Week Two of Kindergarten found Ruth and me moving from kittens to salamanders. The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer is one of our favorite Five in a Row books. All three of my kids have enjoyed it, which is saying a lot as they all have slightly different likes and interests. In the story, a boy finds a salamander and wants to bring him home to live. Instead of saying no, his wise mother asks him about all the things the salamander will need. Like most kids, he has an answer for every one of her questions. What will he eat? Bugs of course, brought there by the boy. But what about when there are too many bugs? The boy will bring in birds to eat the bugs, of course. And so on.
One part of the appeal in this book is the realism of the facts about salamanders. What do salamanders need? What kind of habitat do they have? But the genius of the book is combining the realism and realistic illustrations with the boy’s flight of fancy as he turns his bedroom into a forest wonderland. The illustrations mirror the boy’s imaginary world getting bigger and bigger as the forest that he dreams begins to spill over the frame of the drawing of his room on the page. The gentle back-and-forth question-and-answer conversation of the boy and the mother are also appealing both for the predictability (you know she will ask, he will answer) and for the surprise of some of his answers.
The Salamander Room paired up perfectly with a study of amphibians in general and a review of animal classification. We read a lot of other frog and amphibian books. A stand-out was Brenda Guiberson’s Frog Song, a Cybils nominee last year. One day I had David and Ruth get all their stuffed animals, divide them into piles by category (Mammal, Bird, Fish, etc), count each pile and then make a graph. Ruth and I made the graph together. I had David make his own and we counted that as math that day. It was also interesting to show them a graph using the actual numbers of animals in the world. Somewhat expectedly, our stuffed animal graph showed a preponderance of mammals while in the real world mammals are way outranked by insects and other invertebrates.
In general it was much harder to find books about salamanders than frogs. That’s one of the reasons I appreciated Susan Hood’s book, Spike, The Mixed-Up Monster, starring an axolotl (a critically endangered Mexican salamander). Reason #2 was that it was a really cute story about a little axolotl who thinks he’s fierce but all the other animals think he’s just cute. He desperately wants to be big and fierce until one day he meets a real monster (a Gila monster). And reason #3? It’s illustrated by Melissa Sweet who could probably illustrate the instruction manual for a toaster and make it look fresh and appealing.
For fun, we made salt-dough salamanders, using the recipe from this blog.
The salt-dough was pretty easy to make and work with and the kids had fun painting their creatures. The best thing we did for the week was probably our field trip to Huntley Meadows, a nearby wetlands. No salamanders spotted, but lots and lots of their frog cousins.
Other Frog/Salamander Books We Recommend:
Salamander, Frog and Polliwog: What is an Amphibian? by Brian Cleary
Finklehopper Frog by Irene Livingston
Too Many Frogs! by Ann and John Hassett
Jump by Scott M. Fischer
Foo, the Flying Frog of Washtub Pond by Belle Yang
Too Many Frogs! by Sandy Asher
The Magic School Bus Hops Home: A Book about Animal Habitats