The Brilliant Book of Animal Bones: Many children (and adults) find skeletons fascinating. This book, written by Anna Claybourne, is packed with information that builds on the basic knowledge that they are likely to have. Introductory pages explain the composition of bones, the differences between vertebrates and invertebrates and joint structure with muscle attachment. Subsequent pages are organised by animal classes; mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. The final pages show how palaeontologists excavate bones and build models. Interestingly the brachiosaurus is included in the reptile section. It’s a valid publishing choice, but it would be interesting to discuss with the children how it differs from the other pages and whether it could have been included in the palaeontology section. What do they imagine the reasons were for deciding on where to place it?
The text is written in a clear and accessible way, and the illustrations support understanding which is vital in this type of book. The point that the vertebrates’ skeletons have more in common than their differences is well-made. Fascinating details explain why some animals have evolved from the same basic structure. For instance, a shark has two small bones where it would once have had feet, and some snakes, like pythons, also have signs of legs from when they evolved from lizards. The distinction between the cartilaginous shark and the bony fish is explained. The reader learns that a bird’s hollow bones are adapted for flight and that an egg contains the same mineral, calcium, as the bird’s bones (if a bird’s intake in calcium is insufficient, it will use calcium from its own skeleton to make the shell). The Natural History Museum is acknowledged in an advisory capacity.
Throughout, technical vocabulary is used and explained:
The operculum is a flap of bone covering the gills, which the fish breathes through (p40)
Most frogs have long back legs for jumping. They also have very long pelvis bones for their strong muscles to attach to. The bottom end of the spine is fused into a single bone called aurostyle, giving the back extra strength. (p37)
The context. straightforward syntax and supporting illustrations make it easier for the terminology to be understood. There is some inconsistency in that phalanges is usually used along with toe and finger bones, but sometimes the labels only use ‘finger bones’. There is a glossary, and the selection of words is well-chosen. It is a pity that the words are not emboldened in the main text, so a child reader is directed to the glossary, and it is disappointing that there is no pronunciation guide. Parents and teachers will know that children often baulk at unfamiliar words and will either ignore or read over them. A simple pronunciation guide can be a great help. Sceloritc rings, periosteum, palaeontologist, ossicones, fenestrae are instances of when this would be appropriate In the classroom, I would turn this into a teaching point, inserting the pronunciations to support readers. There is an opportunity here for some incidental word awareness work. For example, fenestrae comes from the Latin for window and sounds like the French la fenêtre (window). Children can be invited to work out why the holes and openings in bones might have been given this name.
The further information section is good. I appreciated that the publisher had not limited the reference sources to their own books, as I have on occasion encountered. This is to be commended if we want children to begin to develop a researcher’s mindset.
The least satisfactory element, in my opinion, is the design. This is not so much from the point of view of accuracy or clarity – the font is legible, and the labelling is clear. I do, however, find the shiny paper and the crude colour palette disappointing. There are many attractive nonfiction books on the market, and they vary in the quality of language and information. The publisher of this book (Hachette) is home to the Wren and Rook imprint, which is undoubtedly one of the market leaders in creating books that are both informative and aesthetically pleasing, so it would be wonderful to see more of this influence making its way into the books published on the Wayland list.
Having said that, I wouldn’t hesitate to include this in the school library on the strength of the content and clarity of communication.
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