Quick Pick: The Amazing Animal Atlas by Dr. Nick Crumpton and Gaia Bordicchia

Where does the echinodermata make its home? How about giant salamanders, the world’s largest amphibians? And where in the world is the shoebill?

By Christine Brovelli-O’Brien, Ph.D., Creative Content Contributor

The animal kingdom is vast and populated with all sorts of interesting critters. You may be familiar with the gray wolf, for example, or the gorilla, but what about the fossaThe Northern Pika? Did you know that there’s a raccoon dog?

The Amazing Animal Atlas, written by Dr. Nick Crumpton, a zoologist with research interests in mammals and lizards, and illustrated by Gaia Bordicchia, explores both science and art, making it more than a simple collection of facts and drawings.

Bordicchia’s drawings, which she has described as having a “slightly vintage finish,” are gorgeous renderings of animals and their habitats, covering the globe from continent to continent and ocean to sea to river. Many of these animals are straight out of a sci-fi novel, like the thorny devil that lives in the heat of Australia, the elusive and endangered pangolin native to Africa, and the narwhal, an arctic animal referred to as the “Unicorn of the Sea,” even though his “horn” is a tooth.

Animals provide a terrific transition into science. Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds, for example, helps young readers make sense of the larger world. A fun way to connect young learners to animals is to bring in (or create in the classroom) a life-size cut-out of a few different members of a species, such as penguins, and measure the students’ height against that of the birds. They’ll be shocked to see that some of them, like the Emperor Penguin, are huge – they can reach the height of 48 inches and weigh up to 99 pounds, way bigger than the ones you typically see at the zoo. In later elementary grades such as third and fourth, kids start to discover the realities of the food chain, and it’s not always pretty. Books like Crumpton and Bordicchia’s can be used as a learning tool to show why and how this chain benefits the ecosystem.

If you have access to a SMART technology in the classroom, you can conduct an in-depth exploration of various animal habitats using videos. For upper elementary students, interactive technology like VR glasses allow kids to go one step further by taking in-class “field trips” to these locations, where they become immersed in the environment.   

With its “accessible science” approach, The Amazing Animal Atlas presents a nice balance of creatures familiar and unfamiliar. Dr. Crumpton and Bordicchia include a “Tree of Life” at the beginning of the book that has sweeping branches and leaves, alive with color and motion, depicting the tree’s offshoots as a more fluid motion that we typically see in charts: It’s evolution come to life.