Animals bring home many a book's message

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Who can resist a great story about an animal? Whether imaginary, prehistoric or the more familiar four-legged variety, animals have a perennial appeal to children and adults alike.

In addition to being fun and engaging, stories about animals can provide young readers with the opportunity to connect reading with the world around them.

As legend has it, the Sasquatch is a manlike woodland creature that lives in North America. "In Search of Sasquatch" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, age 9 and up) by Kelly Milner Halls, compiles the history of Sasquatch folklore.

With a straightforward text, sketches and photographs, Ms. Halls' new book chronicles both the lore and the (often suspect) scientific proof of the creature's existence.

According to the experts at the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (yes, there really is such an organization) there have been 93 official Sasquatch sightings in Pennsylvania alone. Evidence for the existence of this creature is spotty at best, but this book might make a Bigfoot believer out of you -- or at least offer some off-beat entertainment.

Some of the tips given for tracking a Bigfoot are looking for giant footprints and broken branches that have been turned upward. So consider taking a walk in the woods to look for clues. Who knows, during a stroll in Frick Park, you might witness the 94th official sighting.

While mammoths might seem like imaginary beasts, they are in fact extinct relatives of the elephant. "Baby Mammoth Mummy: Frozen in Time: A Prehistoric Animal's Journey into the 21st Century" (National Geographic Kids, $17.95, age 8 and up) by Christopher Sloan, details the amazing discovery of a completely intact baby mammoth in Siberia.

Baby "Lyuba" was uncovered on a river bank where she was mummified in mud for 42,000 years. Mr. Sloan's book provides an in-depth look at the process scientists used to free her and their reactions to their discovery.

Paleontologist Daniel Fisher, for example, is quoted as saying, "Oh my goodness, she's perfect -- even her eyelashes are there. It looks like she just drifted off to sleep. Suddenly, what I'd been struggling to visualize for so long was lying right there for me to touch."

Clear, dramatic photos on practically every page are sure to capture the imagination of any child interested in science. A trip to the Carnegie Museum of Natural Sciences to look at other extinct animals would be a great supplement to this read.

While mammoths may have disappeared long ago, there are still many animals that inhabit the Arctic, or at least migrate there yearly. "North: The Amazing Story of Arctic Migration" (Candlewick Press, $16.99, age 7 and up) by Nick Dawson uses simple language and sweeping illustrations in pastel blues to evoke the frozen landscape through which animals of all kinds make their incredible journeys.

Millions of animals fly, walk or swim astonishing distances to reach their goal. Mr. Dawson also explains how polar bears and arctic fox survive Arctic winters, waiting for food and the sun to return.

With spring arriving soon, this would be a great book to share with a child while observing the arrivals of birds that have been gone for the winter.

Last comes a touching tale of some amazing dogs. Michaela Muntean's new book "Stay: The True Story of Ten Dogs" (Scholastic, $16.99, age 4 and up) tells an enduring story of the healing power of friendship between humans and dogs.

Luciano Anastasini would not give up his dream of working in the circus. Even after the acrobat fell 50 feet during a high-wire act, he was determined to get better and perform again.

He began to adopt from the pound dogs who had behavior problems. Through love, patience and practice, Luciano and his dogs became one of the most popular circus acts in recent history.

Brightly colored photos capture the charm of this pack of unusual performers. And the message of overcoming life's obstacles while helping others is a priceless lesson for anyone to learn.

So the next time you are looking for a book for a young reader, consider choosing one that relates to your everyday life. Whether it's a walk in the park, a trip to a museum or playtime with the puppy, a story about an animal might just do the trick.


Michael Balkenhol is a library assistant at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Hazelwood.


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