief that it is merely a much larger version of itself.
Beginning with "Lotor on His Own" (the story of a young raccoon barely old enough to leave its home), suspense builds as this fledgling creature struggles to become an adult. "Osa's Moving Day" describes a bear's den-building adventure. The final story chronicles Hazard (a coyote) as he deals with both his own fierce hunger and his loyalty to the other hungry members in his pack. Loaded with plush details about the habitat, feeding customs, and survival behaviors of the bear, coyote, and raccoon, these stories have solid appeal. These three exciting presentations are learning and listening treasures.
The playing tray holds two circles of pictures side by side. Each picture has a related image in the other circle. The monkey is placed in the center of one circle so the banana he holds points to the picture you want to match: a train, let's say. If you think you recognize which picture belongs with the train, move the monkey to the center of the second circle. The hidden magnet will spin the monkey until his banana points to the train tracks, thus proving that you matched correctly. The game comes with five large 2-sided "matching" panels with a range of topics appropriate for different ages: rhyming words, animals and their homes, opposites, occupations, seasonal pictures, colors, shapes, and letters.
As youngsters transform from aquarium worker to dolphin trainers, imaginative play includes questions (and fascinating answers) about the environment and conversation. Although it's difficult to single out the best feature in this fully equipped set, the undisputed standout among testers was that the dolphin tank truly does hold water. With delightfully detailed props from the seagulls waiting to scoop up any forgotten food, to the crane that hoists the ball for the dolphins to tap as they perform for visitors, to the watch on the dolphin trainer, the learning is playful and elaborate.
Harcourt, Inc./Voyager , $6.00 (Paperback)
Young Leslie is infatuated with the animals at the zoo and her offer to take them all in "if anything ever goes wrong" has surprising and surreal consequences. Beautifully illustrated scenes offer humor and delight for young readers.
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing/Richard Jackson Books/Atheneum, $16.95 (Hard Cover)
This excellent biography tells the story of Helen Frances Theresa Delaney Martini, the first woman keeper in the history of the Bronx Zoo - who raised twenty-seven baby tigers as well as innumerable other zoo babies.
Monterey Bay Aquarium,
Like an underwater experience for the Web, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Web site welcomes visitors with a fresh catch of content and stunning photography, set in a deep sea of vibrant blue. The site presents rich educational fare for families, educators and naturalists alike, while advancing ocean conservation initiatives. Whether playing games, preparing activities, reading real world explorer journals, or sending a sea otter e-card to a friend, the site is a gem of resources for ocean and animal enthusiasts.
Advantage Publisher's Group/Silver Dolphin Books, $16.95 (Hard Cover)
Sounds of the Wild: Ocean cannot fail to impress. Each of the main pages features a detailed panorama of an ocean scene, accompanied by a high-quality sound effect appropriate to the setting. The illustrative pages are each followed by a pair of pages that identify all of the significant elements of the scene and describe in great detail the animals, their interactions, and their environment. A pre-reader can study the beautiful images, identify favorite animals, and ask questions about the rest of the scene; older readers can delve deeper into the details of ocean life.
Here, begging to be learned for maximum sing-along enjoyment, are wildly witty songs about clams and barracuda, minnows and sharks, cuttlefish and octopi, fish tails and "soupy, gloopy" fish guts. When it comes to smart and funny family albums, this is the catch of the day.
Zoobooks is an everything-you-always-wanted-to-know about animals, reptiles, birds, and insects magazine. Each issue focuses on one topic, which is cleanly designed much like a book. The coverage is thorough, with 20 full-color pages of photos and illustrations showing on the creature in its natural setting, details of bone structure and muscles, maps, and descriptions of different breeds or characteristics. A four-page pullout section with puzzles, number games, and make-it-yourself activities adds another dimension to both the learning and the fun.
Endango is a board game where kids learn about protecting the environment. Each player is assigned an ecosystem and is responsible for three endangered animals native to each habitat. By correctly answering questions regarding the environment, players are able to move their animals to the "saved" zone. Incorrect answers move the animals one step closer to extinction. Many questions test the players' environmental knowledge, but even if they don't know the answer, as they play the game, they think about the environment and learn something new.
In order to save Merlin the Magician, Annie and Jack must travel to Antarctica to find the fourth secret to happiness. Throughout their adventure, Annie and Jack learn about the history of Antarctica, the dangers of volcanoes, and the species of penguins. They learn valuable life lessons along the way, including simple but critical rules, such as: "Never touch wildlife." Most importantly, Annie and Jack learn the necessity of hard work to render results.
Players must master over 140 rounds of diverse game play to populate five different habitats with animals and rack up points in an immersive game that pushes animal knowledge to the next level. Using the Nintendo DS stylus, players must compete in five different games, which require a combination of quick thinking and sharp reflexes. The five games include Creature Collector, Scratch 'N See, Matchomatic, Maze Munch and Animal Expert.
Ranger Rick is an engaging, educational magazine about animals, wildlife and conservation published by the National Wildlife Federation. Filled with stunning photography and interesting facts, this magazine beautifully engages the reader to learn about the exciting lives of animals and nature. Each issue is packed with full-color photos of animals and stories of adventure. Nature activities, crafts, puzzles and games make the learning hands-on.
With minimal storyline reflecting the movie, the game cobbles together a bunch of mini-games where doing well enough advances characters to the next task until they reach the broken-down airplane to fly back home to New York. There are 12 environments, including the Watering Hole, the African Jungle and Savannah, the Hippo Mud Pit and the Volcano, and a wide variety of mini-games that will appeal to players with competitive personalities. Characters swim, drive, fly helicopters, race jeeps, play soccer, play a slot machine, shoot photos and do a lot of other things.Ten multi-player mini-games are set apart from the main mission game. Younger kids who love the Madagascar movies and its colorful characters will probably get a kick out of this game.
Think you know a lot about animals? Think again...and again. The SmartLab Amazing Animal Challenge lets young players - solo or with another - test their knowledge of little-known animal facts. The brightly colored electronic trivia gamebook comes with over 1,000 answers to questions like, "Which animal has a tongue as long as its body?" Or, "As of 1999, how many elephants were enrolled in painting schools in Thailand?" Portable fun for the car on the way to school, soccer games - or even to the zoo!
Silver Dolphin Books, $18.95 (Hard Cover)
This book's center literally is a 3D model of a dolphin that, as you turn each page, reveals another layer of the inner structure of a dolphin's anatomy. The book is an informative guide filled with such factual creature briefs as "Wiggle Signals, "Unfishlike Fins," "Fat-Rich Liquid Diet" and "Safety in Numbers." Broken up by anatomical systems that are revealed in model, from skeletal and cardiopulmonary to muscular and epidermis, the info is broken down into clippy, short blocks of reading so kids don't face any type-filled gray pages. This is a fascinating, tactile, hands-in volume.
Also look for Uncover a Tiger and Uncover a Dog.
Start building your own zoo with a few ready acres, limited funds, and imagination and see how far you can get! That's the premise of Zoo Tycoon, this fun and educationally engaging business building game that lets kids open a zoo from scratch and struggle to stay in the black.
As in other Zoo Tycoon sim games, there are lessons about money, development, and animals. Players work to build a "5-star" zoo, earn money and have as many animals as possible without causing chaos. Along the way, there are lots of facts about animals and wildlife conservation. Game challenges and milestones include getting animals, building exhibits, encouraging reproduction, making your zoo visitors happy, managing your funds, hiring staff, and enhancing your zoo.
For kids who love animals, this DS version of the well-made PC game of the same title has plenty of exotic creatures in need of the medical services and loving care. First case is an ill penguin whose stomach is bloated and slightly hardened. What to do? What any good vet would do-examine the animal with a stethoscope, take a blood sample. Look for infection. Diagnose. Prescribe an antibiotic. That's how this game is played. And the vast array of sickly patients includes pandas, grizzlies, elephants, eagles, lions, crocodiles-it's a regular zoo on the smallish DS screens!