Book Review: Salamanders (Woodward, 2008) (Children's Book)

distefan

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Woodward, John. 2008. Salamanders (Nature's Children Series, Set 2). Grolier/Scholastic, Danbury, Connecticut.


The summary version:
Written for elementary school-aged children, this book provides an excellent introduction to salamanders as a subset of amphibians. It has clear, comprehensive text and colorful, interesting photographs, all of which captures the imagination and provides excellent opportunity for further discussion and expanded study, provided one is willing to search beyond the meager (all of 4) suggested resources.


The long-winded version:
This book is part of the Scholastic's encyclopedic Nature's Children Series which is marketed primarily to US elementary schools and libraries; library-bound and measuring 7 x 8.5 inches, this is just the right size and weight to be very comfortably held by young readers. Most importantly, it provides one of the best young children's general introductions to salamanders that I have read. The comprehensive information is effectively presented at a level appropriate to elementary school-aged children and includes such subjects as basic amphibian characteristics, characteristics of various types of salamanders (mole, giant, lungless, amphiumas, etc.), seasonal behaviors, feeding, skin characteristics (breathing, mucous, shedding) reproduction and development, etc.


To cover these topics, the book is divided into over 20 “chapters” over its 52 pages. Each chapter consists of a two-page spread: one page of reading and one fabulous full-page photo. The photos are attractive and colorful to hold the reader's (or listener's) attention. Salamanders are identified by common name only. This is rather unfortunate, as the identifications are mainly in photo captions where a parenthetic addition of scientific nomenclature would be an easy addition of information, and one which could be ignored by those uninterested or intimidated. A small glossary is also included, as are a one-page index and a “find out more” page. The latter sends kids and their families to McNab's Frogs, Toads, and Salamanders, Stebbins' Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians, and the Enchanted Learning website as well as that of the San Diego Zoo's salamander fact sheet. The text of the book is quite varied, providing many excellent opportunities for expanding on those themes through other resources, so the dearth of suggestions is quite a missed opportunity. The sources given are fine, there are just too few of them. And, clearly, the omission of a reference to caudata.org is a glaring oversight!


I think this book does a particularly good job of presenting salamander migration, the variations in breeding behaviors, eggs (how they're different from reptile and bird eggs), and metamorphosis (including brief mention of those species which retain gills) at a level accessible to youngsters. The nine-word definition of the Earth's magnetic field as “an invisible forcefield between the north and south poles” leaves much to be desired (my kids' imaginations were immediately transported to visions of light sabers and wookies), but overall this book covers a lot of ground accurately and succinctly, if generally. It very successfully presents salamanders as interesting and unique creatures worthy of our attention and protection, and is a superb springboard for more detailed study for those who are willing to go beyond the rather limited list of recommendations within the book.


--DDiS
 

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Otterwoman

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Nice review, distefan! I looked it up on Amazon and I don't believe they have it! that's a first.
 

distefan

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Yes, this one is pretty much exclusively sold to libraries and schools, so it's unlikely that Amazon will have it. Sometimes flEaBay, Abe, or one of the other used book sources online has this sort of thing.

Meantime, if any of you are librarians out there...this is a good'n to add to the herp section!

--DDiS (another Dawn)
 
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