The shortlist for the Australian 2020 Environment Award for Children’s Literature has been announced. Awarded by the Wilderness Society of Australia, the award for children’s nature writing has been around since 1994. Here is the shortlist:
Eco Rangers: Microbat Mayhem by Candice Lemon-Scott; illustrated by Aśka
Explore Your World: Weird, Wild, Amazing! by Tim Flannery; illustrated by Sam Caldwell
The Fate of Fausto by Oliver Jeffers
Fauna: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures by Tania McCartney
A Hollow is a Home by Abbie Mitchell; illustrated by Astred Hicks
One Careless Night by Christina Booth
One Tree by Christopher Cheng; illustrated by Bruce Whatley
Super Sidekicks 2: Ocean’s Revenge by Gavin Aung Than
Wilam by Andrew Kelly and Aunty Joy Murphy, illustrated by Lisa Kennedy
You Can Change the World by Lucy Bell; illustrated by Astred Hicks
We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade (9781250203557)
Two indigenous book creators have created a picture book that celebrates the North American indigenous battles to protect our water. Water is the the first medicine; it is where we all come from and nourishes us in the womb and on earth. There is talk of a black snake that will spoil the water, poisoning it. The black snake had been foretold for many years, and now it is here. Courage is the answer to it and the willingness to stand up and insist that water be protected. Nature cannot speak for itself, so we must speak and fight on its behalf. We can all be water protectors.
Lindstrom has written a book that calls out to be shared aloud. She has used an effective refrain: “We stand/ With our songs/ And our drums./ We are still here.” The importance of standing up and of Native people being visible as modern members of our society is vital here. The call to action in this picture book is also clarion clear and incredibly empowering. This book explains to the youngest children what the protests on Native lands are all about and why they are vital to all of us.
Goade’s illustrations are done in watercolor that washes across the pages in waves, swirls, and skies. The colors are deep and dynamic, showing nature in all of its beauty and demonstrating page after page what we are fighting to protect.
Strong and important. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
My Friend Earth by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Francesca Sanna (9780811879101)
Newbery-award winning author MacLachlan writes a lyrical story about her friend earth. Earth awakens in the spring to the busy sounds, seeing the seeds, insects and birds around her. She tucks in animals, reunites mother and child, and tends to the rich prairies. She visits the tundra and heads underwater where she guards all of the creatures. She creates rain to fill the streams and blows autumn winds across the trees. She sprinkles snow on the land in winter, watching over the hibernating animals. Then she falls asleep herself until spring comes again.
Earth here is shown as a young girl, playful in her relationship with nature and the seasons. MacLachlan’s text is marvelously detailed, pulling small elements of each season out to linger over along with Earth herself. This book is specifically focused on Earth Day without it only being able to be used then. It’s a book that celebrates our earth any day.
Sanna’s gorgeous illustrations are built into cut pages here. Readers awaken Earth themselves, glimpse her peeking through leaves, peer underwater at her side, and blow in the wind with the leaves. The cutouts are cleverly done, representing the changing locations and seasons with their forms. Sanna’s art is bold and lovely, showing a young brown-skinned Earth playfully interacting in the world.
Lush and lovely, this is an Earth Day charmer. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.
Cast Away: Poems for Our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye (9780062907691)
By the Young People’s Poet Laureate, this collection of poems shines a fierce light on the garbage and litter we create and toss away. The poems tie litter to larger environmental concerns as well as American politics in the time of anti-truth and fake news. Some poems question whether technology is helping us or not too. This is a collection that is thought provoking and insistent that we begin to pay attention to the large and small choices we are making each day and figure out how we too can make a difference and start picking up our own litter, both physical and figurative.
Nye has written a collection of poems with a strong political viewpoint that demands attention. Yet she never veers into lecturing readers, rather using the power of her words to make us all think differently about our privilege on this planet, how we abuse it, and how to restore balance to the world, our lives and our politics. The poems move from one to the next with a force of nature, almost like wandering your own garbage-strewn path and engaging with it. Sometimes you may lack the equipment, but the hope is that your own fingers start twitching to pick things up too.
A strong collection that is provocative and tenacious. Appropriate for ages 10-14.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.
Driftwood Days by William Miniver, illustrated by Charles Vess (9780802853707)
Follow the journey as a branch from a beaver’s dam heads downstream to eventually become a piece of driftwood on a beach. A boy watches in the autumn trees as a branch breaks away from the dam and takes a winding journey. It gets stuck for a frozen winter and then is loosened again and gets into the ocean. There, it serves as a perch for birds, gets caught in a net, and is once again thrown back into the salt water. When it eventually washes onto the beach, the wood is entirely transformed into driftwood. It is picked up by the same boy, who uses it to draw on the beach and then takes it home to watch the beavers next autumn.
Miniver offers an informational author’s note in the final pages that explains the importance of driftwood for the ecological system of woods, streams, oceans and beaches. The loss in the amount of driftwood is impacting these environments negatively. The journey of one branch into becoming driftwood is a clever way to show how the transformation works and also to highlight the various parts of the environment that driftwood touches and impacts. The art is done colored pencil and ink with deep, soft colors that will have readers leaning in to explore the nature revealed on the journey to the ocean.
A quiet adventure that highlights the interconnectivity of the nature around us all. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans.
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.
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.
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.
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.