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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Uncommon Animals – uncommon titles

Arctic Fox: Very cool! by Stephen Person. Bearport Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-1-59716-730-7

Fossa: A Fearsome Predator by Meish Goldish.  Bearport Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-1-59716-732-1

Bearport Publishing’s Uncommon Animal series falls between the Gross Out Defenses and the Earth in Danger series for readability. Part of the Narrative Nonfiction line, Uncommon Animals is intended for grades two through seven and written at a third grade level. These are written as high-interest stories but still have controlled text with an average of 100 words per two-page spread. Each title contains enough basic facts to enable an elementary student to research and the illustrations are well-chosen as always, but the hidden strength of these titles lies in their narratives. I will be purchasing all of this series for my middle school students. I can’t wait to read Aye-Aye: An Evil Omen.

Authors Stephen Person and Meish Goldish have written many nonfiction titles, yet when they approached these stories their narratives show they were not writing cookie-cutter-series titles. While the beauty of the Arctic Fox’s white winter coat attracted me to this title first, I found Fossa’s facts coming to mind again and again.

Fossa: A Fearsome Predator can be interwoven into units involving

  • animal myths and legends
  • endangered animals
  • environmental concerns such as burning rainforests/habitats
  • ecotourism
  • forest habitats
  • careers working with animals
  • biography units on scientists
  • predators and prey
  • mongooses (or is it mongeese?)
  • lemurs
  • African animals

When I first began reading Fossa, I approached it as a mystery. The back cover hints that this animal may not exist. Does it? The story focuses upon the investigations of professor Luke Dollar who while studying rare lemurs in Madagascar learned of a fearsome predator who viciously killed lemurs. Through his investigations he learned that parents told children scary bedtime stories of the fossa like we tell stories of the big bad wolf. Did these animals exist? Yes! They are no myth. Are they horrible monsters? A-ha! You will have to read this title.

Luke returned yearly to Madagascar to trap and study these animals. He became a college professor and trained teams to study these rarely seen animals. The photographs resulting from his studies will satisfy your big cat-loving students who will argue with you about whether the fossa is member of the cat or the mongoose. While information on the fossa is presented, I found myself focusing upon the scientist Luke Dollar and imagining how students could be inspired to devote their lives to investigating and studying animals. 

Fossa: A Fearsome Predator is a successful nonfiction title because it transcends it’s designation as an animal book. It inspires the reader to consider many other aspects of science including the importance of tourism to an economy to diminish the destruction of forests and teamwork in scientific investigation. 

The story includes statements from Luke Dollar like, "It’ll eat anything with a heartbeat…It’s a killing machine." With the scary bedtime stories accompanying fossas, I expect fossas to turn up in the next "animal gone bad" horror series. This will give the nerdy kids like me, who need to know the facts, opportunities to provide real information on the importance of the fossa to the food chain and farm economy. I’m ready for the next party to share something new – forget the weather, baseball, and politics, let’s chat predators. 

On to the Arctic and the northernmost town in the world – Ny-Ålesund, Norway. (How’s that for more party conversation?!) Arctic Fox: Very Cool! shows that Arctic foxes are not endangered, but uncommon (hence the series name). My favorite illustration in this text shows an arctic fox’s coat between winter and summer. Every time I look at it, I wrinkle my nose and snear at its ugliness; then I see the photos of the Arctic fox with its beautiful thick winter coat and even it’s thinner summer coat and I make the universal librarian sound for cute "aaawwww."  

Arctic Fox: Very Cool! also can be used for many curriculum areas:

  • predator/prey
  • global warming
  • animal adaptation
  • Arctic animals

This title was a very successful read-aloud for an animal unit and appealed to both boys and girls. I liked the Read More suggestions at the back, but I’m going to have to ask the publisher to improve on the bibliography of Arctic Fox before I can use that for instructional purposes. Perhaps they could flesh it out by describing their process of choosing photos if they were short on sources for information. The Fossa bibliography was extremely useful for teaching citations. If that’s the only criticism I have in the series, I think that’s easily overcome with the successful writing and unique topics.