Nest by Jorey Hurley
This simple and elegant picture book takes a look at a year in the life of a robin. It begins with an egg in a nest and two proud parents. By the next page, the egg has hatched into one very hungry baby bird. As the tree flowers, the little bird is fed by its parents. Then comes the first flight as a speckled robin chick. There are berries on the tree to feast on and when autumn comes the green leaves have turned orange and yellow and started to fall. The last of the berries are eaten while snow flies in the sky. As spring returns, the young robin meets another young robin and they build their own nest together. All of this is told in images since the text of the book is simple single words on each double-spread picture. This is a beautiful and impressive book for the youngest children.
Hurley’s illustrations are strong and clear. Done in PhotoShop, the illustrations have the feel of cut-paper collage in their simplicity. They will project well to a group of children. The storyline is far more than the words on the page, and children will want to discuss what is happening throughout the book.
A wonderful pick for spring units, this book is a celebration of nature and seasons. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
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.
A Year with Marmalade by Alison Reynolds, illustrated by Heath McKenzie
One autumn, Maddy told Ella that she is going away for a year and asked her to take care of her cat, Marmalade. Both Ella and Marmalade cry and cry when Maddy leaves. Ella can’t find anyone to play in the leaves with her, pick and munch apples, or stomp in puddles. Then one frosty morning, Ella wakes up to find her feet warm and Marmalade sleeping on her bed. As winter arrives, Ella and Marmalade get closer and closer. Spring comes and the two work together in the garden and head to the beach together. Maddy returns with the autumn, but what will happen now with Marmalade?
This book is a smart mix of waiting for a friend to return and seasons. Along the way, there is also the chance to make a new friend too. The dance of the seasons moves the story along nicely, creating a timeline along which readers can see the relationship between Ella and Marmalade growing and changing.
It is the illustrations that make this book more than just a book about friendship in a crowded picture book market. McKenzie combines black and white line drawings with bursts of color. Marmalade is always shown as a pop of orange, while the human characters remain black and white. The effect has an appealing lightness.
A picture book about moving, friendships and change, this lovely little picture book would make a nice addition to units on seasons as well. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheeler
This book will sweep you up like a breath of brisk autumn air. Miss Maple is a little woman who spends her entire summer searching for seeds that have not gotten planted in the spring. She brings them back to her maple tree and nurses them back to strength. She washes them off, warns them to take care because they are so small, takes them on field trips to learn about being a seed, and reads them bedtime stories. In winter they all burrow down together and fill the time with songs and stories. Then when spring arrives, the seeds learn to dance in the rain and sink into muddy ground. In May, it is time for the seeds to find the places they will grow, so Miss Maple launches them off. Miss Maple then starts her journey with the seeds all over again, heading off on the back of a bluebird to find another year’s worth of stranded seeds. Lovely and warm, this picture book is a joyous celebration of the seasons and the plants around us.
Wheeler has created a tiny motherly figure in Miss Maple, someone who loves and cares just for the good of the earth. As the book progresses, she becomes almost a Mother Earth figure as her world turns with the seasons. Wheeler’s writing is filled with wonderful small moments and details. Miss Maple reads bedtime stories “by firefly light” and during the winter her animal neighbors share “supplies of hot maple syrup, old corn husks, and juicy fruit rinds.”
Her illustrations show that same attention to detail. This small world is filled with little touches that make it come alive. The frogs in the nearby pond have a house in a log complete with front door and paned windows. The seeds all sleep in small, cozy beds that are perfectly designed for seeds their size. Then when Miss Maple launches the seeds off, she does it with winged baskets and other vessels that glow and float on the water. This is a completely formed world that all readers will want to linger in.
Cozy and lovely, this picture book is a celebration of seasons and the earth, but it is also a reflection on the skill and care of nurturing. Get this one for your Earth Day units and pull it out when covering seasons too. Though I think it would be best of all curled up under warm blankets and watching autumn arrive. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.
Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd
This lovely wordless book explores the changing seasons in a subtle and engaging way. The book starts on the inside of a house with a young boy and a little black dog. The boy is planting seeds in pots while the dog watches and two white mice play. Through the die cut windows, you can see the snowmen in the yard. Turn the page and you are outside with those snowmen, the birds eating the seeds. Turn again and you are inside once more, this time able to glimpse flowering trees out the window. The plants in the pots are green and growing too. The boy is hanging pictures on the walls about birds and snowmen melting. Keep turning and the seasons change, marked by activities, the pictures on the walls, and what you can see through the windows.
There is a wonderful organic feel to this book, partly thanks to the textured brown paper that serves as the background for all of the images. That feel is also helped by the color scheme of greens, blues and terra cotta. The die cuts are used very skillfully throughout, offering glimpses from inside to outside and back again. The wordless nature of the book makes it a universal story, ideal for being shared with families who may use another language at home.
Filled with small details that will have children looking back at previous pages when they discover something new, this book is perfect for lingering over on long trips or snuggled in someone’s lap. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Fall was ending and winter was coming, but before he hibernated, Bear had a story to tell. Unfortunately, the other animals were too busy to hear the story. Mouse was gathering seeds and when Bear helped Mouse find lots of seeds, Mouse tunneled underground for the winter. Duck was getting ready to fly south and all Bear had time to do was check the wind direction for him and say he would miss Duck before he flew off. Frog too was looking for a warm place to sleep. Bear helped dig a hole for him to sleep in. Mole was already way underground and asleep. So Bear too headed off to sleep. When spring came, Bear still had a story to share. Soon his friends were gathered around him to listen, and you will have to read the book to find out what story he shared!
The husband/wife team behind the Caldecott winning A Sick Day for Amos McGee have returned with a book that has a quiet, contemplative beauty that is haunting. It’s one of those picture books that can be read as a quick bedtime story, but has so much more depth than that. Bear’s rather lonely start to his hibernation also has a series of close connections to friends. His spring wake up is filled with a warmth that echoes the seasonal change.
The writing is gentle and filled with small details that really show the slowing nature of the start of winter. There is time to count the clouds and look at the color of the leaves, at least for Bear. The connections between Bear and his many friends are also written with a richness that adds much to the story. The circular nature of the ending is also an invitation to start the book all over again. One that readers will be happy to accept.
Erin Stead’s illustrations have a beautiful delicacy to them. The rounded shoulders of the very furry Bear show a patience and yet a weight too. There are moments of celebration, when Bear is rolling in the newly lush grass that are filled with cheer. It is especially remarkable near the lonely and poignant image of Bear alone as the first snow begins to fall. Lovely.
It’s the perfect time of year to read this book, ease yourself into the winter months and quietly wish autumn farewell. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Mark Hearld (InfoSoup link)
Explore nature through the seasons in this lush book of poetry that starts with the first moments of spring with melting icicles and the green shoots of bulbs. Summer is filled with butterflies, chickens, baby birds and bees. Autumn comes with leaves, wind, geese and acorns. And winter ends the year filled with snow, deer and ducks. The poems range from merry verse with lighter tones to atmospheric pieces that make you stop and think. It is this range of moods and depth that makes the book so very readable and enjoyable.
Davies’ poems are all very child friendly, offering new perspectives on familiar things. Her poem, “Night”, is one of my favorites of the book, though there are many to choose from that are incredible reads. It capture the movement of the night, the feel of the quiet, and the sense of the world turning beneath you. It’s quiet, beautiful, and captivating.
Add to these dynamic poems the art of Hearld and you have a real jewel of a book. Illustrated with collage that combines paper cutout work, layers of texture, and realistic depiction of nature. This realism emphasizes the beauty of nature, its diversity, and our own place in the world. These are images that make you dream but also put your feet squarely on the earth and your connection to it.
Gorgeous illustrations combine with vibrant poems, creating a book to treasure. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Leaf Can Be… by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Violeta Dabija
Explore leaves throughout the seasons in this work of poetry. The book focuses less on the science of leaves and much more on their impact, their dance on the wind, the shade they spill, and the color they give. Told in verse that will work very well with young children, this book captures the wonder of nature.
This is a dance of a book with rhymes and rhythms that really sparkle. Much of the book is done in two-word lines that encapsulate one aspect of leaves, “sun taker” and “food maker,” and then in the autumn, “pile grower” and “hill glow-er.”
Dabija’s art is jewel-toned and dynamic. Her work is infused with merriment and joy. She uses layers and transparency to great effect, capturing the beauty of nature. One particularly striking page is her “frost catcher” where the layers of her work shine and the details are luminous.
A great book to use in a unit about trees, this is also a book that invites exploring a poem. Exquisite writing is well matched with rich art in this book. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
This enchanting book starts with the brown of late winter. It’s the brown that you have to plant seeds into in the hopes of green coming soon. But then you have to wait for rain, hope that the birds didn’t eat the seeds, realize that the bears may have stomped too close to the seeds because they can’t read signs, and then you have to wait some more. It stays brown, but even the brown starts to change and seem more hopeful and humming. Then you wait some more, and then one day, if you are patient and keep caring for your newly planted seeds, you wake up to green!
Oh how I love this book! In her poetic prose, Fogliano captures the patience of gardening, the drudgery of late winter, and the hope that must be invested in order to see seeds spring to life. I had expected the birds eating the seeds, but the stomping bears led me to realize that this was more playful a book than I had originally expected, something I love to have happen in the middle of a picture book!
Add to this the illustrations of Caldecott winner Stead and you have such a winning book. Her art has a delicacy that is perfect for the whispers of early spring. The boy in the story is thin, wear glasses, and by the time spring finally comes has created quite a garden with birdfeeders, signs, and plenty of lumps of dirt. By far my favorite part comes at the end, where the garden does not burst into flowers but remains weedy and lumpy, but green. Perfection.
Doing a spring story time soon? Get your hands on this book! Ideal for classes planting a garden or all of us longing for the green to return. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Seasons by Anne Crausaz
Explore and celebrate the seasons in this lovely picture book. A little girl moves through the seasons, seeing each one through the changes in nature that occur. She experiences them with all of her senses: seeing the green of spring, smelling the tomatoes, basil, verbena and mint in the garden in summer, tasting the blackberries in fall, and feeling the cold of snow in winter. This is a book that reminds all of us to treasure the time we currently in, to slow down and notice the seasons, to savor the tastes and smells around us.
Crausaz’s text is spare and poetic, allowing readers to experience the moments in the book without any excess words. A few sentences per page at most, the book takes readers through a sensory journey where they too can remember the colors, smells, tastes, sounds and feels of each season.
Her art is equally simple. Using only a few lines to denote facial features, the illustrations are done in bright colors that play well against each other. The horizon is done in colored bands, the sky and clouds in other colors, trees and leaves play against that background. It is a stylized and very successful look for a picture book.
While the seasonal picture book shelf can get crowded, this fresh, poetic book should find a place there. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Kane Miller EDC Publishing.
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