Children visiting the Tahlequah Public Library Tuesday were introduced to a number of exotic animals, including the capybara, an aracari, a Brazilian tarantula and a Burmese python.
Animal Tales kicked off the 2014 summer reading program, encompassing this year’s theme, “Experiment and Explore.”
John Ham, naturalist for Animal Tales, said they try to work with the libraries to incorporate the summer themes.
“This year, we presenting animal science, which will teach the kids what classification the animal falls into: bird, reptile, amphibian, mammal and invertebrate,” said Ham. “We give the kids some scientific background, and we hope we get them interested and they’ll check out books about them.”
The Tuesday programs were held at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., to standing-room-only crowds.
“We had well over 100 this morning,” said Michelle Newton, Tahlequah Public Library Youth Services coordinator. “We were wall-to-wall kids, which is great for the first program.”
Ham said Animal Tales works with libraries in 11 states.
After children found seating in the floor of the Carnegie Room, Parnell welcomed them, getting them excited about the upcoming program.
“I’m so excited to see the young faces,” said Parnell. “Now you need to turn on your listening ears and turn off your mouths, and get ready to see some amazing animals.”
Before presenting his first specimen, Ham explained the importance of remaining seated and fairly quiet.
“I have worked with all kinds of animals,” said Ham. “Big ones, little ones, tall ones and short ones. Today, I’m going to tell you all about different kinds of animals and how they’re classified. But before I do that, you need to repeat after me: ‘I promise I will stay in my seat and stay quiet, because the animals are more afraid of me than I am of them.’”
The first animal Ham introduced was a Burmese python or boa constrictor. He explained about cold-blooded animals and how their internal temperature adjusts to whatever outside temperature it’s in.
“Do you see how it’s sticking its tongue out?” Ham asked the kids. “That’s how it uses its sense of smell.”
Ham selected six children from the audience to come up, and standing side by side, they held the snake. He asked if the snake was slimy, to which the kids replied it wasn’t.
“Do you know what it feels like?” Ham asked. “Feel one of your fingernails. It’s smooth, isn’t it? That’s how a snake feels, and their skins are made of the same things as your fingernails.”
The next animal, a mammal, was the capybara, which is a rodent that looks similar to a large guinea pig.
Ham held the animal while explaining its habits.
Ham told the children that wild animals may act erratically or even bite him, but that it was all part of a natural response.
He asked the kids what they’d like to see next, and they shouted amphibian. Ham told the youth that amphibians live two types of life: They’re born in water, but spend their adult lives on the ground.
“Amphibians breathe through their skin,” said Ham.
Again, he asked for a volunteer, and selected 8-year-old Jael Holcomb, a little girl.
“We are going to talk about princes and fairy tales,” said Ham, reaching into a box. “You know, sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs to find your prince.”
Ham produced Jaba, a giant African bullfrog, and held it out to Jael.
“You don’t have to kiss him, though,” said Ham, delighting the children in the audience. “But you can touch him.”
Brad Montgomery-Anderson, who attended Animal Tales with his two children, a boy and a girl, enjoyed the afternoon’s adventure.
“This is a really cool program,” said Montgomery-Anderson. “I was really interested in seeing a capybara.”
Wayne and Wingnut, a ventriloquist program, will be held at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., Tuesday, June 10, in the Carnegie Room of the Tahlequah Public Library as part of the summer reading program.