Spring is a great time to cultivate an interest in the natural world by investing in children’s field guides. Young nature enthusiasts have two excellent choices: Fandex Family Field Guides, by Workman Publishing, and Peterson Field Guides for Young Naturalists, by Houghton Mifflin.
Fandex Family Field Guides are sets of colorful, die-cut cards fastened at the bottom left corner so they fan out. The cards are about 10 inches high and are cut out at the top in the shape of the highlighted plant or animal specimen. The guide for trees, North American Trees Identified by Leaf, Bark, and Seed, by Steven M. L. Aronson, contains 50 cards whose tops are cut into the distinct shapes of the leaves of North American trees. Images of the leaf, bark pattern, flower, and seed or nut appear in full color on each card, making accurate specimen identification easy.
Each card is easy to hold and highlights interesting facts about the tree, including common and scientific names; common locations and habitats; historical and contemporary uses of the bark, sap, and roots; scent; and species variations. Other data about leaves, bark, shape, and geographic range are highlighted in green on the back of the card. The set of cards contains a glossary of terms such as deciduous and palmate to aid in understanding tree descriptions.
Fandex’s Wild Birds of North America, by Michael W. Robbins, is identical in format, with each card depicting a colorful cutout of one of the 50 birds most commonly observed throughout the continent, along with a color photograph of the bird. Field information includes the bird’s appearance at specific ages and in different seasons; habitat and geographic range (U.S. range maps color-coded by season are provided); behaviors such as mating, nesting, defending territory, foraging, and migrating; and descriptions of voice and songs. Cards are arranged in scientific and phylogenetic order, according to guidelines from the American Ornithologists’ Union.
Fandex Family Field Guides are appropriate for gifted elementary children but are useful for naturalists of all ages. Other guides in the series cover butterflies and wildflowers. The cards are well designed, and the information is accurate and well written. Constant fanning of the sets, however, causes the cutout figures at the tops of the cards to catch on each other and bend.
For 8- to 12-year-olds, Peterson Field Guides for Young Naturalists is another good choice. The bird set contains five books: Backyard Birds, Shorebirds, Birds of Prey, Bizarre Birds, and Songbirds, all written by Jonathan P. Latimer and Karen Stray Nolting and illustrated by renowned naturalist Roger Tory Peterson.
Backyard Birds, for example, begins with an overview of the Peterson system of developing bird-identifying skills. The system starts with color and markings on head, wings, body, or tail, then shifts to size, shape, location, behavior, and sound. Each entry in the book is arranged by color and contains a color photograph of the bird and a brief description of behavior, location, migratory patterns, and folklore, along with other interesting information. On the facing page, a labeled color drawing highlights peculiar markings and shapes, differences between males and females and between young and adult birds, and, in some cases, species variations. Habitat, voice, and food are described, and a colorful “Did You Know” box offers interesting facts about each bird.
Other books in the series follow the same format but arrange entries differently. In Birds of Prey, for example, they are arranged by size; in Shorebirds, by whether you’re more likely to observe the bird in the air, on the water, on the ground, or in the grass; and in Bizarre Birds, by unusual markings, habitats, or behaviors.
Other topics in the Peterson series include caterpillars and butterflies. The books are simply written and easy for children to use, though they do not have the level of detail or the depth of Fandex Family Field Guides. Fandex, however, contains smaller print, and the graphic details may be difficult for some to read. While Fandex is slightly more appropriate for gifted elementary children, both series are well done and highly recommended.
—Sarah Boone, MA
Sarah Boone holds a master’s degree in teaching and is certified in gifted education. She teaches at Meredith College.
- Fandex Family Field Guides
- Peterson Field Guides for Young Naturalists
- Selections can be found at online stores or in local bookstores.