How can we help kids avoid chiroptophobia—fear of bats—and grow to appreciate the diverse and talented members of the order, Chiroptera? Cyd from Field Marking comments in Bats and Books Part I that her family plays tennis (of a sort) with bats on balmy evenings. We haven’t tried that yet; my son has taken a more artsy craftsy approach. Eli has built a bat box, sculpted bats out of clay, and been a bat on Halloween. And not just any bat, but a scorpion-devouring pallid bat from the desert southwest. Clearly, creepiness isn’t always a negative in kid-bat relations.
Maybe the plethora of bat children’s books is beginning to assuage old prejudices and fears. Bats at the Beach, a fanciful, rhyming picture book hit the New York Times best seller list last summer. Furry, mouse-faced bats rendezvous on a moonlit shore to fly kites, sing by the campfire, and toast bug-mallows. Much of the humor relies on un-batlike behavior (e.g., bats applying moon-tan lotion), but art which School Library Journal calls “dark yet luminous” introduces young readers to a world after dark that’s festive, not frightening. Author Brian Lies’ website goes further, with bat facts, activities, and a teacher’s guide to music, science, writing, and other enrichments to the text. The site also invites kids to concoct pseudo-bat treats from marshmallows, gummy worms, pretzels, licorice, chow mein noodles, etc., and post photos of their creations in the Bugmallow Hall of Fame.
Here are a few more favorite bat picture books:
Barbara Bash’s Shadows of the Night follows the life cycle of little brown bats from spring births in an attic maternity colony to six months huddling in a hibernation cave.
Betsy Maestro’s Bats: Night Flyers is a fast-paced overview of bat
distribution, anatomy, behavior, and ecology, described in jargon-free but scientifically accurate prose.
Bats: Outside and Inside is part of Sandra Markle’s successful series that looks closely at animal behaviors and the anatomy that makes them possible. Photo illustrations range from a vampire bat lapping up chicken blood to a mom-baby fruit bat pair that is awwww-inspiring.
Bats! Strange and Wonderful is by prolific kids’ nature writer Laurence Pringle. While presenting a crash course in bat biology and behavior, Pringle dispels myths and emphasizes the ecological values of bats to underscore his urgent message of bat conservation.
Titles for older kids are even more varied. For artsy kids like Eli, there’s The Bat-Poet, by Randall Jarrell. It’s a wise fable about a little brown bat who sees the world differently than his friends and writes poems to share his vision. My middle schooler loves another fantasy novel, Silverwing (Kenneth Oppel), in which the questing hero in a talking animal universe is a runty bat. Reality-book fans might prefer Batman: Exploring the World of Bats. That's Laurence Pringle’s young adult biography of Merlin Tuttle: mammologist, photographer, and revered bat advocate who founded Bat Conservation International. Kids and adults can sign up at the BCI website for a free monthly newsletter, get plans for a bat house, access outstanding photos by Merlin Tuttle himself, register to visit a Mexican free-tail maternity colony near BCI's Texas headquarters, and buy books, dvds, bat t-shirts, and more.
Soon, I hope, BCI’s online store will be carrying my own contribution to bat literature. It's the aptly titled upper-elementary-level Bats, just published by NorthWord Books in May. If you squint at the cover image, you’ll see that author credit goes to “Julia Vogel,” a pseudonym I use so far mostly for titles in NorthWord's Our Wild World series. Research for Bats last year led me to read all of the books mentioned above and many more, as well as interview bat researchers and rehabilitators, track down local bat-watching venues, and, especially, long for a trip to Bracken Cave, home to the world's largest bat colony. I'm still watching, yearning, and reading, all part of my personal journey toward chiroptophilia.