Carl and the Meaning of Life by Deborah Freedman (9780451474988)
When a mouse asks Carl, an earthworm, why he digs in the dirt all day, Carl doesn’t have a good answer. So he sets off to find one. He asks all sorts of animals in the meadow “Why?” Some of them answer with their own reasons for why they do what they do. Rabbit does things to take care of her babies. Fox does things to hunt. Squirrel plants trees by hiding nuts in the ground in order to have homes in the future. But why does an earthworm dig in the dirt? Carl doesn’t get any good answers. He finally finds himself on a hard patch of dirt where a beetle complains that he can’t find any grubs to eat. Suddenly, Carl understands what he does and why and begins to turn the hard earth into soft dirt. As he works, the area transforms back into green grass, planted seeds, and plenty of wildlife.
Freedman takes one worm’s curiosity about why he does things and cleverly transforms it into a look at the interconnected roles of animals and worms on the habitat they live in. The story here is tightly written, following a structure of questioning neighbors and coming to a conclusion that is familiar in children’s literature.
The illustrations really show exactly the impact of an earthworm and move from lushness to a dry landscape back to the beauty of new growth and then lushness once more. As always, Freedman’s watercolors are filled with color, even transforming the brown dirt into a fertile and fascinating space on the page.
Another winner from a master book creator. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking Books for Young Readers.
Mama Dug a Little Den by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Steve Jenkins (9781481480376)
In this companion book to Mama Built a Little Nest, the story explores the many animals who build dens to protect their babies. The book offers rhyming couplets as the main part of the story but each animal also has facts included on the page. These facts include how long the babies stay with their mothers, how the dens function and how the animals are fed while in the den. There are mammals, toads, lizards, spiders and many more on these pages, each with a unique den of their own and interesting reasons for having them.
Ward has selected a broad range of animals to highlight here. Her poems are jaunty and clever, the rhymes never feeling forced. The facts she shares are brief, pertinent and fascinating, just what you need in a picture book format. As always, Jenkins’ art is exceptional. He captures small details and interesting habitats with his cut paper collage that introduces texture to the illustrations as well.
Curl up in your own den to share this with your own baby animal. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.
Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (9781452145426, Amazon)
This is the third book by Messner and Neal that looks at different habitats and their above and below ground, or in this case water, life. In this book, readers get a look at what a pond is like while floating in a canoe on top of the water and then get to see below the water and glimpse the amazing things happening down there. The book focuses on the ecosystem itself and how the life above water works with that below. Moose graze on the side of the pond while beavers dive below the water. A heron strides along the shore and then strikes, eating the minnows below the water. This is a dynamic look at life on a pond that will make all readers dream of summer days out of doors.
Messner’s prose is evocative, inviting readers fully into this habitat both as the humans witnessing the beauty and as the animals who live there. The human perspective of the mirror of the water and turtles being startled is an important piece of this book. Even more vital are the underwater scenes and the scenes that bridge the two using animals and plants. That’s where it gets filled with wonder and Messner is happy to join us in that amazement and joy.
Neal’s illustrations are detailed and lush. I appreciate that the human characters in the canoe are people of color, a small detail that makes that book all the more diverse and welcoming. The natural elements are shown from a variety of perspectives. One of my favorites is looking up from the bottom of the pond to the boat above, seeing fish and turtles above the reader. Bliss!
A strong third book in this series, make sure to get all three for your library. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Welcome Home, Bear: A Book of Animal Habitats by Il Sung Na (InfoSoup)
Bear has been waking up to the same old forest and blue sky day after day, so he decides that he may need to find a new home. He sets off first to climb up a tree to see Bird’s home, but it was too high. Mole’s underground tunnels were stuffy and full of dirt. Goat’s cliff was too dizzying. Octopus’ underwater home was too deep. Polar Bear’s icy home was too cold. Camel’s desert was too hot on his paws. There were more that were too wet and too muddy. Bear was very sad. Where could he live that was just right for him?
Told in humorous and short lines, this picture book explore animal habitats in a lighthearted way. Bear’s exploration shows the differences in the needs of the animals in a subtle way, focusing more on Bear’s reaction to the places in the world. Bear is a great protagonist for this, since readers know from the very first page where he should be living and how different it is from the many places he visits.
Bear’s discomfort with each new habitat is delightfully illustrated to create humorous moments. From being squirted by a surprised octopus to Bear’s evident hatred of deep mud, the book is fast-paced and funny. The illustrations though are far from just being silly. They are lovely too. The habitats are beautifully depicted from the golden desert sand to the lushness of the rain forest. Each page and the animals themselves are textured and have a depth of color that is gorgeous. The final page of the dejected Bear heading back home with his shadow long on the ground is particularly lovely.
A lighthearted and richly illustrated look at animals and their habitats all through the eyes of one adventurous bear. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs by Lisa Kahn Schnell, illustrated by Alan Marks (InfoSoup)
The annual spawning of the horseshoe crabs serves as a way to speak about the life cycle of this fascinating creature. As the crabs come to the shore, they ride the high tide to get far enough up on the beach for their eggs to be safest. Following the crabs are the shorebirds who are looking for a feast. Humans are coming too, scientists who study both the crabs and the birds. The horseshoe crabs begin laying their eggs, their bodies piled high at the edge of the shore, all trying to reach the sand to deposit their eggs. The scientists tag the crabs, allowing them a better way to study how these creatures live and where they travel. The eggs that survive the birds feasting start to grow and the adult crabs return to the sea. A few weeks later, the baby crabs hatch and make their way down the sand to the sea too.
Schnell has created a book that celebrates the horseshoe crabs and highlights not only their life cycle but their impact on the larger habitat as well. Tying the human scientific element into the book as well informs young readers that there are interesting natural studies happening all around them. The final pages of the book offer many additional details on the horseshoe crab and how they function in the food system. Readers will also find more resources on the crabs including websites and books to explore.
Marks’ illustrations are beautiful and functional. He shows the wonder of life under the water as well as the gorgeous moonlit night that the crabs come to shore. The mix of underwater, sea and sky create a palette of blue that celebrates life.
A strong nonfiction picture book that highlights a fascinating and unique creature. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Plant a Pocket of Prairie by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Betsy Bowen
Prairies used to cover vast swaths of the United States, but are almost entirely gone now. In this nonfiction picture book, young readers are invited to create their own small prairies at home. Root offers ideas for what native prairie plants should be planted first and then ties each plant to a type of wildlife that will arrive along with the plants. Butterfly weed invites monarchs to your yard. Asters and rough blazing star bring even more butterflies. Toads, birds, mice, bumblebees, and more may appear in your little garden. And who knows, if lots of people plant a little prairie, eventually we may have prairies back across the nation.
Root has written this book in poetry that rhymes at times and others not. There are rhymes at the ends of lines, then internal rhymes within a line, and other times it is the rhythm and flow of the words themselves that create the structure. It has a strong organic feel to it, the names of the plants flowing into those of the animals they will bring to your yard. The book ends with information on all of the plants, animals and insects mentioned in the book as well as further information on the state of prairies in the United States and where you can go to see a prairie.
The illustrations by Bowen are light and free. They focus on the plants and animals, showing them clearly. Along the way, one bird moves from page to page, planting seeds that grow into the garden and building her own nest in the new habitat. There is a sense of the garden expanding and building as the book continues, yet that light feel continues throughout.
A song of the prairie, this book will inspire young gardeners to try native plants and is a great addition to curriculums in schools doing their own garden programs. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from digital galley received from University of Minnesota Press and NetGalley.
Tippy and the Night Parade by Lilli Carre
Released February 11, 2014.
In the morning when she wakes up, Tippy’s room is a complete mess. But all Tippy remembers is falling asleep, how did this all happen? The next night, she goes to bed as usual after cleaning up her room. And then readers get to see exactly what happens when Tippy goes sleepwalking along a pier, across the garden, hopping on lily pads, lost in the fog and trees, down a hole, into the desert, up a mountain and back down to her window. Just to wake up the next morning again without knowing what happened.
Carre lets her images tell the majority of the story in her debut graphic novel. And the images are a smart mix of modern with a vintage flair. They have a flatness to them that adds a quirky quality to the book. They also have a great sense of humor as the parade builds in length and more animals are included. My particular favorite is the rotund bear. And what a parade it is, sharp-eyed readers will enjoy looking at the mess in her room and matching the animals that had joined her walk back home.
Funny and quirky, this parade is one worth marching along with. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Toon Books.
No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young, illustrated by Nicole Wong
A close-up look at the favorite sweet treat of chocolate, this nonfiction picture book explains exactly what it takes to get chocolate. The book quickly moves to the tropical rain forests of Central and South America and the cocoa beans that grow there and how they are treated to get cocoa powder from them. The book then moves to explaining cocoa pods, cocoa flowers, and cocoa leaves, but animals quickly come into the process from the midges that pollinate the cocoa flowers as they lay their eggs to the maggots of the coffin flies that take over the brains of the leaf-cutter ants. Lizards and monkeys play a role too, but the monkeys are tantalizingly left to the end of the book. Told in factual information, the book also offers asides by two funny bookworms who wonder along with the reader what in the world monkeys have to do with chocolate!
This is a fascinating look at the complexities of something that many of us take for granted. Stewart, author of over 150 nonfiction books for children, worked with Allen Young, the world specialist on cocoa tree pollination and growth. The result is a book that is enticing both in its premise and its execution. Turning pages lets you learn more and the entire process is both odd and amazing.
The art by Wong has a wonderful lightness to it that fits the subject particularly well. The clever little bookworms add a whimsical note to the entire book with their ballooned speech bubbles, ballcap, flower and skirt.
A winner of a nonfiction picture book, this is one sweet addition to any library. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.
A Place for Turtles by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Higgins Bond
Another strong title in the A Place for… series, this book introduces children to turtles and the role that people play in keeping them safe and their habitats viable. Each page shows a different species of turtle in their specific habitat with the main part of the page explaining an overarching theme. The inset on each page talks about scientific facts about the turtles, often including ways that humans have helped turtles survive. The combination makes for an engaging way to present the information, giving readers the sense of digging deeper into the more specific information. The emphasis here is on being a good steward of the environment and the way that humans can ensure the continued survival of turtles.
Stewart writes with an engaging tone, inviting young readers to explore the subject. The insets on the pages are filled with dramatic examples, facts and scientific information. Yet they never feel heavy thanks to the fine selection of intriguing information provided. Bond’s illustrations reveal the lives of turtles, from the sea turtles escaping fishing nets to the lethal beauty of purple loosestrife. He captures the beauty of both the habitat and the creatures.
A fine choice for library nonfiction collections, this is a great introduction to turtles and an inspiring call to action for children. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.