Lifetime, written by Lola M. Schaefer and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal has to be one of the best non-fiction picture books I have read in a while. Schaefer's text shows "how many times one particular animal performs one behavior or grows one feature in a lifetime." Everyone knows that little kids love animals and I think there just might be as many different takes on animal books are there are animal book lovers. And I have read a lot of them. So it's especially amazing to me that Schaefer manages to make her book feel fresh. Neal's illustrations are colorful without being cute, and the way that he represents the facts that Schaefer is sharing are original and easy to grasp.
This isn't a counting book per se. Schaefer begins with a spider and the one egg sac it will spin in a lifetime then moves on to the ten sets of antlers a caribou will grow and shed in a lifetime.
Schaefer puts her facts in context where she can, adding text that is engaging and often humorous, sure to keep the littlest listeners attentive. A rattlesnake will add forty beads to its rattle, but Schaefer warns, "If you can hear this rattle you are TOO close!"
I can't say that I knew any of the facts before I started reading this book, but I can say that there were many that had me exclaiming and reading out loud to anyone who could hear me. I felt like I was at the zoo with my own personal guide sharing interesting tidbits. For older listeners (and readers) Schaefer includes four pages of facts about each animal featured as well as a page titled, "What Is an Average" that defines and explains in a way kids will understand. The final page is titled, "I LOVE MATH," and features three word problems, the first of which Schaefer answers herself while discussing the molting habits of the American lobster. The next two problems (which come with an answer key) are for readers to solve. Below, my favorite illustration to look at - and contemplate - in Lifetime!
Silas Christopher Neal is the author of another great non-fiction picture book, the award winning Over and Under the Snow, written by Kate Messner, which explores the animal world that exists beneath the snow each winter.