Review: Hummingbird by Nicola Davies

Hummingbird by Nicola Davies

Hummingbird by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Jane Ray (9781536205381)

In a grandmother’s garden in Central America, a granddaughter watches the zooming hummingbirds. The birds will soon be heading north for the summer to their nesting grounds. The tiny birds must cross the Gulf of Mexico, stopping for a bit of rest on boats along the way. They continue on, following the blooming flowers as they stretch northward. When they reach their nesting grounds, the male hummingbirds defend their nearby flowers. There, the same girl, now in New York City, finds an eggshell on the ground and realizes that she has seen both the beginning and end of the hummingbird’s migration.

Davies, a zoologist, beautifully frames the story of the hummingbird with one little girl’s own travels from Central America to her home in New York City. She makes sure that readers have plenty of facts about the hummingbird, from how light they are to what their diets need to how they nest and migrate. Davies has a real skill for sharing just enough facts with young readers and still telling a compelling story that is not derailed by too many factoids.

The illustrations by Ray are phenomenal. Her delicate lines are exactly the right format for these tiny birds. She captures the beauty of their feathers and their coloring. She also shows them in mid-air but still manages to convey their speed and dexterity.

A beautiful nonfiction picture book about an amazing tiny bird. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth

Birds of a Feather Bowerbirds and Me by Susan Roth

Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth (9780823442829)

Collage artist Roth takes a look at the amazing bowerbird and how her work and their building process compare with one another. Both she and the bowerbird are collectors of random items. They use those items to create compositions. For the bowerbird, that is a bower for their courtship process. They both like unusual objects that they use to create art, things that no one else might ever combine in that way. They both pay attention to color and both seek out praise for their work in the end.

I was really pleasantly surprised by the content and construct of this picture book. While I knew it would be about bowerbirds and humans, I didn’t expect it to be so directly related to the artistic side of both. Roth beautifully shows the fascinating correlations between her work and that of the bird. She demonstrates both in her collage illustrations and in the text of the book how similar they actually are. The text though is kept wonderfully simple, making this book about art very accessible even for young children. She completes the book with more facts about the birds and about her own work as well as a bibliography of sources.

Roth’s illustrations are fabulous. Bright and filled with objects of all kinds, they fill the page with vibrancy. Most of the pages show the bird and then Roth, each working in a similar way on their art. The result is a book about Roth’s way of making art that is also an example of the art itself. Clever stuff!

A very successful mix of nature, science and art. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Hello, I’m Here! by Helen Frost

Hello, I'm Here by Helen Frost

Hello, I’m Here! by Helen Frost, illustrated by Rick Lieder (9780763698584)

This book looks at a family of sandhill cranes as an egg hatches and a chick is born. The little hatchling is soon standing covered in dry fuzz next to their mother. As the day progresses, the chick discovers their brother who has already hatched. They go for a swim in the water and flee from snapping turtles back to the nest where they are now damp and muddy. They have a snack of an insect and a snail. Then they are tired enough for a rest next to their mother.

Frost writes invitingly brief rhyming couplets that accompany the brilliant photographs in this picture book. Her story emphasizes the gentle care of the parent cranes as well as the ability for the newly-hatched chicks to do a bit of exploring on their own. It’s a lovely mix of freedom and protection. The photographs echo that with their focus on the large cranes that dwarf their fuzzy offspring, the beauty of the natural setting, and the adorable pairing of the sibling baby cranes.

Another winner from Frost and Lieder, this one is just right for spring. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from Candlewick Press.

 

Review: Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis

Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis

Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis (9781547601004)

11-year-old December has moved from one foster family to another over the past several years. As she moves, she has learned not to have many possessions, enough that she can carry them in a couple of bags. One item she brings with her every move is her biography, a book that reminds her why she is special and different from those around her. With her large scar on her back, December believes that she was raised as partially a bird and will eventually have her wings and feathers and be able to take flight. But when she jumps from a tree, she is moved to another foster family. This time, she is taken in by Eleanor, a women with a large garden, bird feeders, bird baths, and who works in an animal rehabilitation center. Eleanor’s quiet and loving approach starts to work on December, much as it does on her wounded birds. As December starts to trust, her desire to be separate from humans and different from them ebbs away. But could she ever give up her desire to fly?

Stark-McGinnis has written a startling debut novel for middle graders. December’s belief that she is a bird is at first alarming as she jumps from a tree, then rather odd, but the author leads readers to deeply understand the injury and damage done to December by first her mother’s violence and then her foster parents. It is a slow and haunting journey as December begins to trust others. Tying her own personal journey to that of a wounded hawk relearning to fly, the book creates a path for December to come alive again.

The journey to trust also includes a wonderful secondary character, Cheryllynn, a transgender classmate of December’s. As both girls steadily learn to stand up to the class bullies, they also learn that doing it together is easier and has a bigger impact. The two girls accept one another exactly as they are, something one doesn’t see enough in books about young girls and their friendships.

A heart-wrenching novel of abuse, recovery and learning to fly. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

Review: Wings by Cheryl B. Klein

Wings by Cheryl B. Klein

Wings by Cheryl B. Klein, illustrated by Tomie dePaola (9781534405103)

This super-simple picture book soars as a baby bird leaves the nest for the first time. Told only in rhyming single words, the story is about wings, flings, stings, dings and eventually sings, rings and zings! A baby bird tentatively heads to the edge of the nest and then flings themselves off. They land in a puddle on the ground. Drying off and checking for damage, they discover a worm on the ground. That inspires them to try to head back up to the nest to deliver the food to their siblings. But can they actually fly?

The simplicity of the book belies the skill that it took to create an actual story arc with so few words. The book works well with the bulk of the tale told in the illustrations by a master artist. DePaola has created bright and cheery artwork to accompany the story. Filled with pinks, blues and yellows, the vibrant colors bring a lot of life to the book.

Use this one when teaching about rhymes. It is just right for toddler audiences. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Review: Trevor by Jim Averbeck

Trevor by Jim Averbeck

Trevor by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Amy Hevron (9781250148285)

Trevor is a very lonely canary who knows that he can escape his cage at any time, but stays put for the seeds. He has one favorite kind, sunflower seeds, that he saves for when he is feeling loneliest. When Trevor sees a lemon outside of his window, he tries to get it to sing with him. He even gives it his last striped sunflower seed, but it won’t eat. The lemon doesn’t reply to Trevor at all and doesn’t give him any gifts in return. Still, Trevor builds a nest in the tree for himself and the lemon. Meanwhile, the seed has fallen to the ground below. Eventually, a storm comes and Trevor must try to save the lemon. When he reaches the ground, he discovers the sunflower has sprouted and grown, scattering seeds across the ground. When a group of hungry birds arrives, Trevor quickly realizes what real friendship feels like.

Averbeck keeps the text of this picture book very simple, making it just right for younger listeners and good to share aloud. The emotions that Trevor feels in the book take center stage, from frustration at the lemon to eventual forgiveness to acceptance about their differences. Trevor is a great mix of brave, inquisitive and friendly as he makes his way into the larger world.

Hevron’s illustrations are painted onto wood. She cleverly allows the wood to show through to create tree branches and leaf spines. Against the pale blue background, the leaves, lemon and Trevor himself pop. One can see the wood grain throughout the book, both covered in color and plain. It makes for a very organic and natural feel.

A lovely quiet picture book about new friends and what to do when life gives you lemons. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Bundles of Board Books

Animal Colors by Christopher Silas Neal

Animal Colors by Christopher Silas Neal (9781499805352)

This bright board book offers a mix of animals, colors and wordplay that is immensely engaging. The book takes one colored animal, mixes it with another animal and then ends up with an odd hybrid. For example, a blue whale and a yellow lion mix together to make a “Green Whion.” This continues through the book moving from primary colors mixing into secondary ones and then on to more complicated color combinations. The wordplay adds a delightful silliness to the book, making it impossible to quite guess what is on the next page. A colorful whimsical board book worth sharing. Appropriate for ages 2-3. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Birds of a Color by Elo

Birds of a Color by Elo (9781536200638)

In this board book, each bird shows not just one color but two. It takes little hands to help turn over the flaps to see the surprise color hiding behind wings, heads, beaks and more. The text of this book only shares the names of the colors, often hiding any words behind the flaps. There is a great sense of fun about this book, because the turn of the flap reveals a new side of that bird that is entirely unexpected. Playful and enjoyable, this is a great introduction to colors. Appropriate for ages 2-3. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Ciao, Baby! In the Park by Carole Lexa Schaefer Ciao, Baby! Ready for a Ride by Carole Lexa Schaefer

Ciao, Baby! In the Park by Carole Lexa Schaefer, illustrated by Lauren Tobia (9780763683986)

Ciao, Baby! Ready for a Ride by Carole Lexa Schaefer, illustrated by Lauren Tobia (9780763683979)

In these two board books, Baby gets to explore their urban home. In the first book, Nonna takes Baby to the park where they see a squirrel, a grasshopper, and a pigeon before having to head home. Baby scooches and crawls toward each animal until they scamper, jump or fly away. In the second book, Mamma and Baby head across the city to visit Nonna. They have to take many types of transportation to get there, including a stroller, the bus, a boat and the train. When they head home after the visit, they take the vehicles back in reverse order. A loving and warm look at life in an urban setting with a Hispanic family at its heart. Appropriate for ages 1-3. (Reviewed from library copies.)

Opposites by Jacques Duquennoy Shapes by Jacques Duquennoy

Opposites by Jacques Duquennoy (9782747087001)

Shapes by Jacques Duquennoy (9782747086998)

These two board books are the first in the Zoe and Zack series. They feature die-cut pages that are sturdy enough to hold up to public library use. The opposites book offers clever uses of die cuts that turn stairs from up to down, rebuild castles with a single page turn, and bring back ice cream cones. Even more successful though is the shapes book where the two characters draw shapes together. The shapes are drawn partially on see-through pages that when turned form a complete shape. This clever mechanism makes for a dynamic book that will have children wanting to make their own shapes too. Two great board books with unique designs. Appropriate for ages 1-3. (Reviewed from library copies.)

 

3 New Picture Books That Are Just Birdy

Bird Builds a Nest by Martin Jenkins

Bird Builds a Nest by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Richard Jones (9780763693466)

This picture book cunningly incorporates ideas about the science of forces into an appealing story about a bird building her nest. As a new day begins, Bird first finds something to eat and tries to pull a big worm out of the ground. Eventually, she settles for a smaller and less strong worm for her meal. As Bird begins to work on her nest, she gathers twigs. Some are too heavy, others she can carry one or two of and still smaller ones she can carry three or four twigs. She pushes and pulls the twigs into place. Then she gathers lighter and softer things to line her nest for the eggs that are about to arrive.

The concepts of pushing and pulling, dropping and lifting, heavy and light are very nicely portrayed in this picture book. The story reads aloud well and is a great introduction to the concepts as well as a good book to share. The illustrations are bold and bright, so they will work well when shared with a group. A nice one to share in the spring, this picture book intelligently uses science to tell a story. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

This Is the Nest That Robin Built by Denise Fleming

This Is the Nest That Robin Built by Denise Fleming (9781481430838)

This picture book offers a riff on the “House That Jack Built” story by featuring a robin builiding a nest with help from a variety of other animals. Squirrel trims the twigs, dog provides the string, horse shares his straw and so on. Eventually the nest is built and lined with soft items and then the eggs are laid. The story continues all the way through hatching and ends as the little robins are taking their first flight.

The traditional structure of the story works well here and Fleming offers just the right rhythm to make the book a pleasure to read aloud. As always, Fleming’s art is approachable and wonderfully textured and organic. Her use of layered collage is bright and friendly. A joy to share, this picture book is just right for spring. (Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.)

Warbler Wave by April Pulley Sayre

Warbler Wave by April Pulley Sayre with Jeff Sayre (9781481448291)

This book is an invitation to wonder at warblers, tiny colorful songbirds that migrate long distances each year. They must stop on their way to eat and rest, searching for insects and spiders to devour. They come in many colors from blue to yellow to reds and mixtures of colors. Then they return to their journey north to their nesting grounds, flying by night and calling to one another along the way.

Sayre is a master at creating nature books that soar with poetry, drawing young readers into the wonder that is the world around us by tantalizing them and showing them the magic. The images shared here are crisp and bright, the skies deep with color, the small birds caught with a clarity that is difficult to achieve. A great introduction to warblers and birding for young readers. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane.)

3 Picture Books Filled with Empathy

These three picture books all look at empathy in different ways and all are worth exploring.

Come with Me by Holly M. McGhee

Come with Me by Holly M. McGhee, illustrated by Pascal Lamaitre (9781524739058)

Seeing the news about anger and hate in the world, a little girl wonders what she can do to help. So each of her parents take the little girl out in their diverse and urban community. They are kind to others on the subway. They greet their neighbors and shop at stores owned by people of different races and faiths. Then the little girl asks to walk the dog on her own. Will her parents be brave enough to let her leave fear behind and head into the world on her own?

Told simply and with great kindness, this picture book shows children and families exactly the small steps they can take to bring love and joy back into their lives during these stressful fear-filled times. The illustrations are simple, showing the diversity of the community with clarity. Families looking for ways to get beyond worry and fear will embrace this picture book. It is exactly what our world and our children need. (ARC received from Penguin.)

A Different Pond by Bao Phi

A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui (9781479597468)

Written and illustrated by two Vietnamese-Americans, this picture book captures the author’s experience as a child accompanying his father to a local fishing pond. The two of them are up early since his father has to head to second job that he just got. They stop at the bait shop and pick up minnows. Then head to the pond, where the boy’s father fishes and the boy builds a fire for them. It’s cool during this Minnesota dawn. The two share sandwiches, a small memory from Vietnam about fishing, and catch fish for dinner. When they return home, the extended family is there and that evening they all feast on the fish together.

Phi’s prose is filled with the skill of a poet. He stitches the past and present together into a richness that is poignant. He welcomes young readers into the life of a refugee family in Minnesota. The illustrations have a modern edge to them, sometimes framed like a graphic novel and other times soaring to the sides of the page. Bui uses her format skillfully and enlivens this quiet tale of fishing and new lives. Told with grace and strength, this picture book is wondrous. (Reviewed from library copy.)

King of the Sky by Nicola Davies

King of the Sky by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin (9781406348613)

A boy is now far from his Italian home and only one thing in this new place reminds him of Italy and where he used to live. It is Mr. Evans’s pigeons and their cooing that reminds the boy of Rome. The boy spends time with Mr. Evans and the pigeons. Mr. Evans gives him one as his own, a gray pigeon with a white head that the boy names “King of the Sky.” But the pigeon is slow to return home as the pigeons train, though Mr. Evans insists the bird will be a champion. Finally, the bird gets the perfect long distance race, flying back from Italy. But will he make it or will he stay in Italy like the boy would long to?

Davies is a masterful writer, inviting the reader into the pain of a boy who has left the country he loves and hasn’t found a place that feels right in his new country. It is a book about loneliness and finding your way forward. It’s a book about connection with your neighbors and community to find that way. The illustrations by Carlin are quirky and beautifully layered. They have a dreamlike quality to them, filled with soft edges and even softer light. This is a picture book that invites readers to understand what home really is. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Reviewed from library copy.)