At Home with the Prairie Dog: The Story of a Keystone Species

Prairie dogs are dubbed a keystone species because the burrows they dig are used by dozens of other animals, from insects and spiders to rattlesnakes, salamanders, owls and more.

Author: Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Photographer: William Muñoz
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 32
Ages: 5-9
Grade Levels: K-4
Lexile: 1050L
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1970039061
Price: 17.95
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Award NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book Award

Award California Reading Association: A Eureka Honor Book Award

“A comprehensive exploration of sustainability and the important role of one species in preserving the restoring an ecosystem. Vivid color photographs and clear graphics.”(starred review)The Best Children’s Books of the Year, The Children’s Book Committee of Bank Street College of Education

“A visit to a prairie and its inhabitants through a wealth of photos. This cute and clever rodent features in many children’s books. Patent’s, however, as the title hints, is more about the prairie ecosystem itself and the role of the prairie dog. Like the beaver in her 2019 book in this series (with photos by Michael Runtz) and the gopher tortoise in Madeleine Dunphy’s 2010 series contribution (with photos by Michael Rothman), this species is a keystone, supporting many others in its environment. Focused on some of the “roughly 150” other animals living “in and around” occupied and abandoned burrows, the book sketches a prairie dog’s day, from the emergence of a female at daybreak. The caption tells us that she “signals to her three young pups” but offers no description of that sound. This book is not the place to find basic facts—life span, predators, etc. But some habits, like prairie dog kisses, are noted, and backmatter expands on the animals’ colonies, range, and population before the arrival of European settlers. Cross-section diagrams show an occupied burrow, with labels, and a similar cutaway of an abandoned burrow. Like those by the different photographers in each series book thus far, the pictures are stunning. They fill every page in a patchwork of landscapes and close-ups with sharp details and discreet labels (horned lark, killdeer, pronghorn, and much more), letting us stroll invisibly through the inhabited prairie. A visually engaging introduction to a keystone species. (map) (Informational picture book. 6-10)—Kirkus Review

“America’s vast prairies are filled with a plethora of creatures who all call this ecosystem home. Birds, bugs, wildflowers, and grasses decorate the landscape in sound and color, and larger animals roam the vast landscape in their daily search for food. Prairie dogs are one of the most important prairie residents, and they are considered a keystone species thanks to the many ways they support their companions residing nearby. Not only do they provide homes for other animals like spiders, toads, and beetles, but they also serve as food for hunters like hawks and ferrets. Many creatures rely on prairie dogs for their survival in one way or another, and because their habitat has been diminishing, prairie dogs–and therefore many other prairie creatures–are in great peril as a result. This nonfiction picture book gives a huge amount of information about prairie dogs in a brief and accessible format. Short blocks of text provide context for the vivid color photographs found on each page. These phrases expertly explain complex details of a prairie dog’s life in a way that is straightforward and ideally designed for the book’s target audience. Each image is labeled and serves to enhance the information shared in the text, incorporating a variety of creatures found across the vast American prairie landscape. While this book is lacking traditional nonfiction back matter, it nonetheless provides a complete picture of prairie dog habitats while describing just how important this species is to the survival of so many others on the great prairies. Well researched and intriguingly presented, this is a book that will both augment library nonfiction collections and inspire global conservation efforts. It is a good fit for early elementary school aged readers as they investigate the wider world around them.”—Children’s Literature

“Prairie dogs are considered a keystone species because their burrows are used by other animals. About 150 different kinds of animals live in or around prairie dog burrows! For various reasons spiders, salamanders, toads, beetles, deer mice, rabbits, and rattlesnakes find refuge within the burrows. Because prairie dogs are constantly nibbling and clipping the grass around their burrows this becomes a benefit for bison, birds, elk, and deer. A very informative look into prairie dog life and the important role they play in keeping the prairie healthy and thriving.” —KIDSbookshelf

“Enhanced throughout with the spectacular full photography of William Muñoz, At Home with the Prairie Dog” by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is an ideal introduction to this marvelous and essential animal and is unreservedly recommended for family, elementary school, and community library prairie wildlife collections for children ages 5-9. Two other highly recommended books in this informative series for young readers include: “At Home with the Gopher Tortoise: The Story of a Keystone Species” and “At Home with the Beaver: The Story of a Keystone Species.’”—Midwest Book Review

“Prairie dogs live in the western area of North America. They are highly social and live in large colonies or “towns” that can span hundreds of acres. Before westward expansion of non-native Americans, there were hundreds of millions of black-tailed prairie dogs living in North America. Prairie dogs are called a keystone species. According to National Geographic: ‘A keystone species is an organism that helps define an entire ecosystem. Without its keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether.’ Prolific science writer, Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, shares the many ways prairie dogs benefit roughly 150 different kinds of animals that live in and around prairie dog burrows. Some species, such as the Black Widow Spider, Tiger Salamander, Plains Spadefoot Toad, live alongside the prairie dogs in their burrows. Others, Prairie Deer Mouse, Black-Footed Ferret, Cottontail Rabbit, Prairie Rattle Snake, and Burrowing Owl occupy an abandoned prairie dog home. Readers will learn the many other ways the prairie dog enhance the lives of other species. Enhancing this captivating information science book are Muñoz beautiful color photos that perfectly reflect what is being explained in the text.”—Nonfiction Detectives

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Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is the author of more than 100 books for children. She is the recipient of many awards, including the Washington Post/Children’s Book Guild Award for Nonfiction, the New York State Reading Association Charlotte Award, and the Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Technology Pioneer Award. She lives in Kauai, Hawaii with her husband Greg. To find out more about Dorothy and her books, please go to


William Muñoz

William Muñoz’s photographs have graced the pages of more than 100 picture books. His work encompasses a wide range of subjects from guide dogs and farm animals to grizzly bears; pigeons, osprey and bald eagles; prairie, homesteading and fire ecology; the Lewis and Clark Trail; and biodiversity and the forces that shape nature. He lives in St. Ignatius, Montana.