Tag: nature

Review: North Woods Girl by Aimee Bissonette

North Woods Girl by Aimee Bissonette

North Woods Girl by Aimee Bissonette, illustrated by Claudia McGehee (InfoSoup)

A girl tells about her grandmother who is not like other grandmas. She dresses in Grandpa’s old flannel shirts and she’s bony. She doesn’t bake cookies or pies, but she does take long walks out in nature. With her trusty walking stick, the two of them explore the little paths near Grandma’s house. Every season there are new things to see, things in the garden to do. The two love winter best of all, especially winter nights with a full moon when they explore the snowy woods. Grandma may not be like other grandma’s but she’s pretty special and a north woods girl to the quick.

Bissonette captures the spirit of a north woods woman beautifully in her picture book. From the no-fuss long grey braid, the flannel shirts, the stout boots to the way that nature speaks to her and that she knows it so well. This book is a celebration of the north woods too, the ways that the woods changes in different seasons, the animals that fill it, and the glory of a winter woods.

McGehee’s scratchboard illustrations have a rustic beauty. The colors are deep and lovely, and they capture the spirit of the woods. In fact, there are moments when you can almost smell the pines and the grass. There is a subtle multiculturalism here too with the little girl’s darker skin tone and curly hair. The pages are crowded with details of the woods, filled with animals and insects.

A lovely look at the northern woods, this picture book celebrates unique grandmothers living in a unique place. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Minnesota Historical Society Press.

Review: The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (InfoSoup)

Suzy knows that things happen for a reason. She loves nature and all of the facts about it and the way that science makes sense. But when her best friend drowns, Suzy just can’t make sense of it. They had fought before Franny left on vacation and now there is no way for Suzy to fix that. Suzy retreats into silence, refusing to speak to her parents or to anyone at school. As Suzy searches for a reason, she discovers that Franny might have been stung by a jellyfish. It is up to Suzy to prove that that is what happened and to let everyone see that there was a cause for Franny’s death. Filled with natural wonder and tangible grief, this book is an elegant and powerful look at how one child copes with loss.

Benjamin writes about nature with such awe, sharing facts about animals as if they were precious jewels. The facts about jellyfish alone are profound and concerning, allowing readers to understand Suzy’s fascination with them. Yet though these facts are in the book, it is Suzy’s inability to cope with reality that shines. Her unwillingness to accept that death can be an accident without any reason at all will speak to all readers.

Suzy is a great character. Filled with a powerful and all-encompassing grief, she becomes silent and yet somehow does not withdraw from life. Instead her silence allows her time to be more creative, more thoughtful about the loss she has experienced even while she is in denial about what has happened. Benjamin also beautifully tackles the grieving process, mingling it with the difficulties of middle school. Filled with flashbacks about the changing friendship of Franny and Suzy, this book addresses the way that even best friends grow apart.

Beautiful and luminous, this book is a powerful look at grief, loss and the way that we process our lives. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Where Do I End and You Begin? by Shulamith Oppenheim

Where Do I End and You Begin by Shulamith Oppenheim

Where Do I End and You Begin? by Shulamith Oppenheim, illustrated by Monique Felix (InfoSoup)

This poetic book asks deep questions about the interconnectedness of life and nature. It begins with a cat asking where it ends and its tail begins. How about a shell and a snail? Or a branch and a tree? Perhaps the sky and the sea? Each pairing gets readers thinking about whether they can tell where one stops and the other begins. Some of them are arguably doable, like the sky and sea where a boundary is evident, others though are real questions whether emotional like a hug or physical like the snail and its shell. This is a book filled with unanswerable questions that will get readers thinking about the importance of all types of connections in our lives.

The poem at the heart of this picture book is particularly beautifully written. It uses items that are familiar to children and then guides them to think about them in a new and surprising way, examining the connections. While the poem could be read very literally at times, other pairings in the book make sure that the questions are larger than the objects themselves, lifting it up to include the interconnectedness of all of us on the planet. This grand book is sure to start interesting discussions in classrooms and families.

The illustrations by Felix are delicate and luminous. They shine on the white background, interconnect with one another and play together too. The cat is found on the next page, walking the stair within the snail’s shell. A boy and girl are present on many of the pages too, exploring the way that humans fit into the world as well.

A superb picture book that asks profound questions and then celebrates the world and our connections with it. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: A Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder

Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder

A Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder (InfoSoup)

Luna lives in a swamp that was formed when a dam formed in the river by fallen trees. She lives with her mother, grandmother and little sister Willow in a village on stilts above the swamp water. Everyone in the village knows not to drink the swamp water, particularly the water near the slick. But when Luna has Willow out on her boat with her, water accidentally gets into her mouth. The water was helped by a creature who lives deep in the muck of the swamp. Now Willow only has a few weeks to live, since everyone exposed to the water dies at the exact same time after drinking it. Luna is desperate to find a way to save her sister, even going so far as to offer herself to the creature under the water. But that creature too has her own story that is wrapped around Luna and Willow’s. It too is a story of sisters and also a loss so deep that it poisons. In her desperation can Luna find a way to save her sister?

Crowder writes so beautifully. The setting of the swamp comes alive with her words, the creatures of the swamp, the trees, the colors, the smells and the subtle beauty. She takes what could have been a desolate poison swamp and instead wraps it in beauty and wonder. The magic that permeates the story is deep and dark, and keeps the humans trapped in the swamp with it. It’s lovely to see a fantasy book use magic in a way that is twisted and corrupted and yet entirely organic and realistic too.

The parallel stories of the two sets of sisters is delicately balanced. There is the main story of Luna and Willow, two human sisters who adore one another and the place they live. Then there are the water sprite sisters, Perdy and Gia. The sprites are trying to leave this world and build a door to another place that doesn’t have humans in it. Gia spends her time near the door, waiting for it to be complete while Perdy explores far and wide. But disaster happens once the door is completed and Gia is unable to call Perdy home fast enough.

Lushly written and filled with details that bring the swamp to life, this novel is a magnificent fantasy read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Story of Life by Catherine Barr

The Story of Life by Catherine Barr

The Story of Life: a First Book about Evolution by Catherine Barr and Steve Williams, illustrated by Amy Husband (InfoSoup)

Starting before there was life on earth, this nonfiction picture book takes readers on a journey from 4.5 billion years ago to today. Volcanoes and black ocean water with some areas that were warm from underwater volcanoes created the tiny bits that formed the basis of life. Cells started growing, some using sunlight, water and oxygen that changed the very earth itself. Over millions of years, cells developed into different forms of life and became the first animals. The seas became full of life and animals and plants started to expand to the land. Then an unknown disaster hit and most of the life on earth was destroyed. It became cold and dark, giving a chance for huge dinosaurs to emerge and take over. Millions of years passed again and insects and mammals appeared. A meteor hit the world though, and then it was time for the mammals to survive. Humans evolved from those mammals and spread across the world, bringing us to the present day.

This basic look at evolution offers a sense of the length of time that it has taken to get us from basic cells to humans today. On each two-page spread there is information on how long ago this scene was taking place. The text on the page has lots of information on the changes happening, the progress towards new life, and also the series of disasters that has caused sudden death on the planet. This is a fascinating look at evolution that is appropriate for even preschool children to begin to understand the science that created life on earth.

The illustrations by Husband are playful and fun. They add a lighthearted touch to the serious scientific information. At the same time, they are have scientific labels for important objects and ideas that let children better understand the progress of evolution that they are learning about.

A strong picture book that explores evolution and will inspire children to learn even more about prehistoric times. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Review: The Stranded Whale by Jane Yolen

Stranded Whale by Jane Yolen

The Stranded Whale by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Melanie Cataldo (InfoSoup)

In the fall of 1971, Sally and her brothers were walking home from school along the dunes in Maine. Sally spotted a big gray thing on the beach and realized that it was a stranded whale. The children grab their sweaters and use them to keep the whale wet. One of the brothers ran off to call for help and people from the community arrived with buckets. They tried rocking the whale to get it back to the ocean, but she was too big and they were too weak and small. Sally stayed by the whale’s huge eye, even as it breathed its final breath. The children were seen as heroes for what they did that day, but Sally knew that it would be so much more wonderful to have been able to see the whale return to the ocean.

Yolen writes with such poetry about nature that you are right there and experiencing it alongside Sally and her brothers. Yolen captures the world of the beach in her poems, showing all of the small living things that Sally dashes by on her way to the ocean with her sweater. Most evocative are the scents of the whale, who smells “of fear and deep water” at first. Then the whale last breath:

The sigh smelled like seaweed,

like lobsters in Dad’s traps,

like gutted fish on the pier.

Such imagery that captures in a subtle way the scent of death too.

Cataldo’s illustrations make sure to keep the scale of the enormous whale consistent from one page to the next. On some pages there is an expanse of grey flesh with one huge eye looking out. The effect is humbling, showing that nature is both bigger than us and also a part of us too. The illustrations are beautifully done, playing light and dark against one another as the whale slowly perishes.

A brave book that does not shy away from grief or wonder. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton

Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton

Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton (InfoSoup)

A little boy has lots and lots of different wishes that he hopes come true. He wishes to be able to fly, to breathe underwater, that the robot he drew could come to life. Then they could play together in the rain that would come in seven different colors and flavors. He wishes for fangs and a tail. He wishes to be able to talk to animals and to have lots of wild and strange pets. But in the end, he mostly wishes that something extraordinary would happen to him. Something real. And suddenly, it does!

Clanton excels at taking very simple premises for his books and making them into something engaging and intelligent. In this book, it is all about wishes and dreams with a big dollop of imagination too. The bulk of the book is spent with the boy and his wild wishes that he only hopes could come true. In the end though, the book comes down to earth and the boy just wants something amazing to happen in real life. He takes a moment then to look around himself and realizes that there are wonderful things happening right there, especially out in nature.

The artwork here is understated and subtle. Even during his wildest and most colorful wishes, the colors are muted and subdued. It isn’t until the ending when the boy realizes that there is wonder around him in real life that the colors lose their subtlety and start to really sing.

Big dreams and wild wishes may not come to fruition here, but reality is certainly “something extraordinary” in the end. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.