Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Steve Jenkins
Told in rhyme, this book explores the many different ways that birds create nests for their eggs and babies. The jaunty rhyme is accompanied by informational text on each species and their habitats and nest building style. Bird species range from penguins to falcons to flamingos. There are also more unusual birds like weaverbirds as shown on the cover of the book.
Ward’s rhyme works well here, offering a playful feel to a book filled with scientific information. She has also selected a great mix of species with familiar birds mixed in with more exotic ones. Each has its own unusual way of creating a nest, making this a book where turning the page is part of the adventure.
As always, Jenkins’ cut paper art is spectacular. He manages to create so much life with textured paper and different colors. From the subtle colors of a cactus plant to the feathers on an owl’s wing, this art is lovely and makes this book very special.
Intelligently and beautifully presented, this nonfiction picture book will entice young readers to learn even more about birds. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
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.
Weeds Find a Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, illustrated by Carolyn Fisher
Weeds are the most tenacious of plants, growing where nothing else can survive. This informational picture book looks at how these weeds are able to live in such harsh conditions. It also explores the various ways that weeds reproduce from fluffy seeds carried on the wind to being pokey and sticky and carried along on clothes and fur. Weeds can survive scorching heat and icy cold. They fight back by having stems that break before their roots are pulled out, sour sap or thorns. But in the end, this book is about survival and the beauty and wonder of weeds. It’s a celebration of these unwanted plants.
The author has written this book in prose, but uses poetic devices like analogies and similes to show how weeds thrive. Her language choices are very nice such as her depiction of milkweed: “…shot out of tight, dry pods like confetti from a popped balloon.” Throughout the book there are descriptions like this and they bring the entire book a certain shine.
Fisher’s art is standout in this book. Her illustrations are a dynamic mix of painting styles. There are layers throughout her work, some smooth and detailed, others large and textured for the backgrounds, and almost lacy weedy touches. They are strikingly lovely especially if you look at them closely, rather like the weeds they depict.
A choice addition to gardening story times, this will make a good summer or spring pick to share. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen
Feathers do so many things for birds and this book looks at all of the ways that feathers help birds in the wild. Sixteen different birds are featured in the book, each one with a specific focus on what they use their feathers for. There is the wood duck who lines her nest with feathers to keep her eggs cushioned. The red-tailed hawk uses their feather to protect them from the sun as they fly for hours. Other birds use their feathers in unique ways like the rosy-faced lovebird who tucks nesting materials into her rump feathers to take back to where she is building her nest. Towards the end of the book, the author looks at all of the different sorts of feathers that birds have.
Stewart tells readers in her Author Note that this was a book she had worked on for some time as an idea. Her use of metaphors to show what feathers do is an inspired choice, making the book all the more accessible for children. She provides details with specific birds, explaining how they use their feathers and also providing little pieces of information on how the birds live and their habitats.
The watercolor illustrations are done to look like a naturalists field journal with scraps of paper, loose feathers, notes, cup rings, and scraps of fabric. All of the images of the birds have their locations as well, adding to the field journal feel. The result is richly visual book that may inspire readers to start their own bird journals.
This is a book that will instruct and amaze, just the right sort of science book for young readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.
Maple by Lori Nichols
This is one amazing debut picture book. Maple loved her name. When she was a baby, her parents had planted a maple tree in their yard. It was tiny just like her and as Maple grew so did the maple tree. Her tree never minded if she was loud even though her parents did sometimes. Maple loved to be outside with her tree. She would sway along with it, pretend to be a tree and spend time gazing up into its branches and leaves. When the tree lost its leaves in the fall, Maple gave it her coat to keep it warm. Throughout the winter, the two played together. Then in the spring, there were new surprises! A new tree in the ground and a new baby in the family. It is Maple who figures out exactly what to do to keep her new sister happy.
Clever and very satisfying, this book is an exceptional debut. Nichols sets just the right tone with her prose. From the very first page, you know that she understands children’s books and the way to structure and write them. The story is clearly presented and the arc of the tale is nicely plotted and designed. One knows that it is building towards something, but the book is willing to take the right amount of time to get there. The book reads like a veteran author wrote it.
The illustrations are also impressive. They have a lovely softness to them that is very pleasing. The colors are muted but very effective. My favorite pages are when Maple looks up into the tree and you see her through the leaves. It is all beautifully done.
Take it from someone who named one of her children after a tree and then planted one for him to grow up with, this book captures children, love for nature and new siblings with grace and style. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.
The River by Alessandro Sanna
Travel through four seasons along the Po River in this breathtakingly beautiful book. Made almost entirely of watercolor images shown as either full-page or a series of panels, this book asks readers to pay close attention to the images and discover the story told there. Each season starts with a brief paragraph that offers clues to what is going to happen. Autumn is a season of floods. Winter is described as warm, which will surprise many young readers as will the newborn calf. Spring is music and white clouds. Summer is dry and hot. Each of those seasons is brought to life with the watercolor images with palettes that change through the seasons, purples in autumn, blues in winter, gold in summer. Each more beautiful than the last, so that you just want to begin it again when it ends.
This is the first book by Sanna to be printed in the United States, but he is well known in his native Italy. He has created a book here that is artistic and wildly lovely. Told primarily through his art, the storylines are consistently seasonal, intense and surprising. The use of the river as a symbol for the passage of time works perfectly here. The changing colors also serve to remind readers that time is passing, change is constant and the world is gorgeous.
One big question with this book is what age it is appropriate for. With its minimal words, it might be expected to be perfect for small children, but thanks to its artistic approach, I believe the audience is quite a bit older. Children who enjoy art will be able to appreciate it in elementary school. Yet the audience I see really loving this book are middle and high school teens who will delight in the watercolors, the surprises and a picture book that suits them well.
Beautiful, moving and vast, this nearly wordless picture book will be enjoyed by elementary aged children through adults.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Wild by Emily Hughes
When the baby girl was found in the woods by the animals, the entire woods took her in. Bird taught her to talk. Bear taught her to fish. Fox taught her how to play. Everything was good, until she met some people in the woods. They took her home with them. A famous psychiatrist took her in and tried to make her civilized. They combed her hair, tried to teach her to speak, frowned at her table manners and didn’t appreciate the way she played. Everything they did was wrong. The girl was not happy at all. But then one day, she found her wild once more.
Told only in brief sentences, Hughes lets her art tell much of the story here. And what a glorious story it is. It’s the story of a child perfectly at home in the wild and with the animals. She doesn’t long for society or civilization in any way. She’s the opposite of many classic book characters like Curious George. She rejects the rules and substitutes her own.
The art has a wonderful wild quality as well. It is lush and filled with details. The woods have a flowing green that is mesmerizing. Once the humans enter the story, things become more angular and rigid. The return to the woods is beautiful and completely satisfying.
Hughes has tapped into what every child dreams of, living in the woods with the animals and thriving. Everyone who reads this will want to be wild themselves. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
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.
Wild Berries by Julie Flett
Clarence has gone berry picking with his grandmother since he was a baby. Now he is big enough to carry his own bucket as they walk and sing. The two of them pick the berries, Grandma looking for the sweet ones and Clarence for the bigger, sour ones that pop. They pick the berries and eat the berries. Then Clarence looks around the woods and sees different insects, spiders, and a fox. It is time to go home, they say thank you and walk back home together.
This book weaves Cree into the story, separating the words out and providing pronunciation information at the end of the book. Even these few Cree words evoke a different feeling, a new rhythm that is powerful. Flett tells a very simple story here about going out to pick berries in the forest. Yet it is a timeless story, one the embraces wildlife, the environment, and giving thanks for the bounty of nature.
Flett’s art is a beautiful mix of cut paper collage, texture and painting. She manages to show the depth of the woods without darkness. She uses bright colors that pop on Grandma’s red skirt and the red sun in the sky. The grass is drawn in individual blades and the tree bark varies from paper art to marker lines. Put together, it is a rich and beautiful book.
Simple, powerful and honest, this picture book celebrates Cree and nature together. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
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.