Title: A Place to Start a Family
Author: David L. Harrison
Illustrator: Giles Laroche
Target Ages: 5-10
Genre: Non-Fiction Poetry
Many animals build in order to find a mate, lay eggs, give birth, and protect their babies. The types of structures they create are often extraordinary. From the prairie dog to the pufferfish and from the termite to the stork, discover how and why many animals build.
Poem Samples (Click for Larger View):
Earlier this year, I reviewed another Harrison-Laroche collaboration Now You See Them, Now You Don't. Like the previous book, this one deserves to be in every library, classroom, and home.
The poems are insightful. Harrison features many animals and attributes I was not previously familiar with, like the only snake that builds a nest and the spider that feeds its young for weeks after birth. Young and old will be engaged and fascinated with the creatures’ preparation for and care of their babies.
The poems are entertaining. For instance, “Red Ovenbird” has short stanzas with repetition. Similarly, “Termite” uses repetition and predictive phrasing. Both are perfect for choral reading. Others connect animals to human behaviors like the animals that kiss and play king of the hill or the animals that keep their babies safe and dry.
Laroche’s illustrations are stunning and brilliant. I love the textures, the contrasts, the colors. Each sight feels like a peek into the secret lives of these creatures with all its vividness and beauty.
Whether you come for the illustrations and stay for the poetry or come for the poetry and stay for the illustrations, you are going to love both in A Place to Start a Family.
Ideas for Extension Activities at Home or Lesson Plans for Teachers:
- Science: Use poems in a unit related to mammals, fish, insects, reptiles, or baby animals.
- Poetry vs. Prose: Each creature is featured in a short prose paragraph at the end book. Both the prose paragraph and the poetry include many of the same facts, but one uses figurative elements and experiences the facts imaginatively. Put the prose and the poetry side by side and compare them to teach the difference of these two writing forms.
- Poetry: Using a short paragraph of information from science or other subject area, write poems that imaginatively experience the facts.
- Categorization: Break the animals into groups like type (mammal, fish), location (air, water, underground), type of home, caring for young, and so forth. To extend to math, create one or more charts of information.
- Comparison: Pick two creatures to compare and contrast. How are they similar? Different?
- Language: Identify rhyming words and alliteration. For younger children, use them as a spring board for reading instruction. For instance, list the words that rhyme in the poem. (“European Paper Wasp” is a good poem for this exercise.) Point out similarities in spelling and sound. Write out new words that rhyme. Allow early readers to decipher them.