The Perfect Tree by Chloe Bonfield (InfoSoup)
Jack headed out to find the perfect tree, one that was just right to chop down for firewood. But he was having trouble finding that perfect tree. Jack finally sat down under a tree in the forest in despair. Then a woodpecker offered to help Jack find the perfect tree. She flew to a tree and after knocking on a branch all sorts of birds flew out of it. Then a squirrel said that he too could show Jack the perfect tree. Taking Jack into a great oak tree, the squirrel revealed his stash of nuts and berries for the winter. Next a spider showed Jack her favorite tree where a web hung filled with water drops. It was then that Jack was inspired by the rain to find another perfect tree that was just right to stay dry under.
Bonfield has written an ecology picture book that focuses not on how wrong it is to cut down trees, but instead how the definition of “perfect” means different things to different creatures. And how your appreciation of an object in a new way leads to changes in the way you see the world. I appreciate that the book does not lecture about the environment or appreciating nature. Instead the book focuses on the beauty of nature and how it can transform us if we pay attention.
Bonfield’s illustrations are amazing. Done in papercut images and collage, they form two and three dimensional structures and then are lit so that there are shadows that play against other parts of the illustration that glow. The result is a picture book landscape that feels immersive and tangible.
A clever look at the pursuit of perfection and the power of nature. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
North Woods Girl by Aimee Bissonette, illustrated by Claudia McGehee (InfoSoup)
A girl tells about her grandmother who is not like other grandmas. She dresses in Grandpa’s old flannel shirts and she’s bony. She doesn’t bake cookies or pies, but she does take long walks out in nature. With her trusty walking stick, the two of them explore the little paths near Grandma’s house. Every season there are new things to see, things in the garden to do. The two love winter best of all, especially winter nights with a full moon when they explore the snowy woods. Grandma may not be like other grandma’s but she’s pretty special and a north woods girl to the quick.
Bissonette captures the spirit of a north woods woman beautifully in her picture book. From the no-fuss long grey braid, the flannel shirts, the stout boots to the way that nature speaks to her and that she knows it so well. This book is a celebration of the north woods too, the ways that the woods changes in different seasons, the animals that fill it, and the glory of a winter woods.
McGehee’s scratchboard illustrations have a rustic beauty. The colors are deep and lovely, and they capture the spirit of the woods. In fact, there are moments when you can almost smell the pines and the grass. There is a subtle multiculturalism here too with the little girl’s darker skin tone and curly hair. The pages are crowded with details of the woods, filled with animals and insects.
A lovely look at the northern woods, this picture book celebrates unique grandmothers living in a unique place. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Minnesota Historical Society Press.
Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (InfoSoup)
This award-winning husband and wife team return with another winner of a picture book. Peter knows that moving to a new house is a bad idea, especially when he sees the dark woods. Their new house is on the other side of a bridge from the woods. Peter and his dog Harold spend a sleepless night watch the bridge to make sure nothing crosses it from the woods. Then they head out and use pillows and blankets to create Lenny, a guardian. Unfortunately, they worried that Lenny might be lonely out there at night all alone, so again they did not sleep. The next day, they took blankets and leaves and created a second guardian, Lucy. That night, everyone slept. And the next day, a visitor arrived, one who shows that despite the scary woods this might be a good place to live after all.
Stead has the beautiful ability to create a story out of leaves, pillows and blankets. This book speaks to all children who have moved and those who have been afraid of other things too. There is a menacing sense from the woods, and Stead combats that with a concrete feel of normalcy but also a strong creativity. This all feels like childhood to me, capturing that wonder mixed with fear that turns into something else all the more powerful.
Erin Stead’s art has a delicacy about it that matches Philip’s tone in his prose. She creates a linear forest, uncluttered and somehow all the more strange and alien because of that. The hulking bodies of Lenny and Lucy are so solid on the page that they combat that feeling just by being there. Readers will immediately see the safety in these creatures.
This is a story of moving but also about wonder and fear. It’s a brilliant picture book, one to finish with a contented smile. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
What Forest Knows by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by August Hall
This poetic exploration of the seasons invites young readers into the forest to see what happens to the animals and plants as the seasons change. It begins with snow, which is something the forest knows well. It also knows about waiting, so it waits as the animals in the forest sleep and rest during the cold. Then buds come and creeks run and birds fly and it’s spring. All of the animals and insects awaken and come out into the growing grass. Fruit arrives with fall, nuts ready for squirrels to harvest. Animals eat to survive the next winter. Finally, there is snow again in the forest and an invitation to make the forest yours too.
Lyon’s poem is glorious. She winds through the forest along with the breezes, touching down and pointing out exactly the right things. It’s a poem that is organic and natural, celebrating everything in the woods, the ongoing changes, and allowing us to see ourselves reflected in the woods as well. This book is an invitation to explore during all seasons, to look for birds and bugs and mammals as we walk.
Hall’s illustrations add to that immense appeal of nature and the forest. His paintings play with the light as it changes through the seasons as well as the colors of the trees and the grass as the time passes. They are dappled and lush, filled with the movement of the wind and the movement of the leaves.
A great addition to the crowded shelves about seasons, this picture book combines poetry with gorgeous illustrations. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Flashlight by Lizi Boyd
Released August 12, 2014.
The author of the fantastic Inside Outside returns with another wordless book featuring the same little boy. Here the boy is outside in a tent at night and uses his flashlight to explore. As he moves around, his flashlight shows white and color against the deep black and greys of the rest of the scene. He locates his lost yellow boot, finds different animals out at night, sees plants and fish, and finds an apple to eat. But then he trips and his flashlight goes flying until it is found by a raccoon who uses it to show the boy himself in the beam. Then all of the animals get a turn with the flashlight until they lead the boy back to his tent.
I adore this book. It is so simple with the pitch blackness of the page, the grey lines that show the characters and nature, and then that surprising and revealing beam of light that cuts a swath through the darkness. One reason it works so well is that the rest of the page is not complete darkness, instead you get a feel of the woods around and the animals, but when the light does shine on them even more is shown.
Boyd uses small cutouts on the page to great effect. They reveal dens, flowers, small touches. In their own subtle way, they too shine a light of attention on even smaller components of the illustrations. They are a subtle but important part of the book.
Beautiful, dark and mysterious, this picture book is a wordless story of exploration and wonder. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Wild by Emily Hughes
When the baby girl was found in the woods by the animals, the entire woods took her in. Bird taught her to talk. Bear taught her to fish. Fox taught her how to play. Everything was good, until she met some people in the woods. They took her home with them. A famous psychiatrist took her in and tried to make her civilized. They combed her hair, tried to teach her to speak, frowned at her table manners and didn’t appreciate the way she played. Everything they did was wrong. The girl was not happy at all. But then one day, she found her wild once more.
Told only in brief sentences, Hughes lets her art tell much of the story here. And what a glorious story it is. It’s the story of a child perfectly at home in the wild and with the animals. She doesn’t long for society or civilization in any way. She’s the opposite of many classic book characters like Curious George. She rejects the rules and substitutes her own.
The art has a wonderful wild quality as well. It is lush and filled with details. The woods have a flowing green that is mesmerizing. Once the humans enter the story, things become more angular and rigid. The return to the woods is beautiful and completely satisfying.
Hughes has tapped into what every child dreams of, living in the woods with the animals and thriving. Everyone who reads this will want to be wild themselves. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
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.
Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley
This debut picture book started life as a self-published work. As such, it was the cream of the crop, because it is also one of the best wordless picture books of the year, bar none. Hank is a little bear, or some sort of bear-like creature, who happens upon an egg on the ground in the forest. Looking around, he locates the nest that it must have fallen from, but even though he tries several different ways, is unable to reach the nest to return the egg to safety. Night falls and Hank keeps the egg warm at his campsite all night long. In the morning, he returns to the nest and finds the mother bird there. An ingenious solution gets the egg up to the nest and before long, Hank is rewarded for his kindness.
This wordless picture book has a charm that is hard to put into words. Dudley has handcrafted all of the items on the page, from the brown leaves that blanket the floor of the forest to the unfurling green fronds of fern that add to the hopeful feeling of the book to Hank and the trees that surround him. All are photographed with a great sense of detail and also a wonderful depth of field that make it all seem real and true.
Beautiful and charming, this little book is sure to become a favorite. Time to curl up with your own little bear and enjoy. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Red Knit Cap Girl by Naoko Stoop
Red Knit Cap Girl finds that when she is in the forest, she has time to think about all sorts of things. In particular, she thinks about the moon and how she can get close enough to speak with her. She tries reaching the moon with a branch, finding her in the reflection in the water, but nothing works. Hedgehog recommends that she find Owl and ask about how to reach the moon. So she does, and Owl tells her that there is no way to reach the moon, but she will bend down to listen. So Red Knit Cap Girl heads out to find a way to get the moon to listen. She decides to have a party for the moon and all of her friends help. Bear and Squirrel hang lanterns in the trees that she has folded. But moon does not appear. What can they do to get moon to listen?
Stoop’s book is eye-catching and gorgeous. Painted on plywood, the grain of the wood becomes a large part of the images. The grain becomes clouds in the sky, patterns on the shore, and darkness in the deep forest. It also works tremendously well with the subject of a girl in a forest. The colors are deep and beautiful, so rich that they are almost wet in places. The reds glow, the blues haunt, and the deep browns are real shadows. Against these rich colors, the simple lines of the drawings pop. The animals and Red Knit Cap Girl ground the book with their distinctive charm.
The writing is equally lovely with moments that catch the breath. From the opening line, I knew I was going to love this book: “In the forest, there is time to wonder about everything.” Isn’t that just the way you feel when you venture into the woods, like time has stopped and there are moments of eternity just to think?
A shining picture book that has a richness and beauty that does not negate its inherent child appeal. Add this to your next story time on moons or forests. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.