The Snail with the Right Heart by Maria Popova

Cover image

The Snail with the Right Heart by Maria Popova, illustrated by Ping Zhu (9781592703494)

Beginning with the mutations and evolution that brought life to Earth, this picture book soon focuses on snails as they climb out of the water and onto land. Mutations continued to happen, including to one specific snail who was discovered by a retired scientist. It was a smaller snail than normal, with a darker shell and a tentacle that had trouble unspooling, and a shell that spiraled in the opposite direction than other snails’. The scientist sent the unique snail to a snail laboratory where it was named Jeremy. It turned out that Jeremy’s body was a mirror image of most other snail’s and he also had inverted internal organs. Because of that, Jeremy could only mate with another mirror image snail, another one in a million. So the snail laboratory made a plea for the entire world to look for another “lefty” snail. Amazingly, in only a few weeks, two potential mates were found and sent to the snail laboratory. When eventually Jeremy had offspring, he was so old that he didn’t live to see them arrive. Sadly, none of the new snails had a left-spiraling shell. The mutation was once again dormant, but it will return again.

Inspired by a true story, this picture book is a touching mix of poetic description and scientific facts. Popova’s language embraces the reader, showing them the beauty and wonder in mutation, genetics and evolution. She marvels at finding two potential mates in the world for Jeremy and then delicately celebrates Jeremy’s life at the end. She writes with real intention both to reveal the amazing nature around us but also to describe the science, including Jeremy’s mirror image body, the way that snails mate, and the work of the scientists who cared enough to explore his mutation.

Zhu’s illustrations are awash in colors, from the blues of the original waters of life to the rich green of English gardens. Done in watercolor swirls and drips, the illustrations are a mix of close ups from a snail’s view and the bustle of humans transporting Jeremy and the other snails. There is even a lovely foldout page that invites readers to even more fully enter the depths of the garden.

Full of wonder and science. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion.

Review: Moth: An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas

Moth An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas

Moth: An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Daniel Egneus (9781547600205)

This nonfiction picture book explains a specific process of evolution by following the story of the Peppered Moth. The moths emerge from their cocoons after the long winter, quickly seeking shelter from predators. At first, most of the moths had speckled black and white wings. It allowed them to better hide in the bark of the woods. The ones that happened to be born with dark wings got eaten by predators. So the speckled moths were able to survive to lay their eggs. But then the world around them changed with more soot and pollution covering the bark of the trees and other objects. Now it was the dark moths that survived best and could lay their eggs. Steadily, the moths started to become darker and less speckled. Now though, pollution is lessening and there is no longer as much soot. So the speckled moths are returning alongside the dark moths.

The tale of the Peppered Moth shows many elements of evolutionary process, including natural selection and adaptation. Both of those concepts are more fully described in the final pages of the book but are fully realized in the main part of the book as well. Thomas does a lovely job with the prose, giving the reader just enough information to allow the story to unfold before them. She limits the amount of words on the page, making this accessible for quite young children.

The illustrations are marvelous, inviting readers into the darkness of a moonlit woods as the moths emerge from their cocoons. The pages fill with moths of different mixtures of black and white. When day comes, more predators enter the pages. As the pollution enters, the world becomes dark and filled with dots and specks of dirty soot. The moths glow against the new darkness, or hide well, depending on their color. It’s a stirring and rich look at evolution happening right before your eyes.

Beautifully written and illustrated, this is a very special nonfiction picture book. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Review: The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer

The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer

The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (9780763678838)

Released September 4, 2018.

This breathtaking picture book looks deeply at the Big Bang and how it created all of us. The book begins with darkness where there is no time or space. Until BANG! matter is created and the stars flare to life. The stars burn and eventually explode themselves creating planets. Still, there is no life yet. In our solar system, there is one fragile blue planet where life eventually begins, where dinosaurs and humans live and die. And then finally, you arrive from your own speck and flare into life too.

Newbery Honor winning Bauer has written a poem that takes the science of the Big Bang and adds a feeling of mythology to it without damaging the scientific aspect. Her poem soars through the primordial darkness, journeys directly into the Big Bang, floats beside emerging planets, visits Earth, and welcomes children to life. It’s a big ask for a poem but Bauer’s words create a vehicle to really experience the wonder of the universe. Her poem also celebrates the fact that all of us are made of the same matter as stars.

The illustrations of this picture book defy explanation. They are unique and wondrous, filling the page with swirls of darkness, defining emptiness, creating reality. They are done with collage, marbled paper and combined digitally, but those words don’t capture what they do on the page. Holmes has managed to create a universe before your eyes, one that shines, explodes and manifests right there.

An exceptional picture book that celebrates science and beauty. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

 

 

Review: The Story of Life by Catherine Barr

The Story of Life by Catherine Barr

The Story of Life: a First Book about Evolution by Catherine Barr and Steve Williams, illustrated by Amy Husband (InfoSoup)

Starting before there was life on earth, this nonfiction picture book takes readers on a journey from 4.5 billion years ago to today. Volcanoes and black ocean water with some areas that were warm from underwater volcanoes created the tiny bits that formed the basis of life. Cells started growing, some using sunlight, water and oxygen that changed the very earth itself. Over millions of years, cells developed into different forms of life and became the first animals. The seas became full of life and animals and plants started to expand to the land. Then an unknown disaster hit and most of the life on earth was destroyed. It became cold and dark, giving a chance for huge dinosaurs to emerge and take over. Millions of years passed again and insects and mammals appeared. A meteor hit the world though, and then it was time for the mammals to survive. Humans evolved from those mammals and spread across the world, bringing us to the present day.

This basic look at evolution offers a sense of the length of time that it has taken to get us from basic cells to humans today. On each two-page spread there is information on how long ago this scene was taking place. The text on the page has lots of information on the changes happening, the progress towards new life, and also the series of disasters that has caused sudden death on the planet. This is a fascinating look at evolution that is appropriate for even preschool children to begin to understand the science that created life on earth.

The illustrations by Husband are playful and fun. They add a lighthearted touch to the serious scientific information. At the same time, they are have scientific labels for important objects and ideas that let children better understand the progress of evolution that they are learning about.

A strong picture book that explores evolution and will inspire children to learn even more about prehistoric times. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Review: Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins

eye to eye

Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World by Steve Jenkins

Explore different types of animal eyes in this gorgeous nonfiction picture book by the amazing Steve Jenkins.  In this book, Jenkins not only talks about the different kinds of animals eyes, explaining them in just the right amount of detail, but also looks at specific animals and their unique eyes.  Jenkins shares lots of facts, carefully chosen to be fascinating and fun.  One never knows what will be found on the next page and whether it will be looking right at you.

Jenkins makes sure that children will learn about evolution in this picture book.  His emphasis throughout is on the evolution from simple light-sensitive eyespots to the complex camera eyes of humans and hawks.  As always, his information is well-chosen and interesting.  It is accompanied by large-format images that are paired with smaller images that show the animals entire body.  This is science information at its best.

The eyes have it!  This is a book that belongs in all public libraries.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Galapagos George by Jean Craighead George

galapagos george

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.

Review: Island: A Story of the Galapagos by Jason Chin

island

Island: A Story of the Galapagos by Jason Chin

Follow the birth of a group of islands to the present day in this book that beautifully documents the wonders of the Galapagos.  Opening with the drama of a volcanic eruption six million years ago, the book shows how plants and animals arrive at a new island in the ocean.  As time goes by, the island turns from barren rock to a place of lush green.  Specific attention is paid to the evolution of creatures and plants that are found only on these islands.  Young readers will fully understand why finch beaks grew larger, seagulls got larger eyes, and tortoise shells changed shape.  The book ends with Darwin arriving on the shores of one of the islands.  This book is a celebration of these islands and the wonders of nature.

Chin’s book offers information that is solid and fascinating packaged with illustrations that capture the details of what is being explained.  It makes for a book that is bright and energized and that is clearly nonfiction as well.  The story of the birth and life of an island makes for a magnificent tale that readers are sure to respond to.

In his art, Chin brings the reader up close to what is happening on the island.  We get to look between the mangrove roots at sharks, watch pelicans feast on fish in the lagoons, and see land iguanas float on logs to reach the island.  Even better, as I mentioned earlier, the process of evolution is detailed so that readers can see the gradual but necessary changes that occurred.

This is one incredible nonfiction book that teachers, parents and students will enjoy looking through and learning from.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.