Woodpecker Wham! by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Steve Jenkins
In brief stanzas of rhyme, this nonfiction picture book looks at the habitats and lives of a variety of different species of woodpecker. Starting with finding food, the book explores woodpeckers eating insects and sap. Then woodpeckers bathe and preen. They create homes by digging holes in the bark of trees. They hide from hawks. They lay eggs and the chicks hatch, forcing the adult birds to scrounge for food for them. The fledglings start trying to fly and then fall comes and once again woodpeckers are searching for food and shelter to get them through the winter.
Sayre and Jenkins continue their partnership that started with Eat Like a Bear in this new book. Sayre writes with a light hand, creating a sense of exploration and wonder around these backyard birds. Children will learn some things from the brief poetic text and there is a lot more information to be found on the back pages where individual species are identified and all of the subjects are expanded upon.
Jenkins continues to create illustrations that amaze. With his cut paper collages, the illustrations pop on the page as the birds fly, hide, peck, eat and reproduce. I love that the color of the sky changes from one page to the next, creating moments in time rather than one continuous time period. The result are illustrations that stand on their own in terms of beauty and the incredible detail that they offer readers.
Beautiful and informative, this nonfiction picture book will have children gazing out of their windows to try to see the birds in their neighborhood. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.
Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred) by Josh Schneider
Every type of animals has to sleep whether on the farm or in the jungle or underwater, but not Fred. Fred has far too much to do to sleep at all. Fred has to do his important jumping. He has to break the world shouting record. He has to test his horn collection. He has so much to do, much to the chagrin of the sleepy animals around him who keep getting startled from his activities. It isn’t until parents start to read poetry to get children to fall asleep that Fred too succumbs to slumber. Now it’s up to young readers to be quiet enough to keep from waking Fred up and starting it all over again.
Schneider writes in rhyme, jaunty and confident. He invites readers to see different habitats for the animals as they snore and snooze. The pacing is deftly done in this book, allowing a slow build up to each activity that then becomes zany and silly. It’s that dichotomy of pace that makes for a book that is a joy to share aloud and one that will make any bedtime a lot more fun.
Also adding to the fun are the impeccable illustrations. They are complete irreverent and silly, with sleeping pigs with tattooed bottoms, monsters who brush their teeth, monkeys in tutus, and a toucan who appears throughout in unexpected places. The illustrations are worth spending lots of time with since they are filled with small details. Many of the animals continue to subsequent pages along with Fred, joining in his adventures.
Smart, funny and a great bedtime story, this picture book will amuse even the most resistant sleepyhead. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Skunk by Mac Barnett, illustrations by Patrick McDonnell
When a man wearing a tuxedo leaves his home, a skunk is sitting on his doorstep. The man slowly backs away and heads off. But the skunk seems to follow him. Even when he hops into a taxi, the skunk hops into another one and follows him closely. The man escapes to the opera, sure that the skunk will not be able to get in, but suddenly the skunk is right next to him, sitting on a woman’s head. The skunk continues to pursue him across a cemetery and even around and around on a ferris wheel. Finally the man escapes down into the sewers. He finds himself a new house and leaves his old life behind. But even as he celebrates with his new friends, he starts to think about the skunk and why the skunk was following him. It’s up to him to figure it out. Maybe the skunk won’t even notice the man following him!
Barnett and McDonnell are an incredible pairing in this picture book. They feed off of one another, each lifting the other up. Barnett’s writing is just as quirky as ever, creating a zingy dynamic between the two characters of the man and skunk. Full of dry humor, the book has a deadpan quality that makes it ideal for sharing aloud with children. The twist at the end of the man searching for the skunk is really well done and sure to get hoots of laughter. Expect children to read this at different levels and see different things in the story, all the while with them having an equally great time.
McDonnell channels the feel of vintage comics in his illustrations. Done with limited colors of only black, white and red, the illustrations change to full color when the man creates his new and different life only to change back when he returns to his original place. Both the man and the skunk convey emotions and a sense of jaunty determination.
A great read aloud pick, this picture book is one of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
A Chicken Followed Me Home!: Questions and Answers about a Familiar Fowl by Robin Page
What do you do when a chicken follows you home? All of the answers you need are in this nonfiction picture book that tells you facts about chickens. First, you will need to know what to feed your chicken. You may also want to know what kind of chicken you now have and whether it is a boy or a girl. You will need a chicken coop to keep your chicken safe from predators and give it somewhere to live. Then there is the question of eggs and if you want fertile eggs you will need both a hen and a rooster. Then the eggs have to hatch successfully. If they do, you will have lots of chickens instead of just two. Maybe they will follow someone else home!
Page is the author of several popular books about animals and she captures the joy of keeping chickens in this picture book. Using the framework of someone suddenly having to care for a chicken makes the book very approachable and readable. The facts are presented rather like a guidebook and offer matter-of-fact information for the new chicken owner or readers interested in chickens. This book will make a great addition to school and public libraries since it is information just at the right level for early report writers.
Page’s illustrations are spectacular. Done in collage and cut paper, she manages to create feathers out of patterned paper that look real and textured. Fuzzy baby chicks are almost touchable on the page as they struggled free from their eggs. The illustrations are large and bold, making this a book good for using with a class.
No need to be chicken, add this one to your library collection! Even children who haven’t found their own hens will delight in this book. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
Luna & Me: The True Story of a Girl Who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
This is a picture book version of the real-life heroism of Julia Butterfly Hill, a woman who lived for two years in the branches of Luna, a great redwood tree in order to save the grove from logging. In this picture book, Butterfly is shown as a girl rather than an adult. She spends many of her days exploring nature and then discovers Luna and climbs up into her branches. When she realizes that Luna is going to be chopped down, she stays in the branches. That starts her adventure high in the canopy where she has to withstand storms and cold. Butterfly stayed up in Luna for two years, figuring out how to make a home high in a tree and sharing Luna’s story with whomever she could. Until finally Luna and her entire grove her saved and made into The Luna Preserve.
As Kostecki-Shaw notes in her Author’s Note, she has simplified the political situation that the real Julia Butterfly Hill was dealing with as well as the initial response that included a group of environmental activists taking turns sleeping in Luna’s branches. This makes for a picture book that is easily understood by young readers and that hints at larger issues happening. It will serve to inspire young readers that they can individually make a difference in the world around them and protect what is invaluable to all of us.
The illustrations in this book are done in a variety of media including acrylics, watercolor and pencil. They capture the beauty of nature with dappled light through leaves, the texture of tree bark, and the dwarfed size of Butterfly against the world. They also delightfully show the other animals and creatures living in Luna with one magical page displaying a space inside her trunk.
A very special book about an environmental heroine, this picture book will be inspiring for young readers. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.
Spots in a Box by Helen Ward
A guinea fowl is worried about his lack of plumage design, so he sends off for spots in the mail. They come wrapped in brown paper and string, something that always makes a package more intriguing. But inside, they are not the spots he expected. They are too big for his taste. Luckily though, more spots arrive. Some are too small, others too sparkly. Still others glow in the dark! But eventually after looking at lots of different options, our protagonist picks out some spots that are just perfect and they may not be what you may have expected. Yet they are just right for him.
Ward has written a winning book. Written in rhyme that is never forced but feel very natural, this book is a pleasure to share aloud. The real focus here are the illustrations and those are what make the book so interesting. A large part of the joy here is the silliness of a bird shopping for spots. That is made all the more fascinating because our guinea fowl hero is drawn very lifelike and reacts like a bird would. It is a delightful mix of reality and the rather farcical humor of shopping for dots and spots.
This book is about design and personal style without it being about pink things and tulle. So it’s a very refreshing addition to book shelves where children who have different tastes will find themselves imagining what spots would suit them in life. The design of the book itself is lovely with nods to leopard print and playful die cut pieces at times.
Very young readers will find lots to love here with pages that sparkly and some that have raised spots. It’s also a great book to inspire drawing or discussions of style. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre and His World of Insects by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Giuliano Ferri (InfoSoup)
In a small French village lives a strange man who is interested in the smallest of creatures, the insects around us. He lures flies with dead animals that he pays the children in the village to find. His home is filled with specimens. No one realized that he was one of the greatest naturalists of his time. Jean-Henri Fabre grew up in the countryside where he was fascinated by the natural world around him. No one else seemed interested in the same things that he was, but that didn’t deter him from investigating them. Henri became a teacher and studied hard, but not about insects. It was not until a book rekindled his interest that he started to study them in a serious way as an adult. He discovered things about insects that no one else had ever seen and he documented them fully. So when scientists in France nominated one of their own for a tremendous national honor, they voted for Fabre.
Smith writes with a gentle tone throughout, documenting Fabre’s entire life from his childhood to the great honor he received from his peers and his nation. The story starts with the arrival of the president of France for the award and then shows how Fabre’s fascination with insects started as a boy. The period of time when insects were not a focus is clear but also brief and then the book grows almost merry as it documents the many accomplishments of this humble man who followed his own interests in science.
The illustrations are pastoral and lovely. They capture the beauty of the French countryside and also the wonder of the insects, showing them in great detail. There is a playfulness to the illustrations that also reflects the childlike joy that Fabre found in his wonder about insects.
A lovely book about a scientist who followed his own dreams and interests to great acclaim. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo (InfoSoup)
This picture book biography of the great poet E. E. Cummings is exceptional. Focusing on Cummings’ early years primarily, the book invites young readers to view their own world with wonder and to try to put it into words. As a young boy Cummings was already creating poetry, starting at age three. His mother wrote down his poems for him as he recited them aloud. His imagination extended to art as well, but his real love was words which he approached very playfully, often creating his own words or mashing ones together into new ones. The book emphasizes the hard work that Cummings put into his craft, including spending lots of quiet time observing the world around him for inspiration. After graduating from Harvard, Cummings headed to New York City where he found new inspiration all around him. He served in World War I and published his first books soon after the war ended. His poems were both loved and controversial as he toyed with form and words. Filled with Cummings’ poems as examples, this picture book is a joy to read.
Burgess does a great job with his prose which introduces the young Cummings and his early poems and then follows him as he grows older and his poems grow with him. I appreciate that the book was not attempted to be written using Cummings’ unique style. Rather it is a book that pays homage to the art, the inspiration and the man himself. Spending so much time on Cummings’ youth makes the book much more appealing to young readers who will find inspiration both in Cummings’ age when he began to write and in his poems simplicity.
The art by Di Giacomo is filled with textures and patterns. Words dance across the page, playful and light. They often break free of the lines of prose, merging to be part of the art itself. Words float up on breezes, lengthen with hot summer days, and zing with the style of New York City.
A fabulous biographical picture book, this book is a great introduction to E.E. Cummings and his work. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera
Polar Bear has lost his underwear and he can’t remember what they looked like. It’s up to readers to turn the pages and help Mouse find Polar Bear’s underwear. Could it be the striped underwear? Nope, those are Zebra’s favorite ones. The pair covered in doughnuts and treats belongs to Pig. The little flowery pair is too small for Polar Bear but fits Butterfly perfectly. Rabbit wears carrot printed underwear…on his head! One after another, there are no Polar Bear underwear. But wait, could it be that Polar Bear had them on all along?
Sure to elicit giggles, this book uses die cuts on pages to great effect. The first page shows just the underwear and little readers will delight in turning the page and seeing who they belong to. Each one makes sense with the animal on the next page, making a book that is nicely satisfying even as it is full of humor.
The illustrations are strongly done and will project well to a room of children. With plain brown paperbag backgrounds, the collage illustrations pop on the page, whether for pink pigs or black cats. The twist at the end works very nicely with the illustrations, since readers can turn back to the very first page and notice the trick carried throughout the entire book.
Funny and delightfully clever, this Japanese picture book is sure to find a happy audience in the United States. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Inspired by a true story, this picture book is about a girl who refused to allow societal rules to stop her from her musical dreams. In Cuba, girls were not drummers, but one girl dreamed of pounding drums big and small and making amazing music. Everyone said that only boys could be drummers though, so she kept quiet about her dreams.Everywhere she went though she could hear drumbeats that were all her own. Finally the girl dared to start drumming on real drums and she joined her sister in an all-girl band. Her father did not approve of her drumming but eventually allowed her to play for a teacher to see if she could really drum. And she could!
Engle, known for her gorgeous poetic books for older readers, has created a marvelous picture book here. Reading like poetry, the book looks deeply at a girl who refused to give up her dream to play the drums, even as she hid the dream deep inside herself. It is a book that celebrates artistic gifts even as it works to dismantle gender stereotypes and show that girls have the same artistic skills as boys do. The build up in the book is done with real skill, allowing readers to thrill at her accomplishments as her hard works comes to fruition.
Lopez gives us a bright-colored glimpse of Cuba in this picture book. Filled with lush plants, starlight, water and birds, the illustrations shine on the page. Done in acrylic paint on wood board, they have a great texture to them as well as an organic quality that adds to their depth on the page. The result is a picture book that is vibrant and rich.
A dynamic picture book that celebrates music and breaks stereotypes, this book will inspire children to follow their own dreams. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.