A Way with Wild Things by Larissa Theule

A Way with Wild Things by Larissa Theule

A Way with Wild Things by Larissa Theule, illustrated by Sara Palacios (9781681190396)

Poppy is a little girl who loves bugs and spending time alone outside. Around other people, she tends to fade into the background, disappearing into the potted plants and the wallpaper. At her Grandma Phyllis’ 100th birthday party, Poppy hides in the bushes. She enjoys watching the party from there, seeing the different people as colorful leaves. When a dragonfly enters the party, it lands on the birthday cake, and Poppy claps her hands in joy. One of her relatives leans in and calls her a wallflower. Poppy wilts, but the dragonfly darts over to land on her hand. Soon everyone is gathered around and Grandma Phyllis declares her a “wild flower” rather than a wallflower. 

Told with a great empathy towards Poppy and her need for quiet contemplation and connection with bugs and nature, this picture book celebrates solitude and being understood. All shy folks will recognize the rather pushy nature of relatives who suddenly notice a quiet child and call them out. The beauty here is that Poppy finds her own way forward with the help of an insect friend. 

The illustrations are done in cut paper, paints and digitally, combining layers together. This has created organic-feeling images that have a wonderful play of texture and pattern. The finer details of the illustrations contribute to the layered effect.

A quiet picture book just right for reading outside on a blanket. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Review: The Bug Girl by Sophia Spencer

The Bug Girl by Sophia Spencer

The Bug Girl by Sophia Spencer with Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Kerascoet (9780525645931)

This is the true story of a little girl who loves bugs, written by her. She first fell for bugs at two-and-a-half years old when she visited a butterfly conservatory with her mother. She loved books about insects and noticed them everywhere she went. In kindergarten, everyone thought that bugs were cool too. Sophia started a bug hunter club at school and had her own collection of live insects on the porch at home. But in first grade, bugs weren’t cool anymore and the other kids started to call Sophia weird for liking them so much. Sophia was dejected and tried to stop liking bugs, but that didn’t work. So her mother went online and reached out to scientists about their own love of bugs. Stories poured in, supporting Sophia and her passion for insects. Sophia was now making news herself and also got her name on a scientific article, all because of being the bug girl.

Written in Sophia’s own voice, this picture book is entirely engaging. It demonstrates how finding one’s passion in life is a powerful thing, but that the world can also be less than encouraging if you are a girl exploring science and creepy crawlies like insects. The change from kindergarten to first grade is dramatic and impactful, even resulting in one dead bug, killed right in front of Sophia. The end of the book offers an example of the sort of bug book that Sophia would love to write, filled with information on a variety of insects. 

The art is bright and fresh, done in watercolors on white pages. They move from full-page illustrations to smaller ones that capture events in a brisk and friendly way. 

A book about following your bliss, particularly if it’s a trail of ants. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.

Review: Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist by Christine Evans

Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist by Christine Evans

Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist: A True Story of a World-Traveling Bug Hunter by Christine Evans, illustrated by Yasmin Imamura (9781943147663)

Born in 1881, Evelyn Cheesman did not conform to the expectations set for little girls. She loved to go on bug hunts and play outside. As she grew up, she hoped to become a veterinarian but women at the time did not attend college much less become vets. So Evelyn became a canine nurse. Evelyn heard about an opportunity at the London Zoo to run their insect house. She leaped at the opportunity, though no woman had ever done it before. She took their dilapidated and neglected insect house and created an engaging display. She then started traveling the world to gather new species and discovering unknown species along the way. She continued to work into her seventies, still traveling the world and climbing to find the insects she loved.

Evans has written this picture book biography with a frank tone that speaks directly to the societal barriers in place against women at the turn of the century entering the sciences. It is remarkable to watch Evelyn make her own way through those barriers, creating a space for herself to learn and explore. There is a joyous celebratory nature to the book as Evelyn reaches new levels in her careers and crosses boundaries both geographical and societal.

The illustrations are done in watercolor, featuring layered elements that really create the woods and other habitats beautifully on the page. The book then moves into the sterility of Evelyn’s time as a canine nurse with the colors becoming more muted. The vivid colors of the beginning of the book return as Evelyn heads into the field and re-enters nature.

A strong STEM biography for bug lovers. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Innovation Press.

Review: The Last Peach by Gus Gordon

The Last Peach by Gus Gordon

The Last Peach by Gus Gordon (9781626723504)

Released May 16, 2019.

Two bugs happen upon the last peach of the summer, still hanging high in the peach tree. The two agree that is is the most beautiful peach they have seen that year. They decide to eat it immediately, until a grasshopper mentions that it must be the last peach of the season. They once again decide to go ahead and eat it. Then another insect says that it is probably rotten inside. The two go back and forth about whether to eat it. Maybe just one little bite? Maybe they should share it with everyone else? Maybe they should just leave it? Or perhaps each of them just wants it for their own. In the end, the two walk away from the glorious peach. But is it a peach after all?

Gordon is an Australian author and illustrator. Writing solely in dialogue in this picture book, he captures what friendship looks like with its give and take. He also shows how small decisions can become major friction in a friendship and how not to navigate those issues, since our bug friends get in a brawl because of it. This picture book reads aloud beautifully and could quickly be turned into a reader’s theater. The illustrations are done in collage that skillfully uses a variety of different types of paper that pops against the white background. The result is a minimalist feel with great pops of green and peachy colors. The twist at the end, revealed only in the illustrations adds a sense of delight to the entire book.

A tantalizing peach of a book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Cicada by Shaun Tan

Cicada by Shaun Tan

Cicada by Shaun Tan (9781338298390)

Cicada has worked for seventeen years in a high rise office. He isn’t given any benefits, because he’s not human. He can’t use the office restroom because it’s for humans. He works hard, finishing people’s work for them. He lives in the space between the walls, since he can’t afford rent. The company knows about this but ignores it. Sometimes humans beat him up because he’s different. Finally, it comes time for Cicada to retire. There is no party or fond farewell, just clearing his desk and leaving. Cicada heads up to the top of the building and….

I can’t ruin the ending of this book for you. Just know that it is incredibly moving and powerful. This is a book that is impossible to categorize. It comes closest to being a picture book for teens, since it doesn’t really have a graphic novel feel. In libraries, I’d put it with the graphic novels for teens though, because those young adults will enjoy it most. Tan speaks directly to those in soul-killing jobs, who work day after day for a pay check that isn’t enough. Cicada’s voice is particularly haunting. Written in abruptly disconnected sentences that are distinctive, Cicada also ends each page with insect noises that create poetry.

Tan’s illustrations are very effective. With gray layered on gray, the world is washed out and faded. Walls, floors, cubicles, furniture. Everything is despairingly monotone. But then you have bright-green Cicada, wearing his fitted gray suit and trying not only to fit in but to help out. The final images in the book stick with you too.

An incredible book for teens, this one is sad, surprising and uplifting. It’s my new choice for graduation gifts. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: A Web by Isabelle Simler

A Web by Isabelle Simler

A Web by Isabelle Simler (9781441328434)

A spider takes a look at the things around her and then demonstrates her skill as a webmaker and an artist. The book features all sorts of items from the spider’s world. There are twigs, feathers, pebbles, insects, leaves, flowers, and more. With each spread of a variety of different kinds of these items, each item is labeled and the pages are filled with details worth exploring. Sharp-eyed readers will notice a spider lurking nearby. At first this is subtle, but soon the black legs of the spider are impossible to miss. When her art is unveiled at the end, readers will realize the care with which she has chosen from the wide array of different pieces for her work.

Simler’s text is minimal, offering basically the category that the items fall into and then labels for each item. The splendor of this title are the finely detailed illustrations that invite readers in. Children who love to categorize items or enjoy nature will love to pore over the pages here. The addition of the art at the end is a splendid surprise for readers who thought they were in a more serious nonfiction book.

Expect children to want to hold this on their laps and really look at the illustrations. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: What’s Your Favorite Bug? by Eric Carle

What's Your Favorite Bug by Eric Carle

What’s Your Favorite Bug? by Eric Carle and Friends (9781250151759)

Following the first two picture books in this series, this one focuses entirely on insects. As with the other boos, Eric Carle is joined by other illustrators who draw an image of their favorite insect, tell a little about it and explain why they love it. One of the major treats of this series is never knowing what the page turn will bring, since each double-page spread is done by a different illustrator.

This collection has racial diversity in the illustrators included and also has a nice mix of male and female artists. As with all of the books in the series, there is a wonderful diversity in the art styles as well. The design of the book and the order of the pages works particularly well. There are dark and bright pages that lead readers on a journey of light and shadow that is particularly effective when combined with the crawly nature of bugs.

Another winner in this series that will have you searching out new illustrators to see their full books. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt.

 

3 New Picture Books to Get You Moving

Dance, Dance, Dance!

Dance, Dance, Dance! By Ethan Long (9780823438594)

A great mix of picture book and beginning reader, this story features Horse who loves to dance. Buggy is a little concerned though because there isn’t any music, so is Horse really dancing? Horse invites Buggy to join him, but Buggy just isn’t sure. When Horse tries to make Buggy feel better about not being able to dance, he manages to insult her. So Buggy starts dancing too. They add some great music. Soon Buggy is dancing but now Horse is doing something else: resting.

Long has a great touch with humor in picture books. He makes it broad enough for children to immediately relate to it but not so much as to lose the appeal of discovering the humor for yourself. Horse and Buggy make a strong pair, with the exuberant Horse doing his own thing and Buggy reflecting more of what the reader’s reaction is. The illustrations are large and vibrant filled with bright-colored backgrounds and the gyrations of Horse and Buggy’s dances. One to get the wiggles out! Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from copy provided by Holiday House.)

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The Field by Baptiste Paul, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara (9780735843127)

Told in both Creole and English, this picture book tells the story of a group of children who want to play soccer together, but they have all sorts of obstacles to overcome. They have to move the cows and goats out of the field and then start to play. Once the game really gets going, the rain starts. They quickly decide to keep right on playing even in the wet and the mud. At the end of the day, they go home dirty and happy.

Set on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, the book invites readers to see connections between Creole and other languages. The text is simple and bold, poetic with its short lines. The entire book is filled with energy and action as the children take the initiative to create a field and play together. The illustrations convey this energy with deep colors that shine on the page. The green grass is nearly neon, the sunlight almost glows, and the color of the children’s clothes completes the rainbow-like palette. A great read that will appeal to young sports fans of any culture. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

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A Hippy-Hoppy Toad by Peggy Archer, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf (9780399556760)

A teeny-tiny toad sits on a twig above a little puddle on the road. His adventure begins when the twig snaps and sends him flying upwards into a tree. A bird tries to peck him, so he jumps down landing on a flower where he has to escape a buzzing bee. He hops down into the safety of the grass on the side of the road, where the toad spots a cricket worth chasing. The cricket escapes thanks to a dog and a lizard. The toad is then picked up with the leaves by the wind and blown into a shoe that takes him on a wild run along the road, right back to his very own twig above the little puddle.

Told in rollicking rhyme, this picture books is a galloping read that begs to be read aloud, giggled at together and shared. There is a wonderful rhythm to the book, a structure that is familiar and yet played with just enough to not be predictable. The nod to traditional songs is appreciated as are the modern touches. The illustrations are filled with small touches of nature with wildflowers blooming and snails and ants climbing around. They also capture the wild journey of our little toad as he adventures through the habitat.

Share this one at your next story time focused on frogs, toads or if you just want kids to jump around a bit. Appropriate for ages 2-5. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade Books and Edelweiss.)

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

du-iz-tak-by-carson-ellis

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis (InfoSoup)

This inventive picture book takes a close-up look at a garden filled with insects. There is the caterpillar who enters his chrysalis, beetles and a ladybug who notice a sprout growing. They go to Icky, who lives in a log nearby and who has a ladder they can use. The sprout continues to grow and grow. At night other insects and bugs come out. Soon a fort is built in the growing plant but then, disaster! A spider comes and webs the entire plant. As nature continues to take its course, more insects arrive to see the plant flower. Slowly the plant tips over and the fort falls. Seeds drift to the ground. Fall arrives and the butterfly emerges from her cocoon. In spring, new sprouts appear.

The summary above does not capture what is truly amazing about this book. It is the language play, the word choices and the way that at first it seems like a foreign language but by the end of the book you are “speaking” and understanding bug. The language has phrases that are recognizable, allows for decoding of the language and then repeats in a way that allows readers to better understand. It’s very cleverly done and a book unlike any other I’ve experienced.

Ellis’ illustrations add to the otherworldly appeal of this book. Many of the insects are recognizable and still they are strange and wild. The illustrations beautifully focus on the same log and plant throughout, with seasons changing, the plant growing, and the insects coming and going. It is rather like an organic theatrical set and stage.

I have a deep affection for this zany picture book. Children who enjoy word play will love this and may find themselves speaking the bug language for awhile. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Candlewick Press.