The Upside-Down Book of Sloths
by Elizabeth Shreeve; illus. by Isabella Grott
40 pages; ages 7-10
Norton Young Readers, 2023
Theme: animals, prehistoric animals, nonfiction
Slow. Sleepy. Weirdly adorable.
You might think you know a lot about sloths. But hold tight to that branch, says Elizabeth Shreeve. “Because everything you thought about sloths is about to turn …
… upside down!"
For example, sloths are small. But long ago (like 40 million years ago) they were huge! Nearly as big as an elephant at the zoo! And you know that sloths hang out in trees and eat leaves. But back in the prehistoric times, some sloths took to the ocean to hunt for tasty sea grasses.
What I like about this book: One thing you notice about this book is that some pages feature large text with conversational language, and some have smaller text with sidebars that provide more details and facts. That makes this book useable on two levels: one as a picture book to read to the younger kids (6-7), and a middle grade level for the 8-10 year old crowd. Even with sidebars and fact-features, there’s additional back matter: a timeline of sloth history, an author’s note, and a list of books and web links where curious kids (and teachers) can learn more.
I also loved the way Elizabeth teases readers with facts and then notes that sloths weren’t always like that. “Long ago… they …” – and you have just got to turn the page to find out what they did! So I had to ask Elizabeth One Question:
Me: I liked the way you compared present day sloths to prehistoric sloths - and the phrase, "But long ago..." Can you share how you came to that structure for this book?
Elizabeth: Structure is so important for nonfiction! Otherwise we’re just relaying facts. I was initially attracted to the topic—flabbergasted, in fact!—by the differences between modern tree sloths and prehistoric giant ground sloths. My research files quickly grew full. All I needed was a way to organize and highlight what I’d found.
After drawings lots of charts, I settled on a structure that pairs and compares the six living species of tree sloths with their prehistoric relatives. The first pairing was easy: size! The smallest tree sloth (the pygmy sloth of Panama) weighs about 7 pounds while the largest ground sloth, Megatherium, reached 8,000 pounds. From there I identified other attributes such as lifestyle, range, diet, behavior…all sorts of intriguing features.
This compare-and-contrast approach, turns out, ties in well with language arts curriculum (check out the Teacher Guide on my website) and offered a way to structure all the research I’d done, with the refrain “but long ago…” as a repeated nudge to carry the reader through the book.
Beyond the Books:
Can you move as slow as a sloth? And why do they move so slowly, anyway? You can find out in this article from the Smithsonian Institution.
Make a sloth corner-page book mark. Here’s directions – and a video on how to do the origami folds!
Just how big were our prehistoric ancestors? Here's a video comparing modern with ancestor sizes (about 7 minutes long) and here's an article.
The Upside-Down Book of Sloths is on a Book Blog Tour! Here's a list of the stops so you can catch up with 'em:
Sept 5: at Erin Dealey's blog
Today - right here!
Sept 12: answering Six Questions with Mary Boone
Sept 15: chatting with Beth Anderson about how educators can use Sloths in their classroom
Sept 20: at Maria Marshall's blog with the STEAM Team group.
Elizabeth is a member of #STEAMTeam2023. You can find out more about her at her website.
Susanna Leonard Hill's website.
On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.