Saturday, April 22, 2017

Four Picture Books that Celebrate Nature

Today is Earth Day all around the world and what better way to acknowledge a day set aside to support environmental protection than with these are four beautifully done picture books that celebrate nature.

Above and Below: Lift the Flaps to See Nature's Wonders Unfold
Text by Patricia Hegarty, illustrations by Hanako Chulow
Kane Miller, 2017, 22 pages, age 5+
Young readers can explore eight different animal habitats or ecosystems - the ocean, the rain forest, the north pole, a river, mountain caves, the African Savannah, cliff tops, and the forest - in this beautiful lift-the-flaps book. There is a short introduction to each ecosystem, followed by brief facts of the most common animals, insects, flora, and fauna found there at ground level. Lift the flap and you will discover what animals are usually found either above or below ground level, uncovering a world generally hidden from most of us. The flaps make this a fun interactive book and are a nice size for young hands, each one is the size of half a page, great for young hands and for further explorations. I used this book to introduce kids to a unit on ecosystems for Earth Day and they loved it, especially discovering what was under the flaps. The illustrations are both realistic and whimsical, and there is lots happening on each page, but not to the point of distraction. A lovely way to learn about the wider world around us.

Give Bees a Chance
word and picture by Bethany Barton
Viking BFYR, 2017, 40 pages, age 4+
The narrator of this book introduces the reader to his best friend Edgar. The two love all the same things except bees, Edgar just does not like bees, and especially not their stingers or sacs of venom, not after being stung (an event that is humorously depicted along). The narrator is crazy about bees, and begins a campaign to convince Edgar to change how he views bees, all 25,000 kinds of bees. Barton's illustrations may be characteristically cartoonish, but don't let that fool you. She has included a lot of information about bees throughout the book, including their anatomy, how a hive works, a nice two page spread about how honey is made (something I didn't know in detail), why they sting and how to get a bee to leave you along, their job as major pollinators, and how bees are disappearing in such large numbers. This is a book meant to introduce kids to bees, so read the Author's Note at the back, particularly readers who are already bee-lovers, and then, be sure to check out the end papers, front and back.

On the Wing by David Elliott
illustrated by Becca Stadtlander
Candlewick, 2014, 2017, 32 pages, age 4+
I keep returning to David Elliott's books about nature over and over again. From On the Farm, In the Wild, and In the Sea, my young readers learned about nature and poetry together. Now they can do the same with On the Wing. In this collection of 16 poems, Elliot celebrates a wide variety of birds. The poems range from playful to serious, but all catch the essence of each individual birds. Pair this with Elliott's other books to give young readers a nice rounded poetic picture of nature and its beauty in our world. Stadtlander's beautiful realistic gouache illustrations place each bird in to natural habitat, and extend the poetic mood. With only two exceptions, each bird/poem pairing is spread over a double page. Kids are sure to develop a beginning appreciation for the avian world after reading On the Wing.

A River 
written and illustrated by Marc Martin
Chronicle Books, 2017, 44 pages, age 4+
The narrator of this book is a young girl sits at her desk drawing when she looks out the window at the river flowing by outside. Seeing how it stretches out in the distance, the narrator begins an imaginary journey floating down the river in a silver boat. Floating through a busy. congested city, past factories and their dark, dirty smoke, moving through the countryside past farms, past a waterfall taller than a building, finally entering a jungle full of different vegetation and animals, on to the ocean  with its variety of fish, then into the midst of a powerful ocean storm, only to find herself back at her desk, her daydream shattered by the heavy rain outside her window. This is a nice book for introducing young readers to the different environments in the world. The colorful, dramatic illustrations are done in watercolor, gouache, pencil and digital collage, and both compliment and extend the simple observations made by the young girl on her journey. After reading A River, go back to the first page and see how many of the prompts you can find that were incorporated into the daydream. There is must to discover and discuss in this lovely book

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Blue Whale and The Polar Bear, two books written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond

April 22nd is Earth Day, but this year it is also a day to March for Science, to celebrate the vital role that science plays in our lives and in the wider world around us. Earth Day and March for Science are especially important now that their needed funding for research, development and education is being threatened. I would share two of my favorite science books about two species that are also threatened due to causes like habitat loss, climate change and toxins in the waters where blue whales swim, and the Arctic region where polar bears live.

Once upon a time...
a young boy takes a book off a shelf, and, lying on his bed wearing a red crown that looks suspiciously like those tissue paper crowns that come in Christmas crackers, he begins to read a book called The Blue Whale. And so do we...

Desmond's lovely meta-fiction picture book introduces readers to the magnificence of "the largest living creature on our planet," the blue whale, through factual information, comparisons, and stunning illustrations. Using simple and direct language, readers learn, for example, that the world's largest creature has a big 1,300 pound heart, actually the size of a small car; that blue whales can weight as much as 160 tons, about the same as 55 hippopotami.

A blue whale's anatomy would, of course, require it to be proportional to its size, and thus, it has a 6" eye, a 3 ton tongue, and a mouth so big 50 people could stand inside it. Not surprisingly, a full grown whale eats four tons of food per day, mainly krill, a shrimp-like sea creature. A baby blue whale can drink up to 50 gallons of its mother's milk everyday.

Desmond's text is only half the story, and her beautiful illustrations tell the rest of the tale. Done in a combination of collage, paint and color pencil, with a palette of predominantly ocean-worthy blues and whites, they offer readers an interesting mixture of realistic and imaginative images.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the beginning of the book to better understand what she is trying to do with this book. There's lots more information throughout The Blue Whale, just waiting for a curious child to come along and begin reading.

Just as she did in The Blue Whale, Jenni Desmond begins this book with a young girl sporting a red crown pulling a book from a shelf, and who then curls up on a couch with her favorite stuffies and begins reading The Polar Bear. And so do we...

In this meta-fiction picture book, readers learn all about the polar bear, its anatomy, its habitat, what it hunts and likes to eat. Polar bears, also called sea bears, spend most of their life in the frozen Arctic regions of the world, and have a body that has adapted to the harsh conditions there. Two layers of fur, a tough hide and a thick layer of fat really helps, as do their very big paws, each about the size of a dinner plate, that help them hunt, dig, swim, and make pretty good snow shoes. They are large animals, though not nearly as large as a blue whale, but, Desmond writes, more like the length of two seven year-old kids.

Polar bears need to eat a lot, but don't have to eat every day. Their main food sources are seals, walrus', narwhals, and beluga whales and a polar bear will walk long distances in search of food. They usually eat about 40 seals a year. Interestingly, polar bears get their water from the seals fat, because sea water is too salty to drink. Unlike other bears, polar bears don't hibernate, but can sleep for long periods of time, especially in summer when ice melts and food is hard to find.

These are just some of the interesting facts that Desmond shares with readers about the life of polar bears. And just as she did with The Blue Whale, Desmond lets the illustrations tell half the story. The mixed-media illustrations are done in combination of paint, crayon, color pencil, in a palette that is more versions of mainly icy blues and winter whites than I would have imagined possible.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the beginning of this book to learn about the dangers faced by polar bears from the environment and from man. These beautiful bears are a very vulnerable and threatened species.

Both The Blue Whale and The Polar Bear are imaginative and informative at the same time. Each book succeeds in two ways - they celebrate reading nonfiction and they educate readers about an threatened creature. The presence of the young readers in places where they would not ever be found adds a fanciful note to these otherwise factual narratives, carrying a lovely message about how you can get lost in a good book. And these are two books that my young readers got very lost in.

These books are recommended for readers age 5+
These books were purchased for my personal library

April 22, 2017 is Earth Day

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner, art by Christopher Silas Neal

Just in time for spring and especially for Earth Day, Kate Messner gives her young readers Over and Under the Pond, a beautiful companion to her previous books Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt.

As a curious young boy and his mother paddle around a pond in their rowboat, he asks his mother what's under the water's surface. His mother tells him there's a secret world underneath their boat, a world of minnows, crayfish, turtles, bullfrogs, and tadpoles slowly growing into frogs, learning how to hop on newly developed legs.
There's even a beaver diving down into the depths of the pond for some yummy roots to eat,

And there is just a much going on out the water and around the edge of the pond - a goldfinch getting ready for its first flight, a moose munching on water lilies, ospreys flying overhead, and raccoons scrounging up some supper.

The pond is teeming with life above and below, all there for anyone who takes the time to quietly observe it. Its abundance of plants and animals form an important ecosystem. As Messner explains in her Author's Note, sometimes this ecosystem is threatened by pollution or the loss of habitat. It's important to maintain these ponds so that the cycle of life can continue.

Besides her Author's Note, Messner includes additional information about all the creatures that depend on the pond, from the smallest caddisfly larvae to that big old moose and the role each one plays in nature. There is a lot to be learned in this book and an ideal reference for anyone who might want to make their own explorations.

Christopher Silas Neal's mixed-media illustrations are the perfect compliment to Messner's lyrical text. A palette of muted, gently blended watery blues, springy greens and browns all add to the feeling of the interconnectedness of nature. Neal has chosen to present the pond and the area surrounding it from various points of view: my favorite is the bird's eye view looking down, or maybe it's the fish eye view looking up, or maybe it's just all of them.

Over and Under the Pond is an ideal book for young readers curious about the world they live in, for lover's of nature, protector's of the environment and everyone else. It is a book kids can return to again and again.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Chronicle Books

 April 22, 2017 is Earth Day

Monday, April 17, 2017

On Duck Pond and On Bird Hill by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Bob Marstall

On Duck Hill by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Bob Marstall
Cornell Lab Publishing, 2017, 32 pages, age 3+

An anonymous narrator observes how quickly the quiet of a small pond is interrupted by the noisy arrival of a "quack of ducks" first seen approaching it on the title page. As they splash down, the narrator notices how all the other pond residents are surprised and quickly scatter - turtles, frogs, tadpoles, herons all rush away in the rippling water. Luckily for the pond inhabitants, the narrator tells us, the ducks are only staying temporarily and as soon as they move on, the quiet peaceful life of the pond returns. Even the woodland creatures, who come to the pond to for its water, approach it again. The narrator, who has been closely observing all of the sudden activity, is revealed to be a boy walking his dog by the pond.   

On Duck Pond is narrated in a simple first person rhyme, using a combination of rhyming couplets and tercets. While Yolen’s text is spare, they describe perfectly what is being observed. Her rhyme is set against Marstall’s beautifully evocative paintings. For his illustrations, Marstall chose a palette of pale springtime greens and yellows for the pond’s landscape, accentuating the visiting ducks with bolder colors that capture their natural coloring.

At the back of the book, there is information about ducks, including the various names for a group of ducks. “Quack of ducks” was Yolen’s personal term for this book, and I felt it was a perfect way to describe the loud quacking accompanying the duck’s arrival at the pond. There are also two charts showing the various kinds of ducks and other birds included in the books illustrations, as well as the many other animals seen around Duck Pond. Each chart gives information about the bird or animal, and which young readers can use each find and identify all them in the illustrations.  

On Bird Hill by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Bob Marstall
Cornell Lab Publishing, 2016, 32 pages, age 3+

Although not realistic as On Duck Pond is, On Bird Hill, Yolen and Marstall's earlier collaboration, is nevertheless a nice companion to it, especially for young readers who are just beginning to learn about the importance of nature in our lives. Once again the narrator, the same young boy out walking his dog, observes nature's activities, this time on a hill that overlooks the ocean. His focus narrows down to a bird sitting on a nest on a branch of a tall tree. Slowly, the egg she is sitting on cracks, and an new chick comes into the world.  I really liked the book and its rhyme, this time using only rhyming couplets. 

Marstall's illustrations in On Bird Hill are somewhat simpler and whimsical compared to On Duck Pond, but still done in those lovely springtime colors that signify regrow and renewal. And although it is a work of fantasy, I’m only sorry that On Bird Hill doesn’t have the kind of back matter that On Duck Pond has, but teachers, librarians, and parents can easily make their own resources for it, using On Duck Pond as a model.

On Duck Pond and On Bird Hill offer young readers an interesting and imaginative way of seeing nature with lots of lovely surprises.

On Duck Pond was sent to me by the publisher, Cornell Lab Publishing
On Bird Hill was borrowed from the NYPL

April 22, 2017 is Earth Day

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rabbits, Chicks and the Easter Cat, oh my!

Spring and Easter are here, and it's time to look at some books just right for the season. And what could be more apropos than rabbits, chicks, and the Easter...Cat?
Too Many Carrots written and illustrated by Katy Hudson
Capstone YR, 2016, 32 pages, age 4+
Are there times when you think you can never have enough of something you really love? Well, that's what Rabbit thinks about carrots. Every chance he gets, he collects carrots, so many that soon there is no more room for him to live in his own burrow. What to do? Why, turn to friends, of course. First, Rabbit tries bunking with Tortoise, but soon, it too is overrun with too many of Rabbit's carrots.
So, Rabbit and Tortoise decide to see if they can spend the night with Bird in his nest in a tree branch. Except Bird, Tortoise, Rabbit and a supply of too many carrots make the nest too heavy for the branch, and down they go, carrots and all.
Luckily, Squirrel invites Bird, Tortoise, and Rabbit to stay the night with him, but as soon as Rabbit fills Squirrel's tree house with too many carrots, Squirrel's tree bursts open.
Next, Squirrel, Bird, Tortoise and Rabbit visit Beaver, who thinks he has plenty of space for putting his friends up for the night. And he does, until Rabbit adds his carrots into the mix. Sure enough, Beaver's house collapses under all the carrot weight.
Where will they all sleep now? When Rabbit realizes his friends are cold, tire and homeless, can he come up with a solution to everyone's problem (that he caused in the first place).
The consequences of selfish behavior and not sharing things with friends while asking those same friends for help you is explored through Rabbit's behavior. And Rabbit does have a lesson to learn about the important of friends over things, which he fortunately does learn in the end. The brightly colored illustrations add to the humor of the story.

Egg written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow Books, 2017, 40 pages, age 4+
Four eggs - a pink egg, a yellow egg, a blue egg, and a green egg - are all ready to crack. Out of the pink egg comes a pink chick, out of the yellow egg comes a yellow chick, out of the blue egg comes a blue chick, out of the green egg comes...nothing yet. The pink, yellow and blue chicks wait and listen to the green egg, then they peck and peck and peck at it until finally a crack appears. What a surprise when a green alligator pops out of the green egg. The chicks are pretty surprised and scared, while the alligator feels alone, lonely and sad when the chicks fly away. But wait, the chicks are coming back, and in no time, they are all friends and everyone is happy. Wait, is that the sun or an orange egg on the last page?
This sparsely worded picture book manages to say so much about the importance and the acceptance of differences within family through color, expression and one word at a time. The images are line drawings filled in with watercolor done in a springtime palette of pastels with each buff colored page framed in brown ink. The pages are divided, sometime with one image per page, other times with four sections containing one image each, and there are two pages divided into 16 squares each to reflect the idea of lengthy listening and waiting. This is a lovely thought-provoking, conversation generating book, perfect for spring reading.

Here Comes the Easter Cat written by Deborah Underwood,
illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Dial BFYR, 2014, 80 pages, age 4+
When Cat sees that the Easter Bunny is returning, he has trouble controlling his jealousy. After all, everyone loves the Easter Bunny, he brings them chocolate eggs every year. When an unseen narrator suggests that he become the Easter Cat, there are some logistics to work out - like how will Cat get around, and what will he wear, and most important what will kind of chocolate will he give out. How about chocolate bunnies, a motorcycle and a sparkly vest? But, just a Cat is ready to roll, it's time for nap number 8. When he finds out that the Easter Bunny gets really tired delivering all those chocolate eggs, Cat suggests he take a nap, too. Wait, here comes the Easter Bunny with an egg for Cat and, boy, he does look tired. Can Cat help out the Easter Bunny and still be the Easter Cat?
I am violently allergic to cats, but I just love them so much. And I particularly love Cat. Not only does he make me laugh, but Cat has just the right amount of naughtiness to make him very appealing and young readers will easily see that deep down Cat is really a pretty nice guy. Although, he can be such a bundle of conflicting emotions, all Cat wants is to be loved as much as his (perceived) rival - the Easter Bunny. And he has just enough ego to think he can do his job better...until his catness gets in his way. 
This is such a fun, light-hearted story, that kids will want to read it over and over long past Easter. And they will probably really like the ending which reveals Cat's next plan for worldly love and recognition. Cat is a charming marmalade cat and Rueda has illustrated Cat's tale using ink and color pencil illustrations that are sparse, with lots of white space on each page. Much of what we learn about Cat comes from his expressive countenance and his body language, captured brilliantly by the artist. Oh, yes, and the signs he holds up in lieu of speaking.

Do you have a favorite springtime book?

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