Along the Tapajos by Fernando Vilela, translated by Daniel Hahn (9781542008686)
A boy and his family live along the Tapajos River, one of the biggest rivers in the Amazon rainforest. He and his sister take a boat to get to school. He loves to see the alligators along the way, while she prefers the porpoises. Under the water, lurk some even larger animals just waiting for someone to fall in the water. At school, the rain suddenly begins, starting the winter season that is filled with torrential rainfall and flooding. Everyone rushes home to pack up and head away from the flooding. They take everything but the houses themselves. But the brother and sister have left their tortoise behind accidentally. At night, they sneak out to rescue her. They get back to their flooded village and discover the turtle just about to be devoured by a giant anaconda!
Originally published in Brazil, this picture book tells the story of a way of life that is unique to the Amazon rainforest. The author combines the story of the flooding village and the construction of a new place in the rainforest with a tale of bravery when the children rescue their pet. This also gives readers an opportunity to see the quiet beauty of the flooded village, empty of anyone. The setting itself is a major character, including the many animals, the weather and the river herself. It’s a book that carries readers to a place they never knew existed.
The illustrations are done in a mix of woodcut techniques, drawing and collage that is then used digitally. They have a great texture to them and depth thanks to the woodcuts that offer that organic feel to the images. The rain itself falls white against the golden background of the sky and the river. The book often takes a step back from the immediate action, allowing the riverscape to fill the pages in a way that is very impactful.
Journey to another part of the world in this look at the Amazon rainforest and some of the people who call it home. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
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.
River by Elisha Cooper (9781338312263)
Explore the Hudson River alongside an intrepid canoer in this picture book. The book takes readers from a mountain lake on a journey of 300 miles to where the Hudson meets the Atlantic. The woman meets moose, otters, a bear cub, ducks and more on her journey. She faces rapids and sometimes has to drag her canoe in shallow waters or portage it across a dam. She uses a lock to get past a waterfall. She stops at times to restock her supplies at towns along the river. She paddles for days and days, sleeping in a tent at night. She faces a storm and has her boat overturned, but she eventually reaches New York City and her home.
There is something so invigorating and inspiring about this glimpse of someone making a journey of a lifetime. At the same time, this is a quiet book, one that inspires thinking, drawing and taking time for one’s self. It’s a lovely balance of a book, and thanks to Cooper’s unique style it is told in a way that honors the woman’s courage and skill and yet makes it all less daunting to imagine doing. It’s just what we want picture books to do for children.
Cooper’s art really shines here, reading more like a journal at times with scenes just barely captured before they changed. Other pages which feature the landscape and vistas along the way are spectacularly done whether in broad daylight or filled with stars at night.
A journey worth taking again and again. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.
Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (9780316464475)
A river flowed through the forest. The river had no idea it could have adventures until a big bear came along. As the curious bear toppled into the river, the adventure began. Soon Bear was joined by Froggy and they both climbed onto a log which headed down the river. Along the way, others joined them too. There was the beaver who could captain, the turtles who were worried about disaster, the raccoons who didn’t know how to be careful, and the duck they crashed into. Then came the waterfall…
Morris has written a book that begs to be shared aloud. From the various personalities of all of the creatures to the shared adventure that is filled with twists and turns, this book is full of fun. Morris uses an interesting turn of phrase throughout the book, with each additional animal and the river itself not knowing what they are capable of. It’s a great lens as each of the animals learns that they are not alone but instead part of a larger community and world.
Pham’s illustrations are zany and ever so funny. He completely captures the personalities of each of the characters as they head down the river. From their body language to their expressions, these creatures are in for a lot of adventure together. The added joy of the maps of the river as the endpages are great. Grayed-out at first, they are full color at the end.
A wild ride of a book that is really all about shared fun and community. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Along the River by Vanina Starkoff (9781554989775, Amazon)
The river is the way that everyone travels in Brazil. Crowded with boats, the river flows. There are two in a canoe, boats filled with potted plants and others that are bustling kitchens. Some boats are schools and others are stores. There are boats filled with shared music, while others sleep in the sun. Throughout there is a sense of community and happiness as life and the river flow by.
Starkoff uses only a few words per page. They invite readers to see the river as a place of connection and community. Readers will also enjoy the names of the various vessels that speak to the feeling of joy that pervades the entire book. The illustrations are vibrant and loud with the river and sky a zingy yellow that adds pizzazz to the images. Children will love following various characters through their day on the river and watching new friendships develop before their eyes.
An import from Brazil, this book has a low key vibe that is full of laid back joy. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Creekfinding: A True Story by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Claudia McGehee (9780816698028)
This picture book tells the true story of a lost creek that used to cross a prairie meadow. Then a farmer bulldozed dirt into the creek to create more farm land. Years later, another man purchased the field and heard from a neighbor about the creek that used to be there. He decided to try to find that creek. So he dug a creek bottom after consulting historic photographs of the land. He hoped that the water would return and it did. But a creek is more than running water and now it was up to him to bring more rocks, more plants and eventually trout in his newly rediscovered creek.
This book focuses on a compelling topic. That the land we live and farm on once used to be very different from the way it is now and that we can work to return it to its more natural state. The picture book has wonder at its center, the amazing notion that water once buried will return to a dry creek bed. It also focuses on the hard work that it took and the incredible problem solving that went into rebuilding the creek from literally the bottom up. Slowly it become reality with lots of work and patience.
The illustrations by McGehee are based directly on her visit to the land the book is about. Done on scratchboard, the illustrations have a wonderful weight to them, capturing the deep greens of the prairie, the richness of the biodiversity, and the transformation of the land.
A fascinating topic that is just right for environmental units or Earth Day, this picture book is a celebration of nature and man working together. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Good Ship Crocodile by J. Patrick Lewis and Monique Felix
Snout was a crocodile who lived on a river. During the rainy season, the water level would rise and other animals would get into trouble. The fireflies could not fly in the falling rain, so they asked Snout to carry them to the other side of the river. Across they went, riding on his back and even in his mouth. Day after day, Snout carried animals across the river to safety. Finally, when the sun came out again, Snout realized that he could no longer see his home because he had drifted far downstream. Now it was Snout’s turn to ask the other animals for help returning to his home.
Lewis served as U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate from 2011-2013 and in this picture book, you can see his skill with words on every page. Lewis creates an entire world here, including an unusually kind crocodile. His words are so simple and uncomplicated, yet they create a sturdy structure for the story. He doesn’t offer rationalizations for why this crocodile is so kind, but clearly shows that doing kindness for others will inspire them to do it for you when you need it most.
The illustrations in this book are breathtaking. Felix creates a crocodile that looks wonderfully real, particularly in the very close up images. As the crocodile takes different animals across the river, the text goes silent, allowing time for the reader to mentally make the journey too. It also builds a great tension where readers will wonder if he will snap his jaws shut at any moment.
Beautifully told and illustrated, this is a strong addition to any story time on crocodiles or kindness. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The River by Alessandro Sanna
Travel through four seasons along the Po River in this breathtakingly beautiful book. Made almost entirely of watercolor images shown as either full-page or a series of panels, this book asks readers to pay close attention to the images and discover the story told there. Each season starts with a brief paragraph that offers clues to what is going to happen. Autumn is a season of floods. Winter is described as warm, which will surprise many young readers as will the newborn calf. Spring is music and white clouds. Summer is dry and hot. Each of those seasons is brought to life with the watercolor images with palettes that change through the seasons, purples in autumn, blues in winter, gold in summer. Each more beautiful than the last, so that you just want to begin it again when it ends.
This is the first book by Sanna to be printed in the United States, but he is well known in his native Italy. He has created a book here that is artistic and wildly lovely. Told primarily through his art, the storylines are consistently seasonal, intense and surprising. The use of the river as a symbol for the passage of time works perfectly here. The changing colors also serve to remind readers that time is passing, change is constant and the world is gorgeous.
One big question with this book is what age it is appropriate for. With its minimal words, it might be expected to be perfect for small children, but thanks to its artistic approach, I believe the audience is quite a bit older. Children who enjoy art will be able to appreciate it in elementary school. Yet the audience I see really loving this book are middle and high school teens who will delight in the watercolors, the surprises and a picture book that suits them well.
Beautiful, moving and vast, this nearly wordless picture book will be enjoyed by elementary aged children through adults.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.