Tad by Benji Davies (9780062563590)
Tad was a very small tadpole, smaller that all of her tadsiblings. The others warned her that if she couldn’t keep up with them, she would be eaten by Big Blub, the huge nasty fish at the bottom of their pond. So Tad swam twice as hard to keep up with everyone and kept to the shallow parts of the pond. Gradually, the other tadpoles started to change, growing legs and losing their tales. But Tad still had her tail and steadily the other tadpoles disappeared. Eventually, she was the only one still left in the water, hiding from Big Blub. Then one day, Big Blub appeared. Now Tad had one choice, leap out of the water or be eaten!
Davies has written a deep and marvelous picture book about being a late bloomer and then having change thrust upon you. Tad faces her challenges with lots of grit and determination, but eventually that isn’t quite enough as she is left behind by the others. Still, it is her courage that saves her in the end, allowing her to figure out what happened to her siblings after all.
The art here is great, filled with murky pond greens, deep seaweed teals, the blackness around Big Blub, and the moonlit blue of water at night. Tad has a glowing yellow eye, different from her siblings that lets readers find her even in a school of tadpoles.
A grand story sure to make your heart leap. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.
How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy (9781626721784)
This picture book celebrates elephants in a way that invites readers deeply into the life of a newborn elephant calf and all that that baby has to learn. The book opens with the birth and then the family of female elephants that will raise the infant together. The elephant’s body is explored from the way it walks and balances to the way its ears help handle the heat to the dexterity of the trunk. Sounds and food are also explored along with the habitat the elephants live in. Throughout, the book offers scientific information in a conversational way. The book is almost like a readable version of nature documentaries where facts celebrate and delight. The art of the picture book is rich and warm showing the elephants in their habitat. It also shows scientific information about structure and sound that is presented graphically and with just enough detail for young readers. An exceptional science and nature nonfiction picture book, this is one stellar pick for library collections. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Roaring Book Press.)
On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna (9780062657602)
A child and their mother head back to a small cabin on a rainy day. The child just wants to play their video game, but their mother insists on them heading outside. It is bleak and raining out but as they head into the woods, the rocks in the pond beckon them forward. Leaping from rock to rock, the video game falls into the water and is lost. The child is devastated by the loss but is soon distracted by some of the wildlife around from glowing snails walking in rows to mushrooms. The beauty of the rich earth below and the sun coming through the clouds above. There is rolling down hills, quiet time in the woods, and getting soaked through. Once back home, the day is transformed entirely into something new.
This picture book is an interesting look at the tug between technology and spending time outside. I enjoyed the child realizing that the world is fascinating and a place to explore that is far better than the small world of the game that they have already played. The warm little cabin and the isolation also add to the appeal of the book and the pleasure of a newfound way to spend time outdoors. Throughout the book there is a sense of quiet and wonder. That is emphasized by the images that fill the pages with trees, water, dirt and plants. It is rather like being immersed in a rainy day yourself. A great book to read and then set off on outdoor adventures together on a rainy day. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)
The Pond by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Cathy Fisher (9781912050703)
Told in the voice of a boy who has lost his father, this book shows the connection of people to nature and through that connection to one another. The boy’s father had always wanted a pond in the backyard, but when he died all he left behind was a muddy hole. Ducks tried to land in the mucky hole and the boy tried to fill it with water, but it created an even larger mess. Then one day, his mother lined the hole and surrounded it with rocks. Soon there was an ecosystem forming with tadpoles, insects, algae and newts. When the water lily finally bloomed, it was time for the family to move to a new house, but the memory of the pond would stay with them forever and they would create a new one in their new place. Written with deep emotion both about grief in a family and also about connection to nature, this picture book shows rebirth in a very organic way. The illustrations are rich and lovely, celebrating the transformation from a hole to a pond with life. A touching and hope-filled book. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)
On Duck Pond by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Bob Marstall (9781943645220, Amazon)
This is the second book in the children’s picture book series by the award-winning duo of Yolen and Marstall that is done in conjunction with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. A boy and his dog take a walk in a new setting. This time it is near a pond where everything is very quiet but soon the ducks arrive and break the silence with their splashing and quacking. The other creatures at the pond are startled and move away, including frogs, turtles, a heron and the tadpoles. Soon the pond goes back to being still and quiet and the other animals come out of hiding.
Yolen’s poetry is particularly effective. She pays such attention to small details not only in the animals as they react to the ducks but to the reflections in the water as they go from mirror-like to shattered to reflective once again. The water itself reacts similarly to the animals and the sounds, it’s a lovely connection that is clearly done and yet poetically presented allowing a sense of discovery for the reader.
Marstall’s illustrations are detailed and wonderfully natural. They embrace the greens of the surrounding land and also the colors of the animals themselves and the water. He uses plenty of detail on the animals themselves, showing them up close to the reader so that one can almost smell the pond water on the pages.
A grand look at a small pond and its vibrations throughout a boy’s day and life. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (9781452145426, Amazon)
This is the third book by Messner and Neal that looks at different habitats and their above and below ground, or in this case water, life. In this book, readers get a look at what a pond is like while floating in a canoe on top of the water and then get to see below the water and glimpse the amazing things happening down there. The book focuses on the ecosystem itself and how the life above water works with that below. Moose graze on the side of the pond while beavers dive below the water. A heron strides along the shore and then strikes, eating the minnows below the water. This is a dynamic look at life on a pond that will make all readers dream of summer days out of doors.
Messner’s prose is evocative, inviting readers fully into this habitat both as the humans witnessing the beauty and as the animals who live there. The human perspective of the mirror of the water and turtles being startled is an important piece of this book. Even more vital are the underwater scenes and the scenes that bridge the two using animals and plants. That’s where it gets filled with wonder and Messner is happy to join us in that amazement and joy.
Neal’s illustrations are detailed and lush. I appreciate that the human characters in the canoe are people of color, a small detail that makes that book all the more diverse and welcoming. The natural elements are shown from a variety of perspectives. One of my favorites is looking up from the bottom of the pond to the boat above, seeing fish and turtles above the reader. Bliss!
A strong third book in this series, make sure to get all three for your library. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Pond by Jim LaMarche (InfoSoup)
Out walking in the late winter, Matt realized the the place that they had always called “the Pit” used to be a pond. So he and his friends decided to recreate the pond that had been there. They cleaned up the junk and built a new dam. As they worked, Pablo discovered a blue stone shaped like a heart in the sand. Katie started to research the birds, insects and stones as the pond started to slowly fill. They found an old wooden boat and repaired it, naming it Dragonfly. Summer ended with them floating on the newly filled pond, camping nearby. In fall, the geese discovered the pond and flocked to it. Winter brought ice skating on the pond with lots of friends. In the spring, the three friends run to the top of a hill overlooking the pond and there they see how the heart stone is connected to the pond itself.
LaMarche offers a perspective on nature that shows children that they too can do things to restore natural areas. The amount of work that the children do is not minimized at all nor is the slow return to a pond from a pit. This focus on effort, hard work and a slow pay off is vital when working with nature. The book embraces a sort of natural time, a patience while birds and bugs return. Then it picks up, swooping with changes and demonstrating how an ecosystem changes throughout the seasons and serves different animals.
LaMarche grew up in Wisconsin and you can see Wisconsin on each page of this book. From the bombardment of mosquitoes in the summer to the spotted fawns to the woods and marshes. The illustrations are superb, showing the shimmering light of water and woods, the moon rising over a pond, and again that slow transformation into natural beauty.
A testament to the power of restoration for natural areas and how children can help, this picture book is a pleasure. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.