Forest World by Margarita Engle (9781481490573, Amazon)
Released August 29, 2017.
Edver isn’t pleased to be headed to Cuba to meet his father for the first time since he was a baby. Now that the laws have changed, families can once again be reunited with people who escaped to the United States from Cuba. Edver has to leave behind the Internet and his favorite video game and cope with power outages and a lack of transportation and other technology. When he gets to Cuba, Edver discovers that he has an older sister that he’d never known about. Luza had stayed with her father in Cuba, wondering why her mother left her behind. Both of their parents work to protect endangered species. Their father protects one special forest in Cuba while their mother travels the world to find newly rediscovered species. As Luza and Edver start to become siblings, they find that a poacher has come to Cuba, drawn by an email they sent to try to get their mother to come. Now it is up to them to protect the forest they both love.
Engle is a master of the verse novel, writing of difficult subjects and using the poetic format to dig deeper than prose would allow. She tells the story in alternating poems in the voices of Edver and Luza as they discover the poverty of Cuba, the wealth of America, and the fact that there are different types of wealth in life like parental attention, grandparents and a sense of home.
Engle explores the world of Lazarus animals and protecting endangered species in this novel. The subject works in a lovely parallel to Cuban Americans being reunited with their families. There is a sense of delicacy and care, a feeling of finding the right habitat suddenly, and a sense of exploration and discovery heightened with surprises.
Another adept verse novel from a true master, this is a book that explores home, habitat and family. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Atheneum.
Counting Lions by Katie Cotton, illustrated by Stephen Walton (InfoSoup)
Counting one by one, this book tells the story of ten endangered and threatened animals. It begins with the lion on the cover, solitary and watching the savanna. Two gorillas are next, a mother and child, breathing the same breath together. The book moves on, each creature captured in captivating and brief verse that speaks to their way of life and the behaviors they exhibit. Each one is accompanied by a photo-realistic charcoal drawing that is haunting and incredibly detailed.
Cotton’s verse is profoundly lovely, managing to show each creature as an individual and give voice to their relevance and stature. The tigress and her cubs is a “warrior of the forest” while the macaws are “a colorful, fluttering explosion” and the giraffes are “peaceful patterned giants.” Each short verse will have readers seeing these animals in a new way, entranced by their beauty.
The illustrations are simply phenomenal. They are charcoal but with such detail that you can see the individual hairs in the lion’s mane, the each feather on the penguins, and every wrinkle of the elephants’ skin. Beautiful and powerful, these illustrations are a striking way to introduce these creatures.
A stunningly gorgeous book, the verse and illustrations marry to create a story of the threatened creatures of our world. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Galapagos George by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Wendell Minor
A story of evolution and extinction, this picture book explores the incredible life of the famous Lonesome George a tortoise who was the last of his kind. The book begins by explaining how a million years ago a tortoise was driven from South America and carried to the island of San Cristobal near the equator. There she laid eggs, used her long neck to reach food, and passed on her genetics. Thousands of years later, all of the turtles looked different with long necks and shells that curved back to give their necks more room. When humans discovered the Galapagos Islands, they quickly decimated the turtle population which dwindled down to only a few thousand from the hundreds of thousands that had lived there. A hundred years later, the giant tortoise population had reduced even further, so that one lone turtle remained. He was moved to the Charles Darwin Research Station and protected but no other turtle of the species was ever found.
George creates a vivid story of the power of evolution in our world and the effects of humans on animal species. She steadily shows how weather forces and natural disasters impact animals as well, moving them from place to place and changing their habitats. As the animals change slowly, George keeps the text clear and factual, making for a book that moves quickly and is filled with fascinating scientific information.
Minor’s illustrations are lush and lovely. They are filled with the light of sun, bursting on the horizon in tropical colors. He also shows the barren landscape of the Galapagos clearly and the frank regard of a tortoise looking right at the reader. There is a sense of loneliness for much of the book both when the book is about the first tortoise and then later when there is one left. That connection between the two lone turtles is made clearly in the illustrations.
Fascinating, distressing and yet ultimately hopeful, this nonfiction picture book will work well in science classrooms as well as library collections. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.