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.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.
Together We Grow by Susan Vaught, illustrated by Kelly Murphy (9781534405868)
When a storm blows in, the farm animals and wildlife take shelter together in the barn. There are pigs, goats, horses, cows, sheep, geese, cats, dogs, chickens, raccoons, turtles, turkeys, squirrels, mice and more! But outside in the storm, a fox family is caught in the rain after their home is flooded. The adult fox heads to the barn, carefully looking inside. She is sent away, the other animals saying that the barn is too full to take her in. But then one little yellow duckling steps out into the darkness and a connection is made. Soon all of the animals are inside drying off together. Other wild animals come later and more room is found, room for all.
Vaught writes here in simple paired rhyming lines that carry the story forward. She is incorporates interesting words into her poetry, such as “asunder” and “dapple.” They will have children stretching and building vocabulary in the most organic and natural of ways.
The illustrations are truly the star of this beautiful book. Filled with a compelling mix of two-page spreads, one page images and sometimes groupings of vignettes, the illustrations are detailed and just right to pore over. Murphy’s art gives each of the animals their own personality, showing clearly how attitudes change from the beginning to the end of the book. The final pages offer a wordless look at the farm after the storm with everyone happily mingling together.
A look at prejudice and inclusion in a way that all children will understand. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Unstoppable by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laura Park (9781452165042)
Beginning with almost wordless panels of a cat jumping at both a crab and a crow, this book quickly transforms into a picture book that is made to share aloud. Crab and Crow join forces to be able to both fly and pinch the cat with claws. They are unstoppable now! But then they both thought about being able to swim too, so they talked to a turtle and transformed into something even more unstoppable. When an angry bear tries to attack them, they invite him to join in too. Upon finding out that forest demolition is what is making the bear angry though, they have to take action and become truly unstoppable!
As always Rex delights and surprises with his story lines. While this seems like a straight forward cumulative story at first, it transforms much like the animals themselves into something far more interesting by the end. Rex injects the tale with plenty of humor as the creatures come up with a variety of mash-up names for each of their combinations. The refrain of unstoppable will be a great way to get audiences participating in the book too.
Park’s illustrations are crisp and clear, bright colors against a white background. They will work particularly well with a group, adding even more to the readaloud appeal of the title.
Funny, surprising and empowering. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.
Wanted! Criminals of the Animal Kingdom by Heather Tekavec, illustrated by Susan Batori (9781525300240)
Take a look at the thirteen most wanted creatures in the animal kingdom. Their crimes are all unique to them and their names indicate what they have done. There is Big Bad Mama, Bubbles, Queenie the Meanie, and the Backyard Burglar. Each animal has its own rap sheet, complete with what they are wanted for, their aliases, distinguishing features, life span, sightings, witnesses and even previous arrests and gang affiliations. The various crimes are things like faking their own death for a frog, assault for spitting llamas, and traffic violations for crabs who cross the road in a huge crowd.
Done with a broad sense of humor, the book also offers factual information within the laughter. The criminal activity part of their rap sheet offers a paragraph about the animal and its problematic behavior. Some of the animals may be familiar to children but others will be a delight to discover. The art works seamlessly with the text to create a full rap sheet with loose paperclips, file folders, photographs and much more.
Humor combines with science and police records to create a funny and dynamic animal picture book. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.
All the Dear Little Animals by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Eva Eriksson, translated by Julia Marshall (9781776572892)
Originally published in 2009, this award-winning Swedish import is written by the author of the Detective Gordon series. One summer day, Esther found a dead bumblebee and decided to give it a burial ceremony. The narrator of the story, a little boy, helps her by writing a poem about death. The two head out to the secret clearing to dig a grave and plant seeds. Then they set out to find more dead creatures with the help of Puttie, who was a very good crier. They form a business called Funerals, Ltd. and spend their day doing a variety of funerals for animals of all sorts, all in their secret clearing. The final funeral of their day comes when a blackbird hits a window and dies in front of them. They all felt the sadness of that death. And then the next day, they did something different.
I adore Nilsson’s approach to children’s book with his deep understanding of the way that children think and act. This book feels like my childhood, dealing with deep and serious thought one day and moving on. It offers a skillful balance of morose, serious sadness with a sunny summer day, a business idea, and time spent with friends. It’s that juxtaposition and the frank approach of the children toward death that makes this book work so well.
The illustrations by Eriksson really add to the mix of sorrow and sunshine. They are dappled green and gold. Children will appreciate that the dead animals are shown to the reader, tucked into their boxes or on their way to being buried. The final pages with all of the headstones and graves are both humorous and touching.
Funny and serious, just like childhood. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Gecko Press.
Bedtime for Sweet Creatures by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (9781492638322)
A small child does not want to go to bed in this poetic look at bedtime struggles. The book begins with the word “no” being chanted like a drum beat. The child asks “who” like an owl as if there is someone else heading to bed. Their mother takes the teddy bear and heads off towards the bedroom. Once in bed, there is growling like a bear, hissing like a snake due to monsters, and even roaring like a lion to check beneath the bed. Fawns and squirrels appear as a storybook is shared. The child hugs like a koala for a final kiss. Then there is water to drink and the bathroom to use before the child may or may not head to their own bed and sleep.
Grimes takes the battles of bedtime and turns them into a menagerie of animals who fill the pages with the reactions. The process of bedtime negotiations is rather like lions and snakes for parents at times. I appreciate that the process is imperfect and at times filled with the child’s strong emotions. As always, Grimes’ writing is marvelous. Her words are energetic and the combination of behavior and animals is clever.
The art by Zunon is done in vibrant mix of collage and painting. The character’s faces are detailed and expressive, while the various animals are done in a colorful and stylized format. The child could be any gender, which makes this book all the more inclusive in addition to having an African-American family of characters.
A poetic and animal-filled bedtime story about bedtime. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.
What Does an Anteater Eat? by Ross Collins (9781536205916)
Anteater wakes up hungry, but he can’t figure out what anteaters eat. He tries asking the other animals that he encounters. Sloth is too busy to answer his question. Snake offers advice on chewing food. Toucan is certain that anteaters eat watermelon, but the melon doesn’t fit in Anteater’s mouth. Other animals are too busy eating their own meals or considering Anteater for their next meal. So Anteater ends up asking the ants. Anteater has figured it out! Or has he?
This is one of those picture books that simply must be shared aloud to get its full impact. From the very clueless anteater to the unhelpful other animals to the twist at the end, the book is full of silliness and giggles. Young listeners will love being in on the entire joke from the beginning and watching the humor play out. The illustrations are large and bold, just right for sharing aloud with a group. Done in watercolor and charcoal, the images are full of deep colors and add to the humor of the text.
A great book for closing out a storytime with laughter. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Nosy Crow.
Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys by Mike Unwin, illustrated by Jenni Desmond (9781547600977)
Explore the many animals who migrate each year from all over the world in this nonfiction picture book. The book focuses on each animal’s amazing journey and provides a wide look at migration in general, the various types of animals who migrate, and the specific story of each animal. The animals include birds like the emperor penguin, the Arctic tern, the swallow, and the ruby-throated hummingbird. It also tells the story of mammals like the whales, elephants and caribou. Then there are surprising stories of migrations of crabs, dragonflies, and bats.
The text of the book offers real details of the animal’s lives and their migrations. The book ends with a map of all of the different migration paths shared in the book, nicely covering much of the globe with their travels. The information provided is fascinating and just enough to discover whether you want to learn more about that animal or not.
The illustrations are done in full-page color where the animals take center stage against their various habitats. From the Christmas crabs filling the street with their red color to the beauty of a mother whale and her calf to the woods filled with monarch wings, each of them are unique and just as interesting to explore as the text.
A fascinating and scientific look at migration and the creatures who do it year after year. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.
Can I Keep It? by Lisa Jobe (9781624146961)
A little boy finds animals in his backyard and wonders if he can keep them as pets when they “follow” him home. His mother addresses each type of animal by asking her son where he would want to live if he was that animal. When the boy catches a squirrel, his mother points out that squirrels like to climb trees and gather acorns. She helps him realize that the squirrel belongs outside. The frog he catches next likes splashing in water, so the boy releases him too after thinking about how he loves to swim. The bird likes to fly in the sky rather than live in a cage. The boy thinks about swinging high and how much he loves that. Happily, the next animal the boy finds is a stray cat who may just find living with a little boy exactly the right place to live.
Jobe uses a droll sense of humor in this picture book. The little boy says to his mother that the animals are following him home while he is actually trapping them in a variety of ways in the yard. The mother’s responses are clever and thoughtful without being heavy handed at all, allowing the child to figure things out on his own. The rhythm of the book is lovely, with the boy capturing a creature and each dialogue following a pattern.
Jobe’s art is bright and filled with motion. Done in watercolor, gouache, pastel and then digitally collaged, the illustrations are large enough to use nicely with a group of children. In every scenario with an animal’s preferred place to live, the little boy thinks about how he feels when he swings or swims or climbs trees. This is shown through illustrations and works very well.
A great picture book about respecting animals, engaging with nature, and finding the perfect pet. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Page Street Kids.