Animals in Surprising Shades – Perfect Picture Book Friday

My son went to an elementary school where they enjoyed a week of “farm” school camping, or outdoor education, every year. Each week featured hiking, sitting outside, and taking a close look (using other senses, too) at nature. As part of the program, kids wrote poems about what they observed through their senses, how it made them feel, etc. As a parent, I was lucky enough to facilitate one of these outdoor classes, and it was eye-opening to see how this experience helped kids slow down and pay attention.

ANIMALS IN AMAZING SHADES would be a great book to use for any outdoor education program, or for homeschooling. But even if you don’t have the chance to enjoy nature “in the middle of nowhere,” you can still go to a park, step into your backyard, or just look up through the trees on your street, observe a roaming insect, or gaze at the night sky to witness the world’s wonders.

In this memorable book of poems, kids will love the playful subject matter, the different ways or forms in which words can be combined using poetry, the fabulous art that accompanies the poems, and the fascinating animal facts learned along the way.

Here’s one of my favorites spreads:

Text ©Susan Johnston Taylor Illustration ©Annie Bakst

I happen to be a particular fan of concrete poems, ones that take the shape of their subject. Many kids are attracted to this kind of poem, and it’s a form they have fun experimenting with.

Here’s the scientific layer of information about the manta in the upper left:

Does a bright pink manta ray sound fishy to you? An 11-foot pink manta ray was first spotted in 2015. It was nicknamed Inspector Clouseau after the bumbling detective in the Pink Panther movies. Scientists believe the manta ray’s unusual coloring may be caused by a condition called erythyrism. It makes skin appear red or pink.

The term in bold is included in a STEM- related glossary in the back.

The book presents ten different poetic forms: an introductory poem about the overarching subject of the book, then eight that feature animals and their scientific facts, and an acrostic poem that speaks to the rainbow nature of animals. It then presents four more animals, animal facts and poems, and asks readers to identify the forms used in those poems. Taking the activity one step further, it then asks readers to pick animals and write poems of their own. A brilliant way to extend the reading and engage kids in active learning!

The vibrant art also adds significantly to the reader’s experience, showing each of the animals up close in all their colorful glory. ANIMALS IN SURPRISING SHADES will appeal to kids who love animals, love reading about weird and wonderful creature facts, or just love being creative with words. Great book!


Download the educator materials that accompany this book.

Pair this book with Cricket in the Thicket: Poems About Bugs by Carol Murray, illus. by Melissa Sweet

Make an origami crab, manta ray, jumping frog, or snail.

Pair this book with another about a surprising animal color, Pink is for Blobfish by Jess Keating. How are the two books different? What do they have in common? How do they complement each other?

Title: Animals in Surprising Shades: Poems About Earth’s Colorful Creatures

Author: Susan Johnston Taylor

Illustrator: Annie Bakst

Publisher: Gnome Road Publishing, 2023

Ages: Elementary school

Themes: STEM, animals, poetry

For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.

10 thoughts on “Animals in Surprising Shades – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. Patricia Tilton says:

    What an intriguing story! II think kids will love this book, but so will their parents. Thanks for pointing out the concrete poem, because I was not familiar with the style — learned something new. Lovely review. Thanks for sharing!

  2. gloriaamescua says:

    Great review! I’ve read an pre-pub version and it’s beautiful and fun to read. I think kids and adults will love the strange animals, the different poetic forms and the extra facts. You’ve suggested great activities.

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