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Smithsonian Institution Stuffed Animals and Books

Screech Owl at Midnight Hollow
By C. Drew Lamm; illustrated by Joel Snyder

Penguin's Family--The Story of a Humboldt Penguin
By Kathleen Hollenbeck; illustrated by Daniel Stegos


353 Main Avenue
Norwalk, CT 06851

The Smithsonian Institution stuffed animal and book sets from Soundprints are a combination of a hardcover book and a small stuffed animal toy, neatly tucked into a cardboard display box. The books are each 4 x 6 inches in size and have 32 full-color matte finish pages. The stuffed animals are 5 " (owl) and 6 " (penguin) in height. Each stuffed animal includes a folded informative tag with miniscule print inside describing the animal. Screech Owl at Midnight Hollow is part of the Smithsonian's Backyard series, which also includes books about the Eastern Chipmunk, Striped Skunk, White-Tailed Deer, Woodchuck, Cottontail Rabbit, Gray Squirrel, Robin, Raccoon, and Ladybug. Penguin's Family is part of the Smithsonian Oceanic Collection, which includes books about the American Lobster, Beluga Whale, Puffer Fish, Swordfish and more. Each collection is listed on the stuffed animal tag but not within the hardcover books.

The stuffed animals are plush with sturdy fillings and 100% polyester fibers, and they are made in China. Each plush toy is authenticated by the curatorial staff of the National Museum of Natural History and is selected for its unique traits or physical attributes to foster learning. Detailed features, such as fluffier fur and leather style nose on the owl and fine black spots on the torso of the penguin are true to their real-life counterparts.

Screech Owl at Midnight Hollow presents the story of an owl family living in a back yard. From lists of what they eat, to their daily schedule, and even frightening predatory chases (both with the screech owl as predator and as prey) the information in the story provides a very interesting look at screech owls. The story closes with the family intact and ready for another day. Penguin's Family--The Story of a Humboldt Penguin presents a penguin family in much the same style. The story includes daily happenings in the life of a penguin, starting with an egg being watched and warmed by both parents and progressing to a young penguin being kept from danger by his parents. Both stories focus on wildlife. We found no evolutionary material or bias. At the end of each book is a brief informative page that includes a short vocabulary list of terms used in the book. Both books also include the mention of another animal older children could easily do further research on. The owl book mentions the great horned owl, and the penguin book mentions a giant fulmar and a sea lion.
We enjoyed these sets--both for the books and the cute stuffed animals. The illustrations are fantastic, with plenty of color and action on the pages. The writing is also well done; both books include descriptions that bring the scenes to life. We will caution families that younger children may be startled by the idea of a young animal being hunted by another animal. But the presentation is truthful, and it ends the young animal in safety with its parents. We do wish the books had been larger. The illustrations are so wonderful, and yet they were so small we were unable to truly appreciate their beauty and detail. I would love to see these books in a much larger format, perhaps three or four times their current size. The information is good, and the combination will build interest in children, as it did for our 11-year-old (even though we were reading for the enjoyment of our 3 and 5-year-olds). We also appreciate the hard cover, especially with a smaller book, as otherwise they likely would not last nearly as long. The glossy hardcover design also makes them wipe friendly when used by little hands!

Screech Owl at Midnight Hollow and Penguin's Family--The Story of a Humboldt Penguin will be great additions to every child's room. Budding writers could use the vocabulary list at the back of each book, as well as the animal information, to write short papers or stories. It is also nice to note that the Smithsonian's Backyard and Oceanic Collection books are family friendly and family supportive; both of the books we reviewed presented animal families working together in the wild. The honest portrayal of feeding habits and the danger of predators was a welcome realistic read, rather than another flowery children's book about animals. Although we would love to see the series in a larger version, this size is handy for carrying to grandma's house or tucking under pillows after a wonderful bedtime reading!

Product review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC, March 2010

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