Review: Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis

Hey, Water by Antoinette Portis

Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis (9780823441556)

This picture book takes a look at water in our lives. It includes rivers and lakes, puddles and streams. There is water we drink from a glass and water that we bathe in. Water is also in snow and ice, steam, clouds and fog. The little girl who leads readers through the exploration of water also thinks about water being inside of her and making up part of her too. Told in short sentences that make this ideal to use with preschoolers learning about the water cycle, the book ends with deeper looks at water, the cycle and how to conserve water yourself.

The book has a jaunty and energetic tone, inviting readers to explore water around themselves too. The book pairs its short sentences with larger words that tell what is being described and invite young listeners to guess and interact with the images and text. Portis’ illustrations are filled with blues and greens that range from deep lake blue to the lightest of ice blues. White and gray add to the color palette with rain, snow and fog.

A welcome addition to STEM books for preschoolers, this one is a refreshing drink on a hot day. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Neal Porter Books.

Review: The Biggest Puddle in the World by Mark Lee

The Biggest Puddle in the World by Mark Lee

The Biggest Puddle in the World by Mark Lee, illustrated by Nathalie Dion (9781554989799)

A little girl and her brother Charlie were staying with their grandparents for six days. On the first day, the spent time exploring the big old house. Then it started to rain. It rained the entire second day, as they continued to explore the house. It rained the entire third day, which they spent playing dress-up. The girl asked her grandfather, Big T, where the rain comes from. He promised to show her when the rain stopped and when they had found the biggest puddle. The next day, the sun was out and the children joined their grandfather outside. On their walk to find the biggest puddle, they explored small puddles, a stream, a pond and finally found the sea! Along the way, their grandfather explained the water cycle with evaporation, the clouds, rain and bodies of water.

Lee combines a science lesson with a fictional picture book very successfully here. The initial story of children visiting grandparents is filled with lovely moments of play and connection. The children may be bored at times, but they also find ways to spend their time even as rain comes down all around the house. When the sun returns, the world opens up to them and their adventures becomes less imagination and more real. The facts shared about the water cycle are shown as part of their walk and a natural conversation. Dion’s illustrations are light and filled with a sense of movement and air. The gray rainy days spent inside contrast beautifully with the sunshine of the outdoor pages.

A quiet picture book about family, weather and water. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.

Review: I Am Farmer by Miranda Paul

i am farmer by miranda paul

I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon by Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (9781512449143)

When Tantoh was young, he visited his grandmother’s farm and tried to plant onions on his own. They shriveled and never grew, but it inspired him to learn more about all sorts of things. As a teen, his father got him his how shovel and gardening supplies even though his father was ill. Tantoh is called Farmer by his classmates and takes pride in it, even writing it on his school uniform. His brother encourages him not to be a farmer, wanting him to get a good job in an office with high scores on his exam. But Tantoh is drawn to be a farmer and deliberately fails his exams. He starts working on the land and someone pays for him to go to college and study agriculture. At college, Tantoh contracts typhoid and it takes seven years for him to fully recover. This shows him the value of clean water. He goes to the  United States to study, returning to Cameroon to build gardens that will hold water in the soil and a catchment to capture spring water for a village. One project leads to another and now Farmer Tantoh has many young farmers wanting to learn from him.

This nonfiction picture book offers a close and personal look at an environmental hero who changed the face of Cameroon and brought water conservation and clean drinking water to his country. Farmer was clearly pressured as a young man not to follow his dreams of being a farmer, so this book looks at following one’s dreams and having the ability to live the life you wish to lead. The book also looks at barriers to his success such as his battle with typhoid, which also serves to speak to his strength, courage and resilience.

The illustrations in the book are done in mixed media with paper collage, paint, pen and pencil. The images range from the hills of Cameroon to images of Tantoh as a child, student and adult. The pictures are filled with bright colors, strong shapes and vibrant design.

A look at a man who changed his country by following his dream. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Millbrook Press.

Review: The Dam by David Almond

The Dam by David Almond

The Dam by David Almond, illustrated by Levi Pinfold (9780763695972)

Based on a true story, this is the tale of the Kielder Dam which when finished would flood the valley where there were farms, homes and a school. Musicians had played throughout the area, so right before the valley was to be flooded, Mike Tickell took his daughter Kathryn and her fiddle into the dam to play music there for the final time. They enter each boarded-up house and Kathryn plays music. They played all day long, one home and structure after another, filling the spaces with music. Now the area is a lake, a lake that contains music.

Almond’s writing is so incredibly beautiful here. He takes the haunting story of a musician saying farewell and welcome at the same time. He tells the story with poetry and awe, a hushed beauty filling the pages as he explains the wonder of the music that still lives within the lake. In his note at the end, Almond explains about the Tickells and Kathryn Tickell’s career as a well-known folk musician.

The illustrations by Pinfold are equally haunting. The lone stone buildings with their boarded doors and windows stand as witnesses but also ghosts on the landscape, soon to be covered by water. There are ghostly figures on the pages, swirling with the music and poetry, saying goodbye to the world they knew.

A gorgeous picture book that looks at the power of music and the wonder of a place. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 Deep and Watery Picture Books

Aquarium by Cynthia Alonso

Aquarium by Cynthia Alonso (9781452168753)

A little girl heads down to the dock near the water to watch the fish, dreaming of one day swimming alongside many fish at the same time. When a small orange fish jumps out of the water, she catches it in a water bottle and runs home with it. With a black hose, lots of containers, and plants, she creates a new watery space for the fish. When she swims along with the little fish in her pool though, the fish jumps out into a puddle. In that moment, the girl decides to return the fish to the sea.

This wordless picture book beautifully explores a little girl’s connection to nature and her own desire to be part of it and have a piece of it for herself. Through the images, one knows that the little girl means no harm, only to celebrate the fish and her connection to it. Still, readers will know that it will be a problem if the fish is kept from his home for too long. The illustrations are full of the blues of the sea which contrasts with the rest of the scenery that is left barely sketched and uncolored. It is water that really brings the book alive, combined with trees and rushes. A beautiful look at connecting with nature by preserving it. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers

Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers (9781481470377)

Finn lives by the sea, On the day that would have been his grandfather’s birthday, it is a good day for sailing and for building a boat, one that will help him find the place that his grandfather told him about, where the ocean meets the sky. So Finn spent his morning building a boat that was suitable for a long journey and then he took a nap. When he awoke, the boat was rocking in the sea and the journey had begun. As Finn got lonely in the open sea, a large golden fish emerges from the water and agrees to show him the way to the place he is searching for. They travel past Library Islands filled with birds and books, an island of giant shells, and a sea of glowing jellyfish. Until they finally reach the place where the ocean meets sky and Finn’s boat soars out of the water and into the sky, all before dinner.

This beautifully rendered book is exceptional. There is a lovely consistency throughout even in the more dreamlike sequences. The text is simple and inviting, creating a world that children will enjoy exploring alongside Finn himself. The book moves from a feeling of grief and loss that is handled with delicacy to hard work in honor of Finn’s grandfather and then into a world of dreams and wonder.

The illustrations move from black-and-white memories of Finn’s grandfather to pastels for the real world of today and then into sharp details and deeper colors of dreams. I love that the dreamworld is the most defined and colorful. Grandfather appears throughout the dreams in the form of the large fish and the moon. His presence is everywhere.

A lovely and layered picture book about grief, memories and wonder. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)

Water Land Land and Water Forms around the World by Christy Hale

Water Land: Land and Water Forms around the World by Christy Hale (9781250152442)

One of the most inventive uses of cut pages that I have seen! This picture book takes water forms and with a turn of the page creates corresponding landforms. A lake becomes an island. A bay turns into a cape. Strait and isthmus compare beautifully. It goes on and on. One will turn back and forth between water and land, stunned by the comparisons and the feeling of a complete ecosystem on the page.

It is the art that is central in this book. With cut pages, the drawings are active around the land and water forms. Boats and trucks cross land and water, diverse people play on the sand, sharks circle in the water. A brilliant book that will have young readers looking at water and land in a new way with plenty of terms to name what they are seeing. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner

Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner

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.

Rivers of Sunlight by Molly Bang

Rivers of Sunlight by Molly Bang

Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water around the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm (9780545805414, Amazon, GoodReads)

This is the fourth picture book collaboration between Bang and Chisholm. All of the picture books done by Bang as author and illustrator and Chisholm, professor of Ecology at MIT have focused on the sun. This picture book is all about how the sun works to move water through the water cycle on earth. The role of the sun as it evaporates water to vapor. The way the sun heats and cools water. The way that water moves around the earth via ocean currents. It’s a book about the power of the sun and the value of water on earth with an emphasis on conservation and care.

Bang and Chisholm have created a group of picture books that celebrate our earth and the wonder of the sun. This book includes water, looking at the small amount of fresh water that actually exists on earth, the way that water cycles through our world, and the power of the sun in all of these systems. The book is told in the voice of the sun, speaking as the source of winds, the power of evaporation, the source of ocean currents.

Bang’s illustrations are lit by the sun. She rims trees in yellow, lights mountains in gold, and swirls lemon through the oceans. She shows the water in the atmosphere as a river of its own, dappled and bright but also subtle against the bolder parts of the illustrations. There is a delicacy to it that emphasizes how humans can damage water on our planet.

Another winner from this collaboration of art and science, this picture book shines. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from The Blue Sky Press.

The Water Princess by Susan Verde

the-water-princess-by-susan-verde

The Water Princess by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds (InfoSoup)

Gie Gie imagines herself to be a princess with a kingdom as big as the African sky. She can tell the wind when to blow, the grass when to sway. But she cannot move the water closer to their home. Every day, Gie Gie and her mother walk to get water, a walk that takes almost the entire day. As they walk, they sing and dance together, stop under the shade of a large tree for a snack. When they reach the water, others are there and Gie Gie plays with her friends as her mother waits in line. Soon it is their turn and they start their long walk back balancing the water in pots on their heads. Back home, Gie Gie finally gets a drink of the precious water and falls asleep, knowing she must make the same walk the next day.

This picture book is based on the childhood of supermodel Georgie Badiel, who has a foundation working to bring clean water to Burkina Faso and other African countries. Verde writes with a poetic touch throughout, the prose light as a breeze carrying the story forward. There is no lecture here about clean water, rather it is a look at the hard work and endurance it takes to bring clean water to African villages.

The illustrations by Reynolds are done in his signature style with a flowing beauty that works particularly well here. He uses deep colors that show the dry landscape in yellows and oranges that are occasionally punctuated with greens and blues, the colors of water and hope.

A light feeling picture book that has a deep story to tell, this is a compelling read. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC received from GP Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Pond by Jim LaMarche

pond-by-jim-lamarche

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.