The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom by Lita Judge

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The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom by Lita Judge (9781250237071)

Through a combination of poetry and science facts, this nonfiction picture book invites readers into the amazing things that trees can do. The book starts with a young beech tree in the Ruhe Forest in Germany, starting to show readers that trees have a language with one another and live much longer than humans do. The roots of the trees act like an instant message web, sending chemical and electrical signals to one another. Trees also have amazing ways to protect themselves from predators, or over-grazing from giraffes. They create our climate, processing carbon dioxide and offering shelter and cool in their ecosystems. They can ask for help from their neighbor trees, who will send them extra nutrients via their root systems. They offer shelter and food to animals. They can tell time via the light, knowing when seasons are changing. The list goes on and on, creating a sense of wonder about the trees that surround us all.

Judge’s poems capture the world from the perspective of the trees themselves. They show what it feels like to be someone’s home, how they continue to live even after they have fallen, how it feels to nurture baby trees, and how it feels to soar high into the sky with your branches. Judge shares facts that truly elevate children’s understanding of trees and how they communicate with one another. The information is fascinating, offering a glimpse into a hidden world. The book ends with an extensive Author’s Note sharing more information, a glossary of terms and a list of sources and websites.

As always, Judge’s illustrations are marvelous. She captures the depths of the forest, the sunbeams kissing the younger trees. She invites us underground to see a den and the roots communicating. She shows us a variety of seasons, from the mellow tones of fall to the cool greens of spring to the ice of winter and the sun of summer. She is a master of light and movement, showing us perspectives that also amaze.

A great nonfiction read that will have young scientists fascinated by their own backyards. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.

The Snail with the Right Heart by Maria Popova

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The Snail with the Right Heart by Maria Popova, illustrated by Ping Zhu (9781592703494)

Beginning with the mutations and evolution that brought life to Earth, this picture book soon focuses on snails as they climb out of the water and onto land. Mutations continued to happen, including to one specific snail who was discovered by a retired scientist. It was a smaller snail than normal, with a darker shell and a tentacle that had trouble unspooling, and a shell that spiraled in the opposite direction than other snails’. The scientist sent the unique snail to a snail laboratory where it was named Jeremy. It turned out that Jeremy’s body was a mirror image of most other snail’s and he also had inverted internal organs. Because of that, Jeremy could only mate with another mirror image snail, another one in a million. So the snail laboratory made a plea for the entire world to look for another “lefty” snail. Amazingly, in only a few weeks, two potential mates were found and sent to the snail laboratory. When eventually Jeremy had offspring, he was so old that he didn’t live to see them arrive. Sadly, none of the new snails had a left-spiraling shell. The mutation was once again dormant, but it will return again.

Inspired by a true story, this picture book is a touching mix of poetic description and scientific facts. Popova’s language embraces the reader, showing them the beauty and wonder in mutation, genetics and evolution. She marvels at finding two potential mates in the world for Jeremy and then delicately celebrates Jeremy’s life at the end. She writes with real intention both to reveal the amazing nature around us but also to describe the science, including Jeremy’s mirror image body, the way that snails mate, and the work of the scientists who cared enough to explore his mutation.

Zhu’s illustrations are awash in colors, from the blues of the original waters of life to the rich green of English gardens. Done in watercolor swirls and drips, the illustrations are a mix of close ups from a snail’s view and the bustle of humans transporting Jeremy and the other snails. There is even a lovely foldout page that invites readers to even more fully enter the depths of the garden.

Full of wonder and science. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion.

Jump at the Sun: The True Life of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston by Alicia D. Williams

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Jump at the Sun: The True Life of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston by Alicia D. Williams, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (9781534419131)

As a little girl growing up in Eatonville, Zora loved to listen to stories. She listened to stories of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox at the general store. Zora told her own stories too, to anyone who would listen. But her father didn’t approve of her storytelling, since he considered it telling lies. Her mother though, didn’t want her children growing up to till the land, so she encourage Zora to “jump at de sun.” When Zora’s mother died, she was sent to the Florida Baptist Academy boarding school. Zora loved the books there, but soon her school fees were not paid and she had to leave. She didn’t stay long with her family, quickly moving out and finding work though she kept getting fired or quitting. She only loved the times when she could spin stories. Zora decided to return to high school and graduate, so she lied about her age of 26, claiming she was 16. After graduating, she headed to Howard University and decided to become an author, writing her stories of Eatonville. So she moved to New York and eventually sent out some of her stories to a magazine contest. Zora made another leap after she got attention from winning the contest and got a scholarship to another college where she was assigned to collect Negro folklore, something she had been doing since she was a child!

Williams writes Hurston’s biography with such energy and appreciation. She takes the statement Hurston’s mother made and turns it not only into the title of the book but also into a sentiment woven throughout the entire story, showing the connection between Hurston’s success, her talent and her willingness to make leaps of faith to new opportunities. There is bravery and resilience on these pages, shining in the sunlight as Hurston takes risks in the most inspiring ways.

The illustrations are marvelously colorful, filling the pages with Eatonville, various colleges and the dynamic feel of New York City. All of the pages are full-page art, taking the color right to the edge of the page, glowing with streaming sunlight, peach, green, blue and reds.

A shining leap of a picture book biography that suits its subject perfectly. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter by Shani Mahiri King

Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter by Shani Mahiri King, illustrated by Bobby C. Martin, Jr. (9780884488897)

King explains fiercely and openly that Black lives matter, and that they always have mattered. He pulls examples from history, filling the pages with lists of names and accomplishments. There are political figures, artists, musicians, athletes and many more. He reminds readers that Black lives died for our country’s independence. He shares quotes from great Black minds, like Malcolm X, W. E. B. Dubois, and James Baldwin. He uses the refrain of “Have I ever told you…” to open another list of names, share another chapter of history, and demonstrate again and again and again that Black lives are valuable, they matter, and they matter to us all.

The design of this book is almost in two separate pieces. The first part matches the cover art, using gorgeous bold text design to share the words of empowerment that fill the book, that share examples of Black figures, their words and their impact on the world. The book also has silhouettes of some of the people, shadowed in vibrant color. Then the book turns to facts about each of the Black people who are mentioned in the first part of the book. These pages turn a cool blue, sharing details of their lives, quotes from each of them, and offering a glimpse into their greatness.

A dynamic and insistent book that affirms just how much Black lives matter. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Tilbury House Publishers.

The Boy Whose Head Was Filled with Stars: A Life of Edwin Hubble by Isabelle Marinov

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The Boy Whose Head Was Filled with Stars: A Life of Edwin Hubble by Isabelle Marinov, illustrated by Deborah Marcero (9781592703173)

Born in the late 1800s, Edwin loved the stars from a young age. At eight, he was given a telescope by his grandfather, and they headed into the Missouri night to see the stars up close. Edwin was a good student who loved math and learning about the universe, but his father wanted him to do something else with his life. So Edwin studied law before becoming a high school teacher. It wasn’t until after his father’s death that Edwin felt he could study astronomy. His first job was at Mount Wilson Observatory, the world’s largest telescope. There, he spent years studying the Andromeda nebula, eventually proving that it was a separate galaxy. Edwin continued to classify and learn more about galaxies, discovering that they move away from each other and that the further away they are, the faster they move. Eventually, the Hubble Telescope was launched, named after this man who studied the stars and increased our understanding of the universe.

In her debut picture book, Marinov shows real skill in taking a lifetime of accomplishments and making them accessible for young readers. She writes with a tone that shares the facts of Hubble’s life but also shares his personality, his wonder at the universe and the hard work and resilience it took for him to make his discoveries. As Hubble and others ask big questions about the universe, these statements are done in a silver print that elevates them and will have the reader marveling along.

The illustrations are done in a whimsical style that uses fine ink lines to share small details of large telescopes and landscapes. Using the darkest of black ink, Marcero illuminates her pages with stars that sweep across the paper. One gatefold opens to reveal a series of nebulae to wonder at.

A strong and interesting look at one of the most famous astronomers. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion.

Try It!: How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat by Mara Rockliff

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Try It!: How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Giselle Potter (9781534460072)

When Frieda Caplan started working at the Seventh Street produce market in Los Angeles, there were only potatoes, bananas, tomatoes and apples for sale. Caplan thought it might be work giving something new a try. So she started selling mushrooms. Soon she was known as the Mushroom Queen and had her own stall at the market. She became known as a person who would taste anything and started selling kiwis, jicama, blood oranges, Asian pears and much more. Over the years she introduced consumers to many new things, including seedless watermelons in 1962, horned melon in 1984, and fresh lychee in 2015. Caplan’s daughters now work with her in her produce stall, introducing finds of their own and offering their unique and informed view of what the next big thing might be.

Rockliff offers a dynamic look at the woman who changed how America eats fruits and vegetables. Her fearless approach to trying new things combined with a deep instinct about what will work for the market. Beautifully, the book focuses on Caplan herself but also richly shows the things that she introduced to American stores. Readers are sure to find new fruits and vegetables on the pages here, and perhaps be brave enough to try then when they make their way to supermarkets across the country.

Potter’s illustrations are richly colored and warm. They show Caplan in the 1950s when she started and then steadily move forward in time, nicely showing the time period through the clothing of the people. The fruits and vegetables are rainbow bright and nicely labeled with their name and the year that Caplan discovered them for the U.S. market.

Bright, intelligent and full of juicy details. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued by Peter Sís

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Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued by Peter Sís (9781324015741)

As Czechoslovakia is taken over by the Nazis in 1938, one quiet man stepped forward and saved almost 700 children. At age 29, Nicky was invited to visit Prague while on a ski trip. At the same time, Vera was growing up outside of Prague, happily adopting stray cats. They were one of the only Jewish families in the town, but that didn’t matter in their lives. The in October the German army marched into Czechoslovakia and Vera’s parents learned of a British man who was saving children. That man was Nicky. Understanding that he could do something, he worked in Prague making lists of children and finding train connections. When he returned to London, he found foster families for the children and acquire visas and tickets with his own money, sometimes needing to create his own stamps. Vera left home with 76 other children on a train. In total, 669 children reached London safely. No one heard of Nicky’s quiet work until his wife found the records. Then Nicky’s work was revealed to everyone on a popular TV show, and his life is still celebrated.

Sís has created a haunting yet also celebratory nonfiction picture book that describes the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia through a child’s eyes and also offers the lens of a man who realizes the potential human disaster about to occur and does something to rescue the children. The tension between the two is beautifully done, creating a deep understanding of what was at stake and the speed at which something needed to happen. The book is one that will make you actually cry, particularly towards the end when the survivors are there to thank Nicky for what he did for them. Crushingly moving.

As always Sís’s art is entirely its own style. He offers overhead maps of Vera’s small town and her life. He also shares maps of Europe and whimsical images that are almost folkloric in their storytelling. It’s a lovely mix of story, truth and heroism.

Truly remarkable, this is a picture book to read with tissues nearby. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Norton Young Readers.

Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Anthony Shepard

Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Anthony Shepard, illustrated by Keith Mallett (9780374307042)

Ona Judge was a slave in the household of George and Martha Washington. While Washington worked to free the fledgling union from the British, he depending upon slaves in his household. Ona began working in slavery for Martha Washington at age 10, often playing with their grandchildren and sometimes being mistaken for one of them. The book explores the posh lifestyle that Ona lived amongst and yet was not truly part of. She was treated well, but still enslaved. When she was given to one of the granddaughters, Ona decided to escape. She chose the difficult life of a fugitive slave over than of the slavery.

Shepard uses a particularly successful structure in this picture book. He frames Ona’s story by asking repeatedly why she ran? He points out the opulence she lived in and the remarkable moments in history she saw. Shepard thoroughly explains exactly why Ona escaped, showing her being taken from her mother at a young age, being treated as more of a pet than a person, and being given to the haughty granddaughter. The structure leads to the clear answers of why she needed to escape.

Mallett’s illustrations beautifully evoke the historical period. They are filled with carriages, women’s clothing, fire places and some images of famous historical figures. It is Ona though who glows on the page, her face always lit from within and filled with the potential of freedom.

A picture book that brings the shamefulness of slavery forward, showing that everyone needs to be free. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford

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Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (9781541581203)

This nonfiction picture book offers a gripping look at one of the worst racial violence incidents in American history. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a community called Greenwood was formed by Black people descended from Black Indians, former slaves, and those fleeing the racism of the segregated South. Along a one-mile stretch of Greenwood Avenue, over 200 Black business started, becoming known as Black Wall Street. But there were people in Tulsa who were not alright with the growth of Black wealth. In 1921, those tensions turned into action when a white teen accused a Black young man of assault. A standoff at the jail resulted in the deaths of two Black men and ten white men. The white mob stormed Greenwood, burning it to the ground. 300 Black people were killed, hundreds more injured and more than 8,000 were left homeless. The survivors were moved into camps and eventually rebuilt, but never spoke of the massacre. Today, the truth is being spoken of and addressed through reconciliation efforts.

Weatherford does an incredible job telling this terrible truth, showing the beauty and potential of the Black community in Tulsa and then sharing its eventual destruction at the hands of a mob. Weatherford has family ties to other race massacres in the United States, which led to her this, the worst incident. Her author’s note shares some photographs and more of the history. Weatherford’s initial focus on the community built in Tulsa, makes the the burning of the area all the more impactful for the reader. The tragedy’s magnitude is carefully shown in numbers and continued impact.

Cooper’s illustrations are incredible. Cooper’s grandfather grew up in Greenwood, a history that he rarely spoke about. Cooper captures the promise of Greenwood with its libraries, churches, doctor’s offices and more. He shows the hotel, the bustling streets, the children playing safely in the neighborhood. He gives history faces that look right at the reader, demanding that they see what happened.

Tragic, powerful and insistent that change happen. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Carolrhoda Books.