Winter Is Coming by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim LaMarche
A stunningly gorgeous picture book about the changing seasons, this is a perfect way to welcome winter even when you don’t want it to arrive. The book begins on a cold day in September with a girl out in nature watching the animals. She has along her drawing pad and climbs into a tree house to see even better. From that platform, she sees a red fox stealing the last wrinkled fall apple from a low branch. A mother bear and her cub are also in the woods searching for food. As fall progresses, she sees different animals: a family of skunks, rabbits, woodpeckers, a lynx, chipmunks, deer and geese. All are preparing for the approaching winter in their own way. As winter gets closer, the animals stop appearing until the day the snow arrives when the red fox is out to see it too.
Johnston has created a book that truly shows children what it is like to be surrounded by the wonder of nature during one changing season. Her poetry sparks on the page, showing not only the different animals but also explaining what is beautiful and special about each one. Even more mundane animals like the chipmunks get this honor. Young readers will be inspired to get outside and sit still and just watch.
The art from LaMarche is stunning. He takes advantage of the length of the pages and creates wide landscapes that embrace the changing colors of the seasons. They turn from the bright yellows of early fall to the deeper reds and browns and then to the chill grays of winter. He uses light beautifully throughout and various perspectives that all center around one tree and one girl. It is extraordinary.
Perfect pick for just this time of year, get your hands on this beautiful picture book and then be ready for adventures outside, hopefully with your own pen and paper along. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Daytime Nighttime by William Low
A simple and lovely introduction to the creatures that children can see around their houses in both day and night. The book starts with daytime and the question “What do you see in the daytime?” The large images throughout show animals like butterflies, rabbits, beavers, and more. In the middle of the book, a new question is posed about the nighttime. Now the animals shown are bats, frogs, fireflies and raccoons. The book ends with the final animal, a teddy bear held by a little girl as she falls asleep in bed.
Ideal for toddlers, this book only has two full sentences and the rest of the text are single words that identify the animal on the page. Adults can make it into a game where the child names the animal on the page. The illustrations of the animals are large and vibrant. They capture the feel of light and dark in a way has elements of both a photograph and a painting.
A great pick for bedtime reading, this book will be enjoyed by very small animal lovers. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from library copy.
Who Was Here? Discovering Wild Animal Tracks by Mia Posada
The riddle of animal tracks is deciphered here in a fun guessing game. The tracks of each animal are displayed along with information about the tracks and the animal that left them. Readers then turn the page to see whether they guessed right about what animal left those tracks. The pages with the animal have scientific information about the animal, their size, weight and their tracks. Tracks are left in mud, snow, sand and more. These too are hints about the animals, making the book speak to habitat too. This interactive book will have children embracing science and learning about animals without even realizing it.
Posada encourages children to learn more in the final pages of her book. She gives hints to decode animal tracks, offering ideas of what to look for in unknown tracks to help identify them. The book ends with links to websites and recommended books to read. Posada uses the page turn to great effect in this book, allowing the reveal to be a big part of the delight of reading this book. The guessing game element will be popular in story times but also for single readers.
Done in watercolor and collage, the illustrations have dimension and texture. The animals pop on the page and their tracks are clear and beautiful. When Posada has two creatures from the same habitat, their tracks are well defined and clearly different from one another. This adds to the fun of the read.
A nonfiction picture book that children will enjoy, this readable and accessible book will be a hit at any story time. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Millbrook Press.
Flashlight by Lizi Boyd
Released August 12, 2014.
The author of the fantastic Inside Outside returns with another wordless book featuring the same little boy. Here the boy is outside in a tent at night and uses his flashlight to explore. As he moves around, his flashlight shows white and color against the deep black and greys of the rest of the scene. He locates his lost yellow boot, finds different animals out at night, sees plants and fish, and finds an apple to eat. But then he trips and his flashlight goes flying until it is found by a raccoon who uses it to show the boy himself in the beam. Then all of the animals get a turn with the flashlight until they lead the boy back to his tent.
I adore this book. It is so simple with the pitch blackness of the page, the grey lines that show the characters and nature, and then that surprising and revealing beam of light that cuts a swath through the darkness. One reason it works so well is that the rest of the page is not complete darkness, instead you get a feel of the woods around and the animals, but when the light does shine on them even more is shown.
Boyd uses small cutouts on the page to great effect. They reveal dens, flowers, small touches. In their own subtle way, they too shine a light of attention on even smaller components of the illustrations. They are a subtle but important part of the book.
Beautiful, dark and mysterious, this picture book is a wordless story of exploration and wonder. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Sleepyheads by Sandra J. Howatt, illustratedc by Joyce Wan
Head out on a journey in the night to find out where different creatures are sleeping. Each one is tucked into the space they like best at bedtime. There is the bear in his cave, the otter rocking back in the water, the pig in the hay, and many more. Then the owl is on the page, not sleepy at all. The book then turns to the house and the pets sleeping, but the little human bed is empty! Where can that last little sleepyhead be? Safe asleep in Mama’s arms.
Simple and beautiful, this book has a gentle rhyme that soothes also with a rhythm that is like rocking to sleep. Young listeners will get to identify the different animals as the pages turn, since the book leaves that up to the reader. The quiet mystery of where the last sleepyhead is found is a wonderful little twist at the end, just right as children snuggle down to their own beds.
Wan’s art is dark and beautiful. The night is lit with fireflies and the moon, the darkness deep and velvety but not frightening at all. As the reader visits each dark page, there is always a source of light beyond that in the sky so that the characters themselves shine on the page.
A wonderful bedtime read, this one shines with moonlight and dreams. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrated by CaTia Chien
This is a stellar autobiographical picture book written by and about a wildlife conservationist. Alan was a boy who could not speak clearly. He battled stuttering all of the time except when he talked with animals. When he visited the great cat house at the Bronx Zoo, he could whisper fluently into the ears of the cats. He also spent a lot of time with his pets at home, speaking to them and telling them that if he ever found his own voice, he would serve as their voice since they had none and would keep them from harm. Alan became the first person to study jaguars. In Belize he felt at home in the jungle. He worked to protect the jaguars and eventually had to speak for them in front of the President of Belize, hoping to save their habitat from destruction. But can he speak clearly in the short 15 minutes he’s been given?
This book is made all the more compelling by the fact that it is true. It gives readers a glimpse into the world of a child struggling with a disability, one that mars every verbal interaction he has. And thanks to his ability with animals, readers quickly see beyond the stutter to the boy himself and to the gifts that he has to offer. Even better, once Alan becomes an adult, readers get to see a man who is taking advantage of his uniqueness to make a difference in the world and for the animals he cares for so much.
Chien’s art is rich and varied. She moves from backgrounds of wine red to brilliant yellow to the deep greens of the Belize jungles. She shows an isolated boy, alone that contrasts beautifully with the man working happily alone in the jungle – so similar and yet so very different.
An extraordinary autobiography, this book shows readers not to judge anyone by how they speak but rather by what they do. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World by Steve Jenkins
Explore different types of animal eyes in this gorgeous nonfiction picture book by the amazing Steve Jenkins. In this book, Jenkins not only talks about the different kinds of animals eyes, explaining them in just the right amount of detail, but also looks at specific animals and their unique eyes. Jenkins shares lots of facts, carefully chosen to be fascinating and fun. One never knows what will be found on the next page and whether it will be looking right at you.
Jenkins makes sure that children will learn about evolution in this picture book. His emphasis throughout is on the evolution from simple light-sensitive eyespots to the complex camera eyes of humans and hawks. As always, his information is well-chosen and interesting. It is accompanied by large-format images that are paired with smaller images that show the animals entire body. This is science information at its best.
The eyes have it! This is a book that belongs in all public libraries. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Fly by Elise Gravel
The Worm by Elise Gravel
The first and second books in the new Disgusting Critters series of nonfiction picture books, these books take a humorous look at the biology of a specific creature. The first book deals with flies, specifically the common house fly. Inside are all sorts of interesting facts like the fly being covered in hair and information on eggs and maggots. More disgusting aspects are played up, which should appeal to young children, like the diet of flies and how germ filled they are and why. The second book is about worms and focuses on their unique anatomy, such as having no eyes and no limbs. There is also a focus on habitat, diet and reproduction. Throughout both books, humorous asides are offered, making this one of the most playful informational book series around.
Gravel combines both humor and facts in her book. She keeps the two clearly defined, with the animals themselves making comments that add the funniness to the books. The facts are presented in large fonts and the design of the book makes the facts clear and well defined. These books are designed for maximum child appeal and will work well in curriculums or just picked up by a browser in the library.
The art in the books, as you can see by the covers, is cartoonish and cute. The entire effect is a merry romp alongside these intriguing animals. I know some people believe that books about science for children should be purely factual, but Gravel’s titles show how well humor and touch of anthropomorphism can work with informational titles.
Information served with plenty of laughs, these science titles will be appreciated by children and teachers. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copies.
Cat Says Meow by Michael Arndt
A fresh new take on animal noises in a picture book, this is a clever and artistic reinvention. Blending animals with a typological representation of the animal and its noise, this book is pure font bliss. The book offers 25 animals that pop against the white background.
Simple in the extreme, this picture book explores the curves and zig zags of letters, turning them into tongues, feet, ears, whiskers and tails. The words are sometimes obvious in the drawings but others take a bit more squinting and thinking to make out. The art becomes a visual puzzle and makes the entire book a joy to explore and decrypt.
Get this into the hands of art teachers and writing teachers who will adore the creativity that it displays and the way it engages on many levels. Appropriate for ages 3-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
What’s Your Favorite Animal?
Eric Carle and many other well-known illustrators offer their personal favorite animals complete with a short piece about what animal they love and why. Turning the pages is rather like visiting a gallery of some of the top picture book illustrators working today. Turn the page and see Lane Smith’s choice of elephant, then Jon Klassen’s ode to his love for ducks, and Susan Jeffer’s beautiful look at horses. This work is fantastically lovely and personal to the illustrators. It is a pleasure to turn each page and take a journey through this book.
Readers may discover new authors and illustrators and seek out their work. But best of all, this is a wonderful look at well-known illustrators on a personal level. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.