The Explorer by Katherine Rundell (9781481419451)
When their plane crashes in the Amazon, four children are the only ones who survive. Now it is up to them to figure out how to survive in the vast jungle. There is Fred, a teen who has always dreamed of exploring wilderness and of the fame that comes with it. There is Con, a girl with almost no family and even fewer friends. Then Lila and her five-year-old brother Max complete the group. Lila only wants to keep Max healthy and alive, despite all of his attempts to get into trouble. As they forage for food, they discover a man-made shelter and then a series of clues that lead them to a crude map. Having built a raft from wood and vines, they follow the map to discover another human surviving in the jungle, someone so angry that he may not help them at all.
Rundell’s body of work is one of the most varied in children’s literature. The unifying feature though is her ability to bring a setting fully to life for the reader. Here, the setting is incredibly detailed and readers will get to learn about things like eating grubs, vines that make your skin itch, the right way to cook a spider over an open flame, and much more. Rundell doesn’t just present this information, she injects it into her story, showing how rich and beautiful the Amazon is even as she presents its dangers.
The four young characters make a strong group as they work together to survive. Rundell does not give any of them perfect characters, allowing the oldest to wrestle with his wish for fame, others to struggle to communicate, and the youngest to simply be awfully annoying at times. This too adds to the realistic feel of the novel, and in the end shows that friendships can be forged with even the most unlikely of people.
Filled with adventure, wilderness and plenty of icky moments, this is a gripping and fabulous look at the Amazon. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Here are three wonderful new or recent picture books that celebrate nature and outdoors.
In the Middle of Fall by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek (9780062573117)
This book follows When Spring Comes by the same masterful duo. Here Henkes’ poem celebrates the turning of the leaves and other changes in nature. There are the squirrels, the brown gardens, pumpkins and apples. Then leaves fall, filling the air with oranges, yellows and reds that disappear quickly and soon another season is on its way, this time with snow. Henkes keeps the text of the book simple and focused on nature. There is a deep sense of the fleeting nature of autumn and how quickly it passes by. The illustrations by Dronzek are large and fill the page. They will work well shared with a group, who will recognize their own backyards and their own time outside reflected in the book. A lovely look at fall, let’s hope this duo does the other seasons as well. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Once Upon a Jungle by Laura Knowles, illustrated by James Boast (9781784937799)
This clever picture book uses the phrase “once upon a time” to set in motion the food cycle in a rainforest. “Once upon” quickly turns to the animal being preyed upon, eaten or hunted. Ants are eaten by a mantis who in turn is snacked on by a lizard who is hunted by a monkey. The animals get larger and larger as the book continues until finally there is an old panther. After that panther dies, he returns to the dirt where his body enriches the soil and new plants grow. Thanks to the simple phrasing, the book is fast paced and the structure allows readers to be surprised and fascinated. The book ends with an explanation of the jungle as a living habitat. The bright illustrations framed by the black backgrounds leap off of the page and offer a sense of peering through jungle leaves and vines to see what is happening. A very approachable and interesting book on food cycles. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Thank You, Bees by Toni Yuly (9780763692612)
This bright and bold picture book is just right for the smallest of children. Exploring gratitude and appreciating the little things in life, this book moves through a little boy’s day as he thanks each thing that brings him joy. The sun is thanked for its light, the bees for honey, sheep for wool and trees for wood. By bedtime, the little boy thanks the entire earth for the life it gives. Done in very simple language of identifying what to be thankful for and then voicing the thanks, this book shows how easy it is to see the beauty of life. The art of the book is done in collage with items like wood, paper, and fabric. With the white background, the images pop on the page making this a good choice for sharing aloud with a group. It could also be used as an introduction for a gratitude exercise with small children. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Tropical Rainforests by Seymour Simon
Veteran children’s nonfiction author, Seymour Simon, returns with this Smithsonian Institution book on rainforests. With full color images featuring interesting wildlife and grand expanses of forest, the book is an enticing introduction to tropical rainforests for children. The importance of rainforests for the entire planet is woven into the particulars about the animals and plants that can be found there. Making up just 2% of the earth’s surface, these forests are home to millions of insects, plants and animals. Simon reveals their uniqueness and beauty as he writes with passion about their importance.
Though he is writing nonfiction, Simon writes with an almost poetic voice. He has a graceful sense of wonder in his prose, never allowing the rainforest to be reduced to a list of creatures that inhabit it. Instead, Simon waters the book with plenty of facts, offers a sunshine of lovely little moments (like the way that you can hear the army ants hiss because there are so many of them) and brings out the beauty with the lush photography. This is a science book for real science lovers, where the science is the loveliness of the world around us with so many details that make it amazing.
Unlike most science books, this one reads aloud very well. Though you will find yourself stopping regularly to discuss an interesting point or take a closer look at an image. A book that is sure to warm up wintry days, this is a scientific vacation to the rainforest. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Also reviewed by A Patchwork of Books