Carolyn S. Combs, M.S.

Author - Sharing Nature with Children

Wild Bookshelf - Book Reviews


Intro Photo

Welcome and Beware - Wild Animals Roam These Bookshelves!

Here you'll find true stories about fascinating creatures like otters and octopuses, platypuses and prairie dogs. Many of the books also show scientists in action, studying and helping to protect wild animals. I briefly summarize the books and share what I love about them. Although the books are mostly nonfiction picture books focused on nature, I occasionally include other genres. I hope you will enjoy these books and share them with children, inspiring their curiosity about the natural world and about science.

I'm guided and motivated in my nonfiction reading by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy. I'm participating in her Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge for the third time.

To view the books I read and reviewed in 2016, please tap the link below.

Carolyn Combs Reviews on GoodReads

Thank you for visiting.



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One Iguana Two Iguanas: A Story Of Accident, Natural Selection, And Evolution (2018)

Author: Sneed B. Collard III
Review Date: Apr 13, 2019

Summary:  Only one kind of lizard on the planet dives into the ocean to feast on algae – the marine iguanas of the Galapagos Islands.  Sneed Collar’s book reveals how this remarkable creature evolved alongside its close relatives, the land iguanas of the Galapagos.  We learn about the volcanic formation of this archipelago and the arrival of plants and animals, save a large land animal.  When an expectant ctenosaur lizard arrives by chance from Central America, the lineage takes off.  We see how natural selection worked over millions of years to create the new species from their common ancestor, and how the new species are better adapted to their island homes.  Sidebars add in-depth information about the evidence behind the ideas, molecular clocks, Darwin and much more.  There is even a sidebar about how marine iguanas actually shrink their skeletons during El Nino years.  All the information is attractively set amid up-close photographs of the lizards and other Galapagos creatures.  Find a helpful glossary of evolutionary and other scientific terms at the end, along with sources for further exploration.  A great pick to complement a unit on evolution in grades 3-7, or for curious kids and adults who want to better understand how new species come to be.  

What I love about this book:  Fascinating monster-like creatures, clear succinct writing, fabulous photographs – this book has it all.  On top of that, it’s one of the rare children’s books to delve into the complex topics of natural selection and evolution.  I think this book is a treasure!


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Snowy Owl Invasion!: Tracking an Unusual Migration (2018)

Author: Sandra Markle
Review Date: Nov 05, 2018

Summary: Have you heard of the 2013-2014 snowy owl irruption? Sandra Markle's 2018 book, Snowy Owl Invasion!: Tracking an Unusual Migration delves into this remarkable historical event and deftly weaves in a thorough natural history of theses artic predators.

Like the scientific process, the book opens with observations, observations of snowies in places where they are not normally found, especially in large numbers (a snow owl irruption). Then the true story follows scientists, birders, and volunteers as they research why so many birds migrated so far south that year. The possible answers are tied to weather patterns and an artic food web based on lemmings.

Scientists also took advantage of the great number and unusually easy access to these birds to gain more fundamental knowledge of them, particularly about their wintertime behavior and migrations. Sandra Markle shares their new insights and how they were gleaned in the text, on maps and in a second layer of information associated with the stunningly clear and close-up photographs. She also shares how the basic information had practical applications, showing how science can be applied to solve problems, helping to keep owls and people safe. An author's note gives a sneak-peak of her investigation behind the story and emphasizes how she uses firsthand knowledge to create her books. Source notes, glossary, index and a section on where to find more information round out the book.

What I love about this book: I love how it's a book not only about an animal I hardly knew and guess that many children won't be familiar with either, but also a book about how we know what we know about snowies. It shows science being done, and not just by official scientists. It shows how science is a cooperative effort and can benefit everyone. A thread of the connectivity of life also runs through the pages and helps the reader understand why we must be concerned with an arctic owl that seems so removed from our daily lives. All the pages have show-stopper photographs or interesting graphics. A great resource for looking at how science is done in the field. It's a must-read for budding biologists and everyone interested in animals and science. Suggested for ages 8-12, grades 3-6.


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Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN (2018)

Author: Michelle Cusolito
Illustrator: Nicole Wong
Review Date: Feb 18, 2018

Brief summary: Join the pilot of the submersible Alvin as he and two scientists spend a day exploring the ocean floor near an underwater volcano. You'll travel down through layers of darkening water, until two miles down, you reach an alien world filled with novel forms of life. As you cruise past black smokers, Alvin's light illuminates an entire food web, one that thrives far from the reaches of the sun's light. See giant tube worms, a ghost crab, a Dumbo octopus - to name a few. In the late afternoon you'll rise and return to the base ship with baskets full of samples to study. It's like a day spent in a fantasy world, only it's real!

What I love about this book: I love how the text and illustrations work together to make the reader feel like they are actually riding in Alvin, hearing the sounds, seeing the sights, and feeling the power, beauty and mystery of the ocean around them. I loved learning about creatures that otherwise would be inaccessible to us. I also like the back matter, which dives deeper and provides a an even richer learning experience through a glossary, descriptions of the organisms, and notes from the author and illustrator.


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Meg and Greg: A Duck in a Sock with ck, sh, ch and th (2017)

Publisher: 44 Sounds Publishing
Authors: Rowena Rae, Elspeth Rae
Illustrator: Elisa Gutierrez
Review Date: Feb 18, 2018

Brief overview: Meet the can-do characters, Meg and Greg, who help animals in trouble. Children ages six to nine with language-based learning difficulties like dyslexia, and younger children learning to read, will be drawn to the four adventure stories in this book. Each adventure features animals, plenty of problems, and one of the following letter combinations: ch, sh, ck and th. Young readers will find success by focusing on the comic book-like pages especially designed for them, with carefully selected words and plenty of practice. An experienced reading partner shares the more complex text on the left-hand page that rounds out the story. More practice with each letter combination follows at the end of every story, and supporting material at the beginning and end of the book guides a child's reading partner.

What I love about this book: I love the funny, fast-paced character-driven stories - sure to appeal and be accessible to all elementary-aged readers. I love the problem-solving mentality and kind spirit of helping that shines through in each story. Expressive illustrations help move the plots along, and the format is perfect for sitting close with a child and sharing the magic of story and reading. Learn more at www.tworeadbooks.com.


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Give Bees a Chance (2017)

Author: Bethany Barton
Review Date: Feb 06, 2018

Brief summary: Despite bee stingers and how scary they are, this book will help you fall in love with bees, or at least appreciate them more and fear them less. This book covers everything from how to avoid being stung to how honey is made to why bees need our help. Even bee enthusiasts will probably pick up a new fact or two. It's a super fun and informative read for ages four to eight.

What I love about this book: I love Bethany Barton's lively conversational tone and her ability to persuade the reader with fun, easy to understand text and illustrations. Her cartoon-like drawings capture both fear and the possibility of letting go of fear. Share this title with anyone unsettled by bees, so we can all do our part to help save bees.


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The Monarchs are Missing: A Butterfly Mystery (2018)

Author: Rebecca E. Hirsh
Review Date: Jan 29, 2018

Brief overview: If you love a good real-life mystery, check out The Monarchs are Missing: A Butterfly Mystery by Rebecca E. Hirsh. First the book clearly details the monarch's astounding migration, and shows how a small group of scientists and citizen helpers solved the long-standing question of where eastern monarchs spend the winter - Mexico! The remainder of the book delves deeply into the current and pressing mystery of why monarch numbers are declining. The ideas and evidence of many scientists working in this field are presented, showing how science is done in the real world and how complex it can be. The story ends on a cautiously hopeful note and invites the reader to join efforts to help save these extraordinary migratory creatures.

What I love about this book: I love how this book catches science in action, showing both how science is used to help the world and how it is a complex, ongoing process, subject to revision. I also love the the sharp, up-close photographs including ones of gorgeous butterflies and children participating in data collection, as well as inclusion of data presented in a bar graph, map, and diagram. The back matter invites further investigation and most importantly, participation. I look forward to expanding our home butterfly garden this summer and sharing this read with nature-lovers aged eight and above.


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When Planet Earth Was New (2017)

Publisher: Owlkids
Author: James Gladstone
Illustrator: Katherine Diemert
Review Date: Jan 15, 2018

Brief overview:  Come meet fiery hot, lifeless, brand new planet Earth and witness the amazing changes, over millions of years, that created the cool green planet we call home today.

What I love about this book:  The simple straightforward text with repetition gives a strong sense of deep time and does a wonderful job of clearly conveying Earth’s complex history – no easy feat.  The text invites the reader into the story of our Earth and keeps the reader’s attention with questions and surprises.  The dynamic illustrations convey the wildness, the other-worldliness of new Earth and show the slow change to a cooler, more hospitable Earth, one populated with creatures strange, then familiar.  A glossary helps with the more challenging words and concepts and a Look Again section encourages further exploration and questioning.  It will be a privilege to share Earth’s incredible story with children, 4-8+, by reading and discussing this title.


You Nest Here With Me (2015)

Publisher: Boyds Mills Press
Authors: Jane Yolen, Heidi E. Y. Stemple
Illustrator: Melissa Sweet
Review Date: Oct 30, 2017

Brief overview: You Nest Here With Me, written by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (2015), is a fresh and unique lullaby, written in enchanting rhyme. While showing the myriad of places and ways birds nest with their young, the story draws an analogy between birds’ nests and human homes. The accurate information in the story, plus the back matter on the birds and an author’s note, carry this lullaby over into the realm of nonfiction.

What I love about this book: I’m in awe of Jane Yolen’s and Heidi Stemple’s informational, rhyme in perfect meter! What a grand feat and treat for the ear. I also love Melissa Sweet’s cool palette splashed with flourishes of warmth, whimsy and collage. There are recognizable details in the birds and their nests, and so much else to see in each illustration. Share this one at bedtime with four-to eight-year olds, and follow up with some time spent watching birds.


On Duck Pond (2017)

Publisher: Cornell Lab Publishing Group
Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Bob Marstall
Review Date: Oct 24, 2017

Brief summary: On Duck Pond written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall (2017). Jane Yolen’s vivid poem and Bob Marstall’s engaging and fun illustrations give the reader a front row seat in nature as a noisy raft of ducks lands and shatters the tranquillity of a pond, sending all manner of creatures away. As the ducks move on, the creatures return and bring a new peace to the pond, one that the reader shares in. Back matter about various species of ducks and other pond life will satisfy curious children ages three to five or six.

What I love about this book: I love the simple evocative language with its wonderful rhythm and rhyme. It begs to be read aloud. I admire Jane Yolen’s ability to show a moment in nature, one that shares a special feeling and a truth. I feel this book reads like nonfiction, though it’s shelved with fiction. It’s perfect for inspiring and informing a lesson on wetlands, and for reading before or after a visit to a pond any time of year.

(Apologies for the 3 month hiatus.  I’ve been extra busy training a standard poodle puppy, but am ready to begin reading and writing again.  I’ll kick off with binge of books from one of my favorite children’s nonfiction authors, Melissa Stewart.)


Can an aardvark Bark (2017)

Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Author: Melissa Stewart
Illustrator: Steve Jenkins
Review Date: Aug 15, 2017

Brief summary: Can an aardvark Bark, written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Steve Jenkins (2017), shares the sounds of wild animals, from bellows and barks to grunts and growls, and decodes their meanings, showing us how animals have thoughts and feelings not so different from our own.

What I love about this book: I love the fun, interactive question and answer format with the twist in the middle of the book. It will have children calling out and laughing. The simple yet lyrical language including rhyme and repetition makes the nonfiction information engaging and memorable. Steve Jenkin’s artwork pops off the page, and you can almost hear the animals talking with open mouths and expressive eyes. This picture book packs in information about thirty-five different animals, and is sure to make children and adults alike squeal and roar with delight! Great for ages 2-8.

five stars