Bring Me a Rock by Daniel Miyares (InfoSoup)
A demanding grasshopper wearing a crown insists that the other insects bring him a rock! Big rocks to build his pedestal so that it is suitable for a king. So the insects bring back rocks and the king accepts most of them with little grace. One though, carried by the smallest insect is not worthy of being part of his pedestal and is rejected along with the little bug who brought it. Now the grasshopper king has created a pedestal to sit high upon with all of the rocks piled one upon another. But it is not balanced and begins to tip. Luckily though, the small pebble that the little bug brought is just right to save the day.
Miyares has written this picture book entirely in dialogue and almost all of it in the imperious and demanding voice of the grasshopper. That makes for a great read aloud where storytellers can get into the character and exaggerate it for comic effect. Then the little bug also speaks and in the end equalizes the roles of all of the insects alongside the king. The end is a welcome twist where the kind is on his pedestal but so are all of the other bugs too.
The illustrations are done in watercolor and digital resulting in a book that is filled with light and lush greens. The grasshopper and the other insects are colorful against the yellow sky and greenery and the critical pebble glows white on the page, immediately showing its importance even before it is used.
Read this one aloud with plenty of energy and dynamics and it will add plenty of zing to any summer story time. Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Worm Loves Worm by JJ Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato (InfoSoup)
Two worms have fallen in love and decide to get married. They get lots of advice from other insects. Cricket offers to marry them. Beetle insists on being the “best beetle.” The Bees want to be the bride’s bees. Cricket tells them that they need rings for their fingers, but they don’t have fingers so they wear the rings as belts. There has to be a band and a dance even though the worms don’t dance, they just wiggle. Then come the clothes and the cake. But which worm is the bride and which is the groom?
Austrian has created a completely fabulous picture book. What starts as a look at weddings and marriage broadens to become about the ability to marry whomever we love. By the end, the gender of either worm stays completely ambiguous and all that matters is that they can be married to one another because they love each other. The message is simple and creatively shown. The gender-free worms are a perfect pick for the main characters, offering lots of personality without committing to either gender.
Curato’s illustrations are wonderfully jolly. They capture the rather sanctimonious Cricket and the stuffy beetle with their conservative dress and attitudes. The merry bees are more friendly, but also help insist on a bride and groom. The worms themselves contrast with the others in their plainness and joy in one another. While they are unruffled by the rules of being married, their take on love wins in the end.
A celebration of the freedom to marry, this picture book is sure to cause a new stir among the same crowd bothered by And Tango Makes Three. Enjoy! Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Balzer + Bray.
Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre and His World of Insects by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Giuliano Ferri (InfoSoup)
In a small French village lives a strange man who is interested in the smallest of creatures, the insects around us. He lures flies with dead animals that he pays the children in the village to find. His home is filled with specimens. No one realized that he was one of the greatest naturalists of his time. Jean-Henri Fabre grew up in the countryside where he was fascinated by the natural world around him. No one else seemed interested in the same things that he was, but that didn’t deter him from investigating them. Henri became a teacher and studied hard, but not about insects. It was not until a book rekindled his interest that he started to study them in a serious way as an adult. He discovered things about insects that no one else had ever seen and he documented them fully. So when scientists in France nominated one of their own for a tremendous national honor, they voted for Fabre.
Smith writes with a gentle tone throughout, documenting Fabre’s entire life from his childhood to the great honor he received from his peers and his nation. The story starts with the arrival of the president of France for the award and then shows how Fabre’s fascination with insects started as a boy. The period of time when insects were not a focus is clear but also brief and then the book grows almost merry as it documents the many accomplishments of this humble man who followed his own interests in science.
The illustrations are pastoral and lovely. They capture the beauty of the French countryside and also the wonder of the insects, showing them in great detail. There is a playfulness to the illustrations that also reflects the childlike joy that Fabre found in his wonder about insects.
A lovely book about a scientist who followed his own dreams and interests to great acclaim. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Fly! by Karl Newsom Edwards
Little Fly can’t do what the other bugs in the garden can do. He tries to act just like them, but it doesn’t work out quite right. He can’t wiggle like a worm or jump like a grasshopper. He can’t march in formation like the ants or swing like a spider. He’s hopeless at digging and chewing leaves too. It’s not until some flying insects inspire him to try his wings that he figures out exactly what he’s meant to do – fly!
This very simple picture book works so well. The insect who is doing the movement or action states it with confidence and in their own unique font. Then Fly tries it too but always with a question mark wondering about it. So the book reads aloud well and offers plenty of options for tone and approach as a teacher or librarian. In other words, be just as silly as you would like and it will work well.
One of the huge strengths of this book is its illustrations. From the pop-eyed little fly to the other insects, they are all distinctive and brimming with personality. Sharp-eyed readers and listeners will hints of the next insect before you turn the page, creating a feeling of moving along a path of insects. Make sure to check out the Bug Facts at the end of the book for the names of the insects you meet in the story.
Simple and innately funny, this picture book has a zingy personality all its own. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from digital copy from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.
It’s an Orange Aardvark! by Michael Hall
Five little ants are woken up by the sound of rain outside their tree stump. In order to figure out what is making the noise, they drill holes in the stump to look outside. One ant explains that aardvarks are gray and sneaky, and of course hungry for ants! But when they drill the first hole, they see orange not gray. Perhaps it’s an orange aardvark come to eat them! They drill another hole and that one shows blue, so they think it’s an orange aardvark wearing blue pajamas. As they drill more holes, more colors are shown and their story about the orange aardvark gets more and more elaborate. Savvy young readers will know what all of these colors mean, but the pleasure of this book is seeing just how silly the little ants become.
Hall is the author of My Heart Is Like a Zoo and continues to display his skill with bright colors, large formats and die cuts in this new title. The mix of surprise, guessing and silliness makes this book great fun to read. Add in identifying different colors and the book becomes almost a game to read aloud. Even better, there is wonderful suspense with each page turn as the ants come up with their next spectacular speculation.
Done in large format and pops of bright colors, the illustrations have the same appeal as Lois Ehlert and Eric Carle with their sharp edges and cut paper format. The die cuts are used just enough to make the book more suspenseful and fun. They also all line up, consistent throughout the book.
A jolly picture book that is full of fun, this is a colorful and witty way to learn about colors and aardvarks. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Greenwillow Books.
The Fly by Elise Gravel
The Worm by Elise Gravel
The first and second books in the new Disgusting Critters series of nonfiction picture books, these books take a humorous look at the biology of a specific creature. The first book deals with flies, specifically the common house fly. Inside are all sorts of interesting facts like the fly being covered in hair and information on eggs and maggots. More disgusting aspects are played up, which should appeal to young children, like the diet of flies and how germ filled they are and why. The second book is about worms and focuses on their unique anatomy, such as having no eyes and no limbs. There is also a focus on habitat, diet and reproduction. Throughout both books, humorous asides are offered, making this one of the most playful informational book series around.
Gravel combines both humor and facts in her book. She keeps the two clearly defined, with the animals themselves making comments that add the funniness to the books. The facts are presented in large fonts and the design of the book makes the facts clear and well defined. These books are designed for maximum child appeal and will work well in curriculums or just picked up by a browser in the library.
The art in the books, as you can see by the covers, is cartoonish and cute. The entire effect is a merry romp alongside these intriguing animals. I know some people believe that books about science for children should be purely factual, but Gravel’s titles show how well humor and touch of anthropomorphism can work with informational titles.
Information served with plenty of laughs, these science titles will be appreciated by children and teachers. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copies.
Superworm by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
The creators of The Gruffalo return with a silly new book that features one incredible worm. Superworm is super-long and super-strong. So when baby toad hops into the road, Superworm becomes a superworm lasso. The bees are bored and moping? It’s Superworm to the rescue with a game of jump rope. When Beetle falls into the well, Superworm turns into a fishing line to get her out. Everything seems to be going so well for Superworm, until a villain enters the story. Wizard Lizard sends his servant crow to capture Superworm and then uses magic to force Superworm to dig for treasure underground. But the others saw Superworm carried off and now it is up to them to be the heroes and save Superworm!
Donaldson writes in rhymes in such a playful and engaging way. The result is a book that reads aloud beautifully and begs to be shared with children. With the examples of the rescues that Superworm performed coming first, I was happily surprised when a villain was introduced and at the turn of events towards the end of the story. It makes for a very dynamic picture book that is sure to be a hit at story time.
Scheffler’s illustrations hit just the right tone. They are bright colored and he takes the rescues and the action to the perfect funny extremes. He also capitalizes on the kid-appeal of bugs, worms and toads.
Add this to your spring time stories, it is sure to be a delight with young readers and listeners. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner
The masterful Wiesner returns with another near-wordless picture book. Mr. Wuffles is a cat who disdains most of the toys his master gets him. Then one object gets his attention, a little metallic spaceship. But this is not a toy! It is filled with tiny aliens who are battered by being flung around by Mr. Wuffles. Their equipment is damaged and they have to leave their ship and head out looking for help. But Mr. Wuffles is close behind them and who can the aliens turn to for aid?
This is a magnificent picture book that turns from a normal cat picture book into something much more interesting. Wiesner has created a book that bridges genres effortlessly. He also has created a wordless picture book that never seems to be missing them. His story flows organically and is never forced. It has touches of humor throughout especially where Mr. Wuffles himself is concerned. I particularly enjoy the rows of untouched toys with price tags still attached that he walks past.
Wiesner’s art is as strong as ever. He pays attention to details both in the human home and later when the aliens arrive. The juxtaposition of the aliens with the insects of the home is particularly well done. The addition of cave paintings as communication is a delight.
Beautiful and funny this is a wordless masterpiece. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Stephen and the Beetle by Jorge Lujan, illustrated by Chiara Carrer
This very simple story explores philosophical areas while still remaining a picture book that is accessible to very young children. Stephen was walking in the garden and sees a beetle. He took off his shoe and was about to smack the beetle. The beetle continued on its way, unaware of the threat. Stephen raised his shoe higher, but then started to wonder about what the beetle was doing and where it was walking to. So Stephen set down his shoe and put his head on the ground. The beetle came closer, reared back on its back legs and seemed about to attack, but then seemed to think about it and instead just continued on its way. The parallel pieces of this story make it all the more thought provoking and should get children thinking in a new way about even their smallest decisions during their day.
Lujan’s writing is simple and pure. He tells the story and what is happening with a straight-forward tone and allows the story itself to create the points of discussion. The only point where the writing gets complex and lush is when the beetle is about to attack. Suddenly the tone changes and the rhythm gets wild. But then, it is back to the simple tone to finish the story.
Carrer’s art is done in mixed media that includes collage, paint, pen, chalk and ink. She very successfully plays with dark and light images that mirror one another. The beetle is shown to be just as complex a creature as Stephen himself.
This is a book that will certainly generate discussion. There are etchical implications here, the question of impact of our decisions, and the aspect of choice. And yet, there is also a small boy playing in a yard with a beetle. It is a perfect example of a small scene that speaks to much larger issues. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.