Monday, December 17, 2018

🎄Gift Suggestions: Nature At Its Finest - A Picture Book Roundup

We have read a lot of books about nature this year and I thought I would post which ones left the greatest impression on my kids. Each one would make a wonderful holiday present for curious young readers this year.
Fur, Feather, Fin: All Of Us Are Kin
written by Diane Lang, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis
Beach Lane Books, 2018, 48 pages, Age 3+
The animal kingdom is just chockablock with diversity and in this rhyming nonfiction work, Lang introduces young readers to six diverse classes of animals - mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, arthropods, and fish - and two different animal categories - water dwellers and detritivores. Within each class and category, Lang manages to describe the characteristics of each class, the similarities they share with each other and their differences. For example, kids learn that mammals such as bears, dogs, and even whales are born not hatched, that the they are fur bearing, and that mama mammals nurse their young, providing them with nourishment and warmth. Turn the page and young readers discover that they too are mammals - diverse yet connected. The rhyme is simple but informative, giving just enough information so that kids aren't overwhelmed with facts they are too young to fully appreciate. This is a really nice introduction to the animal world. Laperis' spot illustrations are naturalistic and warm, and invite readers to explore.    

Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth
Written by Kate Gardner, illustrated by Heidi Smith
Balzer & Bray, 2018, 48 pages, Age 4+ 
Basically, this is a book about breaking animal stereotypes and showing young readers that there are two sides to each of the lovely beasts spotlighted in the charming book. Spiders may be creepy at first, but turn the page and discover what great crafters they are spinning their intricate webs; bats may look ugly but they also play an important role in controlling insect populations, thereby helping the environment. Some bats even help replant forests, and others disperse seeds. Young readers will learn these facts and more. Each animal is given two two-page spreads, one showing the common belief about them with a supporting illustration, and one showing their softer side, also with supporting illustration. Each of Smith's illustrations, done in charcoal pencil, then photoshopped, are gentle, thoughtful, and focused. Text and illustrations create a real celebration the biodiversity of the animals and their importance in the ecosystem. Back matter is included.

A Day in a Forested Wetland by Kevin Kurtz,
illustrated by Sherry Neidigh
Arbordale Publishing, 2018, 32 pages, Age 4+
Kids can spend a day in this forested wetland and see just what goes on and meet the many different species that make their home there. Following the same format as his other A Day in...series, Kurtz rhyming text begins with sunrise in the wetland and goes through a 24 hour cycle, introducing a multitude of species active at different parts of the day and night. There are a few drawbacks to this book. One is that the rhyme doesn't work in two places (my kids didn't notice this) and it feels forced, and two, there are some words that need to be defined in the context of the creature being talked about (we made a list of those words and looked them up later, then went back to the page where they were found). However, Neidigh's illustrations are beautifully detailed, yet with a simplicity that will help young readers work out some of the definition omissions. A wise teacher can do much with this book, as I found out using it with my kids. There is some very useful back matter with activities for kids to do, all of which can be photocopied and used in classrooms. There is a longer focus on the beaver, a page covering the different kinds of wetlands, and a search and find picture where kids have to match the animal with its name and what it does. My kids were particularly taken with this and it actually generated lots of talk about the animals. 

Fly with Me: A Celebration of Birds Through Pictures, Poems, and Stories 
by Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, Adam Stemple, and Jason Stemple
National Geographic Kids, 2018, 192 pages, age 9+
This is an absolutely stunning book, a worthy tribute to Jane Yolen's late husband, and father of Heidi Stemple, who was an ardent birder. It is filled with facts, poetry, and stories, along with information about each bird. There is a wide variety of birds and each one gets it own page with a stunning full color photograph. I found myself slowly poring over the breathtakingly beautiful photography, reading and rereading the poetry and learning more than a few things about birds. I thought my kids would be a little young for this book, but there was plenty for them to enjoy. They liked learning that there are state birds and that ours in New York is an Eastern Bluebird, a bird we share with Missouri. There were songs that have been adapted to birds, and we had a lot of fun learning and singing them, and we are now participating in some of the birding project suggested on page 170 including the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. This is a book we will be returning to again and again. My kids favorite bird? - the Bee Hummingbird on page 127.

Birds and Their Feathers written and illustrated by Britta Teckentrap
Prestel Junior, 2018, 96 pages, age 6+
Did you know that the study of feathers is call plumology? Well, neither did I until I read this book. This is a small, more subdued book that is mainly focused on feathers. And feathers, it turns out, are quite amazing, or as Teckentrap writes "Feather are among the most remarkable things made by nature. They are delicate, complex, extravagant, beautiful and strong - all at the same time." The development and the structure of feathers are covered, as well as the types, the colors, and the size of feathers. My kids and I were interested to learn that our favorite bird - the bee hummingbird - has the smallest feathers in the bird kingdom. There is all kinds of other little known information included and it is all fascinating. Teckentrap's delicate illustrations are all realistically detailed in soft earth tones. I really enjoyed sharing this book with my kids even though some of the information was a little advanced for them. Since kids always seem to like finding feathers in the park, this seems like an ideal book for them.

Magnificent Birds illustrated by Narisa Togo
Candlewick Studio, 2018, 32 pages, age 10+
Illustrator Narisa Togo has created this lovely book featuring fourteen different birds and it certainly reflects her own lifelong avian love. Each bird is placed in its customary habitat and given a two page linocut spread done in a palette of soft, subtle but natural color. Accompanying each illustration is text that gives the bird's name, species, and to where it is native. For example, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Arcbilocbus Colubris, Native to North and Central America. Togo has really captured the natural beauty and drama of each bird, from the more common of the species to the more unusual, offering the reader a wide variety from around the world. Young readers who are already interested in birds will appreciate this book, and those who haven't discovered the fascinating world of birding are in for a real treat. 

Welcome to the Neighborwood written and illustrated by Shawn Sheehy
Candlewick Press, 2015, 18 pages, age 4+
This is definitely a favorite with my kids - it's a pop-up book about seven different animals that live in the forest. Each one is a builder in its own right, born with the tools and the know-how they need for constructing their different homes. There is the land snail living in its own mobile home, the hummingbird is a master at building nests and hiding them, the garden spider spins its sticky, intricate webs, the honeybee and its hive, the potter wasp who builds a kind of lunch box for its offspring, the beaver who creates its own habitat complete with underwater entry tunnels, and finally, the stickleback, builder of an underwater nest for the mother of his offspring. Sheehy includes a fair amount of age appropriate information about all of these creatures, with accompanying pop-up of them in their environment. He brings it all together with a pop-up of their neighbors, stressing the interdependence and harmony in which they reside in the "Neighborwood."

My First Wild Activity Book written by Isabel Otter-Barry Ross,
illustrated by Maxime Lebrun
Silver Dolphin Books, 2018, 32 pages, age 5+
I love activity books and this is perfect for budding naturalists. It begins with an invitation to become an explorer and to take a journey through seven different habitats around the world, including the rainforest, the desert, the ocean, the mountains, the savanna, and the polar ice of the North and South Poles. Within each habitat, kids will find pictures to color, puzzles to solve, spot the difference challenges, seek and finds, mazes to travel, and dots to connect. The illustrations are friendly and brightly colored. There are scenic fold-out illustrations for each habitat, and stickers at the back of the book that kids can use to finish each scene. I like this book not only because it has lots of information for kids to learn about the natural world, but it also helps to develop problem solving skills. My kids and I spent a lot of time with this book before we went on to some of the other books I've included here. We had a lot of fun while learning new information about animals and where they live. 

I have included three books about birds in this post, partly because they are such good books and partly because birds the the easiest way to begin fostering an interest in nature. We all have birds wherever we live. When my Kiddo was young, and learning about the natural world, I bought her a pair of binoculars, a waterproof notebook, and an inexpensive camera (nowadays, you can use your phone camera) and we would go to the park to see what we could find. We made a nature book filled with pictures, leaves. pressed flowers and anything else we found that looked interesting. I'm not in the business of promoting products, but these are what I use now:
I hope you find some of these gift ideas useful, meantime I wish you 


  1. I just ordered 2 Lovely Beasts! I would have gotten the Fur, Feather, Fin book but it would have arrived too late. Another occasion. Thank you!

  2. That's great to hear, Nan, and Merry Christmas to you and your family.


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