Talk to the Animals: Two new books call on the fuzzy and the fishy to connect with kids

Animals. They’re the perfect vehicles to get kids engaged with science. Dogs, cats, lizards, fish, pigs, squirrels. You name it, they’ll embrace it. The connection is reliable and always there. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it’s programmed into them. My three-year old has proven that consistently, the latest instance being when she got her hands on two recent National Geographic Kids publications, Yoga Animals: A wild introduction to kid-friendly poses by Paige Towler and Extreme Oceans by Sylvia A. Earle with Glen Phelan.

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Getting children to move past their toys and (sometimes) tablets can be a challenge, especially if you live in a city and don’t have immediate access to outdoor green space. So you can imagine by delight when my daughter squealed with glee when she saw the cover of Yoga Animals featuring a giraffe, bunny, cat, and pug stretching out on a yoga mat. (There’s a tiny human in there too but I doubt that part of the cover registered much.) After a quick flip through, she carried the book over to the living room, dropped it on the floor, and motioned for me to join her.

An instinctual believer in serendipity, my daughter opened the book at random. Our first position: Bend like a gorilla! Thanks to the book’s sparkling layout, it’s crystal clear how to execute the pose. There are two pictures, one of a gorilla and another of a child making the appropriate pose (technically called standing forward fold) on a yoga mat. That’s it. Of course, there’s a very brief description of how to get into the pose, but it doesn’t get in the way. Needless to say, our first pose was a stress-free success.

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The next position was just as easy to grasp. Roar like a lion! Again, the book’s clear layout demonstrated how the pose should look. The striking photograph of a lion, mouth wide open and teeth bared, provides more clues. Once my daughter settled into the pose, she let out a very enthusiastic roar while smiling the entire time. By any measure, it was clear that Yoga Animals was a success. And just to add a touch of learning to the experience, an appendix at the end of the book features an “Animal Yoga Guide” that also provides some background on the animals featured.

Sylvia A. Earle’s Extreme Ocean is tailored to older children, though that didn’t stop the little one from latching onto the striking cover image of a shark prowling through deep blue waters. It provides a holistic view of the world’s oceans, starting from photosynthesis among phytoplankton and along the food web to humpback whales and gray reef sharks. In the process, she guides her readers through kelp forests on the seafloor and gardens of coral reefs with their technicolor inhabitants.

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In a book overflowing with wonderful images (it’s NatGeo afterall), the most striking are the ones that deal with the destruction being done by overfishing, oil spills, and, most of all, human garbage dumped into oceans that entangle animals and wash up on beaches. Plastics are a particularly insidious problem. One passage, in particular, sums up the problems

“Other than toxic chemicals and excess carbon dioxide, both of which are changing the chemistry of the ocean, the most abundant and dangerous pollutants are things made of plastic… To a hungry sea turtle, a plastic bag floating in the water looks just like its favorite food — a jellyfish. The turtle chomps and swallows. But the bag just sits in the turtle’s stomach, blocking the path of real food. In this way, many sea turtles starve to death.”

The organization and presentation of the book is well done. It communicates the maximum number of facts but never feels cluttered. Whether it’s presenting experiments to do at home or the latest ocean exploring technology, the pages are always dynamic.

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Despite it’s exhilarating title, Extreme Ocean is a love letter to the oceans of the world from someone deeply involved in their wellbeing. Earle uses descriptive words like “Good,” “Breathing,” and “Friendly” and clearly it’s by design. That’s important because human beings share the world with other creatures. We’re neighbors and our fates are incontrovertibly linked with theirs. Caring for the world is our responsibility. Introducing that concept to children can only be a good thing.

IMAGE SOURCE: National Geographic

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