Title: Play Like an Animal, Why Critters Splash, Race, Twirl and Chase
Author: Maria Gianferrari
Illustrator: Mia Powell
Publisher: Millbrook Press, 2020
Themes: animals, playing, playing to learn, playing for fun
You love to play!
Animals do too!
When animals play, they’re practicing how to
and escape from predators.
But most of all, they’re having fun, just like you!
Exuberant text celebrates all the different ways animals play, from rhinos taking mud baths and parrots somersaulting through the air to kangaroos boxing and dolphins diving through the surf. Additional text explains how playing benefits animals.
Why I like this book:
Maria Gianferrari’s text skips and bounces playfully over the pages and paired with Mia Powell’s delightful illustrations they introduce children to warthogs, rhinos, ravens and many more animals at play, just like kids. This is a vibrant celebration of play.
Fascinating back matter gives more detail about the animals featured, and encourages all readers to make time for play.
Kirsten Cappy (@curiousstudiobooks) has produced a fab PLAY LIKE AN ANIMAL: STEM game cards to prompt creative play + a read aloud with Maria.
Quick Q & A with Maria.
[JM] What is your favorite animal from Play Like an Animal?
[MG] I love Mia’s vibrant and whimsical art—it’s so cheerful! I love both the colors and the lines of the spread with the dolphins as well as the one with the monkeys—too cute!
[JM] Was there a specific moment that triggered the idea for the book?
MG There wasn’t really a specific Aha moment, but I had been thinking a lot about play, and how creatures like dogs love to play, and also how kids seem to have so little time for free play these days. Their lives are very structured, full of sports and enrichment classes and supervised play dates. Combine that with cut backs on recess and schools focusing solely on test scores and it’s not surprising that our kids are anxious. Play is a natural stress reliever, not only is it fun, but it teaches us all to cooperate, problem solve and express our creativity. I was stunned to discover that there weren’t any books on this topic, and my subversive little book was born. My motto is play every day!
[JM] Were there other animals included in earlier drafts?
MG Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough spreads to include squirrels. They were initially part of the monkey spread. They love to chase each other and race around tree trunks and are so fun to watch when they’re doing this.
[JM] What is your process like in a book like this, which is a mix of fiction and non-fiction?
MG I would describe this as a work of expository nonfiction. It’s an informational “list” book organized around a topic, that of animal play, rather than a book that has a narrative structure. First, I have the idea for the topic, play, (or tongues as was the case with my book, Terrific Tongues). Then I research the animals that fit the topic and pattern. After that, it’s time to experiment and “play” to find the best way to structure the material, and in this case comparing kid and animal play.
[JM] Did you have animals you played with when you were growing up?
MG We lived in a rural area and used to play outside all day with our neighbors’ three dogs, Tippy, Sam and Sparky. They’d run after us as we raced through the cornfields and woods.
[JM] Non-fiction picture books seem to be increasing in number, which is wonderful. I am seeing various adjectives used to describe different forms. How would you describe Play Like an Animal?
MG It’s a great time to be both reading and writing nonfiction! As I mentioned above, this is a work of expository nonfiction. I highly recommend Melissa Stewart’s blog, “Celebrate Science.” It’s highly informative and she has a multitude of posts on the wide variety of works under this umbrella category and the range of voices and different approaches and text structures one can take. It can often be the most challenging part of the process—trying to find just the right way to present the information in a fun and engaging way.
[JM] Do you have a favorite state or national park?
MG This is also a very hard question!! Back in 2011-2012, my husband, who’s a scientist, had a sabbatical at Scripps in La Jolla. We were living in Massachusetts at the time, and decided we’d drive to California and do a national park tour on both the way there, and on the way back. Another reason was that it would be easier (and safer!) for our late dog, my beloved Becca, to accompany us in the car rather than on an airplane.
I loved so many different things about the all of the parks we visited: from Badlands, to Wind Cave to Crater Lake on our way to San Diego, and Grand Canyon, Arches and Petrified Forest on our way home. But if I had to pick one, I’d say Redwood National Park. I was in awe of the ancient redwoods, so stunning and magical and the atmosphere in the understory, full of equally ancient ferns and creatures. It felt so peaceful there.
Maria Gianferrari’s childhood playground was nature: climbing trees, playing hide and seek in the cornfield and slapping cow patties for fun! Nowadays she tries to keep the spirit of play alive in her writing. She enjoys playing Dominion with her family sans the curse cards, and her late dog, Becca, was always ready for a game of “catch the flying biscuit.
Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.
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