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

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