Fourteen Monkeys: A Rain Forest Rhyme by Melissa Stewart

Cover image for Fourteen Monkeys.

Fourteen Monkeys: A Rain Forest Rhyme by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Steve Jenkins (9781534460393)

This picture book explores the fourteen species of monkey that all live together in Manu National Park in Peru. They all live in the rainforest together and survive successfully near one another thanks to their different diets, different heights for their habitats, and different body sizes. The day begins with the red howler monkeys who climb to the very tops of the trees to bellow. The spider monkeys live high up as well, searching for their favorite fruits. Down near the ground, sakis race and jump. Each monkey is shown with Jenkins’ detailed illustrations, their space in the rainforest documented, and their activities and diet explored. It’s a look at an entire community of monkeys all living happily as neighbors.

Stewart’s writing is clear and concise. She has a knack for sharing fascinating details about each monkey, such as how long the howlers rest each day (18 hours) and that capuchins will eat anything they can catch. The book offers layers of text, including basic text that could be shared aloud while the more detailed information is also there for those who want to explore it. Even more information is available at the end of the book along with additional resources.

As always, Jenkins’ illustrations done with paper art are phenomenal. He can make paper look furry, smooth, veined and fruity. He’s a master at the craft, creating animals that are realistic and artistic.

This book doesn’t monkey around, providing great information in a gorgeous format. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.

The First Blade of Sweetgrass by Suzanne Greenlaw and Gabriel Frey

Cover image for The First Blade of Sweetgrass.

The First Blade of Sweetgrass by Suzanne Greenlaw and Gabriel Frey, illustrated by Nancy Baker (9780884487609)

Musqon accompanies her grandmother to the salt marsh where they are going to pick sweetgrass. The salt marsh is where the river meets the ocean. Her grandmother explains that she helped her own grandmother pick sweetgrass as a girl to weave into baskets and use in ceremonies. To Musqon, all of the grasses look the same, so her grandmother shows her what to look for to find sweetgrass among all the other grasses. She explains that they never pick the first blade of sweetgrass that they see, to make sure that sweetgrass continues to the next generation. When her grandmother tells her that sweetgrass has a shiny green tassel and blades with a purple stem and that it is easy to pick, Musqon is confident she can find it on her own. It isn’t until Musqon takes her time, thinks about what she is there to do, and really sees the salt marsh that she can find sweetgrass herself.

Written by a citizen of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and a citizen of the Passamaquoddy Nation, this picture book is a gentle story of Native traditions shared with a new generation. The text of the book shares Passamaquoddy-Maliseet words in the dialogue of the characters. It takes the time, slowing us all down, to explain the importance of sweetgrass and how to find it. The moment when Musqon takes her own time and gives herself space is beautifully created.

Baker learned about sweetgrass for this book also the landscape in which it grows. She shows a delicacy with both in her illustrations, celebrating sweetgrass itself and also showing the beautiful landscape where the river meets the ocean.

A rich and vital look at sweetgrass and heritage. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Tilbury House.

We All Play by Julie Flett

We All Play by Julie Flett (9781771646079)

Children and animals both love to play. This picture book incorporates Cree words into the narrative. Animals play in the grass, hopping, sniffing, sneaking. They peek and peep. Children play too, leaping through the grass or laying down in it. Animals swim and so do children. Animals slide and rumble and wiggle, just like children sledding in the snow. Animals settle down, roosting and yawning, finally falling asleep. Children do too.

Told in very simple language, woven with Cree words, this picture book shows the connection the natural world and its value to children in particular. The Cree words repeat with the children themselves saying them, something that would be great to do in a story time when this book is shared. The illustrations show a diverse group of children playing outside, acting just like the animals. A glossary of Cree words is offered at the end of the book along with a list of the animals who appear on the pages.

A frolic of a picture book that speaks to the importance of outdoor play. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greystone Kids.

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.

And I Paint It: Henriette Wyeth’s World by Beth Kephart

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And I Paint It: Henriette Wyeth’s World by Beth Kephart, illustrated by Amy June Bates (9781951836047)

This picture book biography looks at the country life of N.C. Wyeth and his family through the eyes of his artist daughter, Henriette. Henriette joins her father as he heads out into the countryside to paint. The two quietly go out, avoiding her talkative sister who is in the henhouse and her brother who is in his workshop building things. Her father greets the flowers along the way, finally stopping to paint the landscape before them. The two sense the world around them, draw the details they see, and smell the earth and plants, painting the sky. They paint together until it is time to head home, and even then Henriette stays behind to paint even more.

The author first discovered Henriette through N.C. Wyeth’s letters and then went on to learn more about her. The statements that the book has Wyeth say to his daughter are taken from his writing about art. The language in the book is poetic and rich, showing all of us how to look more deeply at the world around us and celebrate the small things we see and the large landscape and sky as well.

Bates was also taught art by her own father and notes in her Illustrator’s note that this book pays homage to the Wyeth’s and also to her own experience as she grew up. The illustrations are an engaging mix of watercolor landscapes and then also smaller drawings and paintings that Henriette would have made as they wandered from things she dreamt up and details she noticed.

A lovely look at the Wyeth family, the talented Henriette and how the artistic eye is taught. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Cameron Kids.

Bird House by Blanca Gomez

Cover image for Bird House.

Bird House by Blanca Gomez (9781419744082)

One day when out on a snowy walk, a little girl and her abuela found an injured bird. They brought it home and took care of it. As it healed, they kept it in a cage and also let it fly around their living room. The bird was just as fantastic as everything else is at Abuela’s house. When the bird was better, they released it out the window. It flew off over the city until they couldn’t see it any longer. Winter turned to spring. The little bird returned to their balcony. The little girl wanted to keep it, but instead they decided that the bird could visit them whenever it liked.

Told in simple sentences, this picture book is beautifully quiet and thoughtful. Readers will enjoy the discovery of the bird and the care that the pair take with getting it better. There is sadness as the bird has to be set free and then a joy when it returns. Without being heavy handed, this picture book explores how we can help nature without needing to own it or change it.

The illustrations capture the warmth of Abuela’s home and the rich connection she has with her granddaughter. The two spend lots of time together, reading and gardening, just being with one another on the pages.

Quiet and simple. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

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.

Is Was by Deborah Freedman

Cover image for Is Was.

Is Was by Deborah Freedman (9781534475106)

Throughout a day in a meadow, readers will explore what is happening now and then what also was. The sky is blue until the rain comes. The rain was falling and now is puddles for animals to sip from. The fox is stalking the yellow bird who was drinking from the puddle. The buzz from the bees is in the sunshine. The shadow of a hawk is where the chipmunk was. Quiet comes to the meadow as the light changes to evening with its pinks and purples where blue once was. A child swinging in the evening joins their mother on the porch to watch the sky change and enjoy the quiet that is nightfall and the day that was.

Freedman excels at using only the words needed to keep the story flowing. The movement of now to past swirls past the reader again and again as time moves forward and circumstances change slowly and quickly. The wildlife in the meadow is a marvelous look at change as is the weather and the sky itself. It creates a vibrant look at the creatures themselves, their interaction and the sweep of the day as it passes with rain and sun.

The illustrations are full of color and light. From the golden sun of buzzing bees to the blue of rain to the pinks of the sunset arriving. Freedman allows some of the pages to stand with few or no words, showing the meadow grasses, stone wall and flowering trees, allowing the quiet to be still for the reader too.

A lovely look at our world as moments pass. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Dear Treefrog by Joyce Sidman

Cover image for Dear Treefrog.

Dear Treefrog by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Diana Sudyka (9780358064763)

When a girl moves to a new home, she hides in the garden and discovers a treefrog there. When she watches how still the frog is, she slows down too. Looking closely at the frog, she notices his sticky toes and long feet. Iin order to find the frog, she has to take deep breaths and look closely. The frog helps her feel less lonely. He hides when a group of kids visits, something that the girl is thankful for since they were loud and trampled the garden. When a storm blows through, the frog not only survives it but is refreshed by the water. Heading to school, the girl curls up like a frog on her yoga mat. That’s when she meets a classmate who is quiet too, someone she can trust to show the treefrog, another friend.

Told in a series of poems, this picture book is a stellar mix of verse, exploring nature, and treefrog information. The verse is from the little girl’s perspective and readers get to know her quiet well as she is worried at first about the move, finds solace in the treefrog in her garden, and eventually is brave enough to make a new friend who is thoughtful too and wants to spend time outside watching. The treefrog facts are offered in the corner of the page, supported by each poem and celebrating the unique elements of this creature.

The illustrations by Sudyka are lush and full of green. They show a wild garden by the house with plants taller than the girl herself. The frog is there for readers to know on the first pages. The garden frames the girl and frog with plants and greenery, offering them an almost tropical paradise in which to form their friendship.

Fantastic froggy friendship and facts. Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.