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Have you ever wondered how large or small animals really are? "Actual Size",
by Steve Jenkins, wonderfully demonstrates the actual size of some of the
largest and tiniest creatures on earth.
There is a picture of a giant foot from the largest land animal with a
height that reaches 13 feet and can weigh as much as 14,000 pounds. If you
guessed an African elephant, you were correct. Have you ever wondered how
large a giant squid really is?  There's an illustration of its gigantic eye
that spans the entire page and spills into the next. This will give you an
idea of how large that ocean creature really is. (There's also a glossary at
the back that gives even more information about each of these animals. For
example, I learned that this particular squid has never been seen alive and
the largest ever recorded was found off the shores of New Zealand!)
The animals, also illustrated by Jenkins, are diverse in size, weight and
features. There's a fold out of the Goliath frog that will stretch beyond
any lap this book lays upon. This unique amphibian lives in Africa and is
large enough to catch and eat birds and rats!
The front and back covers will grab the attention of any child, young or
old! The front cover has an illustration of a gorilla's hand. Sitting on the
thumb of this massive hand is a petite pygmy mouse lemur. The hand seems to
beg your hand to be placed over it, where your hand will become immediately
dwarfed. A Goliath bird eater tarantula fills the back cover making me never
wanting to meet one.
You can do so much with a picture book like this by comparing sizes and
weights with humans or each other. The glossary can enlighten children to
the geography of where these animals live and what they eat.  I especially
love the inventive collages cleverly depicting each animal. Mr. Jenkins is a
master of this type of illustration. His Caldecott Honor book last year,
"What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?" has the same type of cut-paper art.
This non-fiction picture book is an invitation to learning that all ages
will thoroughly enjoy!

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Now for some exciting fantasy books for younger readers! "The Spiderwick
Chronicles", by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, is a thrilling series for
young readers who have recently transitioned to chapter books. The books are
not only filled with page turning adventures, but wonderful etchings are
spread throughout, helping keep new chapter readers engaged.
The first book, "The Field Guide", sets the tone of the series giving a
background of the main characters and how they come to an old rickety house
to live. The story centers around 9 year old Jared, who discovers an
"unusual sound" coming from within the walls. He also finds a secret room
that his twin brother, Simon, and 13 year old sister are excited to see.
What they find is a small pencil-size Brownie who is upset for their
ransacking his little home. He becomes a bit nicer when they make him a new
home out of an old bird cage. When Jared comes across an old book entitled
"Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You", he
begins to believe in the many creatures his great-great uncle wrote about in
this book. There are also numerous drawings of the creatures that Jared
begins to distinguish.
The second book, "The Seeing Stone", picks right up where the first book
leaves off. As Jared is talking to the Brownie, Thumbletack, whom he'd met
in the first book, looks out of the window. Suddenly, his twin disappears.
Thumbletack proclaims that invisible goblins just took Simon. And so
children will turn page after page to find out what happened to Simon. The
third book, "Lucinda's Secret", will add another dimension to the suspense
as the children try to figure out what to do with Arthur Spiderwick's book.
It seems that keeping this book comes to no good.  The fourth book, "The
Ironwood Tree", finds the twins searching for evil dwarves who have taken
their sister. It seems the dwarves want to make her their queen.  And
finally, the fifth book, "The Wrath of Mulgarath", has just been published
and it concludes this terrific series with the children meeting up with a
giant ogre.
All five of these books should be read in order to ingest the full magnitude
of the storyline as it falls into place. The illustrations are just as
gratifying and important to the story as the story itself. More importantly,
these smallish-sized books are the perfect introduction into more involved
books with no pictures. This is a great series for 6 to 10 year olds and is
also a wonderful read-aloud for all ages.