Birrarung Wilam by Aunty Joy Murphy and Andrew Kelly, illustrated by Lisa Kennedy (9781536209426)
Take a journey down the Yarra River near Melbourne, Australia in this Aboriginal picture book that celebrates native creatures and plants. Told using many words from the Woirurrung language, the book is a mixture of evocative language and poetic phrasing. Starting with a starry night sky, the picture book shows the path of the Birrarung as it winds along. It goes past trees where possums make their homes in hollow trees. Rain falls and the bright-blue fairy wren chases insects near his mate. Cockatoos fly past looking for pine cones and their seeds. Kangaroos gather where the river slows and platypus burrow with their babies. Ravens, pelicans, eagles, ducks and more fill the pages alongside the trees, water and river that create this unique ecosystem.
Because they use so many Woirurrung words, the book is almost a word game. The writing embraces the Aboriginal words, creating swirling and flowing lines of text that move like the river itself. Reading it aloud really lets the words sing out, evoking a place full of natural wonders. Here is the opening line to give you a taste of the style:
The illustrations done in acrylic show the various scenes along the river. They also allow readers to piece together what creatures and plants are being described in the text, finding the platypus, eagles and kangaroos. The illustrations are filled with Aboriginal art touches, the dots and patterns creating ripples of water, breezes and layers of earth.
Enchanting and full of wonders, this picture book is a resounding success. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
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.
I Am the Wind by Michael Karg, illustrated by Sophie Diao (9781624149221)
On a cold and damp autumn day, a little girl joins in the windy day. The wind can breathe frost and bring fog. It can be soft as a shadow or scale the highest peaks in the north. The wind can run like the wolves or hug and settle in with the musk ox as night. The wind joins in the beauty of the northern lights and whistles around rocks on a snow leopard ledge. The wind can create storms in the rainforests, give pestrels a lift on their long journey, and whisper in cloud forests. Then it returns to an autumn playground, listening for the call to rise up once more.
Told in poetic language, this picture book celebrates the way that the wind touches all parts our world. It speaks to the power of the wind to help birds on their migrations and to create weather patterns. That power is contrasted nicely by the quieter sorts of wind and breezes in the book, examples of the wind at its gentlest too. The writing is strong and reads aloud nicely. The different animals highlighted in the book are interesting choices, making turning pages very enjoyable.
The illustrations carry readers across the globe, showing various animals and creatures in each habitat. The wind is depicted as swirls of color, almost dreamy at times and other times whooshing appropriately across the page.
Perfect for reading on a blustery day in any season. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
A musician in a family of conservationists and scientists, Louisa finds herself sent away from her home in Canada for the summer to spend time in Australia with her mother’s family. In the remote Tasmanian rainforest, the family has a camp run by her Uncle Ruff. She has brought along her violin, determined to spend time practicing so that she can successfully compete, something her nerves when she plays publicly haven’t allowed her to do. A local resort owner’s son quickly becomes friends with Louisa, who is one of the first teens not to mock his autism and his quirky behaviors. Louisa also learns more about the camp, which is actually a sanctuary created by her great-grandmother to protect the Tasmanian tigers, thought to be extinct. At least one of these large dog-like marsupials may still live on Convict Rock, an island nearby. With a mining operation soon to destroy the sanctuary and the island, they have to work quickly to save this last tiger. By reading her great-grandmother’s journals, Louisa realizes she may be the key to its survival.
This book transports readers into the Tasmanian rainforest. Written with a focus that keeps its length nicely manageable, the novel doesn’t ever feel rushed. Instead it is a journey personally for Louisa through her own fears of performing to a desire to save a creature from true extinction. Her steadily building connection to the Australian wildlife and environment allows readers to explore it as well, falling just as hard as Louisa has for its unique habitat.
This is an environmentalist book that takes a different path. It doesn’t lecture at all, instead allowing immersion within a singular place to really speak to its importance, the vitality of threatened species, and the need to take action. All of the characters are well drawn and complete, filled with multiple dimensions that make them interesting to spend time with in this beautifully described natural wonder.
Amazing writing, vivid characters and lost species come together into a marvelous read. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
While You’re Away by Thodoris Papioannou, illustrated by Petros Bouloubasis (9781662650055)
When you leave nature behind and head indoors, nature keeps on happening all the while. Mother deer may search for blueberries for their fawns. Squirrels might leap closer to their sweethearts. Lizards still laze in sunny spots among the strawberries. A fox may be asleep with her babies. Bears may be drinking from the river. One after another, the activities of nature and wildlife continue, even when a human isn’t there to witness it all. But if you do happen to be out in nature, stay quiet and still and soon you will be witnessing all of the small activities that make up a day in the life of the creatures around you.
This European import speaks to that realization that children suddenly have that things go on even when they are absent, and not just after bedtime! Here nature, insects and animals are used as the example with real impact, as they have lives just like the children do. Their bustling busyness continues even when a child leaves the side of the lake, exits the forest or enters their house. Papioannou uses marvelously specific examples, showing the beauty of nature and also the reasons the animals are doing what they do.
The art is fantastic, creating a modern and colorful vibe where each turn of the page is surprising. Readers quickly move from one animal to the next, from sun dapples to the brilliance of a red fox in a black cave, from a dragonfly near the lake to an owl still and hidden in the trees. The book is a series of discoveries, much like sitting in nature can be.
An inviting look at nature and how it carries on whether you are there or not. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Take a look at living things and their DNA in this informative picture book. Living things grow in different habitats, some grow quickly and others very slowly. Some grow to only a small size while others become enormous. It is each creature’s DNA that serves as a pattern how it will grow, from nose shapes to eye color. Your DNA also shows who is related to whom and what animals are closest to us genetically. DNA connects us to our ancestors and to other creatures in our world. It is both unique and universal.
Davies presents this scientific information in an engaging mix of details about DNA and how it works and also a marveling at the role that DNA plays in our lives and throughout the generations. That tone makes this book a great pick to share aloud with a classroom that is exploring these concepts. It is a very readable and delightful nonfiction picture book.
The art by Sutton is marvelous, detailed and interesting. From DNA charts and double helix to dinosaur skeletons and all sorts of animals from around the world, the illustrations invite exploration. They also depict a wide variety of people on the pages, diverse and of all ages.
A top notch nonfiction picture book that shows how we are all connected. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
This is the fourth book in the Weather Walks series, following books on snow, rain and autumn. Here the phenomenon of fog is explored in all of its mysterious qualities. Fog rolls in, covering stone and forests. It covers up details of the landscape, making lights dim. The fog is cold and dewy. It coats spiderwebs and drips. The picture book goes on to explain why fog forms and the variety of places where fog is most likely to appear. It’s a misty, moist beautiful exploration of fog.
Sayre excels at mixing poetry with facts. She creates a sense of wonder and fascination with weather and its various forms. Her poem keeps the foggy facts accessible for small children, inviting them to explore and experience fog themselves. The end of the book includes an author’s note on fog and water vapor, explaining in more detail how fog forms and why it acts and feels the way it does.
As always, Sayre’s photographs are exceptional. She has so many images of fog here, from fog entering landscapes to close-ups of animals and creatures in the fog, both cloaked by it and clear against the foggy backgrounds. It is like taking a walk with her through the fog, as she shows you all of its wonders.
Beautiful and mysterious, explore the fog in this nonfiction picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Beach Lane Books.
How would you feel and act if you were night? Would you hide under covers or head outside? When you heard a moth drinking nectar would you hush it or lean in? If something touched your ankle would you freeze or skitter? Would you search for treasures in the garbage with the raccoons? Would you join in the chorus of the frogs at the pond? Would you dive alongside the otters or stitch with the spiders? Would you hunt with the owl? Would you stand still and listen to all the night noises? When dawn arrived would you linger and taste the first morning dew or cuddle back in bed carried by the light? There is so much to love about the night, what would you choose?
Through asking a series of inspired questions, the author shows readers the many delights of the night. Focused on animals and their nighttime activities primarily, the book invites readers to make choices about joining in or witnessing. The options to join in are particularly captivating, allowing the reader to see themselves exploring and living in the night.
The illustrations are done in photographed dioramas that are light with a moon-bright bulb, creating nighttime shadows. The images are a delicate mix of greens and flowerbeds and also greys that truly evoke the moon at night. The dioramas are done in cut paper, creating a detailed nighttime world.
A marvel of a nighttime book that is perfect for bedtime or camping outside. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.
Outside In by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cindy Derby (9781328866820)
This book calls readers back to be outside rather than staying inside. It reminds us that we used to simply be part of outside, and that at times now even when we are outside we keep ourselves separate. Outside though uses a few tricks to remind us that it is there, peeking in windows, sending sunsets and shadows, tapping on roofs and projecting bird song. The outside is also all around us inside in our sweaters, chairs, and food. Our pets remind us too as do the little insects that get inside. Outside waits for us, until we answer.
Underwood’s simple poetic lines soar in this picture book, creating moments of real beauty with her words. Using “outside” and “inside” again and again, she paints connection and demands that we all see the outside entering our inside. It’s a book that insists that we not only look outside, but acknowledge our connection to nature and the outdoors and get outside!
Derby’s illustrations are awash in watercolor that plays the bright aliveness of the outdoors against the gray of the interior areas. She uses yellows, orange, peach, purples and greens to beckon us all to look out the windows and connect.
Beautifully written and illustrated, this is an exemplary picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.