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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Backyard Safari series

I think I neglected my elementary collection before by not purchasing enough Marshall Cavendish Benchmark titles like the Backyard Safari series. I had the most fun with the titles Birds and Squirrels, but the series also includes Spiders; Frogs and Toads; and Caterpillars and Butterflies.

Since moving to my five acres in the country, I spend even more time just sitting outside and watching the wildlife. Trudi Strain Trueit is the author of this series and leads the reader into wanting to get up off the couch and get outside to see for oneself these animals.

Personally, I love squirrels so I couldn’t wait to open this title. I learned so much that I drove everyone around me crazy with my “Did you know…” comments. For example, I read “tree squirrels…swivel their ankle joints so their feet face backward. This is how a squirrel races down a tree face-first without falling.” Isn’t that cool? I’ve watched squirrels run for years but never noticed that. Now I’ll have to force myself to sit quietly outside watching them. Oh… the sacrifices we librarians make to verify research.

The series is laid out with four chapters and lots of facts. These are not leveled-down titles with only two sentences on a page. Instead these are factually-packed with one chapter devoted to an overview of the animal, one chapter preparing the reader for the safari, one chapter that follows up on the safari and the notes taken during it, and one chapter with three projects for the reader to safely and ecologically help the animal.

The squirrel title had directions for creating a feeding station, a peanut string obstacle course, and a nesting bag. The text boxes throughout  contained fascinating facts like why squirrels lick and touch their food before burying it.

Chapter two in each title was called “You Are the Explorer.”  The chapter contains information about bird-watching or safariing, hints for the best type of weather and best time of day to safari, lists like What Do I Wear?, What Do I Take?, Where Do I Go?, and What Do I Do?

Chapter three in each provides a logical way to organize information and notes taken during the safari. A sample note-taking page is included along with several pages of full-color photographs of a various types of the featured animal to aid in identification.

I realize this series is being released this fall on September 1st, still I wanted to find out more on the Marshall Cavendish Benchmark site but I couldn’t. Instead I was able to view the series on the Marshall Cavendish ebook site. At first I was frustrated, then I was inspired.

When I first picked up this series, I wondered how teachers could use these titles to demonstrate scientific wonder and curiosity. How can younger students learn quickly enough to read, digest, and use this series? E-Books are a perfect tool – especially if the teacher or librarian utilizes the iPads, Nooks, and digital projectors to demonstrate how to read these nonfiction titles.

Reading information texts is a MAJOR part of every curriculum. Recently I attended my districts introduction to the new Common Core State Standards being implemented immediately in grades K-2 across the state of Tennessee. One of the guides suggested that by the time a student was a senior, 70% of their reading would be informational texts. WOW! You cannot ignore them in grades K-2, these core state standards focus on spiraling skills and adding more to them each year.

Teachers need creative ideas for incorporating more nonfiction and information texts in younger grades. Suggest they plan a Backyard Safari with their students and use this series early in the year.