I love reviewing children's books. I've had 5 years experience reading children's books and have 2 enthusiastic assistants who can be among the most harsh of critics. Through their interest and body language I am able to rapidly assess the quality of the book, making it much easier review it. Kids have this great quality of being horribly honest sometimes, so they make quite excellent critics!
David FitzSimmons is an author and photographer and he brings Curious Critters to life with stunning, large, high-quality photographs of typical backyard and not uncommon animals. The photography itself is bright and vibrant on the white background. What I particularly like about it is that it focuses entirely on the animal and gives each critter a full page spread. It emphasized that nature is majestic enough that we need not dress it up more to make it interesting. My kids, the 4 and 6 year old critics, agree. In fact, I think their ages were right on target for this book. I would put the appropriate age range from 4-8 based on the written content.
Accompanying each critter is a bit of text about them. It is factual, yet entertaining, and written from the critters' perspectives. For instance, the pink bush katydid:
"Sometime I wish I could change color. I mean, all the other katydids are green, but I'm pink. Scientists say that pink katydids are special. My mother thinks so, too. She says that her great-great-great grandmother was pink. That's how I got my color. It was handed down to me from my relatives. I guess each of us shares traits with our relatives... the color of our eyes, the shape of our noses, even the size of our feet!
My bright color is often pretty cool. I blend in with pink flowers, and, when I can't hide, it seems birds and other animals cant eat me. I guess you could look at it this way: Would you eat a blue hamburger?"
What FitzSimmons has done in this short description is quite astonishing for a children's book. He introduces evolutionary (traits being passed down) and ecological (crypsis and predator-prey interaction) concepts in 120 words. Many natural history children's book focus on the ecological interactions and leave out much else. In Curious Critters, ecology adorns every page touching on camouflage, symbiosis, feeding strategies, and metamorphosis to name a few. Furthermore, brief natural history descriptions are included in the back so parents can teach their kids a little more about their favorite critters as well as a match-the-silhouette activity to reinforce learning the common names (no scientific names are included). I am also VERY happy with the selection of animals, a good balance between the spineless and the spined, and all familiar animals you could encounter in a walk through your wood.
All-in-all I loved this book! Its beautiful, well laid out images, and just enough text to give you the "elevator pitch" for what makes each critter unique. The non-distracting background makes the high resolution photography really stand out. In one image of a red flat bark beetle you see mites crawling around it - the author even uses that to make a point about symbiosis ("They just hang on me and ride. They might as well be shouting all along the tree, "Here comes the big red bus!" To be truthful they don't really hurt me, but - oooooh! - they are mite-y annoying!"). My kids were mostly captivated by the images and were proud to recognize some of the critters like the american toad and eastern box turtle. I highly recommend this book for parents who enjoy reading natural history books with their children, but really, its a book that they will sit down with on their own and thumb through the pages before they can even read.
Disclaimer: I was sent a copy by the publisher for the purposes of review. This does not affect what I think of the book.