Along the Tapajos by Fernando Vilela, translated by Daniel Hahn (9781542008686)
A boy and his family live along the Tapajos River, one of the biggest rivers in the Amazon rainforest. He and his sister take a boat to get to school. He loves to see the alligators along the way, while she prefers the porpoises. Under the water, lurk some even larger animals just waiting for someone to fall in the water. At school, the rain suddenly begins, starting the winter season that is filled with torrential rainfall and flooding. Everyone rushes home to pack up and head away from the flooding. They take everything but the houses themselves. But the brother and sister have left their tortoise behind accidentally. At night, they sneak out to rescue her. They get back to their flooded village and discover the turtle just about to be devoured by a giant anaconda!
Originally published in Brazil, this picture book tells the story of a way of life that is unique to the Amazon rainforest. The author combines the story of the flooding village and the construction of a new place in the rainforest with a tale of bravery when the children rescue their pet. This also gives readers an opportunity to see the quiet beauty of the flooded village, empty of anyone. The setting itself is a major character, including the many animals, the weather and the river herself. It’s a book that carries readers to a place they never knew existed.
The illustrations are done in a mix of woodcut techniques, drawing and collage that is then used digitally. They have a great texture to them and depth thanks to the woodcuts that offer that organic feel to the images. The rain itself falls white against the golden background of the sky and the river. The book often takes a step back from the immediate action, allowing the riverscape to fill the pages in a way that is very impactful.
Journey to another part of the world in this look at the Amazon rainforest and some of the people who call it home. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Explorer by Katherine Rundell (9781481419451)
When their plane crashes in the Amazon, four children are the only ones who survive. Now it is up to them to figure out how to survive in the vast jungle. There is Fred, a teen who has always dreamed of exploring wilderness and of the fame that comes with it. There is Con, a girl with almost no family and even fewer friends. Then Lila and her five-year-old brother Max complete the group. Lila only wants to keep Max healthy and alive, despite all of his attempts to get into trouble. As they forage for food, they discover a man-made shelter and then a series of clues that lead them to a crude map. Having built a raft from wood and vines, they follow the map to discover another human surviving in the jungle, someone so angry that he may not help them at all.
Rundell’s body of work is one of the most varied in children’s literature. The unifying feature though is her ability to bring a setting fully to life for the reader. Here, the setting is incredibly detailed and readers will get to learn about things like eating grubs, vines that make your skin itch, the right way to cook a spider over an open flame, and much more. Rundell doesn’t just present this information, she injects it into her story, showing how rich and beautiful the Amazon is even as she presents its dangers.
The four young characters make a strong group as they work together to survive. Rundell does not give any of them perfect characters, allowing the oldest to wrestle with his wish for fame, others to struggle to communicate, and the youngest to simply be awfully annoying at times. This too adds to the realistic feel of the novel, and in the end shows that friendships can be forged with even the most unlikely of people.
Filled with adventure, wilderness and plenty of icky moments, this is a gripping and fabulous look at the Amazon. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
The Quest for Z: The True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon by Greg Pizzoli (9780670016532, Amazon)
The author of Tricky Vic returns with another rip-roaring nonfiction picture book. It is the true story of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who searched for an ancient city hidden in the Amazon rainforest. Fawcett had dreamed his entire life of being an explorer and as an adult took many treks into South America to map the region. They faced many dangers, such as huge snakes and natives with weapons. Many of the men he traveled with perished on the adventures but Fawcett survived. Others thought that the Amazon city was a myth while Fawcett insisted that it existed. If he found it, it would make him one of the most famous explorers of all time and one of the wealthiest too. This book tells his tale as he searched for the lost city.
Pizzoli has a knack for selecting real life stories that most people, adults and children, will not have heard of. This one is a fascinating story of belief and bravery, about a man who left family and country behind in his quest to discover the unknown. Pizzoli tells the story with lots of action and a sense of adventure in his prose. There are moments where Pizzoli allows the action to slow, the wonder of the moment to grow, and the dangers to almost overwhelm. It’s written with skill and knowledge, building to a conclusion that suits the life of Fawcett to a Z.
The book design and illustrations add so much to this nonfiction read. Done in a simple and clever style, just like Pizzoli’s picture books, the images add necessary humor to the book. The design of the book also allows additional information to be added on sidebars. Pizzoli uses his illustrations to also create moments of tension and drama, pausing the action for effect.
Smart, stylish and successful, this nonfiction picture book will take readers on quite an adventure. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from library copy.