Predator and Prey by Susannah Buhrman-Deever, illustrated by Bert Kitchen (9780763695330)
In poems for two voices, this book shows the cunning, evolution and beauty of predators and their prey. From bats to frogs to snakes to hawks to spiders, the poems feature all sorts of animals. Engagingly, often it is sometimes the obvious predator who is actually going to be the prey. That is certainly true in the example of the spider at the center of her web who is being preyed upon by the assassin bug. After each of the poems, there is a section about the animals in nonfiction prose that illuminates the relationship of the two species more clearly.
I was amazed to discover that this is biologist Buhrman-Deever’s first book for children. Her two-voice poems are very effective and could easily be used in classroom activities to be shared aloud by pairs of children who will enjoy being predators and prey since so many of the animals featured are very fascinating. She gives voice to the animals in her poems and then allows scientific information to be shared as well. The end of the book has a lengthy bibliography which is greatly appreciated.
The illustrations by Kitchen are exceptional as well, showing the reader the relationship between the two animals being discussed. They are realistic and dramatic as the animals stand off on the page. Several of the pages also have large gated pages that open to reveal the poem beneath them, allowing Kitchen’s full imagery to be appreciated without words blocking it.
A very successful mix of poetry and science, this one is sure to be preyed upon by hungry readers in classrooms and activities. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
You Are Never Alone by Elin Kelsey, illustrated by Soyeon Kim (9781771473156)
The creators of You Are Stardust return with another book that demonstrates how interconnected we are. This time the focus is on the nature around all of us and how we are never alone in our environment. We can look into the eyes of a dog and feel love, we play in the mud and feel deep happiness thanks to microorganisms, we breathe oxygen that plants create. Nature is there in everything we do, everything we eat, and our connections can be as huge as a whale to as small as the organisms on our skin. We are never alone, because we are supported by this web of life that we too are a part of.
Kelsey’s words are poetic and moving. She points out immense connections to nature like the water cycle and oxygen cycle, then she moves to painting the personal connections to pets and also includes the smallest creatures we know of. It’s a beautiful way to view nature, as supportive and complex, something we must not only trust in but value enough to protect too.
The illustrations by Kim are spectacular. Done in multilayered paper collage, they seem lit from within and shine on the page. Kim plays with perspective and size in most of the illustrations, including fine line drawings, dancing paper leaves and branches, and children everywhere.
A gentle and inclusive look at nature and our world by two gifted children’s book creators. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
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.
My Forest Is Green by Darren Lebeuf, illustrated by Ashley Barron (9781771389303)
A boy looks out from his apartment into an urban forest nearby. He considers it his forest, but his forest is also all of the art in his room that depicts what he sees outside. As he walks in his forest outside, he sees tall trees, short insects, fluffy seeds, prickly thistles, rough bark, and much more. There are heavy and light things, wide and narrow tree trunks. As he explores the forest in person, he also makes art pieces back at home that represent what he has seen. He incorporates found items like rocks and sticks. He paints and creates paper collages. He sketches in his book while seated in his forest. Every day his forest is different and he finds new sources of inspiration there.
This Lebeuf’s debut picture book. His writing is simple and celebratory. He encourages children to get out into their own forests and explore. While this forest may be large, all of the things that the boy encounters can be found in smaller urban forests too. It’s all about taking the time to slow down and notice the details. The added encouragement to make art from what you see is highly appreciated. The boy uses all sorts of media to explore the forest back at home. This book could be used as inspiration for an art class very nicely or in a story time unit to encourage making art from bits of nature.
The art by Barron is very effective. She uses clean lines and layered paper collage to create a forest that is varied and worth exploring. Her illustrations fill the page with deep colors of nature and offer an inviting look at the world around us. Her inclusion of an Asian-American family in the book is also appreciated.
A call to head outside and make art, this picture book is a gem. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.
Bloom Boom! by April Pulley Sayre (9781481494724)
An ideal book to read as spring arrives, this picture book focuses on flowers emerging as the seasons change. Close-up photographs are paired with more distant landscapes to show both the details of the plants and flowers and also the impact of a large group of flowers blooming in different habitats. Stalks, flowers, leaves and more are shown. The photographs also capture the growth of the emerging plants. The book then moves on to the flowers specifically, celebrating their colors and shapes. It also shows the insects that visit the flowers and other wildlife around.
Sayre specializes in simple nonfiction books about nature with great photography. Here, she has created a book that must be shared aloud. It has a strong rhythm and structure to the text with a refrain of “bloom boom!” with which children will love to join in. The photographs are filled with color and details. They invite readers to look closely and are large enough to share with a group.
Another winning nature picture book from a master book creator. Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.
Sweet Dreamers by Isabelle Simler (9780802855176)
Enter the dreams of creatures around the world in this picture book. The dreams of the animals can be surprising like the sloth dreaming of racing and moving fast without moving at all. They can also be more logical, like the ant who dreams of dots marching in single file. Other animals are shown in their habitat and their unique way of sleeping like the swallow who sleeps while flying, the flamingo who has pink dreams, or the frog who sleeps in the mud. Each animal is given a short poem about their slumber, creating a book that is ideal for bedtime but fascinating enough to return to again and again.
Simler’s writing is exquisite. By using different approaches to the various animals, she creates a book that explores the wide variety of creatures in our world while focusing specifically on how they sleep. There are the animals who are prey that sleep looking for security and safety while the predators like the lion with a full belly don’t need to worry about that. The illustrations in the picture book are equally successful with their touches of neon orange illuminating the night. Done in fine lines, the pages use their mostly black backgrounds very successfully as the creatures shine against it.
A delightful mix bedtime and beasts. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans.
When Spring Comes to the DMZ by Uk-Bae Lee (9780874869729)
The DMZ on the Korean Peninsula separates North and South Korea. It is a space of land where people are not allowed to cross and has become a wildlife sanctuary over the 65 years that it has stood. The DMZ stretches 154 miles from the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan. While there are no soldiers inside the DMZ, there are heavily armed soldiers on either side and miles of barbed wire fencing. In this picture book, the seasons turn in the DMZ and wildlife flourishes each of those seasons. Meanwhile, a grandfather makes the climb up to view the DMZ each season, looking at the land he once lived on. Against the pastoral backdrop of the nature in the DMZ are the movements of the troops on both sides, drilling and maneuvering.
Lee has created a picture book that embraces the complexities of the Korean Peninsula. He shows the impact the creation of the two nations has had on residents and the ongoing constant military presence in their lives. At the same time, Lee focuses too on the wildlife, animals, birds, fish and plants that are finding footing in the DMZ, some of them almost extinct elsewhere. It is a picture book that shows the hope of peace, the importance of space for native creatures and plants, and the impact of war.
The illustrations by Lee are beautiful. They capture the Korean landscape with the mountains in the background, the miles of barbed wire, and the lushness of the DMZ complete with rusting machinery. Turning from one page to the next, readers experience the beauty of nature and then the oppressiveness of the soldiers’ presence.
A complex and intelligent look at war and peace in our world. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Plough Publishing House.
The Line Tender by Kate Allen (9780735231603)
Released April 16, 2019.
An incredible debut novel, this is the story of Lucy, a thirteen-year-old girl who lives in Rockport, Massachusetts. Her mother, a shark biologist, died when she was seven of a brain aneurysm while out in a boat studying sharks. Lucy lives with her father, a diver who puts in lots of extra hours as he works to rescue or recover people. Lucy also lives next door to her best friend, Fred. Fred is a scientist while Lucy prefers art. Together during the summer, they are working on a field guide about wildlife in Rockport. So when Sookie’s nets bring in a great white shark, Lucy and Fred immediately head to the pier to see it. Fred begins to study Lucy’s mother’s proposals to study sharks in a new way. When tragedy strikes, Lucy must figure out how to navigate a new loss even as white sharks begin to appear along the coast, seeming to be a sign to follow a specific path to learn more about her mother.
The writing here is simply incredible. Allen invites you into Lucy’s world, showing how a community came together to help raise her when her mother died. The setting in Rockport is drawn with attention and love. From the wildlife and beaches the two friends explore to the community with its open doors, lifelong connections to one another, and always room for Lucy. The sheltering nature of the community make the deep loss all the more shocking and affecting.
It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel given its attention to detail, meticulous building of a story, and the immediate trust one has in the author. Lucy is an incredible character. She has overcome one loss already, so the next one could maybe break her. Instead, she copes in inventive ways, asks for help and pulls her friends and family closer to her side. The information and connection to sharks is an effective way to allow the story to move forward even as everyone is trapped in their grief.
A brilliant debut that is rich, layered and shows that connection to nature can allow one to weather new storms. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dutton.
From Tree to Sea by Shelley Moore Thomas, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (9781481495318)
Explore what nature and our landscapes can teach you in this poetic picture book. A little girl talks about what she learns when she heads outside. Trees show her how to not tip over when winds blow. Stones demonstrate rolling along even when you are being kicked. Oceans inspire travel but also returning to the shore. The sun shines just like you can smile even when you are down. Bees exhibit hard work and sweet reward. Soil offers a safe place to grow and shelter. Whales are so huge they are the size of the biggest of dreams but also the small steps that make them come to fruition. The examples continue through the book, each one separate and combining into a rich narrative.
Thomas writes with a simplicity that will work well for children. She uses each of the natural items as a metaphor for doing something in your life. It could be rolling with hardship, following dreams, rising above troubles, or shining with your own light. The use of natural examples lifts these small bits of advice into something more concrete and inspirational.
The illustrations by Neal are done in mixed media and digital formats. They are filled with deep colors and bright sunny light. They have the same positive approach as the poetry. They have an uplifting feel to them, filled with breezes to dance in, deep water to wonder at, and dazzling sunshine.
A picture book to inspire taking risks, making changes and living up to your potential. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.