Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - Play Like an Animal blog tour - 4.15.2020

Wednesdays I join Alyson Beecher from kidlitfrenzy and other
#kidlit bloggers to share wonderful nonfiction picture books.
The intention of today's blog post is to give professionals that work in the
education field new nonfiction reading material and ideas to use 
with students to promote a love of reading nonfiction materials.

There is a lot of discussion about play-based activities in pre-k and kindergarten classrooms.  Despite having learning standards that are asking five- and six-year olds to do more and learn more than they ever have in the past, educators are also looking at the role play has in education.  Can students learn concepts and practice understanding in a play-based manner instead of filling out a worksheet?  Many experts believe so and this topic continues to be one that is looked at by top researchers in this field.  When children engage in play-based activities, what are they showing in their play?  How are they practicing and reinforcing skills?  Is there more to just playing than... playing?

Maybe we need to think about this by looking at what we know about animals and the way they play.  Animals have many purposes in their play.  They practice their hunting skills.  They learn how to get along when they play.  Animals even find their mating partners through play!  Author Maria Gianferrari helps us understand more about this subject in her new book.

written by Maria Gianferrari
illustrated by Mia Powell
published by Millbrook Press

Told in lyrical prose and lively verbs, readers discover how what looks like play behavior is actually the way an animal is practicing a survival tool.  Rhinos love to wallow in mud, but it's not just play to them - they are coating their skin with a mud sunscreen to protect themselves from the hot sun!  And elephants who are splashing around in the water together are doing more than just having fun... since they live in cooperative groups they have to learn how to cooperate with each other.  Might as well have some fun while doing that.  Think that leaping giraffe is just having fun running across the field?  When giraffes do this they are actually working on their coordination which helps them be fast when running away from predators.

The illustrations from Mia Powell leap off the page with bright colors and animals that look like they are in constant motion.  I love the green endpages that are full of pictures of animals from the book.

Want to know more about these fascinating animals?  Maria leaves us with some fascinating backmatter.  There are notes about each animal that gives more information than what is included in the main text.  I also love how she has a page that talks about things that can happen during play - like what happens when an animal is hurt.

I'm always interested about how an author cultivates the backmatter so I asked Maria to stop by and tell us more.  

Thanks for having me Michele, and allowing me to jibber-jabber about one of my very favorite things to both read AND write: back matter!
I am a complete back matter nerd! I love to read nonfiction (and sometimes fiction) picture books and their back matter and study what information the author has included. It always enriches my experience of reading the text. I usually go right back to the beginning, and then start again, with those additional facts or cool curiosities in mind, and then the text has even more depth.
The fun part about writing nonfiction is that the cool things that we learn, that won’t fit in the main text either because of the narrative focus or expository structure, we can still include in the back matter—hooray for that!
The back matter for PLAY LIKE AN ANIMAL was a bit of a challenge—I had so many things that I still wanted to include, and luckily editor Carol Hinz is as big a fan of back matter as I am, so she was able to get me two spreads—four whole pages of back matter. Still, I was not able to include everything.
What didn’t make the cut? A long suggested reading list, one for nearly each creature mentioned it the book. I can’t share them all, but here are some of my favorite titles:
·      Katherine Roy’s How to Be an Elephant
·      Pamela S Turner’s Crow Smarts
·      Steve Jenkins’s The Animal Book
·      Claire Saxby’s Big Red Kangaroo
·      Sy Montgomery’s Encantado (about Amazonian pink dolphins!)
There were also several articles about the importance of play, both for kids and animals.
These are two that I highly recommend:
·      Anya Kamenetz’s “Five Proven Benefits of Play
·      Perry Klass’s “Let Kids Play
I also had links to some of my favorite videos, like this one sure to bring a smile to your face, Rio and the River Otter, of a dog & otter playing together—two very playful creatures:
Or this: a dolphin and whale playing together:
Do you have a favorite book? Be sure to read the back matter too!
Or try this at home: write some back matter for one of your favorite books. What things would you include?
Now that kids are quarantined at home, it’s the perfect time to be creative and playful—play is learning too!
Stay safe, everyone!
Play every day!

Thank you, Maria, for that insight!

Maria is generously giving away a copy of Play Like an Animal (US residents, please).  Be sure to enter the giveaway.  A winner will be chosen next Wednesday, April 22nd.

More about Maria:  Maria Gianferrari’s childhood playground was nature: climbing trees, playing hide and seek in the cornfield and slapping cow patties for fun! Nowadays she tries to keep the spirit of play alive in her writing. She enjoys playing Dominion with her family sans the curse cards, and her late dog, Becca, was always ready for a game of “catch the flying biscuit.”

* Looking to find one of the books in this post?  Click on the book title and you will be taken to an online link for Brain Lair Books.  The books will stay on the link for approx. three weeks before making room for new reads.  Please support independent bookstores.*


  1. I've seen others share Maria's new book & it looks and sounds special. Watching my own children & now my grandchildren play through their growing up years, and teaching while allowing students to mess around with things available, even middle schoolers, made me know how important play is, for adults, too! Thanks for sharing about the backmatter & that fun, too, Maria & Michele!

  2. Thanks for commenting, Linda & thanks for having me on your blog, Michele 😃