Free by Sam Usher

Cover image for Free.

Free by Sam Usher (9781536217049)

The grandson and grandpa from Usher’s Seasons series return with the first in a new series. One of the birds outside was sick, so the boy and his Granddad made a cozy bed for it and read a book of bird facts. After having some water, the little bird was feeling better and they put him back outside. Now it was time for breakfast and they made pancakes together. The bird returned for a breakfast of berries. At lunch, they built triple-decker sandwiches and the bird returned again. They took him back outside to help him find his friends. At tea time, the bird returned again and they did some more research. Now it was time for them to help the little bird return to the tree he needed, so they set off to reach the top of the mountain. Happily, the bird’s many friends were there to greet him and shared their midnight feast with the humans too.

Usher blends the mundane and the imaginative into a seamless story that glides from the normal happening of finding a sick bird and steadily becomes something magical and wondrous. I loved Usher’s first book series and am so pleased to see him return with another series with these charming characters, the boy with big ideas, the grandfather who grounds him and the magic that takes over both their lives at times. The writing is simple and lovely. The focus on meals here is a treat that will have readers wanting to make their own pancakes, triple-deckers and tea.

The art is a delightful mix of smaller illustrations on white backgrounds and full-page illustrations that show the garden at Granddad’s house. There is an endearing quality to the images that show the beautiful relationship of the grandfather and grandson.

A joy to see beloved characters return. Make sure to have tea and snacks on hand when you share this one. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Templar.

Pablo by Rascal

Cover image.

Pablo by Rascal (9781776573240)

Highly stylized, this picture book focuses on Pablo, a baby bird who is ready to leave the egg. But Pablo is going to do it in his own unique way. After a breakfast of croissant and hot chocolate, he gathers his strength. He is too big for his egg now, so he must break out. First, he creates one hole, just the right size for his eye. He looks all around and then creates a second eye hole so he can really see out. He pecks two holes, one on each side of the shell so that he can hear what is happening around him. Then one hole for his beak so he can smell soil and flowers. The sixth and seventh holes are for his legs so he can wander. Then holes eight and nine are just right for his wings to come out. Pablo is entirely free of the shell, but he saves a piece just in case.

Visually arresting, this Belgian picture book features a pure black egg on a white background. Subtle shading and clouds move past, but the focus and each page center around Pablo himself as he steadily frees himself from the egg shell. The book steadily counts the number of holes that Pablo makes and is marvelously absurd has he continues far longer than most readers might think, staying in the shell and creating holes.

The art is simple and very funny. Perhaps most delightful is the final reveal of Pablo freed from the black egg, looking nothing like what one might have expected.

For the toddler, preschooler or parent who appreciates a bit of the surreal. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Gecko Press.

Pea, Bee & Jay: Stuck Together by Brian “Smitty” Smith

Pea, Bea & Jay cover image

Pea, Bee & Jay: Stuck Together by Brian “Smitty” Smith (9780062981172)

Energetic and silly, this graphic novel throws together an unlikely trio of new friends in the first book in a new series. The story begins with Pea, who longs to be the one in the garden who is able to roll the farthest. When he is taunted by a rude Strawberry and Cherry, he agrees to try to roll all the way to the tree with the red leaves on the other side of the fence. Unfortunately, just as he leaves the farm, a storm hits and he is tumbled along with the water. He bumps into a bee, who warns him of the dangers outside the farm, particularly the dangerous birds. That’s when they meet Jay, who returns Bee’s satchel to her and then forlornly walks away. When Jay reveals that he can’t fly because he fell from the nest and was never taught how, he joins their group. Now they must get Pea back home before his mother worries about him. But there are more dangers lurking in the bushes (literally!)

Smith has created a madcap race of a book. Filled with all sorts of puns about peas and bees, the book’s writing is pure silliness. After all, what can one expect from a book who entire title is a pun and likely the inspiration for the characters. However it was conceived, this is a book that children will adore. It’s truly funny, filled with friends and has plenty of action too.

The art is clear and comical. From a bee with glasses to a bird who walks to a pea who bounds across the pages. The pacing is brisk, helped by the snappy dialogue and the wildly fast moments of the story. The art works well, moving just as fast as a pea can roll.

About much more than the birds and the bees, you have to give peas a chance. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperAlley.

How to Find a Bird by Jennifer Ward

How to Find a Bird by Jennifer Ward

How to Find a Bird by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Diana Sudyka (9781481467056)

This preschool-friendly picture book explores the basics of bird watching. There are many ways to find a bird, such as offering seeds. Sometimes you may need to blend in, such as near a pond. Being very quiet is also key. Birds aren’t just flying in the sky, they are also down on the ground foraging. Birds also eat, swim and wade in the water. Sometimes it can take having good eyes to detect a hidden bird. And of course, looking up at telephone wires and trees is a good idea too. Putting up feeders and bird houses helps and lets you watch birds right from your window. But the best way of all to find a bird is to close your eyes and listen for their song.

Told in the simple language, this picture book invites readers to enter nature and look for birds. With various birds on the pages, the book offers examples of different birds and their habitats. The text is encouraging, showing readers how easy it is to find birds all around them and become a bird watcher themselves. The author’s note at the end of the book offers more tips for bird watching, encouraging using a field guide and creating your own list of birds you have spotted. It also mentions becoming a Citizen Scientist and helping with bird counts.

The illustrations are key in this book, showing various birds on the pages nicely labeled. The images are bold and colorful, filled at times with a myriad of birds and other times with birds the reader must spot. The pictures invite conversation and discovery.

A merry introduction to birds and bird watching just right for preschoolers. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Beach Lane Books.

Nesting by Henry Cole

Nesting by Henry Cole

Nesting by Henry Cole (9780062885920)

Through simple text and exquisite line drawings, the tale of a family of robins is told. Beginning in early spring, two robins meet and then build a nest together in the crook of a tree limb. As the tree is in full bloom, bright blue eggs appear, the only color in the book. Soon there are four eggs which readers get to see hatch into chicks over the course of a few panels. The hungry chicks must then be fed, the parents hurrying across the page. Storms must also be weathered and predators forced away from the nest. Then it’s the chicks turn to be brave as they leave the nest. Getting larger, the robins prepare to head to their winter months together.

Cole’s text is simple but shares a lot of information along the way. He makes sure to explain things in ways that feel entirely natural as part of the overall story arc. The Author’s Note at the end has more information. The illustrations are simply lovely done in fine pen lines that look even more detailed that reality. The sense of depth that Cole evokes is exceptional as is the way he captures the robins in action so naturally. Readers will notice the apple tree as it moves from bare branches to spring bloom to full fruiting, another way to explore the seasonal changes.

Expect this one to have award buzz, it’s exceptional. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Secrets of the Loon by Laura Purdie Salas

Secrets of the Loon by Laura Purdie Salas

Secrets of the Loon by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Chuck Dayton (9781681341583)

On the edge of a quiet lake, an egg hatches with pecks and wiggles. Out comes Moon Loon, who learns quickly that she can float in the water. Her parents feed her minnows and crayfish, then Mama takes her baby birds onto her back to protect them from predators. As days pass, the chicks grow too large for a parent’s back and stay in the water. When an eagle flies nearby, Moon realizes that she can dive down underwater to escape. Humans come too close and Moon’s parents move to defend her, but the humans move away. Soon it is time to practice flying. When Moon can fly, her parents leave. But once autumn comes, Moon knows just what to do and heads south.

Salas’s poetry rhymes with a lovely effortlessness that keeps the focus on the loons. She beautifully describes the loon’s habitat in just a few words, sharing details of the loon’s growth process and how they evade predators. The fascinating nature of their first migration is detailed further in the author’s note that offers more loon secrets as well as selected resources.

Dayton’s photography is done in a fascinating way. His clear and brilliant photos layer together to form forests, lakes, trees, reeds and more. Done through cleverly cut edges, the images form a complete picture of the loons and their lives.

A poetic glimpse of the Minnesota State Bird and its northern habitat. Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Minnesota Historical Society Press.

The Nest That Wren Built by Randi Sonenshine

The Nest That Wren Built by Randi Sonenshine

The Nest That Wren Built by Randi Sonenshine, illustrated by Anne Hunter (9781536201536)

This gorgeous picture book introduces the art and skill of building a wren nest. Told in a folktale style, the book follows a Wren building her nest in a tree. Papa wren brings sticks, then twine, pine needles and small roots are added. A spider sac will help with keeping the mites eaten and a snakeskin wards off predators. Soft moss is gathered from the shade as well as feathers, petals and thread to make a soft bed. In this beautiful nest, eggs are laid and soon hatch, emerge onto branches, and fly away.

Sonenshine’s writing is exquisite. She focuses on the elements of the nest, lingering on beautiful language like “velvety moss” and “a scaly and thin reptilian charm” and “snippets of twine, spidery rootlets, and needles of pine.” This rich language is presented lightly on wren wings as they hurry back and forth creating their work of art and home.

Hunter’s illustrations are done on a rosy warm background that echoes the richness of the language. Done in fine lines and lots of detail, readers can pore over the illustrations to see the twine, needles, feathers and more. Hunter makes sure to take readers in nice and close, allowing them to peep at the eggs safe in the nest

A great readaloud pick, this book is a celebration of birds, nests and nature. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

 

Don’t Feed the Coos! by Jonathan Stutzman

Don't Feed the Coos by Jonathan Stutzman

Don’t Feed the Coos! by Jonathan Stutzman, illustrated by Heather Fox (9781250303189)

The team behind Llama Destroys the World return with a book that’s for the birds. The book cleverly begins with the tone of Give a Mouse a Cookie but quickly turns it into a cautionary tale about feeding “coos” or pigeons. If you do feed one coo, more will come. You may try to escape, but they will follow you all the way home. No matter what you do, they will still stay with you. And because you have fed the coos, they will make coo poos. Everywhere. You will try everything to get rid of them and nothing will work. So you will accept your fate and make them part of the family. Until one day, you return with them to the park…

There is something so just right about the style of Stutzman’s writing. His tongue-in-cheek is clear but he also clearly cares about writing a superb picture book for children at the same time. That balance is not an easy one to create and sustain. Here, he pays homage to a favorite picture book style, yet also plays with it enough to break it just enough to make it fresh and interesting again.

Fox’s illustrations are bold and graphic. They use white space strategically, playing up the humor of an existence filled with pigeons and how that will change everything. The coos are adorable, until the pooing starts.

A clever and funny delight. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt & Co.

Review: Freedom Bird by Jerdine Nolen

Freedom Bird by Jerdine Nolen

Freedom Bird by Jerdine Nolen, illustrated by James H. Ransome (9780689871672)

John and Millicent were slaves on a plantation in the south. The siblings’ parents were sold away from them, never to be seen again. But before they left, they made sure that their children knew about freedom, hoping that it would come in time for them. The two worked hard labor on the plantation from dawn to night. One day, a great black bird flew over the field only to be shot down and left for dead. The two children head out after dark to see if the bird survived and rescue it. But the next morning, John is hired away to another farm, likely to be gone for many months. Millicent continued to care for the bird, keeping it alive and quiet until John returned. Reunited, the two hear of plans to sell John away and decide to act and choose freedom.

The cruelties and horrors of slavery are front and center in this picture book. The dismantling and breaking of families, the threats and violence, the backbreaking work day after day. The addition of the bird adds a symbol of hope to the book, clearly offering it as a representation of freedom that must be looked after and tended. The text is dense for a picture book, but important as it explains slavery, freedom and the importance of seeing a better future.

Ransome’s illustrations are paintings that play with perspective, looking at the world from the bird’s perspective, seeing its shadow long before it appears, and glimpsing the two children entering the dark field to rescue the bird. One illustration in particular is powerful and dramatic with Meredith and the bird stretching arms and wings together.

A folktale look at freedom and the evils of slavery. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.