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.

In March of 2021, I participated in Reading For Research Month with Carrie Charley Brown and Kirsti Call. I'm inspired and gleaned new insights from reading and analyzing 90 children's books and the accompanying posts from authors, editors, and agents. I'll share some of my favorites below.

To view more of the books I am reading, both for adults and children, and read earlier reviews, please tap the link below.

Carolyn Combs Reviews on GoodReads

Thank you for visiting.



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Dear Earth ... From Your Friends in Room 5 (2020)

Publisher: Harper
Author: Erin Dealey
Illustrator: Luisa Uribe
Review Date: Apr 16, 2021

Brief overview:
Through a series of letters, a diverse classroom of children corresponds with Earth each month for a year. A grateful Earth shares simple, doable ideas for helping save the planet. Examples include turning off lights, composting, recycling, and planting trees. Earth also invites the children to enjoy her many wonders including myriad animals, plants, and activities like hiking, stargazing, and camping. With humor, warmth, celebration, and hopefulness,  this book helps young children, ages 4-8, forge a closer, more thoughtful relationship with their home, Earth.


What I love about this book:
I love how the text’s letter structure opens a direct line of communication between the reader and Earth, fostering a tangible, caring relationship. The voices of both the students and Earth are full of gratitude and hope. All children will see themselves represented in the illustrations and empowered to help the Earth. I also love the touches of humor and variation over the months that keep the reader turning the pages. Share this important book on Earth Day (April 22, 2021) or any day!


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WAIT, REST, PAUSE: DORMANCY IN NATURE (2020)

Publisher: Millbrook Press
Author: Marcie Flinchum Atkins
Review Date: Jan 31, 2020

Brief overview: When children ask how animals and plants survive plummeting or soaring temperatures, or drought, turn to this wonderful expository literature picture book about dormancy. With clear, engaging language and vivid photographs, Marcie Atkin’s reveals how trees, mammals, and other kinds of animals handle nature’s extremes.  You’ll see muddy beds, scaly crevices, and dry burrows where animals wait out harsh conditions, and you’ll learn how their bodies cope.  The quiet of dormancy on one spread strikingly contrasts with the liveliness of the non-dormant state on the next.  Since dormancy comes in several flavours, the back matter details some of the different kinds of dormancy and their associated vocabulary.  Both children and adults will likely learn something new about waiting, resting, and pausing. 


What I love about this book: Everything!  I love how the text draws the reader in and helps them relate to the organisms by using the second person “you” point of view.  I love the strong verbs(unfurl, stiffen, flit and rev, to name a few).  I love how the stunning photographs and layout accentuate the stark contrasts between dormant and non-dormant states, creating thrilling page turns.  The book begins and ends with an adorable bear cub- the perfect touch.  Use this book to treat children ages 4-8 to the wonders of dormancy.


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Silent Swoop: An Owl, an Egg, and a Warm Shirt Pocket (2019)

Publisher: Dawn Publications
Author: Michelle Houts
Illustrator: Deb Hoeffner
Review Date: Jan 14, 2020

Brief overview:  When a Great Horned Owl laid her eggs in a coal yard, Walter knew what to do.  He carried the eggs in his warm shirt pocket back to the bird sanctuary that he founded.  To his surprise one of the eggs hatched.  The chick, named Coal, was calm and comfortable around people, and he shared a special bond with the man who saved him. Walter thought Coal could possibly become an education bird, an ambassador for his species.  Soon Coal began traveling, helping all kinds of people learn about Great Horned Owls.  A year or two later, everyone was amazed when another egg appeared at the coal yard.  Would Coal have a brother after all?

What I love about this book: Sweet serendipity!  As I read this book last night, I heard muffled repeating sounds outside.  I opened the window and realized that a pair of Great Horned Owls were calling each other.  They set the perfect stage for enjoying this wonderful book!  I love the rich life-like illustrations that bring Coal and Walter to life.  They complement the beautiful lyrical language so well.  I appreciate how skillfully Michelle Houts has woven in a light touch of tension, perfect for young children, and profound truths about nature.  I'm a fan of Dawn Publications' educational back matter, called Explore More, with sections for children and adults.  You'll find more information about Great Horned Owls, Coal's story, and plenty of STEM activities.  Share this one with bird lovers and all curious children, ages 4-8.


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Like A Lizard (2019)

Publisher: Boyds Mills Press
Author: April Pulley Sayre
Illustrator: Stephanie Laberis
Review Date: Jun 08, 2019

Overview:  Each spread of Like A Lizard entices us to enter a lizard’s world and do the things lizards do.  From running and climbing to walking on water and scaring predators with a brilliantly-colored tongue, we discover the distinctive characteristics of 28 lizard species from around the world.   The text and illustrations race along with strong verbs, ear-tickling rhyme, and tons of motion.  After sharing some particularly wild behaviors, the text brings the us safely back to ourselves and ends with the positive message, “Be you!” Back matter adds information about lizards, where the featured species live, further interesting facts, and resources.  Ages 4-8.


What I love about this book:  This book is a great example of how fun and engaging children’s nonfiction has become.  Though it’s a survey book, It’s fast-paced, engages the reader’s imagination, and brims with playful rhyme and repetition.  The illustrations are realistic yet playful and so full of motion children may want to move along with the lizards.  I found myself constantly flipping back and forth to the back matter in order to learn more about each fabulous creature.  Share this aloud for story time, one-on-one with a lizard lover, or suggest it as a springboard for a research project on a favorite reptile.


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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.