Starting first with briefly exploring the continent of Antarctica itself, this nonfiction picture book quickly moves to the ten animals featured inside. The book is a dynamic mix of animals in Antarctica along with an opportunity to count them as they appear on the double-page spreads. First comes one leopard seal floating on his own iceberg. Two emperor penguins waddle across the next page, followed by elephant seals, whales, petrels, orcas, squid, krill, and fish. The book finishes with ten crimson sea stars that dazzle, bright red against the dark background.
Court has created a picture book that very successfully combines factual information about Antarctic animals with counting them. Her language is marvelous, building rhymes directly into her descriptive sentences. She also uses words that will stretch young vocabularies such as “courtly, portly emperor penguins” and “lumbersome, cumbersome southern elephant seals.” The language is such a treat to discover in a nature-focused counting book.
Court’s illustrations are a combination of printmaking and collage. The deep colors and textures bring the cold and icy landscape to life. Court also beautifully designs each page, paying attention to both ease of counting, but also making all of the animals look lifelike too. Readers will enjoy the additional information at the end of the book on both the continent and the featured animals.
Icy and delightful, this is just right for even the youngest of readers to discover a new continent. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
The Midnight Fair by Gideon Sterer, illustrated by Mariachiara Di Giorgio (9781536211153)
This wordless picture book tells the story of a county fair set up at the edge of a woods. From the woods, animals peek out at the lights and sounds of the fair as it is built and then filled with activity and people. At night, when the people leave, it’s time for the animals to have some fun. The raccoons sneak in a break in the fence and throw on the electricity. Soon the games, rides and food are open for business with payment in acorns, rocks and leaves. The animals ride the rides, staff the booths, share snacks and have a great time until dawn breaks. They tidy up and head back to the woods, but the surprised man who opens the fair finds plenty of evidence that something happened that night.
This book is so lovely. It takes the shared experience of a county fair for humans and turns it into something strange and wondrous. There are so many moments caught in the images here: a porcupine covered in sweets, a fawn managing to ride a carousel horse, a rabbit whizzing by on the swing ride, and a bear cub buying ice cream with acorns. One after another, the images are immediately iconic and touching without being saccharine. The golden light of the fair lights turns everything magical, just as it does when you go to a fair in person.
This visit to the fair is one that everyone should take, even if you don’t care for the rides. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
One January morning, Samuel’s mother mentioned that she wished they had a cow. His father smiled, took his best knife, and invited Samuel to come along to find a cow for his mother. So the two headed out into the cold and snow. At the Snow’s place, they traded the knife for two tin lanterns. Samuel got to play with their dog a bit too. At the Perry’s house they traded the lanterns for a book of poetry. Samuel got to visit some kittens in the barn and got a doughnut too. They traded the book to Widow Mitchell for a pitcher, then the pitcher for a sheep when Dr. Fulton went by. At the general store, the sheep was traded for a pocket watch after Samuel struggled to get it into the pen. He was glad they weren’t keeping the sheep! The pocket watch was traded for a pony and cart. With the storm brewing and night coming on, they almost stopped, but decided to keep trying for a cow. Soon Samuel was picking out a cow in trade for the pony and cart, and he got to choose something else besides!
Schmidt fills this simple story of trading with neighbors with so many small details that the entire small community is populated with characters. Each has a reason for needing to make the trade and often a treat for Samuel along the way. While the road is long and cold, it is also filled with a merry sense of community and shared responsibility. When Samuel makes the hard choice to not keep the little pony and cart, he is rewarded with more than a stubborn sheep for his sacrifice.
Yelchin’s illustrations are done in full-color in this chapter book. They show Samuel meeting each animal along his travels, each animal (except the sheep) one that he longs to keep with him. The illustrations have a marvelous old-fashioned, country quality to them.
A great wintry chapter book with lots of animals and a series of marvelous smart trades. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
While You’re Away by Thodoris Papioannou, illustrated by Petros Bouloubasis (9781662650055)
When you leave nature behind and head indoors, nature keeps on happening all the while. Mother deer may search for blueberries for their fawns. Squirrels might leap closer to their sweethearts. Lizards still laze in sunny spots among the strawberries. A fox may be asleep with her babies. Bears may be drinking from the river. One after another, the activities of nature and wildlife continue, even when a human isn’t there to witness it all. But if you do happen to be out in nature, stay quiet and still and soon you will be witnessing all of the small activities that make up a day in the life of the creatures around you.
This European import speaks to that realization that children suddenly have that things go on even when they are absent, and not just after bedtime! Here nature, insects and animals are used as the example with real impact, as they have lives just like the children do. Their bustling busyness continues even when a child leaves the side of the lake, exits the forest or enters their house. Papioannou uses marvelously specific examples, showing the beauty of nature and also the reasons the animals are doing what they do.
The art is fantastic, creating a modern and colorful vibe where each turn of the page is surprising. Readers quickly move from one animal to the next, from sun dapples to the brilliance of a red fox in a black cave, from a dragonfly near the lake to an owl still and hidden in the trees. The book is a series of discoveries, much like sitting in nature can be.
An inviting look at nature and how it carries on whether you are there or not. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Inspired by Blackall’s travels for UNICEF and Save the Children, this is a picture book guide to our planet. It offers a first-time visitor to earth useful information, such as directions to our planet in the solar system. The world is looked at through the people who live here, the homes we live in, the families we grow up in. It also features the world’s weather, schools, transportation, jobs and hobbies. Then the book turns to animals around the world and under the sea. It finishes looking at creativity, art, science and medicine. It’s a celebration of all that makes us unique, fascinating and worth the visit.
While the list above may sound mundane, in Blackall’s hands it is warm and energetic. Each item is marveled at for a bit, rather like picking up a gem and then moving on to the next amazing jewel. The entire book is a delight, looking at the earth and at humans as something to be proud of, to care for, and to adore.
As always, two-time Caldecott Medal winner Blackall’s art is remarkable. She shows diversity of humans and animals with such joy. Her characters always have a little extra sparkle in their eye or in the tilt of their head.
A grand tour of earth that invites us all to slow down and love our planet and one another. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Open Bud Ranch is a place that took in all kinds of animals. When Jack the goat first arrived, it was clear to all of the other animals that Jack liked his space. But Charlie the horse didn’t even see Jack, since he was getting used to being only able to see from one of his eyes. After getting stepped on, Jack made sure to keep an eye on Charlie at all times. That’s when he noticed that he and Charlie liked a lot of the same things like sunlit pastures and smelling the honeysuckle. But Charlie often got turned around and had to move really slowly. One day, Jack decided to help and led Charlie to the best place to graze and then down to the river. Soon the two went everywhere together. Then Charlie lost the sight in his other eye, leaving him entirely blind. Jack still liked his space, so when a storm blew in, Charlie left the warm barn to protect Jack from the rain. After an argument, Charlie got in an accident and that left Jack the only one to save him, even though it meant talking to the others on the farm.
Levis offers a rich story arc in this picture book that tells a full tale and also manages to be a great read-aloud. The tale of these two unlikely friends is based on the true story of Charlie and Jack. The book gently shows that animals have value even if they aren’t technically productive in a farming sense, and that they have emotions and the ability to help one another when they are in need.
Santoso’s illustrations beautifully show the farm with glowing pages of sunlit pastures. He moves easily into action and drama as the story demands it with the same animals distraught or scared. The illustrations capture the personalities of Charlie and Jack.
An engaging and warm look at animal rescue and friendship. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Fred and Helen wanted a baby and planned for one, but never got one. So when Fred, a zookeeper, brought home a tiny lion cub, Helen’s supplies came in very handy. She had bottles to let him slurp, blankets to wrap him warm, supplies to wash him, and a crib for him to sleep in. But when the lion was two months old, he got sent to a zoo in another city. Helen packed up the baby items and spent lonely days with no baby to care for until the three tiger cubs arrived. With feedings every three hours, the cubs grew quickly and soon were causing mischief. Finally, they returned to the zoo at three months old, but this time Helen would not be left behind. Soon Helen found herself an empty storehouse that she turned into a nursery for baby animals, becoming the first woman zookeeper!
Fleming tells a wistful and factual story here, allowing the more remarkable elements to be wondered at by readers. It is amazing that Helen was not only willing to take in these little creatures but also very skilled at it. Many of us can care for human children, but ones with sharp teeth and claws would be daunting. Fleming simply appreciates the dedication, skill and tenacity of this woman, shining a spotlight on someone who was inventing it all as she went along.
Downing’s illustrations are soaked in the time period of the 1940’s by showing cars, fashion and home decor. The book wisely uses panels to show the different moments of caring for the animals, distress at their leaving, and planning to create something new. The panels break up the text for young readers and also give a jaunty comic vibe.
An engaging look at a remarkable woman with a knack for caring for little wild creatures. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
On a beautiful day, something small lay in the middle of a clearing in the forest. The thing glittered red and green. The leopard believes it is one of her spots that has fallen off and runs off to warn the others. The crow thinks it is part of a star and that the entire sky may be collapsing. The fox and bear thought it might be something that would bring humans into the forest. The owl was certain it was a dragon’s egg. The cat thought it might be poop and covered it up. Throughout the forest confusion rang out, but that was a long time ago. The thing is still there. What could it be?
This picture book is a delightful mix of Chicken Little fears and an unsolvable mystery for the reader. The book is filled with the theories from different creatures in the woods, almost all of them leading to a sense of panic, even though they really don’t know what the object is. Readers will expect to have the question solved by the end of the story, but this Swiss import has a more European twist. It leaves the question still open, ready for readers to fill in the blank.
The illustrations are done in oil and crayons. They depict a rainbow-colored forest filled with animals of many colors, some of them just as bright and varied as the trees themselves. The bright colors add to the imaginative feel of the tale, tying it nicely to folklore.
One enigma offers plenty of solutions, do you have one? Appropriate for ages 3-5.
In the Woods by David Elliott, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey (9780763697839)
Enter the woods through this book of poetry for children. The picture book volume shares insight into the different animals living in the woods. First is the musky bear, emerging from his den in the early spring. The red fox also appears in the melting snow, hunting to feed her kits. A scarlet tanager flashes past announcing spring alongside the cowslips. Soon the grass greens, the opossum and her babies bumps along with skunks and their perfume too. Porcupine and fisher cat are also there, quiet and fierce. Hornets buzz in the air while millipedes munch on rotting leaves. Moose, beaver, turkey, raccoon, bobcat and more appear here, each with their own poem that eventually has winter returning with deer appearing ghostlike through the snow storm.
Elliott chains his poems together leading readers steadily through seasonal changes as each animal appears on the pages. The focus is not the seasons though but the animals themselves. Some get longer poems while others get a couple of lines that capture them beautifully. There is a sense that Elliott is getting to the essence of many of the creatures he is writing about here. Each poem is focused and very accessible for children.
Dunlavey’s illustrations in watercolor and mixed media are rendered digitally. Their organic feel works well with the subject matter. Each creature is shown in their habitat and turning the pages feels like rounding a new corner on a walk in the woods.
A poetic journey through the forest that is worth taking. Appropriate for ages 6-9.