As a rule, I wouldn’t have said that I am a nonfiction reader. In fact, if I had to describe my “grown-up” reading habits, I would say that I primarily and heavily read fiction. But in reality, I do read a lot of nonfiction, including biographies and nonfiction about reading. I wouldn’t say it is my favorite thing to read – give me a good story anyday – and I’d suspect others would say the same. But that rule goes out the window when it comes to children’s books. I gravitate towards nonfiction for young readers, and if you look at my blog, you’ll see many nonfiction books come off the “new nonfiction” shelf at our local library. I find authors who specialize in nonfiction have such an enthusiasm for their subjects and a passion for making it easily accessible to any reader. That’s one of the things I loved about working in the youth department of a public library. I loved introducing a subject to adults by using books aimed at young children. You can find out the basics about anything in books for young readers, and then adults can decide whether they want to learn more.
Another reason I like these books is that they often make their subjects so cool! Just One Bite brings animals’ eating habits to life. Each double-page spread illuminates one animal (life-size, of course) and what they will eat in just one bite. It ranges from a tiny speck of dirt for a worm to an enormous sperm whale devouring a giant squid. The information is impactful, and Schaefer’s way of delivering it makes it even more exciting. Her text, in combination with Geoff Waring’s illustrations, make this a perfect introduction to animals for preschoolers. There are only one or two lines of text per page, and Schaefer has to distill the facts about that animal and their prey down to just a few words. Those words have to pique kids’ interest and keep them reading. The subject (animals) and the life-size concept are very reminiscent of the successful Steve Jenkins books, and I think they are a terrific conduit to those books for young readers. But this book is designed to appeal to younger readers and thinkers than the Steve Jenkins books.
To balance the spare text, Waring’s illustrations are simple, eye-catching, and truly life-sized. He has simplified each animal down to its strongest lines without sacrificing the textures and features that keep them recognizable to young children. The backgrounds are bright and basic, which makes the animal and its one bite stand out even more. The animal and its food or prey are realistically drawn, but Waring isn’t tied to the same rules when creating the background. I think this is a good thing – the backgrounds are primarily solid-colored, and many of these animals would become camouflaged against their natural background.
The last spread, with the sperm whale devouring the giant squid, is appropriately a large fold-out spread. This gives children such a sense of the enormity of the sperm whale, which is really only indicated by its teeth and a little bit of gray mouth because it is so large. This last spread made me realize how artfully Schaefer had organized the book. It begins with that worm’s eraser-sized dirt clump, and moves up to a mouthful that cannot fit on even a double-paged spread – wow! Readers may want to read the book more than once – the first time through for the information included, the second time to really examine the size of the animals and their particular mouthfuls.
While this is one of those books that boys will connect with because of the weird and gross things that are sometimes eaten (the komodo dragon eats a vicious-looking snake), I think this book would be equally successful in an elementary school classroom. The illustrations can easily be seen from far away because of Waring’s design choices, and Schaefer has included additional information about all of the animals and their eating habits at the end of the book. She does an excellent job defining some of the creatures’ unusual habits in context. For instance, the common octopus drills a hole into its prey’s “shell with its radula – a toothed tongue.”. This gives eager readers more information to wield.
I would strongly recommend this book to preschoolers and young elementary school students. Not only is Schaefer’s enthusiasm visible throughout the book, but they will be able to go back and refer to the information over and over again. I first checked this book out two months ago, but returned it when we went on vacation. When we came back to Montana, I had already started this blog, and knew I wanted to finish it, so I checked the book out again. My girls are still just as fascinated by it as I am. In fact, Frances wants me to read it again right now!
Just One Bite: 11 Animals and their Bites at Life-Size! Lola Schaefer; illustrated by Geoff Waring. Chronicle Books, 2010.
Borrowed from the Lewis & Clark Library