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.

 

 

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

me-and-marvin-gardens-by-amy-sarig-king

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

pond-by-jim-lamarche

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.

 

 

Review: Trapped! by Robert Burleigh

Trapped by Robert Burleigh

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.

Review: Luna & Me by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

Luna and Me by Jenny Sue Kostecki Shaw

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.

Review: One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul

one plastic bag

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.