November 26, 2001

Prof Tells Story of Animal Childcare

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While many students can remember long afternoons spent watching the neighbors’ kids, few know about the lions that often spend their time doing the same thing. For that matter, so do elephants, black-tailed prairie dogs and a variety of other species.

In their new book, Animal Baby Sitters (Franklin Watts press, October 2001) children’s author Gail Jarrow and Cornell Prof. Paul Sherman, neurobiology, examine the importance of parental “helpers” in many animal societies.

Targeted at middle school students, Animal Baby Sitters serves as a resource for youngsters interested in discovering how various non-human families work together to raise their young. The book is based on the findings of Sherman, an animal behavior professor, and his colleagues.

Next-door-neighbors Sherman and Jarrow delve into the world of various animals that rely on members of their groups to help care for their young. For example, they reveal how some mother African lions form a “pride nursery,” which allows some mother lions to hunt together while others watch the group’s young.

Similarly, they cite colonies of naked mole rats in which offspring from previous years help the mother, or queen, of the colony while she has more pups. These facts and more are sprinkled throughout the book to give readers an idea of the similarities and differences in the way each species chooses to raise its young.

Having published two other science-based books for middle-school and high-school students as well as a number of articles, Sherman and Jarrow want Animal Baby Sitters to serve as one of the launch pads for future scientific thought.

“We want individuals to think ‘Hey, this is pretty interesting and there is a lot of stuff to be discovered,'” Sherman said.

He adds that many students fail to realize their potential in such research because they simply lack the resources. “I never even had that opportunity until graduate school,” he recalled.

Jarrow also cites flaws in other scientific texts. “I found that many other science books for children didn’t convey the right information. In simplifying the information, the truth is lost, so when a kid reads it, he gets the wrong impression.”

Combining Sherman’s background in science and Jarrow’s background in children’s novels, the two felt that they were able to convey the information accurately, while still appealing to their audience.

Jarrow said, “One of our motivations for doing this is that we both think that it is so important that kids learn science and enjoy it. We want to make it more accessible.”

Both Sherman and Jarrow are currently working on individual projects, but are open to the idea of publishing together in the future. Animal Baby Sitters itself is already available in many middle-school libraries, as well as through the publisher. It can be purchased through

Archived article by Shalini Saxena