Friday, October 6, 2017

PPBF: Animals Christopher Columbus Saw

And now on to today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Christopher Columbus, Part of the Explorers Series
Animals Christopher Columbus Saw
An Adventure in the New World

Written Sandra Markle
Illustrated by Jamel Akib

Chronicle Books, 2008
Ages 7-10, 48 pp, 970L

Exploration, History, Animals

Would you believe that, once, worms inspired people to explore the world? In fifteenth-century Europe, silk made from the thread of silkworms was more valuable than gold. Silk and silkworms could only be found in the areas now known as China and Japan, and finding the fastest sea route between these areas and Europe could make an explorer very rich. Christopher Columbus was determined to find that route. In 1492, he set off with three ships, and while he did find land, it wasn't what he expected. Neither were the animals he found along the way.

The author weaves both history and zoology into the story of Christoper Columbus's voyage. She uses journals and primary sources to uncover the probable route of the three ships and straighten out the facts in our minds. She details the various species of animals on land, sea, and air which Columbus's crew encountered. Her book is full of historical place names and vocabulary and doesn't shy away from the introduction of slavery and disease. However, the focus is not on the value of the journey, but rather on the wildlife. Each spread has narrative paragraph which tells about the sailors and a paragraph which highlights an animal the crew encountered. The text is a bit complicated for younger readers to read themselves, but would be a great introduction to the subject for both lower and middle grades. The focus on the animals is a kid-friendly way to teach history. The book includes a glossary and age-appropriate resources plus an author's note.

What I Love:
I love this series of animal books by Sandra Markle. I appreciate the way she tries to be historically accurate and put the details into perspective. I am sure there are many people who think she does not hit the issues like slavery harshly enough and that this book glorifies Columbus in a Eurocentric way without regard to the chaos of colonialism. Personally, I like how the author found an important theme running through Columbus's voyage and also that she has an opportunity to show what the voyage meant to his people at the time. It opens conversation about pre-conceived notions about what makes a civilized society and still leaves room to explore the history without the modern politics.
The illustrations are beautiful, though I was disappointed by the book's design. I would have liked the narrative sections and the animal sections to be set apart differently. Though a period map was included in the illustrations, I think a more detailed map would be more useful.

1. There are other books in the Explorers series including one about Marco Polo and one about Robert Shaw.

2. Kids can create their own journal of animal species with the tips from Reading Rockets and biome-specific helps from Earth'sKids.

3. Geocaching is another way to get kids out and exploring. Go to their official website, or check the overview on LifeWire.

4. To dig deeper into the truth about Columbus's journey, try Biography and IndianCountryToday. While KidsPlayAndCreate offers a list of historical facts and dates.

5. Both Calliope and Dig magazines featured issues on Queen Isabella, and Cobblestone's issue on explorers would pair well with this book.

6. National Geographic's website encourages kids to follow in modern explorers' footsteps. Even city kids can do some adventuring on CityKidExplorers.

7. Check out these and more Perfect Picture Books at your local library.

Didn't one of the PPBF participants review Monsoon, illustrated by Jamel Akib? I couldn't find it, but I'm sure I read it. If so, please leave the link in the comments or drop me an email. Thanks!

Reviewed by Sue
Reviewed by Sue

Reviewed by Joanna
Reviewed by Joanne

Reviewed by Diane
Reviewed by Beth

Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for Friday, October 6, 2017 available on Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.


  1. Great bonus activities and very timely PPBF choice!

  2. How cunning to find a book about Columbus with an ANIMAL focus!

    1. If you love animal books, check out this series. Thanks.

  3. An interesting perspective on Columbus, for sure. I'll have to take a look at this one. Interesting note about the narrative sections. I'll have to pay attention to that. Thanks!

    1. I adore nonfiction picture books, so I'm always curious how they're made. Thanks.

  4. Such a great topic for kids. I didn't remember how much silk worms drove exploration. Great activities.

    1. I learned a few things and did some research after I read the book as well. There's lots more to know about this section of history than I ever learned in school. Thanks.

  5. I recently discovered Sandra Markle and am impressed by her books. I haven't seen this one, but it is on my library list now. Thanks Joanne.

    1. Thanks. I fell in love with her snow leopard book last year, though it wasn't the first of her books I had read.

  6. This is such a fun way to connect history and STEM! I read it awhile ago, but think it's time to take another look.
    Joanne - I reviewed 22 cents (

  7. What a great idea! Really looking forward to seeing this book. (And thanks for including a link to my review of Timeline.)

    1. Thank-you. I enjoyed the whole series. And I love reviewing past PPBF links because I remind myself of the ones I still haven't read! I'll die with a huge TBR pile, but I'm trying...


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