Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre and His World of Insects by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Giuliano Ferri (InfoSoup)
In a small French village lives a strange man who is interested in the smallest of creatures, the insects around us. He lures flies with dead animals that he pays the children in the village to find. His home is filled with specimens. No one realized that he was one of the greatest naturalists of his time. Jean-Henri Fabre grew up in the countryside where he was fascinated by the natural world around him. No one else seemed interested in the same things that he was, but that didn’t deter him from investigating them. Henri became a teacher and studied hard, but not about insects. It was not until a book rekindled his interest that he started to study them in a serious way as an adult. He discovered things about insects that no one else had ever seen and he documented them fully. So when scientists in France nominated one of their own for a tremendous national honor, they voted for Fabre.
Smith writes with a gentle tone throughout, documenting Fabre’s entire life from his childhood to the great honor he received from his peers and his nation. The story starts with the arrival of the president of France for the award and then shows how Fabre’s fascination with insects started as a boy. The period of time when insects were not a focus is clear but also brief and then the book grows almost merry as it documents the many accomplishments of this humble man who followed his own interests in science.
The illustrations are pastoral and lovely. They capture the beauty of the French countryside and also the wonder of the insects, showing them in great detail. There is a playfulness to the illustrations that also reflects the childlike joy that Fabre found in his wonder about insects.
A lovely book about a scientist who followed his own dreams and interests to great acclaim. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Sweep Up the Sun by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder (InfoSoup)
The pair who created Step Gently Out return with another gorgeous book connecting young readers to nature. This picture book focuses on birds and flight, using the metaphor to encourage young people to “fly” themselves and spread their own wings in life. The poem at the heart of the book is simple and lovely, creating a sense of wonder and opportunity. The photographs dynamically capture eleven species of birds in flight and in their natural habitats. There are wide-mouthed babies in the nest and incredible pictures of birds in full flight, like the one on the cover. This is a book that inspires both in words and images.
Frost is a gifted poet who has written novels in verse for older readers as well as picture books for younger readers. Her words here create a positive feeling of strength for the reader, showing them what is possible. At the same time, her poem is also beautifully written, creating imagery that is tangible and that will make sense for children. One of my favorites is that wings are “stitching earth to sky with invisible thread.”
Lieder’s photographs are simply stunning. He has captured birds in poses that are dramatic and amazing, leaving plenty of dappled light and green on the page for the poetry to shine next to his images. I found myself leaning into the book to look even more closely at the structure of wing and feather on the page.
I hope there will be more collaboration between these two since their first two books are so noteworthy. This vibrant picture book will be at home equally in units on birds and poetry. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
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.
Here in the Garden by Briony Stewart
Released March 1, 2015.
This import from Australia tells the seasonal story of a boy and his garden. A boy spends time in his backyard, but is missing someone. The wind blows, he plants seedlings in the garden, and dreams of his special someone joining his side. When the rain comes, he watches from the back steps, still missing the one who would love to see the garden turn so green. Summer comes with its sunshine and heat and the boy continues to feel his loss but begins to realize that he can still be in touch with the one he misses by being out in nature and enjoying the same things they used to do together.
Stewart beautifully allows the book to speak to anyone who has experienced loss. In the end though, this book is clearly about the loss of a pet rabbit, the same one who is pictured at the boy’s side throughout the story. That reveal is done tenderly and gently, clearly tying the boy to nature and to his memories of all the times they had together. It’s beautifully and caringly presented.
Stewart’s art is washed in watercolors, colors that sweep and blow across the page, evoking the movement of air and the freshness of outdoors. Though the book is filled with loneliness, the art remains resolutely lovely and cheery. Even the one in the dark of night is filled with a light that illuminates.
A quiet story of grief, loss and the healing power of nature, this is a lovely little foreign title. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Kane Miller.
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.
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.
What Forest Knows by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by August Hall
This poetic exploration of the seasons invites young readers into the forest to see what happens to the animals and plants as the seasons change. It begins with snow, which is something the forest knows well. It also knows about waiting, so it waits as the animals in the forest sleep and rest during the cold. Then buds come and creeks run and birds fly and it’s spring. All of the animals and insects awaken and come out into the growing grass. Fruit arrives with fall, nuts ready for squirrels to harvest. Animals eat to survive the next winter. Finally, there is snow again in the forest and an invitation to make the forest yours too.
Lyon’s poem is glorious. She winds through the forest along with the breezes, touching down and pointing out exactly the right things. It’s a poem that is organic and natural, celebrating everything in the woods, the ongoing changes, and allowing us to see ourselves reflected in the woods as well. This book is an invitation to explore during all seasons, to look for birds and bugs and mammals as we walk.
Hall’s illustrations add to that immense appeal of nature and the forest. His paintings play with the light as it changes through the seasons as well as the colors of the trees and the grass as the time passes. They are dappled and lush, filled with the movement of the wind and the movement of the leaves.
A great addition to the crowded shelves about seasons, this picture book combines poetry with gorgeous illustrations. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Sequoia by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Wendell Minor
This is a poem about Sequoia, a giant and ancient tree and how he lives through the year. As the seasons change, Sequoia opens his arms and gathers different things to him. He gathers owls to him in the springtime when he is cloaked in green. When fires come in the heat of summer, he gathers flames to him. As the birds fly away in the autumn, he gathers one last crow. In the winter, he gathers snow. He also listens quietly and deeply to the nature around him and shares stories that he has gathered over time with the smaller cedars. This picture book is a celebration of ancient trees and this one sequoia in particular.
Johnston uses repetition very skillfully in his poem. It is enough of a structure to allow children to have something to lean on when reading, but the poem is also free too. It’s a strong mix of structure and freedom that is perfect for a tree poem. As the seasons change, children will see nature change as well. There is a joy to this work, a dedication to preservation of trees like this, and a thrill in the wildness of nature. Johnston uses gorgeous imagery throughout that further ties the wild to this tree and how he feels.
Minor’s illustrations are exceptional. They carry the beauty of the verse to new heights as readers get to see the glory of this single sequoia standing so tall above everything else. Yet Minor also makes sure that Sequoia is part of the nature around him. The light is beautiful in these images streaming through the trees in beams, bright dawn on other pages, and the softness of twilight at others.
A wild and beautiful poetic celebration of a tree, this book is less about the facts of sequoia trees and more about the experience of one. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Winter Is Coming by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim LaMarche
A stunningly gorgeous picture book about the changing seasons, this is a perfect way to welcome winter even when you don’t want it to arrive. The book begins on a cold day in September with a girl out in nature watching the animals. She has along her drawing pad and climbs into a tree house to see even better. From that platform, she sees a red fox stealing the last wrinkled fall apple from a low branch. A mother bear and her cub are also in the woods searching for food. As fall progresses, she sees different animals: a family of skunks, rabbits, woodpeckers, a lynx, chipmunks, deer and geese. All are preparing for the approaching winter in their own way. As winter gets closer, the animals stop appearing until the day the snow arrives when the red fox is out to see it too.
Johnston has created a book that truly shows children what it is like to be surrounded by the wonder of nature during one changing season. Her poetry sparks on the page, showing not only the different animals but also explaining what is beautiful and special about each one. Even more mundane animals like the chipmunks get this honor. Young readers will be inspired to get outside and sit still and just watch.
The art from LaMarche is stunning. He takes advantage of the length of the pages and creates wide landscapes that embrace the changing colors of the seasons. They turn from the bright yellows of early fall to the deeper reds and browns and then to the chill grays of winter. He uses light beautifully throughout and various perspectives that all center around one tree and one girl. It is extraordinary.
Perfect pick for just this time of year, get your hands on this beautiful picture book and then be ready for adventures outside, hopefully with your own pen and paper along. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrated by CaTia Chien
This is a stellar autobiographical picture book written by and about a wildlife conservationist. Alan was a boy who could not speak clearly. He battled stuttering all of the time except when he talked with animals. When he visited the great cat house at the Bronx Zoo, he could whisper fluently into the ears of the cats. He also spent a lot of time with his pets at home, speaking to them and telling them that if he ever found his own voice, he would serve as their voice since they had none and would keep them from harm. Alan became the first person to study jaguars. In Belize he felt at home in the jungle. He worked to protect the jaguars and eventually had to speak for them in front of the President of Belize, hoping to save their habitat from destruction. But can he speak clearly in the short 15 minutes he’s been given?
This book is made all the more compelling by the fact that it is true. It gives readers a glimpse into the world of a child struggling with a disability, one that mars every verbal interaction he has. And thanks to his ability with animals, readers quickly see beyond the stutter to the boy himself and to the gifts that he has to offer. Even better, once Alan becomes an adult, readers get to see a man who is taking advantage of his uniqueness to make a difference in the world and for the animals he cares for so much.
Chien’s art is rich and varied. She moves from backgrounds of wine red to brilliant yellow to the deep greens of the Belize jungles. She shows an isolated boy, alone that contrasts beautifully with the man working happily alone in the jungle – so similar and yet so very different.
An extraordinary autobiography, this book shows readers not to judge anyone by how they speak but rather by what they do. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.