I have a huge collection of nonfiction picture books but there are particular titles I reach for again and again. Titles that engage students of various ages. Titles that intrigue adults. Titles that are at the top of the pile when I pack up nonfiction books to share with a group of educators. These books are the first books I recommend when someone asks me, “Which titles should I buy?” “What titles do your students love?” or “What would be a guaranteed hit?” These books do what kids love them to do – immediately hook the reader and pull them into the pages for an adventure in learning.
Two titles at the top of my go to pile are books written by Sara Levine and illustrated by T.S. Spookytooth: Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons (Lerner Books 2013) and Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks, and Chompers (Lerner Books 2016)
It’s not just the engaging nature of these titles – the way they ask questions – Imagine if . . . What kind of animal would you be if . . . ? What if you only had . . .? The magic is in the asking us to think of ourselves in a completely different way as we compare ourselves to animals. The questions instantly generate more questions and the trying to guess the animals is hugely exciting. As soon as we start asking the questions and revealing the illustrations which give little hints, everyone in the room is hooked.
Here is a question from each book to give you the idea.
What kind of animal would you be if you had no leg bones but kept your arm bones? All of a sudden we need to think about purposes of our legs and how we would function without them. What would our arms need to be able to do?
What would you be if your top canine teeth grew almost all the way down to your feet? Hold on – why would we need teeth like that? What could we do if we had them? What can we do with our canine teeth right now?
When Carol Hinz, editor with Lerner Publishing, asked me if I would like to do a cover reveal for Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones (Lerner Publishing 2018) of course I said yes!
If I could involve my students 🙂
Imagine how excited my students were when they found out that they would be the first kids in the world to see the cover and interior layout of Levine and Spookytooth‘s new book.
They saw it first and here it is for all of you!
“Everybody else can be second,” one student remarked. Which is still pretty exciting! We read Bone by Bone and Tooth by Tooth together and I asked the students what they enjoyed about the books. They had a lot to say:
- “The guessing makes it really fun even if your answer isn’t right.”
- “You get to learn the names of lots of parts of your body that you didn’t know you had.” “I knew I had them, I just didn’t know the names.”
- “The author wants us to know that we are a lot like animals but we’re also different too.”
- “The illustrator knows how to imagine really funny things!”
- “I think the author and illustrator really care that kids learn things.”
- “It’s fun to learn like this.”
Have you ever thought about comparing yourself to a dinosaur?
Kids sure have! My students immediately were inspired to draw, talk and wonder.
In some ways, we have bones very like dinosaurs (but on a very different scale when it comes to some of the especially huge ones). But we also loved the idea that some bones in dinosaurs are nothing like bones that we have in our bodies. But what if we did have bones like this . . . ? It was hard to keep track of all of the things being said. Soon the room had erupted into that wonderful noise called engagement. Debates broke out about being a herbivore or a carnivore if we were actual dinosaurs. There was stomping about. Pretending to swing tails. Students began sharing what they knew about dinosaur defences. The tub of dinosaur books was pulled from the shelf.
“Does anyone have a question for the author or illustrator?” I asked. Of course they did!
Author and illustrator played along and gifted us with all kinds of amazing information.
Our questions are listed below and are followed by answers from Sara Levine (in blue) and T.S. Spookytooth (in green). Some questions were for both author and illustrator and some were directed specifically to one or the other.
Are you thinking you might want to become a paleontologist? Or are you already part paleontologist?
SL: I’m very interested in fossils—especially fossils of animals that are no longer on earth, but no, I don’t think I’ll become a paleontologist. I studied living animals at veterinary school. Right now,I’m a college professor and a writer, and these things keep me pretty busy. But one great thing about being a teacher or a writer is that these jobs give you a chance to learn about all sorts of different things you are curious about. Paleontology is one topic I decided to learn more about so I could write a book and teach a class about dinosaurs.
What inspired you to write about dinosaur fossils? Did you want dinosaurs to not feel forgotten (even if they’re dead they might still care)?
SL: Actually, it was my editor Carol Hinz who suggested I write about dinosaurs. She has a lot of good ideas. I liked the topic especially since a lot of kids are interested in dinosaurs, but there wasn’t a book for kids showing how dinosaur bones are similar to our bones. I really appreciate the idea that I might have written this book so dinosaurs are not forgotten. I think it’s very important for us to remember animals and people who are no longer on earth. We can’t know if they care or not, but writing a book about them for this reason is a very kind thing to do.
Did you test your questions on some kids before you put them into the books?
SL: Yes, I did.
Would you want to be a carnivore or a herbivore if you were an actual dinosaur?
SL: I’d want to be a herbivore. I think having to kill animals to eat them would make me too sad.
TSS: I think I would like to be a herbivore. There are pretty cool plants out there, I just worry that they don’t taste very nice. But I’m always up for trying something new.
Did you ever find bones? Or go digging for bones?
SL: Yes. Sometimes when I’m walking in the woods I find bones of animals. When I do, I get excited—I love trying to figure out what kind of bone I’ve found and what animal it might have been a part of. And I also like to go digging for fossils, which are bones or other parts of animals or plants that have turned to rock. You should go on a trip to do this someday, if you are interested. Sometimes I take my daughter to find fossils, and we have a lot of fun.
TSS: Digging for bones wasn’t something that I did as a child, but I suppose it’s never too late to do it as an adult.
How did you draw those bones so carefully? And make them look realistic?
TSS: I visited some very good museums where they have some amazing dinosaur fossils so I was able to get them as accurate as possible. Being careful is probably my number one skill, with drawing a close second, so it came very easy to me.
What else do you like to draw?
TSS: I really like to draw octopus and squid and anything really that looks a little odd.
Who taught you how to draw?
TSS: I had some good teachers along the way that gave me lots of encouragement, but I suppose I taught myself by just drawing every day and practising more and more.
It seems like you can work together really well. Are you going to keep making books together? Are you friends?
SL: Yes, T.S Spookytooth and I are friends. I just wrote another book called Eye by Eye: Comparing Animal Peepers for the two of us to work on together. I hope it will become a published book in a few years.
TSS: It would be great to keep making books. We are friends even though we live very far away from each other, but we did meet and we shook hands so in my world that confirms a friendship!
If you can’t really wait for January 2018 for the release of this book, consider this question:
What kind of reader would you be if you left a comment below or shared this post on twitter?
Possibly the lucky winner of Bone by Bone and Tooth by Tooth!
One lucky winner will be randomly selected by October 30th. Canadian and U.S. addresses only please.
Put Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones on your list for January! This is one your school or classroom library needs to have!