One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Used to just dropping their baskets when they wore out, people in Njau, Gambia did the same thing with their plastic bags, but the plastic bags decayed like the baskets would. They also didn’t last nearly as long. Torn bags can’t be mended or used at all, so one by one, then ten by ten, and thousands by thousands they were thrown to the side of the road. They accumulated in heaps, poisoning the goats that tried to eat the garbage around them. Water pooled in them and brought more mosquitoes and diseases. Burying and burning them weren’t the solution either. Then Isatou Ceesay found a way to recycle the plastic bags and get jobs for her community by transforming them into something new.
This book speaks to the power that one person can have to change things, both for themselves and their entire community. The prose here is straight-forward but also has moments of poetry thrown in, showing the devastation the plastic bags were creating in the Gambia. The book also shows the way that an idea is born, comes to fruition, passes through being scorned and is finally embraced.
The illustrations by Zunon are remarkable. Using collage, they bring together the textures of the weaving and baskets as well as the plastic bags from photographs. The textiles of the Gambia are also incorporated and vibrate on the page. They are combined with painting and other more playful textures to create the natural setting and the people.
Strong writing and superb illustrations combine to tell the true story of how one woman transformed pollution. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Jinx’s Magic by Sage Blackwood
In this second book in a trilogy, Jinx’s entire life has changed since his death. He can now listen to the voices of the trees in the huge Urwald forest and they tell him things. But his life is also in danger still. The Bonemaster has been defeated but Jinx’s master, Simon believes he is stronger than the bindings that surround him. Yet none of the other magic wielders of the Urwald will help Simon keep the Bonemaster restrained. Jinx is sent to Samara, a land reached via a portal in Simon’s house and also the place where Simon’s wife lives. Jinx must find a way to enroll in the school in order to discover the magic he needs to save their own world. But magic is forbidden in Samara and Jinx may put the Urwald at risk as he desperately tries to save it.
Blackwood takes her already impressive world and adds onto it with Samara, a desert land where knowledge and magic intertwine. She also deepens the readers’ understanding of the Urwald and its own sort of magic. This interplay between different types of magic and societies makes for a book that is rich and layered.
Blackwood also takes time to develop Jinx’s own character further, pushing him to reach the extent of his power and yet also allowing readers to see that there is more there as well. Jinx is a hesitant hero and never quite believes he is doing the right thing along the way. Even as his power grows, he remains fully the same character and yet changes and grows in a real way throughout.
A web of magic and mystery, this book is a fitting follow up to one of my favorite reads of 2013. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Katherine Tegen Books.
The Secret Pool by Kimberley Ridley, illustrated by Rebekah Raye
Vernal pools are easy to miss, but also necessary to the life of many animals. This nonfiction picture book explores the amazing things that happen in vernal pools throughout the seasons. It begins with defining what a vernal pool is and then quickly moves into spring. The fascinating lives of frogs are described, including the way they make it through the winter. Soon salamanders join them and breed in the pool. Tiny fairy shrimp appear too. As summer comes, the eggs of the salamanders and frogs hatch and soon there are tadpoles and larvae in the pools. Now the race begins to see if they can climb ashore before the pool dries up. The vernal pool disappears and the animals that live there and were born there move away. They will return again with the spring and the vernal pools.
Ridley has nicely created a book that can be used at two levels. The larger text can be shared as almost a story about the pools. Then the smaller text provides deeper information about the vernal pools and the animals. Her words work together well, the simpler text offers a poetic voice to the factual information that serves to remind us how amazing all of this actually is.
Raye’s illustrations are lush and minutely detailed. She offers both larger scale images of the animals and then others done with finer lines that show more details and more animals on the page. You never know what you will see on the next page, and I guarantee a jump of surprise when you see the bullfrog with the tadpole hanging out of his mouth like a tongue.
This book reveals a world right under our feet that most children never knew existed. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore
This exceptional nonfiction picture book tells the story of the Puerto Rican parrot. It is a bird that has flown over Puerto Rico for millions of years but almost became extinct in the 1960s. The book tells of the changes that came to Puerto Rico and its environment thanks to settlers, wars, hunting, and foreign invasive species. Forests began to disappear too, so the parrots were limited to living in just one place. By 1967, only 24 parrots lived in Puerto Rico. With them almost extinct, people started trying to save the parrots. The book tells the story of rescued parrots, storms and the dedicated scientists who figured out how to save this species from disappearing entirely.
Roth and Trumbore tell this story deftly. They focus on what was almost lost, a sky crowded with these blue and green birds. The book explores the history of Puerto Rico, tying it closely and innately into the story of the parrots themselves. The entire book is fascinating and becomes even more compelling when the story turns to the rescue efforts. Small victories such as saving a young parrot’s wings are celebrated, while the larger effort is also looked at in detail.
Roth’s collages are exquisite. She captures the beauty of the birds, as you can see from the cover image above, but also the beauty of Puerto Rico itself with all of its lush greens. The book is beautifully designed as well.
A dazzling nonfiction book that will be welcome in classroom discussions and units about conservation and environment. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from digital copy received from Lee & Low and Edelweiss.
Picture a Tree by Barbara Reid
How do you picture a tree? Do you see a drawing on the sky? A tunnel? An ocean? A sun umbrella to stop on your hot walk home? What do you see? These are just some of the ideas that Reid puts forward in her picture book that pays homage to trees and their ever-changing beauty. Starting with the spring and moving through all of the seasons, this book will have you looking into the trees around you and noticing them even more.
Reid’s text here is simple but very effective. She gets you dreaming of your own answers and also seeing trees from all angles and all seasons. The true focus here though is her art. Done entirely in Plasticine clay, they have a wonderful three-dimensional quality to them and are anything but simple. In fact, the detail is amazing and will keep readers gazing long after they complete the words on the page.
An awesome addition to any Arbor Day, Earth Day, tree-related or seasonal story time or unit, this book should inspire all of us to wonder about trees. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
You can also see the trailer for the book for a glimpse of Reid’s art and words:
A Place for Turtles by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Higgins Bond
Another strong title in the A Place for… series, this book introduces children to turtles and the role that people play in keeping them safe and their habitats viable. Each page shows a different species of turtle in their specific habitat with the main part of the page explaining an overarching theme. The inset on each page talks about scientific facts about the turtles, often including ways that humans have helped turtles survive. The combination makes for an engaging way to present the information, giving readers the sense of digging deeper into the more specific information. The emphasis here is on being a good steward of the environment and the way that humans can ensure the continued survival of turtles.
Stewart writes with an engaging tone, inviting young readers to explore the subject. The insets on the pages are filled with dramatic examples, facts and scientific information. Yet they never feel heavy thanks to the fine selection of intriguing information provided. Bond’s illustrations reveal the lives of turtles, from the sea turtles escaping fishing nets to the lethal beauty of purple loosestrife. He captures the beauty of both the habitat and the creatures.
A fine choice for library nonfiction collections, this is a great introduction to turtles and an inspiring call to action for children. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.
The Eagles Are Back by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Wendell Minor
The third book in this pair’s new nature series, this is the story of how people worked together to save the bald eagle from possible extinction. Told through the eyes of a young boy, this is also the story of how children can make a real difference in their world. When the boy climbs to a bald eagle nest, he sees that the eggs in the nest are broken. Only 450 pairs of bald eagles still survived in the wild because of the impact of the pesticide DDT making the eagles’ eggs soft and fragile. The boy meets with a ranger who has a healthy eagle egg for the empty nest. The boy agrees to keep an eye on the pair and see whether they accept the egg. The boy kept watch and saw the eagles adopt the egg, but he also helped by catching fish for the eagles to catch in midair. Readers and the boy get to see the eaglet grow and take her first flight. This is a celebration of how humans can turn things around and help the environment, no matter how young they are.
George writes with plenty of details that really explain the seriousness of the situation that DDT caused. Writing with a child as the main character sends a powerful message to today’s children and the impact that they too can have on issues that are important to them. It is also a clear invitation to enter the wild and explore. George specializes in writing about nature and the environment and always reveals the beauty and wonder of the wilderness.
Minor’s art echoes that beauty and wonder. In gouache and watercolor, he creates images that are soft and inviting. They are also lit from within, giving them the glowing feel of real nature and sunlight on leafy canopies.
Celebrate the return of the eagles with this book, but also make sure that your library collection has the first two about wolves and buffalo. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books for Young Readers.
Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor, illustrated by Laura Beingessner
This is a biographical picture book about the environmentalist Rachel Carson. The book covers her childhood, which she spent outside in her family’s woods, orchards and fields. Her mother loved nature and passed her passion on to her daughter. Though times were tough and her father struggled to make enough money to support the family, Rachel was able to attend Pennsylvania College for Women in Pittsburgh. It was during this time that she started to be concerned about the environment. Rachel decided to become a biologist and received her Master’s Degree, becoming one of the few female biologists. After some time jobless due to the Great Depression, her two skills of science and writing came together in a job for the Bureau of Fisheries writing radio scripts about sea life. After World War II, Rachel became alarmed at the chemicals being sprayed everywhere. Though she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, she continued work on Silent Spring which caused such a reaction that new laws were created to protect the environment. This book tells the story of a woman who was smart, scientifically gifted, and passionate about the natural world she loved so much.
Lawlor pays real homage to Rachel Carson here. It is the story of her entire life, from the early days of connecting with nature through her years of study to the final, vital book she wrote. Hers is an inspirational story of what can be done by someone who is smart and passionate about a subject. It is also a great story about a woman who defied the conventions and followed her dreams. Lawlor makes Carson both intensely human but also heroic.
The illustrations are done in a simple style with ink and watercolor. They celebrate the natural world around Carson with plenty of the greens of the woods and the blues of the waters. And in each, Carson is observing and making notes. It’s a glimpse of a woman who is a scientist first and foremost.
This is a celebration of a groundbreaking book by a groundbreaking woman. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Family Tree by David McPhail
This is the story of a very special tree. It was left standing when the rest of the space was cleared to build a house many years ago. This tree would shelter the little house. It witnessed many changes over the years as horse and wagon changed to cars. There were births and deaths on the farm, until finally it was the great-great grandson of the original building of the home who lived there. The tree still stood, strong and straight. But then it was threatened as a new road was planned that would run right through it. The grandson refused to let the tree be cut down, and wild animals join him to keep it from happening. So the road plans must be changed and the tree continues to grow now by the large bend in the road.
There is something to be said about a picture book that decides to tell the story that feels right, the one that resounds in your bones, rather than the one that would happen in real life. When I saw the bulldozers in the book, I braced myself for heartache, or for the story to turn into that of growing a new tree from an acorn that originated with this tree. But instead McPhail told a story for tree lovers of all ages, who wish that there were bends in the big highways to keep huge old trees alive.
McPhail’s writing is simple and straight-forward. He tells the story with a great matter-of-fact tone that belies the wildlife appearing and the wonder of the tree standing. His art is signature McPhail with its fine ink lines and watercolor softness. It has both the clarity of the modern day and the softness of memories.
Get this into the hands of those who hug trees. They are guaranteed to love it. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Company.
The Conductor by Laetitia Devernay
This wordless picture book is tall and narrow, just like the trees featured within. A man enters a forest of trees that are shaped like lollipops with long trunks and round tops. He climbs to the very top of one tree and raises his hands. Suddenly, birds start to appear, formed from the leaves of the trees. They fly off leaving holes in the tree leaves shaped like them. The leaf patterns are on their wings and they fly above the conductor in a variety of formations. Until eventually they are gone, and all that are left are the blank trees. The man climbs down and plants a seed that quickly grows into a tree. As he is planting, the birds return to the trees, covering them once again in leaves. The man leaves the forest just as he has found it, but with one more small trees. It’s a beautiful look at the environment and the impact humans can have if they choose.
The art here is wonderfully done. It has a limited palette of just yellow, green, black and white. The juxtaposition of tree leaves and flying birds is spectacular visually and surprising at first. It lifts the book to a more surreal place, a world where you are unsure what could possibly happen next. The fine lined art, the scale of the book and the gentle theme all work well together, creating a memorable whole.
A surprising wordless picture book that is a work of art, this book would work well in art curriculum or as a quiet, beautiful book to share. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.