March 16, 2011

Elephant Talk

The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication

By Ann Downer

Twenty-First Century Books, Lerner, 2011

ISBN #978-0-7613-5766-7


Ages 11-18

“It is early morning in Amboseli National Park in Kenya, Africa. A baby elephant hurries to keep up with his mother and sisters and aunts as the herd moves out, following the eldest female to a stand of acacia trees. They will spend the morning browsing o acacia bark and grass.”

This fascinating insight into fellow mammals and the capabilities they display in communication and  to their families delights and amazes. From the first page, author Ann Downer takes the reader on an exploration of the ins and outs of the latest research information about elephants to the final chapter, where she revisits a zoo.

From early studies to research pioneers to the current body of knowledge growing about the various kinds of elephants, a fantastic language comes to life. Elephants have a set of trumpets, chirps, rumbles, and other calls identified by elephant scientists and set down in a universal language of elephant talk. The bonds of the herd, babies and care, and maturing males, females, and grandmothers are explored in detail. The newest information concerning elephants’ ability to sense rumbles and vibrations through their feet promises more knowledge. It abounds with science and details and is filled with vibrant, interesting photographs that add to the wonder of this mighty animal.

The author explores the changing human relationship between elephant and humans. She looks at changes in elephant training and how elephants bring out the “wow” factor. She discusses the problems of zoos versus loss of habitat and poaching as the possibly looms of the elephants’ eventual extinction in our lifetime.

Full back matter includes a bibliography, further reading, glossary, index, source notes, timeline, TOC, and websites. This is a book sure to please budding scientists, reluctant readers, nonfiction lover, and anyone interested in animals–and it’s a fun read. This book belongs in every nonfiction collection.

Ann directed me to the eSource materials up on the Lerner website: a comic activity tied to the Laikipia Elephant Project in Kenya, and “Elephant Trek,” a Google Earth Tour that takes you to all the sites in the book.

Now this is a fun one. Listen to elephants here. I had make myself stop listening. Keep clicking through and start the sound, too.

I loved this book and it fits right in with NOVA’s “Secret Life of Scientists” web program and scientist Dave Sulzer. Take a look at what he’d done with elephants—and it involves music! I’ll be guest blogging about his musical elephants soon.

Scan the scientists to find him if he’s not right up front.

Wrapped in Foil has a great review of Elephant Talk.

Another excellent elephant book for younger kids is Beco’s Big Year by Linda Stanek and the Columbus Zoo. Stanek does a wonderful job in showing the baby elephant’s development without being cute or anthropomorphic. See my review of Beco.

See a terrific Beco review and more at Growing with Science.

Activity 1

Compare the differences between Asian and African elephants and write about them to explain those differences in relation to their habitats and characteristics.

Activity 2

Choose one of the elephant researchers discussed in the book and research their studies. Write about what they’ve learned and what’s yet to learn about elephants.

Activity 3

Give an example of how the scientific method was used by one or more of the researchers from the book and explain how it contributed to the body of knowledge.

See more about elephants at the American Zoological Association site.

How you can help.

National Science Standard: biological evolution and behavior of organisms

Book provided by publisher.

Beco’s Big Year

January 26, 2011

Beco’s Big Year

A Baby Elephant Turns One

By Linda Stanek

Forward by Jack Hanna

Columbus Zoological Park Association, 2010

Grades K-4


“For almost two years, the people at the Columbus Zoo watch and wait. An Asian elephant named Phoebe gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Animal doctors, called, vets, have great news. Phoebe is going to have a baby! Before, she weighed 6,800 pounds. As her baby grows, Phoebe gains more than a thousand pounds. Now, she is up to almost 8,000 pounds.”

What’s not to like about the adorable baby elephant on the cover of this book? It traces the pregnancy of Phoebe, an elephant at the Columbus Zoo, through the birth of her calf Beco and the baby’s first year of life. This is an up-close and accessible look at this baby called Beco.

The text narrates the event while providing additional information about elephants and their life in the zoo. It includes information about elephants in general, babies and their early days, name choosing, how the baby learns, and training procedures that allow vets to examine and care for these pachyderms.

Sidebars throughout the book add more facts that will interest independent readers or older children, but the main text is easily accessible. Loads of photos follow Beco’s development and provide an appealing insight into the life of Beco, her son, and elephants.

The book is fascinating and should appeal as a fact gathering book, a great story time nonfiction book, or just a fun read or picture study. I liked the book so much, and it’s so well written and designed, I wanted in as a finalist in the NFPB Cybils. It’s one every library should have because every youngster will enjoy it.

Activity 1

Make an outline of Asia and Africa. Use the outlines to create a comparison of Asian and African elephants.

National Geographic has good elephant information.

Activity 2

Make a timeline of Beco’s first year.  Chose 5-7 events in Beco’s life, or more! Highlight events and developments by Beco of his first year of life.

See Beco’s 2nd birthday celebration.

Wrapped in Foil has a blog post about Beco.

Here’s another review of Beco’s Big Year at NC Teacher Stuff.

Book provided by Columbus Zoological Park Association for Cybils NFPB consideration.

National Science Standard: life cycle of organisms


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