BOOK BAG: New children's books to entice young readers


Although a place far away from Iowa, wildlife-minded readers will appreciate this selection by author Amy Cherrix and photographer Steve Atkins titled, “Backyard Bears: Conservation, Habitat Changes, and the Rise of Urban Wildlife” (2018, Houghton Mifflin, $18.99, ages 10 and older). It is part of the award-winning series, “Scientists in the Field: Where Science Meets Adventure.”

The book focuses on the urban bear populations of Asheville, N.C. Following a team of wildlife biologists from North Carolina State University’s NC Urban/Suburban Black Bear Study, readers get a close-up glimpse of a “day in the field” as the biologists sedate a mother bear in a hollow-tree den to measure her cub’s paw size, collect a tissue sample for DNA testing, and insert a microchip into his body for recovery purposes. When the cub has grown, if the team meets him again, he will get an identification tag in his ear and a GPS radio collar to track his whereabouts.

A quick and fascinating diversion from Asheville’s bears is a chapter titled, “A World Going Wild,” in which Cherrix enlightens us with surprises. Wild turkey populations in Boston? Chickens and roosters running rampant in Hawaii? And most wild of all ... Mumbai, India’s “living ghosts:” 35 leopard inhabitants in the most populated city in the most populated country in the world.

Readers who love animals might find themselves in these pages filled with enticing photographs wanting to help find future solutions for wildlife in our increasingly urban environments. With background suited to the aspiring biologist, Cherrix offers tips for handling bear encounters, as well as a Facebook page for the study and other bear-related websites for young naturalists.

A prolific contributor to the “Scientists in the Field” series with totals nearing a dozen, award-winning author Sy Montgomery focused on her most beloved topic: animals. Her newest book, a crossover book for both young adults and adults, “How to be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals,” (Hougton Mifflin, 2018, $20, ages 17 and older) with charming illustrations by Rebecca Green, is deeply personal. The book is organized by specific animals that have come into her life, both domestic and wild, and the lessons they taught her.

Suffering an alcoholic mother, parents who could never accept her for who she was and ultimately disowned her, and, at her lowest point with depression, battling suicidal thoughts, it was always animals that brought on her own apologies for being too human. It always was animals she aspired to be like. And it always was animals that healed her: three emu siblings in the scrubby Australian Outback, a harmless tarantula named Clarabelle and a runt of a piglet that came home in a shoe box.

As I read this fascinating book celebrating an amazing range of species on this amazing Earth, I was astounded by Montgomery’s adventures and fought-for opportunities and her beautiful writing. Here is an excerpt from a chapter about an octopus she developed a bond with named Octavia:


If a human had begun tasting me so early in our relationship,” I admitted, “I’d have been alarmed.” But this was an earthbound alien — someone who could change color and shape, who could pour her baggy forty-pound body through an opening smaller than an orange. Someone with a beak like a parrot and venom like a snake and ink like an old-fashioned pen. Yet clearly, this large, strong, smart marine invertebrate — one more different from a human than any creature I had ever met before — was as interested in me as I was in her. And that was why I was so intrigued.

This is a book full of many gifts.

One of my favorite illustrators is Eliza Wheeler, so I was thrilled to find this beautiful nonfiction picture book filled with her old-fashioned illustrations with botanical flourishes adding to this new-to-me, true story by Marc Tyler Nobleman, titled, “Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real” (Clarion, 2018, $17.99, ages 8 to 12).

In 1917 England, two cousins unintentionally became a sensation for providing the world with the first photographic “proof” of fairies. Photography was a new medium more than 100 years ago when these sister-like cousins played near the stream by their home. Frances, 9, was emphatic that fairies were real. Elsie, the older cousin, persuaded her father to allow her to take one photograph. The photograph of Frances, waterfall behind her, crown of flowers in her hair, and four dancing, ephemeral fairies frolicking around her along with the girls’ insistence that the photograph was not doctored, allowed her parents to let them take another photograph: Essie shaking hands with a gnome.

These photos eventually caught the attention of the novelist Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame. Doyle wrote an article titled, “Fairies Photographed” with the two photos in a popular periodical of the time. Heated debate ensued. All calmed and was forgotten until 40 years later when a reporter found Elsie and Frances, resurrecting the story. The two continued to evade questions until 1983 when at ages 81 and 75, they admitted to faking the photos.

Nobleman, in his author’s note, comments on how those in more-simpler times who believed, wanted to believe. He also relates this early example of a story and photographs going “viral” to today’s internet with a reminder to not automatically accept what we read, but to question it.

• Wendy Henrichs is a children’s author living in Iowa City.

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