The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures by Curtis Manley

Cover image of The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures.

The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures by Curtis Manley, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins (9781250246714)

Roberta spends her time rescuing tiny creatures. She flips over pillbugs and moves worms from sidewalks. But everyone around her doesn’t understand. Her classmates make fun of her and her teacher insists that she wash her hands. At home, her cat helps out and so does her little brother, watching as she takes the ladybug outside safely. Some of the creatures, Roberta gets to know better before she has to release them. Others are only welcome in certain places and still others bite. If Roberta finds a dead creature, she collects them to look at how beautiful they are. When spiders emerge at school, Roberta is able to figure out a solution that has everyone helping out and gets the spiders safely outside. After the spider excitement, Maria approaches Roberta at recess and the two dream of all of the larger animals they can rescue together, maybe with a bit more help.

Manley takes the ickiness of bugs and worms away and instead celebrates them as creatures worthy of saving. Roberta is a wonderful example of what paying attention to small things can become, showing a deep kindness towards all lifeforms and the brain of a scientist as she gathers more information. With the spider incident at school, Roberta fully comes into her own as she takes her knowledge and turns it into shared action. It’s a brilliant and affirming moment that becomes a way to connect with others with similar interests.

Cummins uses her signature simple illustrations to great effect here. Their whimsical nature adds to the special appeal of insects and bugs and show how Roberta feels connected to them.

A buggy book of daily heroism. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Begin with a Bee by Liza Ketchum

Cover image for Begin with a Bee.

Begin with a Bee by Liza Ketchum, Jacqueline Briggs and Phyllis Root, illustrated by Claudia McGehee (9781517908041)

On a winter day, take a look in a small hole and you will find a solitary rusty-patched queen bee. She waits all winter long, her body holding everything needed to create a new colony of bees that year. As the sun shines and spring comes, the bee awakens and travels from flower to flower, eating and eating. Now she must find where she will build her nest. Once she finds the right spot, she builds a pot of wax from her body and fills it with nectar to help her survive the rainy days and the long days of caring for her eggs. She carries pollen to the nest until she lays her eggs and sits with them, shivering to keep them warm. The eggs hatch into grubs who them make cocoons and weeks later the pupae are finally bees! The queen continues to lay eggs through the summer as the other worker bees gather pollen. That fall, the new queens mate with male bees from neighboring colonies and then must find their own hole to survive the winter.

This picture book celebrates the life of the rusty-patched bee by focusing on how they survive the winter and how one lone queen bee carries the future of an entire colony in her body. Throughout the book, the authors show their own marveling at the way that nature works and the incredible burden and hard work this little queen bee must accomplish to allow her offspring to survive. The text is simple and poetic, letting even the smallest children learn about bees and life cycles.

The illustrations are done in scratchboard art that richly mimics woodcut prints. The thick black lines are accompanied by natural colors that evoke the nature around the bee habitat, including a wide variety of the native plants and flowers that keep them alive. Detailed images of the bee lifecycle are shared, often embraced by oval shapes.

A gorgeous and informative look at the bee lifecycle. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by University of Minnesota Press.

13 Ways to Eat a Fly by Sue Heavenrich

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13 Ways to Eat a Fly by Sue Heavenrich, illustrated by David Clark (9781580898904)

In this hilarious reverse counting book, various creatures consume the thirteen flies. The various flies are given their specific species names as they are eaten. Facts are also shared about each of the predators. The book is inviting and offers a humorous take on the science of eating flies. There are frogs that eat them, spiders, other insects, fish, birds, bats, and even one human (who eats the last fly by mistake!) And remember, even as these 13 flies are eaten, more are emerging all the time.

Heavenrich takes clear glee in sharing strange and fascinating ways that flies can be eaten. She shares facts that will have children turning the pages to discover the next amazing piece of information. Even those who think they know all about insects, frogs and animals will be intrigued by some of the data. After all, who wouldn’t want to learn about a fungus that turns a fly into a zombie!

The art in this nonfiction picture book adds to the joy of the text. Clark creates dramatic moments with his humorous illustrations, depicting the last moments of each fly’s life just before they are eaten. The googly-eyed flies are full of gangly legs, beating wings and despair.

The ultimate in gross and cool nonfiction. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Charlesbridge.

Strange Nature: The Insect Portraits of Levon Biss by Gregory Mone

Cover image for Strange Nature.

Strange Nature: The Insect Portraits of Levon Biss by Gregory Mone, illustrated by Levon Biss (9781419731662)

Levon Biss is a photographer who usually took pictures of celebrities and politicians. When his son brought him a regular garden beetle, the two of them looked at it under a microscope and were amazed at what they saw. Biss then selected 37 insects from the collection of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History to photograph. He used special lenses, cameras and lights to take thousands of pictures of each insect. Those many images were then combined to create the Microsculpture project. The images were enlarged and shown in museums around the world. This nonfiction picture book explores the images created from the Microsculpture project and offers information on each of the insects.

Mone’s text is limited to explaining how Biss got into photographing insects and then moves into sharing scientific information and fascinating facts about each insect. The book includes a glossary and an encouragement to head to the Microsculpture website to learn even more. Mone’s information is nicely selected offering enticing facts, measurements and also pointing out the most interesting parts of the photograph to the reader.

The portraits are incredibly detailed and beautiful. From the lighting that captures each insects iridescence to the incredible shapes of their bodies and armor. The book offers close ups of various parts of each insect, allowing readers to see eyes, legs, heads and more up close. These images are transformative, letting all of us know that we walk in a world of tiny amazing monsters.

Remarkable photographs that will have you leaning in close to see even more, if you dare! Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.

The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold

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The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold (9780593202227)

There are only a few people who survived the devastation of the Fly Flu, a combination of an infectious flu carried by ravenous modified bees who will eat any living thing they can find. Nico has grown up in a house with her parents, surviving from one delivery of food to the next. But her mother recently died after losing her mental capabilities and her father appears to have the beginnings of the same problem. Nico’s father has told her tales of caring for a bell that will open a portal in another town, days away. Now Nico must hope that there is truth to her father’s stories as she leaves the shelter of their home and heads into the wilds with her dog. A young person named Kit also survived the Fly Flu. He lives with his mother and adopted siblings in an old movie theater. They grow their own food and try to reach out via radio to other survivors. Kit’s mother also starts to fail, sweating and confused. Now he and his siblings must leave their shelter as well to find a new way to survive. Deliverer is the person who delivered supplies to Nico’s home. Protected by a special suit, they work to try to have as many as possible survive the flu, no matter how many tries it takes.

Arnold has written a complex and layered science fiction novel. With moments of pure horror, the book dances that fine line between sci fi and horror beautifully with the bloodthirsty swarms of insects and the dangerous humans as well. It also incorporates time travel in a way that is delicately threaded through the book, showing up in glimpses and hints before being fully revealed. The writing is exquisitely done, offering clues and puzzles that click together into a whole by the end of the book.

The characters are well written and a pleasure to spend time with. Unique and interesting, they all are fully drawn, even the secondary ones. Nico is a strong character, driven by growing up without others around, she soon finds herself sharing her journey with others. Kit manages to draw others to him naturally, often serving as the bond that holds different groups together. Arnold writes his characters with empathy, care and yet never loses sight of the dangers he is placing them in.

Terrifying, joyous and full of opportunity, this apocalyptic book is never easy or simple. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Viking Books for Young Readers.

You’re Invited to a Moth Ball by Loree Griffin Burns

Cover image for You’re Invited to a Moth Ball

You’re Invited to a Moth Ball by Loree Griffin Burns, photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz (9781580896863)

Combining detailed instructions, plenty of encouragement and vivid photography, this book invites families and classes to create their own nighttime moth ball. The first steps are understanding moths and then putting together the supplies and tools you will need: including a sheet, rope, UV collecting light, and your own camera and flashlight. Prepare the screen and then also make sure you have a snack, one for the moths of course! Now you have two types of bait: light and nectar. Patience is part of the process, as more moths will come as the night gets later and darker. Take your time, be gentle, and marvel at these creatures that live all around us.

Burns offers such a merry invitation to readers in this book, making it feel like a true celebration of insects that we often take for granted or don’t even think about. Her encouragement to do research is appreciated, dedicating time in her set up of the moth ball to model reading books and learning about the creatures you are going to view. Her instructions are child-centered, creating a process that children can do themselves and participate in directly.

The photographs also center on the children managing the entire process themselves. When night falls, the magic in the photos happens as children carry their own lights, the moths arrive and the real party begins. The images of the moths themselves show their proboscis, furry bodies and amazing wings.

A grand project to immerse children and families into wildlife, insects and spending the night outside. Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

The Paper Boat by Thao Lam (9781771473637)

Inspired by her own family’s refugee story, this wordless picture book shares the story of a family fleeing Vietnam. Ant crawl around the food on the table in Vietnam, lured into a bowl of sugar water. A little girl saves the ants from the trap and prevents them from drowning. Meanwhile outside the window, tanks and soldiers appear and the family flees into the night, separating from one another. The little girl and her mother hide in the tall grass, narrowly avoiding the searching soldiers. The girl notices a line of ants leaving the grass. They follow the ants and discover the shore where they wait for the boat to carry them away. In the meantime, they make a paper boat from a food wrapper that is used by the ants to escape across the water too. In a new country, the family gathers around a table together, the ants arrive as well.

Lam’s art is exceptional. She has created a detailed world of harrowing dangers in her depiction of Vietnam. Just having the money and papers mixed with bowls of food on the family table indicates a family ready to flee. The loving family provide moments of connection even as they flee, caring for the spirits of the little one among them.

The most powerful piece of the book is when the ants venture onto the sea in their small paper boat. Some ants perish on the journey, hunger is an issue, and they barely survive, in the end swimming to the safety of the shore. That allegory allows the dangers of the journey to be shown in detail but through ants rather than the direct loss of the characters. It’s powerful and also appropriate for children to begin to understand.

This important wordless picture book tells the refugee story with empathy and strength. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Owlkids.

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.