Review: Driftwood Days by William Miniver

Driftwood Days by William Miniver

Driftwood Days by William Miniver, illustrated by Charles Vess (9780802853707)

Follow the journey as a branch from a beaver’s dam heads downstream to eventually become a piece of driftwood on a beach. A boy watches in the autumn trees as a branch breaks away from the dam and takes a winding journey. It gets stuck for a frozen winter and then is loosened again and gets into the ocean. There, it serves as a perch for birds, gets caught in a net, and is once again thrown back into the salt water. When it eventually washes onto the beach, the wood is entirely transformed into driftwood. It is picked up by the same boy, who uses it to draw on the beach and then takes it home to watch the beavers next autumn.

Miniver offers an informational author’s note in the final pages that explains the importance of driftwood for the ecological system of woods, streams, oceans and beaches. The loss in the amount of driftwood is impacting these environments negatively. The journey of one branch into becoming driftwood is a clever way to show how the transformation works and also to highlight the various parts of the environment that driftwood touches and impacts. The art is done colored pencil and ink with deep, soft colors that will have readers leaning in to explore the nature revealed on the journey to the ocean.

A quiet adventure that highlights the interconnectivity of the nature around us all. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans.

Review: Crab Cake by Andrea Tsurumi

Crab Cake by Andrea Tsurumi

Crab Cake by Andrea Tsurumi (9780544959002)

Crab loves to bake cakes. He makes them every day as all of the fish and ocean creatures do what they usually do too. Pufferfish puffs, Parrotfish eats coral, Dolphin blows bubbles. But when one night a disaster happens and a load of trash is dumped on their part of the ocean bed, no one knows what to do. Everyone else freezes, just staring at the mess. Crab though doesn’t freeze and makes a big cake for everyone to share. As the animals come together, they form a plan. It’s all thanks to one crab who just kept on doing what he does best.

Tsurumi’s picture book is filled with lots of small touches that bring this underwater world fully to life. The book reads aloud beautifully with quiet moments at first, the loveliness of crab making cakes for everyone, and then the disaster and its aftermath. It is a picture book that celebrates the creation of a community and the power of food to bring everyone together. It is also a book that looks at our oceans, caring for them and a love of the creatures who live there. The illustrations have a great cartoon look and feel to them that works well, creating moments of humor and drama very effectively.

A winning read for storytimes about fish, crabs or the environment. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness

And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness

And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Rovina Cai (9780062860729)

Get ready for a tale that will literally turn your perspective upside down. This is a novel that takes Moby Dick and transforms it into something new and fresh. Bathsheba is a hunter, serving her Captain and hunting men. As whales, they have their own ships, pulled by their Captain and containing the spoils of war. Whales waste nothing, unlike men. There is one man, Toby Wick, who is legendary. Having taken a man hostage, they have him lead them to Wick. But Bathsheba finds herself connecting with their prisoner and she refuses to kill him, making excuses to keep him alive with them. They continue their hunt of Wick, all heading to their destinies.

Ness draws readers immediately underwater and into the gravity-defying world of the whales. There is no chance to catch your breath and find your balance, instead you must trust in the current and follow where Ness leads you. His storytelling is that of a master, offering brevity and clarity as he builds a marvelous world below the surface of the water. There is a richness to his writing even though it is so crisp too, emotions deep and generations long playing out on the page.

Bathsheba is a compelling main character, filling the page with her doubts and questions about prophecies and destinies even as the book draws her closer and closer to her own. Throughout the book there is a feeling of a tragedy playing out before you, the homage to Moby Dick is deftly done. Readers familiar with the classic will immediately see the strong connections and still it is also a fascinating read without knowing the classic at all.

Another tremendously original and marvelous read from Ness. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC provided by HarperTeen.

Review: Otis and Will Discover the Deep by Barb Rosenstock

Otis and Will Discover the Deep by Barb Rosenstock

Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record Setting Dive of the Bathysphere by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Katherine Roy (9780316393829)

Otis loved the ocean since he was a boy. He experimented with different ways to dive lower and lover in the water. Will didn’t discover the ocean until later in life, spending time in the woods, trekking the world and climbing volcanoes. Otis heard that Will wanted to dive deep into the ocean and with his background in machines knew that Will would need a very special submersible to survive. Otis reached out to Will again and again until Will agreed to see him. Otis built the machine and Will planned the expedition. The two tall men managed to squeeze inside the small space and then down they went into the deep. Lower and lower they went, creaking and remembering to breathe. They reached 800 feet and then returned to the surface, smiling.

Rosenstock has created a wonderful text for this book that captures the importance of teamwork and connecting with others who have a similar passion but different skills. The differences between the two men are highlighted and then it is even more powerful when the two come together and work on a common goal. I particularly enjoy Will supporting Otis as they descend into the depths. That same support of remembering to breathe is very effectively used to create drama as the depth increases, since readers too  may be holding their breath. The art by Roy is exceptional, adding to the drama of the tale by showing the Bathysphere as isolated, suspending in the dark water. The two men and the contortions they go through to fit and work together in the small space are also charmingly captured in the illustrations.

A winner of a science read. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 All-Natural Nonfiction Books

Flying Deep by Michelle Cusolito

Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN by Michelle Cusolito, illustrated by Nicole Wong (9781580898119)

Alvin is a deep-sea submersible that seats just three people. In this picture book, readers take a journey with Alvin’s crew down into the sea to collect specimens, survey the site and look for life. Light dims and temperatures drop as Alvin descends. At nearly two miles down, they reach the seafloor. There are small crabs, glassy rocks and vent chimneys. Pompeii worms sway in the current and clams nestle in the rocks. There are other surprises too! Soon the specimens are stored and it’s time to slowly ascend to the surface once more.

There is a gorgeous natural drama to this nonfiction picture book that simply shows what scientists encounter as they explore the depths of the sea. Refreshingly, there is no artificial accidents or incidents used, just the depth itself and the sights to be seen. The book contains information about Alvin, a glossary of terms and a list of organisms with information on each. The illustrations are dramatic and use the play of darkness, beams of light and the different light at various depths very effectively.

Immensely readable, this would make a grand nonfiction addition to a story time. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Fur, Feather, Fin All of Us Are Kin by Diane Lang

Fur, Feather, Fin – All of Us Are Kin by Diane Lang, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis (9781481447096)

Exploring the classes of animals, this nonfiction picture book is written in rhyming text. The book looks at mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, arthropods, fish, water dwellers, and detritivores. Each class of animal is explained, including their unique attributes and how they are similar to other animals as well. The focus is on the web of creatures around the world, celebrating the varied nature of life.

The book is filled with facts, including a section at the back that offers even deeper information on each class of animal. Far more than just basic types of animals are explored here and young readers will learn new terms for animals like worms, crabs and insects. This very readable book is accompanied by illustrations that show how different these creatures are, from those under the sea to creatures who mature through various stages to those that fly.

An approachable book that offers lots of information in a very flexible and light way. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.)

One Day a Dot by Ian Lendler

One Day a Dot by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb (9781626722446)

This book is a dynamic mix of graphic novel, nonfiction and picture book. It’s the story of the Big Bang and how earth came to be and how life started here. From the initial explosion, the book quickly moves to life on earth, using comic panels to great effect to show various lifeform stages. Dinosaurs emerge and life flourishes until the meteor strike. Still, some life survives and mammals and evolution lead to humans. The book has many answers but still ends with the ultimate question of where that first dot came from.

A great look at the science of the Big Bang and evolution for small children, this is a cleverly designed book. The book remains firmly nonfiction, nicely describing what is happening in short texts. The book also offers a timeline at the end that shows the Big Bang through current day. The illustrations have a gentle whimsy to them that makes the book inviting. A bright color palette of yellows, greens and oranges adds to the dynamic subject. A winner of a read. Appropriate for ages 4-8. (Reviewed from ARC provided by First Second.)

3 Swimmingly-Good Picture Books

The Brilliant Deep by Kate Messner

The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding The World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe (9781452133508)

All his life Ken Nedimyer was fascinated by the ocean. He would dive in the Florida Keys to see the coral reefs and wonder at how they grew. Then he started to notice that the reefs were losing color and dying. Ken placed rocks in the ocean and then took them back to use in saltwater aquariums. One of his rocks happened to have a staghorn coral emerge on it, something that was illegal to remove from the sea unless it was growing on a live rock collector’s site. Then Ken had an idea, using this first piece of coral to grow more and more of them. He took those corals back to the dying reef and planted them there, not knowing if they would grow. It was a beginning, one that would show how reefs could be helped to recover, one coral at a time.

This inspirational nonfiction picture books shares the way that one person can help the environment by taking a risk and doing the work. The end of the book shares ways that children can help the coral reefs, with more articles and organizations to explore. The text of the book celebrates the wonder of the ocean and still explains the environmental crisis. That tension between the two makes for a compelling story. The illustrations glow on the page, lit by sunlight filtering through the water. They are luminous and hauntingly beautiful, even the images outside of water carrying a strong sense of place and the ocean.

A great picture book biography to share aloud or give to children who love water themselves. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Dude By Aaron Reynolds

Dude! By Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat (9781626726031)

This one-word picture book is a delight in different emotions. Two friends head to the beach together for a day of surfing and sun. Platypus and Beaver head into the sea, greeted by a soaring pelican who dips down to the water and back up again, but not without a little humor on the way. Then a shark shows up! But he just wants to join in the surfing fun. When a big wave crashes them onto the beach and ruins their boards, it’s good that they have made a new friend so that the fun can continue.

The use of just one word works brilliantly here. Sharing it aloud is great fun, though those reading aloud will have to look to the pictures for how that particular “Dude!” should be said. It is used for joy, panic, fear, dismay, sadness and much more throughout the story. Thankfully, the illustrations are done by master of humor, Santat. His bright palette and combination of comic panels and large two-page spreads make for a dynamic combination just right for this story.

A bright sunny summer read, dude! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (9780763690458)

Julian and his abuela take the subway home. On the subway, Julian notices three mermaids riding with them. Julian loves mermaids and daydreams about swimming in the deep and turning into a mermaid himself. When they get home, Julian mentions that he’s a mermaid too, but his abuela is busy heading for her bath. While she is bathing, Julian finds flowing hair for himself and a crown, a gown made of a curtain and some lipstick. When Julian’s abuela sees him, she gets dressed and then gives him a necklace. They head out of the house and off to a parade of other mermaids where Julian fits right in.

There is so much to celebrate in this picture book. Julian is an amazing example of a young person expressing their gender identity in a very direct and yet imaginative way. His grandmother is an even better image for people to read about, a grandparent who accepts a child for who they are without question and offers a way forward hand-in-hand. Told in very simple terms, this story is approachable for all ages, even parents and grandparents.

The illustrations are rich a beautiful. On light brown backgrounds, the illustrations are bright and shining. They are filled with body positivity in a variety of ways both subtle and direct. Perhaps the most successful part is Julian’s transformation into a mermaid in a way that still shows the costume and how it was created but also turns Julian’s dream into reality right before the readers’ eyes.

This one belongs in every library, it is sublimely diverse and accepting. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton

The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton

The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton (9781911171256, Amazon)

Released June 13, 2017.

Erin grew up near a large fishing town but she wasn’t allowed to head out into the sea herself, because of the danger. The huge rock outside of the town was the subject of many frightening stories that spoke about how it moved from place to place and was huge and sharp. Erin tried to hide on her mother’s fishing boat, but Archie, her dog, always found her. When Erin finally managed to sneak aboard, thick fog settled in and the boat almost ran into the black rock! As the boat veered away, Erin fell into the sea. As Erin sank farther and farther, she discovered the secret of Black Rock and realized that it was up to her to protect the rock.

This picture book celebrates the wildness of the sea and its incredible lifeforms. The secret of Black Rock takes this book from one of reality to fantasy in one revelation. The reveal is done beautifully, the page dark except for Erin and the fish. The writing is simple and allows the story to play out swiftly on the page.

The illustrations are exceptional. Black Rock’s emergence as a full character in the book is done particularly well as are the bright and varied fish that live around it. The pages with half of the scene underwater are particularly effective and truly show the magic of the story. The color palette between the sea and the rock and then the harbor and the humans are strikingly different and used very effectively during the stand off as well.

A lush and lovely picture book that invites children to find their own magic in the world. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Flying Eye Books.

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (InfoSoup)

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles lives in a small house on a hill near the sea where he watches for the glint of glass in the waves. It is his job to deliver any messages found in bottles to their rightful owner. Sometimes that means walking only a short distance and other times he must go on a long journey to deliver them. He wishes that one day he would find a message in a bottle that is meant for him, but he never does. One day though, he does find a message with no recipient mentioned. It is an invitation to a party on the beach. He heads into town and asks person after person if this is their message, but it doesn’t belong to any of them. He decides he must go to the party to apologize for not delivering the message to the right person. But what he finds there shows him that some messages are meant for him after all.

Cuevas writes with real poetry in this picture book. Her prose captures the essence of moments with gorgeous descriptions like, “Sometimes the messages were very old, crunchy like leaves in the fall.” The book celebrates the connection that letters bring each of us and takes readers back to a time when messages were written by hand, even if rarely placed in bottles. It is also a book that speaks to the importance of community and feeling like you belong, but also the vitality that can be found in taking the first step towards making that connection.

Stead’s illustrations are dreamy with their pastel colors and fine lined details. Some of them are almost like looking through a keyhole and watching while others encompass the page. There are pages filled with the water of the sea that show both the difficulty of the job and the loneliness of it too. Moments looking alone out of a window capture the isolation the Uncorker is feeling. The colors too add to the emotions of the images both during the isolation and later at the party.

A poetic and beautiful picture book that looks at letters, community and connections in a memorable way. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.

 

Over the Ocean by Taro Gomi

Over the Ocean by Taro Gomi

Over the Ocean by Taro Gomi

Released May 17, 2016.

Originally published in Japan in 1979, Gomi has created a timeless picture book that will speak to modern children beautifully. A child is standing on a beach looking over the ocean. The child wonders what is beyond the ocean. Is it more ocean? Perhaps many boats. The land beyond may be filled with farms, or huge cities, or small houses. Children may live in those houses, ones who could be friends or could be bullies. Are there icebergs? Is it night? Or perhaps there is another solitary child looking right back across the ocean.

So simple, this Japanese picture book offers an imaginative look at what is in our world from a child’s point of view. Gomi captures that childlike view perfectly, allowing jumps of attention and new thoughts to create a natural flow to the narrative. The ending is a gorgeous cap to the book, showing throughout that the people on either side of an ocean are more similar than they are different in a subtle way.

The art is filled with deep colors that are so rich they almost bleed on the page. The art is so vibrant, each page anchored by the child looking across the ocean with small waves breaking. It is a place where imagination soars and a journey is made from right there without ever getting wet.

A vibrant picture book from Japan that offers a glimpse of what lays beyond our doors. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.