Sand Swimmers: The Secret Life of Australia’s Desert Wilderness by Narelle Oliver
Set in the ferocious center of Australia, this book looks at one of the harshest climates in the world and the animals that not only survive there but thrive there. The “Dead Heart” of Australia can appear completely uninhabited at first, but this book has us look closer and see what the Aboriginal people have known for thousands of years. The huge salt lake has lizards, shrimp and frogs if you know where to look. The mulga scrublands have tangled timber but that is also shelter for spiders, ants, geckos, and birds. Down deep under the earth, there are even more animals sheltering. Even the oceans of rock and sand have animals living there. Explore an amazing ecosystem along with early explorers of Australia who failed to see the creatures hiding around them.
Oliver takes readers on an amazing journey through various regions of the center of Australia. Even the rocks and sand and plants themselves are wild and different from other parts of the world. Everything seems to combine to make the most uninhabitable ecosystem in the world, but that’s not true if you look deeper. Oliver takes readers deeper into the desert and readers will discover the beauty and life hidden in this desolate landscape.
Oliver’s illustrations combine line drawings of the creatures with smudged drawings of the early explorers. The combination of the crisp line drawings with the more smudged ones is very successful, giving readers a taste of both the animals themselves and the history.
A brilliant look at a fascinating habitat, this book goes far beyond the stereotypical kangaroos and koala bears of Australia. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Bus Ride by Marianne Dubuc
Released March 1, 2015.
A little girl sets off on her first bus ride all by herself. Her mother packed her a snack and her sweater too. But this is not a normal bus, with its passengers of rabbits, a bear, a turtle, a mouse and a very sleepy sloth. Stop by stop, the bus picks up and drops off more and more animals. A family of wolves enters the bus at one point and the little girl shares her snack happily with the little wolf. The bus goes through a dark tunnel and everything gets mixed around in the dark, but things are quickly sorted back into some sort of normal. There is even a cunning fox thief that the little girl helps chase off the bus at the next stop. This is one wonderful adventure for a little girl all on her own who has an amazing ride.
First published in France, this picture book celebrates a child traveling on their own. Though the larger animals may seem threatening at first, those fears are quickly allayed by their actions. Even the wolf family acts very appropriately on the bus. There is the thief but again the little girl is empowered enough to put a stop to his shenanigans herself. Children in the U.S. will be astonished at the freedom of this little girl and the trust she is given. They will also love the Little Red Riding Hood ties that are evident in the story.
Dubuc’s illustrations are done in fine lines and subtle colors. That adds to the gentleness of the tale and the feeling that everything is nonthreatening and OK. Subtle things change on each page and children will want time to look closely at the pictures, particularly after the tunnel switches things around.
Warm and confident, this picture book is a friendly introduction to bus rides even though real life ones aren’t likely to have bears, wolves and sloths as part of the community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Kids Can Press.
The Queen’s Shadow by Cybele Young
Released March 1, 2015.
This fascinating and unique nonfiction picture book takes a mystery and turns it into information about how various animals see. At the Queen’s Ball, several different animals have gathered. Then there is a flash of lightning and a moment of darkness. When the lights come back on, the Queen’s shadow has been stolen! Who stole it and how can they prove it? One by one, each animal offers testimony to what they witnessed “colored” by the way they are able to see the world. There are the eyes of the chameleon who can look in two directions at once but only shoot out his tongue when both eyes are focused on the same thing. The shark excels at seeing contrast more than anything and notices patterns of light and dark. Pit viper sees in heat and cool. Dragonfly offers perspective from compound eyes. It will take each of their ways of seeing the world to solve this mystery.
Young creates an entirely abstract and amazing world here. There is a strong sense of decorum throughout the book, no animals attacking each other and the human queen unafraid of any of her more predatory guests. She combines information for the mystery about what was witnessed through that specific set of eyes and then shares strictly scientific information in offset text boxes too. The result is a book that keeps you turning pages not only to solve the mystery but to continue seeing the world in such unique ways and learning more.
The illustrations have a feel of vintage illustrations with finely detailed ink drawings washed with color. This style is reworked though when seeing through other animals’ eyes so that with each turn of the page, the art is ever-changing and fascinating.
Peculiar in a delightful way, this nonfiction picture book is one that will appeal to children wanting to “see” more of the natural world. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Kids Can Press.
Chimpanzee Children of Gombe by Jane Goodall, photos by Michael Neugebauer
Jane Goodall invites young readers to spend some time in the Gombe National Park in Tanzania with the chimpanzee families she has been studying for decades. Readers are introduced to two chimpanzee families, F-family and G-family, who are all named with that letter as the first in their name. So there are Ferdinand, Faustino and Fifi and also Gremlin, Galahad and Gaia. Goodall shows similarities between humans and chimpanzees, including greeting each other with kisses, having mothers who are good and others who are not so good, and children who love to play. The book celebrates the close family bonds of chimpanzees, the caring mothers who lug children on their fronts and then their backs, siblings who play together, and the way young are taught to use tools. The result is a book that is a trip to their world and an invitation to learn more about these amazing endangered animals.
Goodall writes with a wonderful inviting tone, explaining facts carefully but also allowing the images of the animals to tell much of the story. She plays hostess in the book, taking care to make sure that children know the basics about the chimpanzees and then also moving on to include other animals like baboons and monkeys that live in the same area. The book nicely balances offering just enough information to stay fascinating and not overwhelming children with too many small facts. Instead it reads as a stroll alongside Goodall through her research center.
The photographs by Neugebauer reinforce what Goodall is explaining in words. Readers see the close family ties, they witness young chimpanzees at play, and there are gorgeous shots of the habitat itself that show how special and important this place is.
A strong introduction to Goodall’s work, this book is engaging and inspiring. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
Look right into the eyes of 25 animals as they answer a question about why they look the way that they do. The animals range from sun bears to various birds to giraffes to frogs and fish. With each turn of the page there is a new animal looking straight at you, ready to explain the feature that is their most unusual. That explanation is filled with just enough scientific information to be fascinating and to inspire more exploration of the animal. The paragraphs are short enough to be shared with even quite young children who are fascinated by animals. This is a great addition to even the most crowded of animal shelves.
Filled with Jenkins’ trademark cut paper art, this is an exquisite look at each animal, some of which you may never have seen straight on from the front like the mole rat or the shoebill stork. The unique point of view makes for unusual images of these animals that make you look at them in a different way. Wonderfully, Jenkins manages to make each meet your eyes in a distinct way that matches their species. See how long you can lock gazes with the ferocious ones!
One that will be read again and again by young animal lovers, this book deserves a spot in every public library. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen
Master nature poet, Sidman, takes readers on a journey through the wonders of nature during winter in this new book. Each poem focuses on a specific animal, showing the amazing adaptations they have made in order to survive the cold temperatures. Done in a variety of poetic formats and styles, all of the poems have a lush beauty to them. Each poem is paired with a paragraph of information that further explains the animal and their lives during the winter months. The animals include tundra swans, voles, fox, moose, birds, insects and of course bees.
Sidman’s poems are exceptional. She clearly has designed them for children, but they stretch vocabulary and concepts. Even better, they reveal things below the surface, inviting further exploration and investigation of the concepts. The nonfiction paragraphs are equally welcoming. They are filled with fascinating facts and will have nature-loving children fully engaged.
Allen’s illustrations are linoleum prints. They have such depth and texture, with details of feathers and fur clear on the page. Done in vibrant colors, the illustrations show the color of the world despite its layer of white snow. Rich and detailed, these illustrations are luminous on the page.
An amazing book of nature poetry, get this into the hands of teachers doing nature units, units on winter, and share the poems merrily with children at any time. Simply gorgeous. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge
Explore different baby mammals from around the world in this nonfiction picture book. Learn about how different animals function when they are born, polar bear babies are tiny and are kept safe for months before going outside while giraffes are born ready to run right away. Baby animals eat in different ways too. Baby bears nurse, baby wolves learn to eat meat quickly, and other animals eat grass and drink their mother’s milk. Other subjects like protection and shelter are examined as well as grooming, moving from place to place, and what their families look like. This book is a celebration of the diversity of mammals on the earth and all of the ways in which they are loved and cared for as they grow.
Judge offers just enough information on each animal to make the book readable. She gives intriguing glimpses of each animal before moving on to the next. It’s a fast paced book that merrily jumps from one animal to the next. More in-depth information on each of the featured mammals can be found at the end of the book.
Judge’s art is exceptional. Her animals are filled with personality. The baby mammals look straight out at the reader at times, their parents’ eyes are filled with love, and there is a tangible joy to each of the images. The cuteness factor could have been unbearable, but instead it’s perfect, just the right amount of cute and wild mixed together.
A great choice for smaller children who love animals, this book is gorgeous as well as informative. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk, illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis
Kulu has just been born and is being welcomed by the world. Kulu is Inuit and as the world comes to welcome the baby, traditional Inuit beliefs are shown in the story. It is the Arctic summer, so the first to welcome Kulu is Smiling Sun, who stays bright all through the night. The Wind arrives and teaches Kulu the importance of listening closely. Then the animals start arriving. These are not your normal animals, but ones that are specifically from the Arctic and of importance to the Inuit. With each animal comes a blessing: the Snow Bunting reminds Kulu to always believe in himself, Fox tells Kulu to get out of bed as soon as you wake and to help anyone who needs it. The entire book sings with a connection to nature, to this specific region of the earth, and for the love of a baby.
Kalluk, who is an Inuit throat singer, has beautifully captured the values of her people in this picture book. It is done so organically and naturally that many will not realize that this is more than a sweet picture book. The fact that it also weaves in traditions and values of the Inuit makes the book all the more special and noteworthy. Kalluk writes very lyrically, creating moments for each of the animals that are unique to them which keeps the book from becoming repetitious.
The illustrations have a lovely cartoon quality to them, one can almost see them leaping to life from the page. The large animals dwarf little Kulu by their bulk, but the tenderness they all feel for this tiny baby shines on the page. There is a respect between human and animal that is warm and tangible too.
A gorgeous and meaningful book welcoming a baby to the world, this picture book is unique and special. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from ARC received from Inhabit and Myrick Marketing.
Draw! by Raúl Colón
In this wordless picture book, Colón recreates his love of drawing as a child and the way that it could take him to new places. Here a boy is sitting on his bed looking at a book about Africa. He sets the book aside and picks up his drawing pad and a pencil. Soon readers can see the images in his head as he puts them on paper. The boy is transported directly to Africa, setting up his drawing easel in front of each of the different animals of Africa. The elephant is first and after seeing his picture gives the boy a ride to met the zebras. The book moves from one animal to the next, the boy changing how he approaches them according to what animal it is. Until finally a group of monkeys make a picture of the boy. Readers and the boy return to his bedroom, now littered with all of the drawings of the animals.
This book nicely captures without using any words at all the transformative power of art and creativity. It beautifully shows how art can transport you to a different place and time, moving you into the flow of creating a work. It also demonstrates how inspiration can strike and the flow of creativity can overtake you in the best possible way.
Colón’s illustrations are done in pen, ink, watercolors and pencil. They move from line drawings with pastel tones of real life to a more lush and rich color and style when we are inside the boy’s imagination. Colón uses lines on these more colorful pages to give texture and movement to the image. They are illustrations that invite you to walk right into them.
Imagination, creativity and art come together in this book to transport readers right into Africa. Now it’s time to get out your own pencils and see where they will take you. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Sleep Tight, Little Bear by Britta Teckentrup
Winter is coming and Little Bear and Mommy Bear have been getting their den ready for the cold weather. Soon it will be time for them to hibernate for the winter and wake up again when the warmth of spring comes. Little Bear is excited about hibernating, but before he and his mother go to sleep, he has to say goodbye to all of his friends. Little Bear goes to each animal, wishing them a good winter and they all wish him a good sleep and promising to watch over him as he rests. As they return to their den, the snow is starting to fall and the winds are blowing cold. Inside their den, it is warm and cozy and Little Bear is fast asleep before he can even finish saying goodnight to his mother.
First published in Germany, Teckentrup’s picture book celebrates community and diversity without ever using those words on the page. It is clear throughout the entire book that the bear family is beloved in the woods. While some of the animals, like Owl, are not so friendly, the others are warmly affectionate to Little Bear. Many of the animals speak about watching over and taking care of the bears as they hibernate. They also speak about how different the bears are from them and sometimes briefly say what they will do in the winter. The messages are subtle and woven into this story about animals.
The illustrations are a strong mix of textured trees and animals and more simple elements that allow the textures to stand out on the page. One of the first pages in the book shows the entire forest as well as the animals that the bears will be visiting before they hibernate. It’s almost a map to the story and offer a peek into what will come.
A book about a friendly community of animals, this picture book is perfect for reading on chilly autumn evenings and ideal for a bedtime read. It will also be a welcome addition to seasonal story times and units on hibernation. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley received from NorthSouth and NetGalley.