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.
Creekfinding: A True Story by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Claudia McGehee (9780816698028)
This picture book tells the true story of a lost creek that used to cross a prairie meadow. Then a farmer bulldozed dirt into the creek to create more farm land. Years later, another man purchased the field and heard from a neighbor about the creek that used to be there. He decided to try to find that creek. So he dug a creek bottom after consulting historic photographs of the land. He hoped that the water would return and it did. But a creek is more than running water and now it was up to him to bring more rocks, more plants and eventually trout in his newly rediscovered creek.
This book focuses on a compelling topic. That the land we live and farm on once used to be very different from the way it is now and that we can work to return it to its more natural state. The picture book has wonder at its center, the amazing notion that water once buried will return to a dry creek bed. It also focuses on the hard work that it took and the incredible problem solving that went into rebuilding the creek from literally the bottom up. Slowly it become reality with lots of work and patience.
The illustrations by McGehee are based directly on her visit to the land the book is about. Done on scratchboard, the illustrations have a wonderful weight to them, capturing the deep greens of the prairie, the richness of the biodiversity, and the transformation of the land.
A fascinating topic that is just right for environmental units or Earth Day, this picture book is a celebration of nature and man working together. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King (InfoSoup)
Everything has changed for Obe over the last few years. His family’s farmland has turned into a housing development. His best friend is now friends with the kids living in the new development. He has constant nose bleeds caused by something he doesn’t like to talk about, but it has a lot to do with his ex-friend and the new development. Obe spends a lot of time at the creek on his family’s remaining property, cleaning up the trash left by others. Then he meets an unusual animal. It is an odd mix of pig and dog and it eats plastic. Obe names the animal “Marvin Gardens” and knows that he has to keep it a secret from everyone. But when his ex-friend discovers the animal too, Obe has to decide who to trust and who can help Marvin Gardens survive.
A.S. King is best known as a writer for teens. She has made a lovely transition to middle-grade writing here in a novel of environmentalism and self-acceptance. King wrestles with the problems of middle-grade friendships, the loss of green space, and the question of how one kid can make an impact on climate change or even on his local environment. Throughout, her writing is a call for action, for personal responsibility and for staying true to what is important to you as a person.
Obe is a fascinating protagonist. At first, he seems young and naive, but as the book progresses, one realizes that he is simply interested in the environment, understands deeply changing friendships, stands up for others, and speaks out for the rights of animals and nature. King manages this without giving Obe a major shift or change, rather it is the reader who grows and changes and understands the character in a different way. It’s all thanks to King’s skill as an author, her way of showing adults as fools at times, and her willingness to allow Obe to simply be himself.
A strong book about the environment and a rousing call to be responsible for your own patch of earth, this will be a joy to share aloud in a classroom or with children who love nature and don’t mind a bit of muck on their shoes. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.
Pond by Jim LaMarche (InfoSoup)
Out walking in the late winter, Matt realized the the place that they had always called “the Pit” used to be a pond. So he and his friends decided to recreate the pond that had been there. They cleaned up the junk and built a new dam. As they worked, Pablo discovered a blue stone shaped like a heart in the sand. Katie started to research the birds, insects and stones as the pond started to slowly fill. They found an old wooden boat and repaired it, naming it Dragonfly. Summer ended with them floating on the newly filled pond, camping nearby. In fall, the geese discovered the pond and flocked to it. Winter brought ice skating on the pond with lots of friends. In the spring, the three friends run to the top of a hill overlooking the pond and there they see how the heart stone is connected to the pond itself.
LaMarche offers a perspective on nature that shows children that they too can do things to restore natural areas. The amount of work that the children do is not minimized at all nor is the slow return to a pond from a pit. This focus on effort, hard work and a slow pay off is vital when working with nature. The book embraces a sort of natural time, a patience while birds and bugs return. Then it picks up, swooping with changes and demonstrating how an ecosystem changes throughout the seasons and serves different animals.
LaMarche grew up in Wisconsin and you can see Wisconsin on each page of this book. From the bombardment of mosquitoes in the summer to the spotted fawns to the woods and marshes. The illustrations are superb, showing the shimmering light of water and woods, the moon rising over a pond, and again that slow transformation into natural beauty.
A testament to the power of restoration for natural areas and how children can help, this picture book is a pleasure. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Trapped!: A Whale’s Rescue by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor (InfoSoup)
A wild whale is jumping, swimming and enjoying lots of krill to eat in the ocean waters. But then she runs into discarded netting from a crab fisherman floating in the water. The net catches her, cutting into her mouth and making swimming difficult. The a boat motor sound comes and along with it a group of humans who are hoping to rescue the huge animal. But it is so dangerous being near an animal of that size where even small motions can cause injuries to the rescuers. Still, they work close to the whale and begin to cut her free. They swim away if necessary and touch her with gentleness and care. Eventually the ropes and netting fall away and the whale is free to swim again. To say thanks, she gently touches each of her human rescuers before jumping for joy.
Burleigh’s text contains lots of information but it is presented through the lens of a story. This is a tale of one very fortunate whale, rescued in time from the netting. It is a story of wild freedom at first and then a desperate struggle and then impossible hope that she will survive after all. This is a real drama played out on the pages, from the danger to the whale to then the danger to her rescuers solely from her size. The final pages of the book offer resources about rescuing trapped whales and talk more about the dangers and about the whales themselves too.
Minor’s art is luscious on the page, taking readers under the water alongside the whale. There we float as the water changes colors and the light changes. Minor makes sure the show the size of the whale and of the humans on the same page, so that children will understand the size of the animal. It is beautifully and touchingly done.
An inspiring tale of the difference that even a small group of people can make in sustainability and saving animals, this picture book is a compelling mix of story and fact. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.
Luna & Me: The True Story of a Girl Who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
This is a picture book version of the real-life heroism of Julia Butterfly Hill, a woman who lived for two years in the branches of Luna, a great redwood tree in order to save the grove from logging. In this picture book, Butterfly is shown as a girl rather than an adult. She spends many of her days exploring nature and then discovers Luna and climbs up into her branches. When she realizes that Luna is going to be chopped down, she stays in the branches. That starts her adventure high in the canopy where she has to withstand storms and cold. Butterfly stayed up in Luna for two years, figuring out how to make a home high in a tree and sharing Luna’s story with whomever she could. Until finally Luna and her entire grove her saved and made into The Luna Preserve.
As Kostecki-Shaw notes in her Author’s Note, she has simplified the political situation that the real Julia Butterfly Hill was dealing with as well as the initial response that included a group of environmental activists taking turns sleeping in Luna’s branches. This makes for a picture book that is easily understood by young readers and that hints at larger issues happening. It will serve to inspire young readers that they can individually make a difference in the world around them and protect what is invaluable to all of us.
The illustrations in this book are done in a variety of media including acrylics, watercolor and pencil. They capture the beauty of nature with dappled light through leaves, the texture of tree bark, and the dwarfed size of Butterfly against the world. They also delightfully show the other animals and creatures living in Luna with one magical page displaying a space inside her trunk.
A very special book about an environmental heroine, this picture book will be inspiring for young readers. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Used to just dropping their baskets when they wore out, people in Njau, Gambia did the same thing with their plastic bags, but the plastic bags decayed like the baskets would. They also didn’t last nearly as long. Torn bags can’t be mended or used at all, so one by one, then ten by ten, and thousands by thousands they were thrown to the side of the road. They accumulated in heaps, poisoning the goats that tried to eat the garbage around them. Water pooled in them and brought more mosquitoes and diseases. Burying and burning them weren’t the solution either. Then Isatou Ceesay found a way to recycle the plastic bags and get jobs for her community by transforming them into something new.
This book speaks to the power that one person can have to change things, both for themselves and their entire community. The prose here is straight-forward but also has moments of poetry thrown in, showing the devastation the plastic bags were creating in the Gambia. The book also shows the way that an idea is born, comes to fruition, passes through being scorned and is finally embraced.
The illustrations by Zunon are remarkable. Using collage, they bring together the textures of the weaving and baskets as well as the plastic bags from photographs. The textiles of the Gambia are also incorporated and vibrate on the page. They are combined with painting and other more playful textures to create the natural setting and the people.
Strong writing and superb illustrations combine to tell the true story of how one woman transformed pollution. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Jinx’s Magic by Sage Blackwood
In this second book in a trilogy, Jinx’s entire life has changed since his death. He can now listen to the voices of the trees in the huge Urwald forest and they tell him things. But his life is also in danger still. The Bonemaster has been defeated but Jinx’s master, Simon believes he is stronger than the bindings that surround him. Yet none of the other magic wielders of the Urwald will help Simon keep the Bonemaster restrained. Jinx is sent to Samara, a land reached via a portal in Simon’s house and also the place where Simon’s wife lives. Jinx must find a way to enroll in the school in order to discover the magic he needs to save their own world. But magic is forbidden in Samara and Jinx may put the Urwald at risk as he desperately tries to save it.
Blackwood takes her already impressive world and adds onto it with Samara, a desert land where knowledge and magic intertwine. She also deepens the readers’ understanding of the Urwald and its own sort of magic. This interplay between different types of magic and societies makes for a book that is rich and layered.
Blackwood also takes time to develop Jinx’s own character further, pushing him to reach the extent of his power and yet also allowing readers to see that there is more there as well. Jinx is a hesitant hero and never quite believes he is doing the right thing along the way. Even as his power grows, he remains fully the same character and yet changes and grows in a real way throughout.
A web of magic and mystery, this book is a fitting follow up to one of my favorite reads of 2013. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Katherine Tegen Books.
The Secret Pool by Kimberley Ridley, illustrated by Rebekah Raye
Vernal pools are easy to miss, but also necessary to the life of many animals. This nonfiction picture book explores the amazing things that happen in vernal pools throughout the seasons. It begins with defining what a vernal pool is and then quickly moves into spring. The fascinating lives of frogs are described, including the way they make it through the winter. Soon salamanders join them and breed in the pool. Tiny fairy shrimp appear too. As summer comes, the eggs of the salamanders and frogs hatch and soon there are tadpoles and larvae in the pools. Now the race begins to see if they can climb ashore before the pool dries up. The vernal pool disappears and the animals that live there and were born there move away. They will return again with the spring and the vernal pools.
Ridley has nicely created a book that can be used at two levels. The larger text can be shared as almost a story about the pools. Then the smaller text provides deeper information about the vernal pools and the animals. Her words work together well, the simpler text offers a poetic voice to the factual information that serves to remind us how amazing all of this actually is.
Raye’s illustrations are lush and minutely detailed. She offers both larger scale images of the animals and then others done with finer lines that show more details and more animals on the page. You never know what you will see on the next page, and I guarantee a jump of surprise when you see the bullfrog with the tadpole hanging out of his mouth like a tongue.
This book reveals a world right under our feet that most children never knew existed. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from library copy.