Review: When Spring Comes to the DMZ by Uk-Bae Lee

When Spring Comes to the DMZ by Uk-Bae Lee

When Spring Comes to the DMZ by Uk-Bae Lee (9780874869729)

The DMZ on the Korean Peninsula separates North and South Korea. It is a space of land where people are not allowed to cross and has become a wildlife sanctuary over the 65 years that it has stood. The DMZ stretches 154 miles from the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan. While there are no soldiers inside the DMZ, there are heavily armed soldiers on either side and miles of barbed wire fencing. In this picture book, the seasons turn in the DMZ and wildlife flourishes each of those seasons. Meanwhile, a grandfather makes the climb up to view the DMZ each season, looking at the land he once lived on. Against the pastoral backdrop of the nature in the DMZ are the movements of the troops on both sides, drilling and maneuvering.

Lee has created a picture book that embraces the complexities of the Korean Peninsula. He shows the impact the creation of the two nations has had on residents and the ongoing constant military presence in their lives. At the same time, Lee focuses too on the wildlife, animals, birds, fish and plants that are finding footing in the DMZ, some of them almost extinct elsewhere. It is a picture book that shows the hope of peace, the importance of space for native creatures and plants, and the impact of war.

The illustrations by Lee are beautiful. They capture the Korean landscape with the mountains in the background, the miles of barbed wire, and the lushness of the DMZ complete with rusting machinery. Turning from one page to the next, readers experience the beauty of nature and then the oppressiveness of the soldiers’ presence.

A complex and intelligent look at war and peace in our world. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Plough Publishing House.

Review: Crab Cake by Andrea Tsurumi

Crab Cake by Andrea Tsurumi

Crab Cake by Andrea Tsurumi (9780544959002)

Crab loves to bake cakes. He makes them every day as all of the fish and ocean creatures do what they usually do too. Pufferfish puffs, Parrotfish eats coral, Dolphin blows bubbles. But when one night a disaster happens and a load of trash is dumped on their part of the ocean bed, no one knows what to do. Everyone else freezes, just staring at the mess. Crab though doesn’t freeze and makes a big cake for everyone to share. As the animals come together, they form a plan. It’s all thanks to one crab who just kept on doing what he does best.

Tsurumi’s picture book is filled with lots of small touches that bring this underwater world fully to life. The book reads aloud beautifully with quiet moments at first, the loveliness of crab making cakes for everyone, and then the disaster and its aftermath. It is a picture book that celebrates the creation of a community and the power of food to bring everyone together. It is also a book that looks at our oceans, caring for them and a love of the creatures who live there. The illustrations have a great cartoon look and feel to them that works well, creating moments of humor and drama very effectively.

A winning read for storytimes about fish, crabs or the environment. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: You’re Snug with Me by Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry

You're Snug with Me by Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry

You’re Snug with Me by Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry (9781911373476)

This new picture book follows You’re Safe with Me, this time journeying to the Arctic. A mother polar bear digs a den deep in the snow and there she gives birth to two cubs. Once they are born, she tells them “You’re snug with me.” As the cubs grow up, they have lots of questions about the world outside their den. Their mother answers all of them, ending each answer with “You’re snug with me.” The bears talk about taking care of their snowy home, of ice melting and how important the oceans and ice are for their survival. Eventually, the season changes and the cubs are large enough to head out into the world with their mother who still tells them they are snug with her.

The poetic text of this picture book offers both a snug den and a warmth but also a journey into the frozen world of the Arctic. Soundar also inserts environmental information into the swirling text, creating moments to learn about our interconnected world and the perils of the polar bears. The use of a refrain in the book anchors it firmly to oral traditional tales, making it all the more impactful.

Mistry’s illustrations are exceptional. Here she has created Arctic landscapes out of a series of geometric patterns that celebrate the cold, snow, and ice. The bears too as well as their den is filled with the motions of these detailed and patterned images. These are illustrations to linger and marvel over.

Another unique picture book from this team, this time focused on polar bears and the environment. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Super Manny Cleans Up! by Kelly DiPucchio

Super Manny Cleans Up by Kelly DiPucchio

Super Manny Cleans Up! by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (9781481459624)

Manny and Gertie love to pretend to be superheroes in this second Manny picture book. Every weekend they save the planet from danger. It might be stampeding dinosaurs at the museum, lions in the library, or veggie monsters at the farmer’s market. But when they are battling giant turtles from outer space in the park, Manny notices something. The entire park is covered in garbage and litter and it’s hurting the turtles in the pond. The park is swarming with litterbugs! The two decide to do something about it. All afternoon they tidy up the park, joined by their imaginary foes and then by real people who are using the park. Soon everyone realized that they could be heroes too, just like Manny and Gertie.

As with the first in the series, there is a strong example shown here that children can make a difference in their worlds, that they can be heroes too. In this book, the focus is on being a superhero and then that element is brought into the real world through hard work. Manny and Gertie make a daunting task seem doable through their enthusiasm and example. Even better, the book avoids being didactic by continuing to be playful and light in its approach.

The art by Graegin is cleverly done, clearly making the imaginary foes that Manny and Gertie battle different from reality. Done in different bright single colors, the foes are playfully drawn complete with appropriate costumes for their roles. Finely detailed, the illustrations are bright and friendly.

A great second win for Manny and Gertie! Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

 

Review: Spring After Spring by Stephanie Roth Sisson

Spring After Spring by Stephanie Roth Sisson

Spring After Spring: How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement by Stephanie Roth Sisson (9781626728196)

This nonfiction picture book begins in much the same way that Rachel’s childhood days started: birdsong, insects, forest exploration and insects. Rachel loved to look at the world from the big view and then to kneel down and look very closely at nature. She loved spring days best, returning home after dark to supper and her big family. As the seasons turned, Rachel watched and documented them all, growing bigger herself. She headed off to college to become a writer, until she discovered the microscopic world which led her to science. She worked as a scientist, diving under the sea and then writing books about it. Soon though, she realized that things were changing and species were disappearing. This led to her most important book, Silent Spring, which cautioned about the impact of chemicals on the ecosystem.

Sisson encapsulates Carson’s life in a very approachable way. The first part of the book focuses on Carson’s childhood love of nature and being outside. The text focuses on what Carson sees and experiences. As the book moves to her adult life, the text is about bravery and taking on the unknown. It then moves to her realization of what is happening in nature and her tenacity in figuring out what is going on. Throughout, this is the picture of a girl and woman who loves nature, thinks deeply and writes beautifully enough to change the opinions of a nation.

The illustrations are simple and lovely. They show all of the sounds of nature when Carson is a young child. Those same rich experiences are shown with the ghostly figures of animals that have disappeared due to chemicals. There is no mistaking the warmth of Carson’s home and family and then the strength that it took for her to stand strong in the face of people’s doubts.

A great picture book biography about an amazing woman, this is a timely read. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.

 

3 Swimmingly-Good Picture Books

The Brilliant Deep by Kate Messner

The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding The World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe (9781452133508)

All his life Ken Nedimyer was fascinated by the ocean. He would dive in the Florida Keys to see the coral reefs and wonder at how they grew. Then he started to notice that the reefs were losing color and dying. Ken placed rocks in the ocean and then took them back to use in saltwater aquariums. One of his rocks happened to have a staghorn coral emerge on it, something that was illegal to remove from the sea unless it was growing on a live rock collector’s site. Then Ken had an idea, using this first piece of coral to grow more and more of them. He took those corals back to the dying reef and planted them there, not knowing if they would grow. It was a beginning, one that would show how reefs could be helped to recover, one coral at a time.

This inspirational nonfiction picture books shares the way that one person can help the environment by taking a risk and doing the work. The end of the book shares ways that children can help the coral reefs, with more articles and organizations to explore. The text of the book celebrates the wonder of the ocean and still explains the environmental crisis. That tension between the two makes for a compelling story. The illustrations glow on the page, lit by sunlight filtering through the water. They are luminous and hauntingly beautiful, even the images outside of water carrying a strong sense of place and the ocean.

A great picture book biography to share aloud or give to children who love water themselves. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Dude By Aaron Reynolds

Dude! By Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat (9781626726031)

This one-word picture book is a delight in different emotions. Two friends head to the beach together for a day of surfing and sun. Platypus and Beaver head into the sea, greeted by a soaring pelican who dips down to the water and back up again, but not without a little humor on the way. Then a shark shows up! But he just wants to join in the surfing fun. When a big wave crashes them onto the beach and ruins their boards, it’s good that they have made a new friend so that the fun can continue.

The use of just one word works brilliantly here. Sharing it aloud is great fun, though those reading aloud will have to look to the pictures for how that particular “Dude!” should be said. It is used for joy, panic, fear, dismay, sadness and much more throughout the story. Thankfully, the illustrations are done by master of humor, Santat. His bright palette and combination of comic panels and large two-page spreads make for a dynamic combination just right for this story.

A bright sunny summer read, dude! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (9780763690458)

Julian and his abuela take the subway home. On the subway, Julian notices three mermaids riding with them. Julian loves mermaids and daydreams about swimming in the deep and turning into a mermaid himself. When they get home, Julian mentions that he’s a mermaid too, but his abuela is busy heading for her bath. While she is bathing, Julian finds flowing hair for himself and a crown, a gown made of a curtain and some lipstick. When Julian’s abuela sees him, she gets dressed and then gives him a necklace. They head out of the house and off to a parade of other mermaids where Julian fits right in.

There is so much to celebrate in this picture book. Julian is an amazing example of a young person expressing their gender identity in a very direct and yet imaginative way. His grandmother is an even better image for people to read about, a grandparent who accepts a child for who they are without question and offers a way forward hand-in-hand. Told in very simple terms, this story is approachable for all ages, even parents and grandparents.

The illustrations are rich a beautiful. On light brown backgrounds, the illustrations are bright and shining. They are filled with body positivity in a variety of ways both subtle and direct. Perhaps the most successful part is Julian’s transformation into a mermaid in a way that still shows the costume and how it was created but also turns Julian’s dream into reality right before the readers’ eyes.

This one belongs in every library, it is sublimely diverse and accepting. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 New Picture Books Bringing History to Life

All That Trash The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff by Meghan McCarthy

All That Trash: The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff by Meghan McCarthy (9781481477529)

In 1987, when a New York landfill was almost out of room, Lowell Harrelson decided to take the trash and move it far away using a barge. His plan was to use the garbage to create methane gas that would be turned into electricity in North Carolina. But the garbage barge never made it to North Carolina, when the state got a court order to stop the barge. The barge was also not welcome in Alabama or Louisiana. It eventually made its way into the Gulf of Mexico and tried to enter Mexico, but that country refused it entry as well. Eventually, the barge returned to waters near New York, prepared to return the garbage to where it had come from. But even that was not simple. Finally, after five months at sea and traveling over 6,000 miles, the garbage was incinerated on order by a judge.

McCarthy nicely plays up two aspects of the story of the garbage barge, the ludicrous nature of the barge being stuck at sea for months and the environmental impact of the trash that humans create. She uses a light tone and light touch in her writing, making it accessible for children who will not have heard of the barge before. She also offers more details at the end of the book, explaining how the crew survived on the barge for so long and offering facts about the barge. She also has recycling facts, garbage facts, and information on ocean garbage in particular. A bibliography is also attached.

Part of the light tone of the book are the illustrations which feature McCarthy’s signature bug-eyed characters. She incorporates speech bubbles and larger images to effectively break up the text into readable chunks.

A funny and amazing true story of the garbage barge that captured the attention of everyone in 1987. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)

Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Thermes

Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Thermes (9781419728396)

At the age of 67, Emma Gatewood became the first woman to hike all 2160 miles of the Appalachian Trail alone. She was also the first person to complete the trail three times. In this picture book, readers follow her along on her historic trek. With accompanying maps, the journey is filled with nature, rocks and streams. There are encounters with bears, plenty of rain, and many pairs of ruined shoes.

The book takes a warm look at her accomplishments, showing exactly why she was drawn to walk the trail, the beauty she found there and the peace she discovered along the way. The illustrations are playful and bright, focusing on the landscape and the journey often with Gatewood a small figure amongst nature and other times showing her right at the center. A wonderful book about an inspiring figure who journeyed through life in her own unique way. Appropriate for ages 5-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.)

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson, illustrated by Frank Morrison (9780544704527)

Told from the point of view of a child participating in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in 1963, this picture book uses verse to take children back in history. Starting with Dr. Martin Luther King speaking to their congregation, the book shows why it was necessary for children to march, since adults would lose their jobs. The picture book shows how frightened the children were to march but also how very brave they were to overcome those fears and continue. As children were jailed for their actions, the protests continued. When the rest of America saw children being knocked down by fire hoses, even the President took notice and soon change came and children brought that change!

This is a powerful look at the importance of standing up and protesting when things are wrong in our society. While it is about an event in the Civil Rights struggle, it resonates with today’s marches for Black Lives Matter and other causes such as immigration rights. The importance of the Children’s Crusade is explored in the afterword as well. The verse of the book has a quiet but firm tone, telling the tale and letting the courage of the children stand. The illustrations focus both on the crowd of children but also on the faces of individuals and their willingness to stand strong and march together.

An important read about a protest that must never be forgotten. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Forest World by Margarita Engle

Forest World by Margarita Engle

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 by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Creekfinding by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

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.