Plant a Pocket of Prairie by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Betsy Bowen
Prairies used to cover vast swaths of the United States, but are almost entirely gone now. In this nonfiction picture book, young readers are invited to create their own small prairies at home. Root offers ideas for what native prairie plants should be planted first and then ties each plant to a type of wildlife that will arrive along with the plants. Butterfly weed invites monarchs to your yard. Asters and rough blazing star bring even more butterflies. Toads, birds, mice, bumblebees, and more may appear in your little garden. And who knows, if lots of people plant a little prairie, eventually we may have prairies back across the nation.
Root has written this book in poetry that rhymes at times and others not. There are rhymes at the ends of lines, then internal rhymes within a line, and other times it is the rhythm and flow of the words themselves that create the structure. It has a strong organic feel to it, the names of the plants flowing into those of the animals they will bring to your yard. The book ends with information on all of the plants, animals and insects mentioned in the book as well as further information on the state of prairies in the United States and where you can go to see a prairie.
The illustrations by Bowen are light and free. They focus on the plants and animals, showing them clearly. Along the way, one bird moves from page to page, planting seeds that grow into the garden and building her own nest in the new habitat. There is a sense of the garden expanding and building as the book continues, yet that light feel continues throughout.
A song of the prairie, this book will inspire young gardeners to try native plants and is a great addition to curriculums in schools doing their own garden programs. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from digital galley received from University of Minnesota Press and NetGalley.
Tippy and the Night Parade by Lilli Carre
Released February 11, 2014.
In the morning when she wakes up, Tippy’s room is a complete mess. But all Tippy remembers is falling asleep, how did this all happen? The next night, she goes to bed as usual after cleaning up her room. And then readers get to see exactly what happens when Tippy goes sleepwalking along a pier, across the garden, hopping on lily pads, lost in the fog and trees, down a hole, into the desert, up a mountain and back down to her window. Just to wake up the next morning again without knowing what happened.
Carre lets her images tell the majority of the story in her debut graphic novel. And the images are a smart mix of modern with a vintage flair. They have a flatness to them that adds a quirky quality to the book. They also have a great sense of humor as the parade builds in length and more animals are included. My particular favorite is the rotund bear. And what a parade it is, sharp-eyed readers will enjoy looking at the mess in her room and matching the animals that had joined her walk back home.
Funny and quirky, this parade is one worth marching along with. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Toon Books.
No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young, illustrated by Nicole Wong
A close-up look at the favorite sweet treat of chocolate, this nonfiction picture book explains exactly what it takes to get chocolate. The book quickly moves to the tropical rain forests of Central and South America and the cocoa beans that grow there and how they are treated to get cocoa powder from them. The book then moves to explaining cocoa pods, cocoa flowers, and cocoa leaves, but animals quickly come into the process from the midges that pollinate the cocoa flowers as they lay their eggs to the maggots of the coffin flies that take over the brains of the leaf-cutter ants. Lizards and monkeys play a role too, but the monkeys are tantalizingly left to the end of the book. Told in factual information, the book also offers asides by two funny bookworms who wonder along with the reader what in the world monkeys have to do with chocolate!
This is a fascinating look at the complexities of something that many of us take for granted. Stewart, author of over 150 nonfiction books for children, worked with Allen Young, the world specialist on cocoa tree pollination and growth. The result is a book that is enticing both in its premise and its execution. Turning pages lets you learn more and the entire process is both odd and amazing.
The art by Wong has a wonderful lightness to it that fits the subject particularly well. The clever little bookworms add a whimsical note to the entire book with their ballooned speech bubbles, ballcap, flower and skirt.
A winner of a nonfiction picture book, this is one sweet addition to any library. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.
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.
Underground by Denise Fleming
Explore the wonders of what happens underground in a garden with this picture book from the Caldecott Honor medalist, Denise Fleming. This book takes the joys of digging in the dirt one step farther, offering a simple poem that invites children to explore and then illustrations that show a cross section that reveals all of the action happening below the surface. Roots grow, moles and chipmunks make tunnels, a turtle lays her eggs, worms are pulled by a robin.
Fleming’s simple poetry makes this a great option for small toddlers, those same ones with the dirty hands from digging in the dirt. She then takes her signature pulp-paper collage and brings life to the book. The pulp paper offers a texture and richness that is specific to that medium. It is bright, deeply colored, and has a dimension that is remarkable. Here the use of it to build that rich underground world is ideal. The illustrations are large enough to use with a group, but detailed enough that there is plenty to explore up close.
Turn to the back pages for more details about the animals shown in the illustrations. Ideal to read in the garden with a pail and shovel nearby for immediate exploring. It will also make a great addition for any spring-themed units or story times. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Strange Place to Call Home: the World’s Most Dangerous Habitats & the Animals That Call Them Home by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Ed Young
Through evocative poetry, this book explores habitats that you would never guess something could even survive in. But they do! There are creatures who live in places with no water, no warmth, little food. And those are the creatures that star in this book, each of them celebrated in verse. There are penguins, mountain goats, and camels, which may be the animals that came to mind. But Singer looks deeper than that and introduces unlikely creatures to readers, including petroleum flies that hatch in oil, ice worms that live in glaciers, and blind cave fish from Texas and Mexico. She takes these creatures, known and unknown, and gives us a glimpse of them and their habitat in a variety of poetry forms. Each page is a discovery of a new animal and a new type of poetry.
Singer excels at creating poetry that is artistic and has depth and yet offers young readers an approach to verse that is welcoming. She writes at their level yet doesn’t ever play down to them. Since some of the haikus and other forms are quite brief, it’s nice that she offers paragraphs of information at the end of the book on each creature. At the very end of the book, she also speaks to the variety of poetic forms she has employed in the book.
Young’s illustrations add another layer of beauty into the book. Through his layered paper art, he creates a red forest of flamingo legs, a swirl of desert sands, foaming rivers, and an urban landscape among many others. His work embraces the diverse habitats, recreating the harshness and the often subtle richness of these unknown worlds.
A great pick for poetry units or units on habitats, this book offers a perfect blend of verse, science and art. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy received from publisher.
Zig and Wikki in the Cow by Nadja Spiegelman and Trade Loeffler
This is the second Zig and Wikki book, featuring two little aliens who find their way to Earth. In this book, the two friends lose their spaceship when they return Zig’s pet fly its native habitat. On the way, the two discover that flies eat poop, that dung beetles use it as well, and that cows have multiple stomachs. It’s all a matter of learning things up close and personal, right down to being swallowed by a cow. This humorous mashup of scientific fact, alien appeal, and comic format makes for an engaging read for young readers.
It is really the blend that works so well here. The writing is light and funny, combined with scientific facts that are highlighted with photographs. Readers learn about food cycles, ecology and habitats without even realizing it. Add in the humorous poop factor and the graphic novel format, and this is one appealing package.
A graphic novel series that is a lot of fun and also informational, this second book is a winner, winner, cow dinner. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Candlewick Press.