Non fiction Picture Book Wednesday: Gorillas, the Largest of the Apes

It’s Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday! 

What kid doesn’t love learning more about apes? Gorillas are the largest and strongest of the apes and a fascinating topic!

One of my absolute favourite nonfiction titles to introduce children to the great apes is the book Ape written by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Vicky White (published 2007). Shared in my classroom here. The pictures are gorgeous and the text fascinating. An excellent read aloud for the primary classroom.


A goal I have this year is to fill my classroom with texts that many of my students can manage with independence. Books that will be picked up and read during book choice time or when learning more about a particular animal.  I was so pleased to discover Gorillas by Kate Riggs (published 2012). Here is a book that my Grade 2/3s can read on their own with real success.


When my students learn about an animal, they are looking to find answers to some specific questions: How are the babies/young born and raised? What kind of interactions does the animal have with others? How does the animal’s body help it to do things? 

This book – with an almost magazine style format – thin, sleek and full of facts invites the reader in to do a lot of learning. Discover what gorillas eat (lots of wild celery it turns out), how their babies grow and develop and the dynamics of their family groupings. We also learn how these gorillas spend their time – much eating (60 pounds of food a day) and napping (in addition to the 13 to 15 hours of night time sleep). Physical features are described and details of their habitat are outlined.

Features that make this book especially accessible:

  • large full page colourful photographs with relevant captions
  • bold words with definitions at the bottom of the page
  • an index, suggestions for further reading and websites listed at the end of the book

This is a title that I purchased for my class nonfiction collection and I am happy that it was one of four titles in this series that I ordered at the same time. I think this will be a series my students will have a lot of success with! I look forward to reading more of these books by Kate Riggs.

The Amazing Animals titles in my collection:

kateriggs books

My original goal was 60 nonfiction picture books for 2013. Progress: 33/60 complete 🙂

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2013!


Do you have any favourite nonfiction titles about gorillas?

Ice Bear: In the Steps of the Polar Bear

Today we read the Ice Bear (In the Steps of the Polar Bear) written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Gary Blythe. Our goal: to move away from quick questions and begin asking more deep thinking questions.

Polar Bar, Nanuk, is perfectly suited to the Arctic climate and landscape. For many generations, the Inuit people have learned how to live and survive in the Arctic habitat by watching the great Ice Bear. Nicola Davies tells us how polar bears survive in the Northern landscape weaving facts on each page into the beautiful story she tells in such lovely poetic text.

As I read this story aloud, we stopped on each page to share our questions and Ms. Hibbert recorded them. Our curiousity filled three pages of chart paper!

 Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

We then looked at all of our questions and coded them. FO: Found Out (we discovered the answer in the story as we read on) R: Research (to find the answer, we will have to do some research)  I: Infer (we need to infer to figure out the answer – using our background knowledge and our reasoning)

Coding our questions  Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

As we looked at the three charts, we noticed that we had very few questions coded FO (Found Out). This is exciting as it means we are asking fewer quick questions and more complex or deep thinking questions. Using Adrienne Gear‘s Non-Fiction Reading Power we have been learning to distinguish between quick and deep thinking questions. For our purposes here – quick questions are questions that we find the answer to (often down the page or a page or two later), where there is only one answer and where once we know the answer, our thinking stops. Deep thinking questions, on the other hand, inspire more questions, often have more than one answer or require us to do research, more thinking and/or talking to come to an answer at all.

Ms. Hibbert and I were also excited to see students asking multipart questions i.e. Do babies have fur? If not, how do they keep warm? or How often does a polar bear eat and does this affect how much it eats at a time? It was also fantastic to see questions inspire other questions between the students. At one point, Shae-Lynn was sitting right beside my chair with her hand up waiting to share her question and listening to others. “Oh!” she suddenly exclaimed, “Now I have three questions!”

Students then went back to their tables to write and draw about their learning and to share what they were still wondering.

 Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

Some students began reading the books they were looking at for ideas on how to draw a polar bear and talked with each other about what they noticed.

All of a sudden, the research began happening as students realized that they were finding the answers to the unanswered questions we had included on our charts.

 Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

“Hey Ms. Gelson look what Carmen and I discovered!” Catriona summoned me over. She went on to show me the section in the book they had found that talked about polar bear fur in the water. They discovered that the guard hairs are oily and waterproof and hollow. This answered our question about how polar bears can be such good swimmers and whether or not they had fur that wouldn’t get too wet and heavy.

Look! Read here!  Deep Thinking Questions: Ice Bear There's a Book for That

Some learning shared in student writing:

* Male polar bears weigh more than females. I wonder if they eat more than females as well.

* I think the baby polar bears are more white than the Moms and really cute.

* I know that polar bears are as fast as a snowmobile. Bears eat seals. They use their sharp claws and kill the seals quickly.

* A female polar bear can have 1 to 3 baby cubs at a time

*I found out that when there is zero seals, polar bears will eat grass, dead birds and fish.

Crocodile Safari Take 2

We finished reading Jim Arnosky’s Crocodile Safari today.

Some interesting things we learned?

crocodile safari

  • Crocodiles are not the only dangerous things in the mangrove swamp. Also beware of diamondback rattle snakes and poisonwood trees
  • Those large jaws are full of teeth! Humans have 28-32 teeth but crocs have 80 to 120 teeth!
  • Toothless crocodiles exist but still beware! These crocodiles still have powerful jaws that can crush bones!
  • Crocodiles can be huge! In the U.S.A. they might be up to 15 feet (almost 5 m) long but in Madagascar there are crocodiles up to 30 feet (over 9 m) long! These are the largest living reptiles in the world. Wow!

P1020645Crocodile Safari comes with a DVD that features Jim Arnosky discussing the differences between alligators and crocodiles and how important these differences are to a wildlife illustrator. At the end of the DVD, Mr. Arnosky gives us a drawing lesson. We watched this part twice! All of us brought paper, pencils, crayons and pencil crayons to the carpet to work on our crocodile drawings! Notice the scaly skin and lumps and bumps.

P1020680Arnosky showed us how to draw the mangrove roots at the side of the water where the crocs like to lurk unnoticed amongst the roots and branches. He mentioned that he likes drawing the mangrove trees because they seem like upside down trees. We learned that water birds sense when the crocs are not hungry and then it is safe to perch near them.

P1020676Jenifer has done a fantastic job of showing how large the teeth can be in a croc’s jaws. Inside the book there is a page with pictures of lifesize crocodile teeth. Some teeth were longer than our little fingers! Yikes! Suddenly those teeth seemed all the more real!


P1020669Crocodiles have long narrow snouts. We can see all of their teeth even when their jaws are closed. Alyson has done a lovely job of showing the shape of the croc’s head and all of its large sharp teeth. Many students brought their drawings home to share with family.

What fascinating creatures!

Students are already requesting more books by Jim Arnosky!

Crocodile Safari

We have begun to explore the fact – question – inference continuum using non-fiction books and information storybooks. This process is inspired by Adrienne Gear’s Non-Fiction Reading Power book. When we learn a new fact, what question does it prompt and using our background knowledge (schema), what can we infer? We practiced this today using Jim Arnosky’s Crocodile Safari. This is a detailed account of American crocodiles. Crocodiles were photographed and sketched while Jim Arnosky and his wife Deanna were on their crocodile safari through the Florida Everglades. This book is illustrated with the detailed paintings inspired by the images collected on safari. Stunning!

Today we read about a third of the book learning about the crocodile population in the U.S.A., the differences between crocodiles and alligators (finally, a book that makes this totally clear through text and drawings!), crocodile habits and hunting strategies (a page called Ambushed from Below was quite thrilling!).

Fact/Question/Infer: (some examples)

1. We read that in the late twentieth century there were just 300 crocodiles left in the U.S.A. Now there are approximately 2,000. This led us to question: How were they counted? As we tried to answer this question, more questions arose. What if the same crocodile was counted more than once? Maybe they tagged them. But if they tagged them, how would they get close enough to tag them? We were all fairly worried about those sharp teeth! Perhaps they shot tranquilizer darts at them to put them out long enough to attach a tag. Obviously, some of our background knowledge was helping us think this through. We read on and found out that they were counted when someone flew over their habitat in a helicopter.

2. One page in the book is titled One Famous Croc and it talks about a crocodile famous for migrating hundreds of miles from the Everglades to Sanibel Island. When it was captured and returned to the Everglades, it migrated for a second time to Sanibel Island, where it now lives. Our question was an obvious one: What made it return to Sanibel Island? As we talked this question through, students shared different ideas based on their thinking and background knowledge. Someone knew that birds migrate to warmer places. Why else do birds migrate? Someone shared it was so they could find food more easily. Did this crocodile migrate because of food? Someone pointed out that there was a picture of this crocodile hunting a bird so this seemed logical. Our consensus was that the crocodile migrated to Sanibel Island because it was a great source of water birds (great hunting grounds). A very sensible inference we thought and since we can’t ask this particular crocodile, it’s the answer we are going with! 🙂

Students shared new learning, unanswered questions and some of their own inferences in their writing.

Jenny: I learned today that the difference of a crocodile and an alligator is that the crocodile has teeth sticking out of its mouth when it’s closed and an alligator doesn’t. A crocodile’s mouth is longer and an alligator’s mouth is wider.

Eddy: At night crocodiles hunt. In the day, they like to suntan. They mostly eat fish but they also eat birds and snakes.

Lisa: I have a question about how they communicate with other crocodiles. Maybe they move their tail back and forth in the water.

Jena: Crocodiles eat anything they find. They ambush their prey. They go underwater at night (mostly) to hunt. They rise up to the prey and pull it down and eat it. For example, if you saw a duck and then it just disappears. That’s what just happened to it!

Gary: There are questions I still have. How heavy are crocodiles? How big are alligators? Are alligators stronger than crocodiles?

Salmon Creek

Salmon Creek, written by Annette LeBox and illustrated by Karen Reczuch mesmerized us this week.

Nothing is quite as amazing as the life cycle of the Pacific salmon. I still remember the sounds of rushing water, the visuals of a stream bed of red and the smell of cool, damp earth as I stood watching the salmon spawn in my own childhood. We aren’t studying salmon right now but we have been reading from a large variety of information picture books with themes of Canadian animals and endangered species to practice questioning and inferring and this book seemed an ideal pick. I couldn’t have predicted its powerful effect in the classroom. The poetic text and gorgeous illustrations lured us quick and fast into the amazing journey of Sumi from the beginning stirrings in her egg to her life as a fry, then a smolt and eventually to her own return journey to the spawning grounds of her birth creek as an adult female.

We learned about how Sumi laid thousands of eggs and the male salmon fertilized them. “Sumi flicked her tail, and the gravel drifted into the nest, covering her eggs like secrets.”

Sumi circled the creek, guarding her eggs. She bared her curved teeth, slapped her tail, scared off pairs of spawners from her redd.”

And later, as she drifted gently downstream, Sumi sang to her eggs . . .

Home is the scent of cedar and creek. Home is the journey’s end.

We manage the sadness when Sumi dies as LeBox does such a wonderful job of explaining the full circle of life and with our new understanding of the amazing salmon life cycle, we feel peaceful and wise. This book includes a glossary in the back to help with new vocabulary, more information about threats to Pacific salmon and suggestions for further reading and viewing.

Some of our unanswered questions from our very long lists!

  • How fast does a salmon travel? Especially when they are travelling against the current?
  • Are salmon fry see through?
  • Do salmon ever interact with their siblings?
  • How many eggs survive when the mother lays them?
  • If salmon are now endangered, how many are left?
  • What is in the yolk sac?
  • How could they survive if the water freezes?
  • Do they eat different things at different ages?
  • When salmon are injured in the rapids, how do they heal?

This book is one of my new favourites in the information story book category.

The Great Apes

Apes. Orangutan, Chimp, Bonobo, Gorilla – these great apes are fascinating. They are so like us!  At this time in the world we need to protect them to ensure they have places free from being hunted and free to live in peace. What did we learn about these great apes today? What are we still wondering? What do we want to research?


Ape is a visually stunning book! A book to pore over again and again marvelling at the details – both visual and written. Vicky White’s close up portraits and lifelike illustrations fascinated us while Martin Jenkins’ text provided so much new information it was difficult to turn a page without endless questions being tossed around the room.

This was the perfect text to practice questioning with non-fiction text in small groups. First we listened to the story and listed key questions on our individual notepads. Some very fascinating facts that sparked a lot of discussion:

  • Chimpanzees poke a hole into a termite mound with a long blade of grass and then lick off the termites! Some people thought they were using the grass kind of like a straw. Other people wondered if they shared. Many people thought it would be pretty gross to have bugs crawling around in your mouth!
  • Orangutans love to eat the smelly durian fruit!
  • Chimps travel in gangs and hunt down monkeys. “Gangs!?” This seemed very dramatic. “Do they just chase the monkeys or do they actually eat them?” one little horrified voice asked.

We then took our questions to share in a group of four. Each student took turns sharing a question and the group helped decide where to include it on our questioning sheet. Was it a question we found the answer to? Was it a question where we thought we could infer using the schema we already have about animals and the world? Or was it a question where we felt that more research was needed?

Which questions made the lists? A sample below . . .

Questions we had but then found out the answer as we read on:

  • How long do gorillas live? At least 40 or 50 years.
  • Where do the apes sleep? In nests on the ground or in trees
  • What do apes eat? Some eat fruit, some eat termites.
  • Are any of these apes extinct? No!
  • How many species of apes are there? Five species in the world – including us!

Questions that we didn’t find the answers to but we can try to infer:

  • What are the predators of apes? We think humans who hunt them and big cats because they run fast and can catch them.
  • When the chimps fight with other chimps, do they die? We think they might if they get really hurt. Maybe they could get an infection from a bite or bad scratch.
  • What kinds of parasites do they have? Maybe fleas because they have fur.

Questions which need more research:

  • Which of the apes is most aggressive?
  • How are Apes related to people?
  • Can a chimp sense its predators?
  • Can apes swim?
  • What are the differences between males and females?

It was fantastic to see students so engaged with their questions and talking together to make inferences and discuss new learning.

Thank you to BLG who sent in this book to another primary class a few weeks ago. This book will be a very popular book in our library!

The Last Polar Bear

the last polar bear

Tigluk looks out his window and sees a polar bear in the distance. It is Nanuk. She looks straight at him and seems to speak to him “Follow me.” Tigluk and his grandmother paddle out in the ocean searching the ice floes for the bear. They discover, not Nanuk but her cub and Tigluk names him Pilluk (meaning to suvive). “With the melting of the ice, he is the last polar bear,” says Tigluk and cradles the bear in his arms.

This sad story by Jean Craighead George forces us to confront the serious issue of how climate change is affecting the polar bear habitat.

We used this powerful book to practice asking questions as we read and then looked at our questions critically – Did we find an answer in the text? By inferring, can we answer the question? Do we need to do more research? After discussing things, are we left with more questions?

Some of the questions we examined further:

How many bears are in the Arctic? Someone answered this quickly: “It was in the story: Just one left.” Then we talked further and realized we would have to do more research to find out the actual population. Questions were asked about whether polar bears are considered endangered?

If nobody found the polar bear, would he survive? Most people thought that we needed to do more research to answer questions like: How long do they nurse? What exactly do they need to survive? before we could infer because we don’t have enough background knowledge.

Why would the cub be all alone? To answer this question, we needed to use our own thinking and our background knowledge. Some students reminded us about what we had learned about polar bears in the book Winston of Churchill which was that polar bears could drown if the ice floes were too far apart. So we decided that maybe the mother had drowned while hunting for food because the ice was melting and she had too far to swim back to the ice floe where her cub was waiting.

Why did Nanuk choose a boy to look after her cub? For this question, we decided that we should infer. A suggestion was made that maybe Nanuk chose Tigluk because he was young and would have many years to care for the bear and maybe even help change things. Everyone thought that this made a lot of sense

Our questions and thoughts after discussing the book:

If there is only one bear, how will it mate? How will any more polar bears be born?

Is the world really getting too hot?

If the polar bear became used to humans and human food, could it ever go into the wild again?

How will the people in the village survive without polar bears? If other animals in the Arctic are also becoming endangered won’t this be hard on the people in the North who hunt them and use their furs and skins?

So much to wonder and think about from one very special book.