Carolyn S. Combs, M.S.

Author - Sharing Nature with Children

Wild Bookshelf - Book Reviews

Page: 3

When The Wolves Returned (2008)

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Author: Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Illustrator: Dan Hartman and Cassie Hartman
Review Date: Feb 21, 2017

Brief description: When The Wolves Returned, written by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and photographed by Dan Hartman and Cassie Hartman (2008), tells the true story of the wolves’ disappearance and reappearance in Yellowstone National Park. Readers come to understand the wolves’ history and how even a single animal can have a profound cascading effect on an entire ecosystem, on everything from bears to beavers to willow trees.

What I love about this book: The gorgeous spreads of photographs, both historical and present, riveted my eyes to the pages, and took me back to my visit to Yellowstone. The two layers of text, one short and simple, another adding details, make this a versatile book for sharing with both younger and older elementary children. In addition to showing the concepts of tropic levels and food webs, this book also is also filled with clear examples of topic sentences and supporting details. An engrossing straight ahead read about wolves that neither demonises nor glorifies them, but rather shows their importance.

four stars


Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Author: Ellen Jackson
Illustrator: Robin Page
Review Date: Feb 13, 2017

Brief description: OCTOPUSES ONE TO TEN, written by Ellen Jackson and illustrated by Robin Page (2016), is a compilation of fascinating octopus facts that incorporates counting one to ten. For example, “Octopuses in disguise have four ways to fool your eyes.” The layer of rhyming text celebrates this extraordinary creature and is enhanced by a second layer of additional information. While the main text focuses on the Pacific octopus, the ending introduces nine additional species, plus activities and resources. An outstanding nonfiction nature read aloud for preschool and early-elementary children!

What I love about this book: The clever rhyming couplets are not only fun to read, but also convey interesting information about octopuses while reinforcing counting – not an easy feat! The illustrations and diagrams charm and help us to know this creature. This book superbly marries science and writing and art; it will surely engage, enlighten, and entertain children. Read it out loud today!

five stars


Publisher: Charlesbridge
Author: Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano
Illustrator: Michael Carroll
Review Date: Feb 11, 2017

Brief description: A BLACK HOLE IS NOT a HOLE, written by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano and illustrated by Michael Carroll (2012), gets you up to speed an everything black holes: what they are, how they form, why they form, who discovered them, how scientists “see” them, what it might be like to visit one.

What I love about this book: It transforms complex, obtuse matter into clear, comprehensible matter. The writing is detailed, in-depth yet lively, conversational, page-turning. The stunning images and simple graphs enhance explanations in the text. A great read for middle-school students and older folks looking to better understand the universe (and to write reports).

four stars

Swimming With Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark (2016)

Publisher: INDPB
Author: Heather Lang
Illustrator: Jordi Solano
Review Date: Jan 30, 2017

Brief overview: Swimming With Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark, written by Heather Lang, illustrated by Jordi Solano (2016). From childhood to old age, Genie pursued her uncommon passion –sharks. She shattered gender stereotypes of the 1930s as she spent her life investigating sharks in the wild, something that no one had done before. She helped change the stereotypes of sharks as simple “bloodthirsty killers”, revealing their deepest secrets. Genie’s story both inspires and surprises – a delight for elementary age children and shark fans of every age.

What I love about this book: My mother lives close to the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory, and I’ve passed by it many a time on trips to Florida. I’m thrilled to learn more about the pioneering woman who founded the laboratory. I love that Genie’s steadfast passion and determination, her deep curiosity about and empathy for a creature who is so different from us, shines through on every page. The inclusion of several of Genie’s fascinating discoveries, like caves where sharks come for cleaning and the fact that some sharks can be trained, brings Genie’s work to life. I felt like we were with her when she saw a shark for the first time and braved entering a dark cave. The illustrations are rich and evocative, showing Genie’s wonder and, at times, her angst. I appreciate that the story covers Genie’s concern for declining numbers of sharks, and has enriching back matter.

4 stars


Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Author: Maria Gianferrari
Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline
Review Date: Jan 23, 2017

Brief summary: COYOTE MOON, written by Maria Gianferrari and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (2016), takes us along as a mother coyote hunts through the night to feed her hungry pups. This is a fictional account and reads like a well-paced adventure, but there is also much truth and insight about coyotes in this tale, complemented by factual back matter. An entertaining and enlightening read aloud book for preschool and elementary children.

What I loved about this book: The sparse, yet masterful language and carefully focused, active illustrations set the tone of the hunt, creating immediacy and intimacy. The language and illustrations also build empathy and understanding for these wild animals that successfully share our neighborhoods. I love the ending too, which invites the reader into the experience, the thrill of spying a coyote in the yard.  I’ll be peeking out my window at night more often.

five stars


Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Author: Sy Montgomery
Illustrator: Keith Ellenbogen
Review Date: Jan 17, 2017

Brief overview: THE GREAT WHITE SHARK SCIENTIST, written by Sy Montgomery, photographed by Keith Ellenbogen (2016) intimately portrays the quest of a small group of scientists to better understand the lives of great white sharks for the purpose of helping this species survive. The true story unfolds like a travel and research log, and bursts with myth-busting facts that reveal the true, surprising nature of great whites. It’s written for a middle school audience, and is perfect for exciting pleasure reading and reports on sharks.

What I love about the book: Sy Montgomery’s writing style takes the reader along, so that you feel as though you are right there, viewing and tagging the sharks with the scientists. She helps you to know the scientists and appreciate what their days are like. I also love Keith Ellenbogen’s phenomenal photographs of both the sharks and setting; they complete the reader’s journey.

5 stars


Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Author: Shana Corey
Illustrator: Red Nose Studio
Review Date: Jan 09, 2017

Brief summary: THE SECRET SUBWAY by Shana Corey, illustrated by Red Nose Studio (2016) recounts the almost completely true story of Alfred Ely Beach, the ingenuous, intrepid, sneaky inventor who built and ran New York City’s first subway for a short time in the late 1800s.

What I love about this book: With a narrator-like quality, the voice invites the reader into a secret world to observe a secret story unfold below New York city’s bustling streets. The voice evokes the inventor’s passion and shrewdness, the ambiance of the city in the 1800s, and is fun to read out loud. The artwork, with its three-dimensional quality and evocative palette, works hand and hand with the text to enhance the secretive, almost forgotten tone of the story and the feeling of NYC. Check it out!

4 stars