Saturday, February 18, 2012

Children's Book Review: "Teeth" by Sneed B. Collard III

Sneed B. Collard III's Teeth, beautifully illustrated by Phyllis V. Saroff, is a wonderful addition to your child's library.  This book is one of three by Collard (the others are Beaks! and Wings) that look at common adaptations as they occur in nature.  Teeth shows kids the incredible variety of teeth, of course.  Collard breaks teeth down by size, shape, number, and use.

Collard doesn't shy away from words that many children will need help with, although he does explain and define the terms he uses and there's a glossary at the end.  I think this built in vocabulary expansion is one of the primary strengths of the book.  I've always preferred books that elevate my kids rather than talk down to them.

I also appreciate the way in which the book is organized around the many niches an adaptation can fill.  By approaching nature in this way, rather than just on taxonomy, Collard naturally supports kids' ability conceptualize how evolution functions.  After reading the book, kids will understand how a herbivore with flatter teeth might be able to grind up plants more easily, how a carnivore might benefit from having pointy teeth, or how an omnivore's mouth is perfect for eating whatever comes along.  Moreover, by focusing on the adaptation in question, kids will more easily understand how evolution might work by small, fortuitous alterations to useful tools.  Sometimes it can be hard for kids to grasp evolution because it is so often presented just as a jump from one species into another with nothing but lip service paid to the gradual change that forms the heart of evolution.  Collard's book avoids that pitfall and clearly illustrates what those "gradual changes" might entail.

If your child enjoys watching David Attenborough's specials or Nature then they'll likely enjoy this book. Two warnings: First, some teeth are made for stabbing and slicing prey or crushing bones.  This isn't presented in a particularly violent manner, but if your child is sensitive to that kind of information you should be aware that the topic isn't avoided.  Second, there's a page that describes the fun traditions people have invented about teeth that includes a mention of the tooth fairy.  It doesn't explicitly state that she's not real, but it might prompt a question or two.

All in all, I'd highly recommend the book for kids ages 5-10.

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