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.
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.
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.
A child is awoken by their father in the middle of the night. They head outside into the winter darkness, past the dogs and the cows. The father explains that they are going to see an Aurora, but the child doesn’t know what that means. Are stars in the Aurora? Is the moon? They head up the hill, their breath steaming in the icy air. They sit on the stony ground and look up, marveling together at the colors that streak the sky as the aurora borealis appears. They are silent until their walk back to the house, when the father shares what he knows about the aurora.
Originally published in New Zealand, this picture book is quiet and focused on a specific natural phenomenon. The book is told in very simple language, making it accessible for small children. The gender of the main character is never revealed, since the book is told from their point of view. The anticipation of discovering what the aurora is isn’t lessened by knowing about it ahead of time. The amazement and delight are infectious.
Bannock’s art is full of color even in the nighttime home. Warm reds, bright yellows, deep purples all fill the pages. The colors become more muted as they head outside, the night sky black above them and the stars vivid against it. The icy winter night is shown with a sickle of a moon, bare tree branches, and a layer of snow. The colors of the aurora are captured beautifully in a grand and stirring way that lifts the heart.
Quiet, personal and incredibly moving, this is a glimpse of a natural wonder. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
It’s So Quiet by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tony Fucile (9781452145440)
As the sun sets, the farm gets quiet and still. The moths “shah” against the light until the lamp turns off. A little mouse thinks it’s way too quiet to sleep, but his mother tells him that the sounds of the night will whisper him to sleep. He starts to listen and hears many things in the night. There is a frog singing, crickets chirping, a rattling screen door, wind through the trees, an owl hooting, and much more. Grandpa is snoring on the porch and the dog’s tail is thumping on the boards. When a coyote howls, the little mouse looks out his window to see what that was! He hears all of the noises once more, and then again even louder. The night might be too noisy after all!
Funny and a joy to read aloud, this picture book will quickly become a bedtime favorite. The book is filled with noises that should be great fun for both the reader and the listener to contribute to, since they repeat several times in the book. Expect enthusiastic frog croaks, wind whooshes, and more. It’s also a book that will have children listening in their own beds to the noises of the night around them.
The illustrations add to the fun with the serenity of the night clear at first and then quickly moving to a zany pitch and pace visually as the noises pick up. The natural setting is shown simply, allowing the various elements to repeat visually as well. Readers will see the frog, owl, crickets and coyote from the very first page.
Lily was traveling with her Gram to Gram’s house in Iowa where Lily was going to live now. Gram suggested that on the long drive they discover ten beautiful things. Lily looked out the window but couldn’t find a single beautiful thing. Just then, the sun broke the horizon, and Lily had found her first beautiful thing. As they traveled, Lily’s stomach would hurt and she would feel very sad, but before she could get too sad, another beautiful thing would appear. There was a wind farm, a creek, even a decaying old barn. The smell of the muddy earth was one that Lily discovered and picked. Towards the end of their journey, a thunderstorm broke over them, filling up the entire space, and definitely making itself number 9. Then they were at Gram’s house. What would be number 10? Gram knew just the thing.
Griffin’s writing is deeply empathetic to Lily and the changes happening in her life. Lily’s emotions about the change are right at the surface, causing her stomach to ache and for her to sometimes withdraw. Gram is the perfect response to that, feeding her crackers and carefully building a relationship as the miles went by. The structure of counting beautiful things creates a way for readers to experience the unique beauty of the Midwest and Iowa in particular. The use of a storm to both symbolize the turmoil of life and also the clearing of the air is especially well done.
The illustrations are done digitally and with watercolor textures. From the drama of the storm that takes over the pages, filling them with wind, rain and lightning to the dazzle of sun as they reach Gram’s house with a page that glows with hope, this book shows emotions on the page clearly and with real skill.
A quiet book where readers can experience the beauty of nature and the wonder of a new family being built. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
A book all about life, this picture book starts at the very beginning when life first arrived on earth. Seeds fall through the air and then the author explains the many things that life is about. It’s about reproducing (shown with an egg-shaped bird next to an equally large egg.) It’s about moving, feeling, perceiving, breathing. There is giving and taking, complete with a visual poop joke. It’s also about survival, about hiding when necessary and being obvious and loud too. You may have to fight or flee. Life comes in all sizes and is still being discovered. Life is not fair and is unpredictable. It can be long or very short. But most importantly, life is to be lived together, connected to one another.
Originally published in French in Canada and created by a Dutch author/illustrator, this picture book is based on a short animated video that he did. The video, embedded below, shares a lot of the characteristics of the book and some of the same art. The book is a wild and whimsical look at life that doesn’t quite resemble life on earth, yet is not so dissimilar at times. This is not a book cataloging the animals in the world rather it’s philosophical and scientific, a mix of whimsy and fact that is captivating.
The art is done in a similar style to that of the video with lots of details and fine lines but also amazing creatures that take up almost the entire page like the “feeling” starfish that is a glowing pink or the moving two-legged creature with no real head.
Dazzling and original, this picture book is a weird look at life, just what we need. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
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.