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.

Have You Ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris

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Have You Ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris (9781452182704)

Award-winning illustrator Harris makes his authorial debut in this bright and flowery picture book. A little girl is the only colorful spot in her drab, gray city. She travels by car out to the hills that are covered with flowers, the same hues as her streaming hair. With her dog at her side, she asks the reader if they have ever seen a flower. Have they crawled deep in the clover to find one? Have they breathed deeply and figured out exactly what they are smelling? Have they found a flower so deep that they shouted into it and listened for an echo? The question then shifts to whether the reader has ever been a flower? With their torso as their stem, rooted in the ground, growing to the sun? Try it and see!

Harris brings young readers directly into his story with his string of questions that ask them to use all of their senses to experience nature around us, in particular flowers. He draws deep connections between flowers and children while also inviting in creativity and imagination. His wording reads aloud brilliantly, playing with near rhymes and repeating structures.

The illustrations are stunning. Done in colored pencil, the colors are neon bright while still having real depth. Harris evokes the flowering hills of California, filling them with a variety of plants and also having pages of the same plant repeating in patterns. He shifts perspective beautifully, moving from close ups of plants and the little girl to broad landscapes of color.

Perfect for spring, this is one to pluck from the shelves and share. Appropriate for ages 2-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.

Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal

Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal (9781536208450)

Zonia lives in the rain forest. Every morning, the rain forest calls to her and she heads inside. She follows a blue butterfly, visiting her friends the sloths. She chats with the birds in the trees. She sees her best friend, a coati, and her fastest friend, the jaguar. She stops by the water and greets all of the new babies. She has a baby brother of her own. She plays in the rain forest, hanging upside down like the snakes and enjoying a game of hide and seek. She has places to be quiet and places to run. But when she discovers something she has never seen before, she rushes home to tell her mother of the devastation she saw. Now it is time for her, and all of us, to do something to help the rain forest.

Zonia is Asháninka, the largest Indigenous group in the Peruvian Amazon. The face paint that she wears on the final page speaks to her determination and strength. Like many Asháninka, Zonia must face the destruction of the rain forest that she and her entire people rely on to survive. By introducing us to the various animals in the Peruvian Amazon rain forest, Martinez-Neal shows all that we as a world have to lose by not protecting them and their habitat. The book ends with information on the animals shown in the story, information on the Asháninka people, and more facts about the Amazon itself.

The art in this picture book is exquisite. Caldecott Honor winner Martinez-Neal uses hand-made paper from the women paper artisans of Chazuta, Peru to paint the illustrations. These papers form the background of all of the images, providing an organic, speckled and natural feel to the scenes. The bright colors of the Amazon rain forest pop against this subtly textured warmth.

An important picture book about saving the Amazon rain forest, it is also beautifully written and illustrated. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

Treaty Words: For as Long as the Rivers Flow by Aimee Craft

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Treaty Words: For as Long as the Rivers Flow by Aimee Craft, illustrated by Luke Swinson (9781773214962)

A girl sits on the bank of the kitchi sipi with her Mishomis. He has taught her how to sit still in nature and listen. He had lived on that land all of his life and though she lived in the city, it was here that she felt most at home. Every spring, he would head into the woods for weeks and call her when he returned. Then she would come and visit, spending time at the river with him, experiencing the world around them by watching and listening. As the sun broke up the ice on the river, he reminded her that they all have responsibilities to the land and water, and stories. Then he shared the story of the first treaty between the moon, the sun and the earth to create life. Treaties form the basis of all relationships, from relationships with wildlife to a treaty with the English crown where the land seemed to be owned. As nature continued to move around them and the seasons shifted, she could see what those treaties had created for them as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the rivers flow.

First, I must mention the small size of this book. It’s more like a field guide size, which is just right for reading at a river bank, around a fire, or curled together as a shared story. The book speaks directly to treaties, from the original treaty between sky and earth to the damaging treaties with the Crown. The importance of treaties to the Anishinaabe people, allowing them to understand their place in Creation, is emphasized here including the respect that is meant to be shown through a treaty. Anishinaabemowin words are used throughout the text, easily understood through the context in the sentences.

The art by an Anishinaabe illustrator embraces the landscape of the river and the hills. He shows them in changing light and season, creating beautiful yet simple vistas that cradle the text.

This small book speaks loudly about the understanding of Indigenous treaties and their deep history and meaning. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Annick Press.

Hello Earth!: Poems to Our Planet by Joyce Sidman

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Hello Earth!: Poems to Our Planet by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Miren Asiain Lora (9780802855282)

In poems that speak directly to Earth, the planet, herself, this collection of poems explores a variety of scientific concepts. The poems speak to the wonder of walking on the earth’s surface, of trying to imagine its actual size. They look back in time to the dinosaurs, to volcanoes and earthquakes and the continents themselves. Poems explore the various ecosystems on earth from jungles to mountains to deserts. They look deep into the water of the planet and the creatures who dwell there. Then the text circles around to our own role as humans in caring for the earth and making sure it stays well for millennium to come.

As always, Sidman’s poems are both accessible for young readers but also expansive, asking us to look beyond the surface of the subject to the wonders within. In the poems in this book, her innate curiosity about the subject is infectious, giving space for young minds to dream and consider how they feel and think about the subjects Sidman writes about. The final pages of the book offer more information about the earth as well as resources to explore and ways to take action to save the planet.

The illustrations are mostly landscapes, sharing volcano eruptions, storms, wind and quiet moments on small islands. The horizons often line up as the pages turn, offering a feeling of continuity from one natural wonder to the next even if they are far apart on the planet. Beautifully painted, the images are joyous celebrations of our world.

A great poetry collection that invites exploration. Appropriate for ages 6-10.

Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Ten Animals in Antarctica: A Counting Book by Moira Court

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Ten Animals in Antarctica: A Counting Book by Moira Court (9781623542320)

Starting first with briefly exploring the continent of Antarctica itself, this nonfiction picture book quickly moves to the ten animals featured inside. The book is a dynamic mix of animals in Antarctica along with an opportunity to count them as they appear on the double-page spreads. First comes one leopard seal floating on his own iceberg. Two emperor penguins waddle across the next page, followed by elephant seals, whales, petrels, orcas, squid, krill, and fish. The book finishes with ten crimson sea stars that dazzle, bright red against the dark background.

Court has created a picture book that very successfully combines factual information about Antarctic animals with counting them. Her language is marvelous, building rhymes directly into her descriptive sentences. She also uses words that will stretch young vocabularies such as “courtly, portly emperor penguins” and “lumbersome, cumbersome southern elephant seals.” The language is such a treat to discover in a nature-focused counting book.

Court’s illustrations are a combination of printmaking and collage. The deep colors and textures bring the cold and icy landscape to life. Court also beautifully designs each page, paying attention to both ease of counting, but also making all of the animals look lifelike too. Readers will enjoy the additional information at the end of the book on both the continent and the featured animals.

Icy and delightful, this is just right for even the youngest of readers to discover a new continent. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Charlesbridge.

The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom by Lita Judge

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The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom by Lita Judge (9781250237071)

Through a combination of poetry and science facts, this nonfiction picture book invites readers into the amazing things that trees can do. The book starts with a young beech tree in the Ruhe Forest in Germany, starting to show readers that trees have a language with one another and live much longer than humans do. The roots of the trees act like an instant message web, sending chemical and electrical signals to one another. Trees also have amazing ways to protect themselves from predators, or over-grazing from giraffes. They create our climate, processing carbon dioxide and offering shelter and cool in their ecosystems. They can ask for help from their neighbor trees, who will send them extra nutrients via their root systems. They offer shelter and food to animals. They can tell time via the light, knowing when seasons are changing. The list goes on and on, creating a sense of wonder about the trees that surround us all.

Judge’s poems capture the world from the perspective of the trees themselves. They show what it feels like to be someone’s home, how they continue to live even after they have fallen, how it feels to nurture baby trees, and how it feels to soar high into the sky with your branches. Judge shares facts that truly elevate children’s understanding of trees and how they communicate with one another. The information is fascinating, offering a glimpse into a hidden world. The book ends with an extensive Author’s Note sharing more information, a glossary of terms and a list of sources and websites.

As always, Judge’s illustrations are marvelous. She captures the depths of the forest, the sunbeams kissing the younger trees. She invites us underground to see a den and the roots communicating. She shows us a variety of seasons, from the mellow tones of fall to the cool greens of spring to the ice of winter and the sun of summer. She is a master of light and movement, showing us perspectives that also amaze.

A great nonfiction read that will have young scientists fascinated by their own backyards. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.

The Tree in Me by Corinna Luyken

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The Tree in Me by Corinna Luyken (9780593112595)

There is a tree in all of us, as this picture book so gorgeously demonstrates. It’s a tree that is apple-orange-pear-almond-plum delicious. It’s a tree of shade and sun. All parts and stages of the tree are there, from the sapling through to the trunk and the crown. It’s a tree full of creatures, like bees, squirrels and birds. The tree brings wind and rain and dirt with it. Rivers flow and the sky arches overhead. The tree bends thanks to its deep roots. It reaches to the sun. And thanks to knowing there’s a tree in me, I know there’s a tree in you too.

This picture book is written in simple poetic text that swirls on the page, inviting readers to look deeply at their own tree inside of them. The inward connection with nature itself and with our own nature within is beautifully captured here, showing that we are part of nature at a deep level. Children who are learning meditation will enjoy this new visualization of their connection with others too.

The illustrations are a huge part of this book. Done in what would seem wild colors of neon pinks and oranges, the connection to nature turns these colors into sunbeams, light in the trees, and the glow of merry playful cheeks. Paired with the black ink used in the images for leaves, trunks, weeds and grass, the colors invite us into an interior world of brightness.

A nature connection inward and outward. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Dial Books.