Friday, April 19, 2013

Habitat Spies Celebrate Earth Day

Habitat Spy
by Cynthia Kieber-King; illus. by Christina Wald
32 pages, ages 4 - 8
Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2011

When I was a kid, we'd play a game called "I Spy" when we traveled. Dad started, challenging people to "spy a red car" or a cow or, when we were in Yellowstone Park, a moose.

Cynthia Kieber-King takes that old game for a ride through 13 different habitats. From backyard to beach, from plains to pond, her "habitat spies" - boys and girls from a diversity of cultures - discover plants, birds, mammals and more. And she does it in short, snappy rhyme that emphasizes action. In the bog, for example, "...sundews gape, beetles trap, flycatchers dart, lemmings tap."

Cynthia, who lives in central NY state, surrounded by a diversity of habitats, shared some thoughts about writing and being a "habitat spy". 

Archimedes: How did you end up with short poetic habitat descriptions that are so action-oriented?

Cynthia:  Habitat Spy started out with a different title, and longer lines of lyrical poetry that just didn’t seem to work. I wondered if I could make the language more engaging and still communicate the information I wanted to share; if I pared away all the descriptive words, leaving just the bare essence. I thought it might work, especially with illustrations sharing the story of each habitat. So I focused on action verbs – especially unusual ones – and added rhyme to make reading it out loud more fun.

Archimedes:  What inspired the idea for a habitat tour? And how did that evolve into habitat "spy"? 

Cynthia: A number of years ago the area behind my backyard was full of brambles, and far beyond the brambles the land rose into a wooded hill.  Whenever I played in the backyard with my young son, I wondered what those faraway and unreachable woods looked like.  I imagined the neat plants and animals I would see if I could get to those woods. Then I wondered what I might see if I kept walking, from habitat to habitat across the US – so many amazing plants and animals and the places they lived!  Since I couldn’t make that walk in real life, I made the trip on paper.  And the images in my mind of spying on all those habitats turned into Habitat Spy.

Archimedes: This is your first book - what other projects are you involved in?

Cynthia: Next week I’ll be starting a training program to become a volunteer at our local zoo – I’m quite excited about that!  I also have several books in the works, in various phases of revision. 

Beyond the Book

Celebrate Earth Day this weekend by learning more about where you live. Become a Habitat Spy - what can you see in your backyard? A vacant lot?

What are the plants and animals doing in your habitat? Come up with a list of action words (verbs) to describe what goes on in your habitat.

Kieber-King includes four pages of science activities "for creative minds" at the back of the book, including what makes a "habitat", animal adaptations, classification, and food chains.

This post is part of STEM Friday round-up. It's also part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copy provided by publisher.


  1. Science was always my favorite subject at school so I'm loving the Earth Day selections!

  2. Sue, what a very unique book to highlight Earth Day. I love the idea of I Spy in such different habitats. Great interview with Cynthis and the story behind her book. Excellent choice this weekend!

  3. Fabulous Earth day and PPBF choice. I have added this to my library list.

  4. I love this idea for introducing children to the concept of habitats. Sounds like it's something a novice adult would find helpful too!

  5. Lovely unusual take on "I Spy." I loved playing that as a kid. What a great book, thanks Sue.

  6. Sue...your reviews are always quite special because you include interviews with the author...I love that. It was enlightening to gain that perspective of how the author's idea for the book was sparked by something that had happened years ago...and how she revised what she had originally written to make it work better. These are two important components of picture book writing that I need to embrace. :)Great choice for PPBF and Earth Day!