Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal

Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal (9781536208450)

Zonia lives in the rain forest. Every morning, the rain forest calls to her and she heads inside. She follows a blue butterfly, visiting her friends the sloths. She chats with the birds in the trees. She sees her best friend, a coati, and her fastest friend, the jaguar. She stops by the water and greets all of the new babies. She has a baby brother of her own. She plays in the rain forest, hanging upside down like the snakes and enjoying a game of hide and seek. She has places to be quiet and places to run. But when she discovers something she has never seen before, she rushes home to tell her mother of the devastation she saw. Now it is time for her, and all of us, to do something to help the rain forest.

Zonia is Asháninka, the largest Indigenous group in the Peruvian Amazon. The face paint that she wears on the final page speaks to her determination and strength. Like many Asháninka, Zonia must face the destruction of the rain forest that she and her entire people rely on to survive. By introducing us to the various animals in the Peruvian Amazon rain forest, Martinez-Neal shows all that we as a world have to lose by not protecting them and their habitat. The book ends with information on the animals shown in the story, information on the Asháninka people, and more facts about the Amazon itself.

The art in this picture book is exquisite. Caldecott Honor winner Martinez-Neal uses hand-made paper from the women paper artisans of Chazuta, Peru to paint the illustrations. These papers form the background of all of the images, providing an organic, speckled and natural feel to the scenes. The bright colors of the Amazon rain forest pop against this subtly textured warmth.

An important picture book about saving the Amazon rain forest, it is also beautifully written and illustrated. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

Ten Animals in Antarctica: A Counting Book by Moira Court

Cover image

Ten Animals in Antarctica: A Counting Book by Moira Court (9781623542320)

Starting first with briefly exploring the continent of Antarctica itself, this nonfiction picture book quickly moves to the ten animals featured inside. The book is a dynamic mix of animals in Antarctica along with an opportunity to count them as they appear on the double-page spreads. First comes one leopard seal floating on his own iceberg. Two emperor penguins waddle across the next page, followed by elephant seals, whales, petrels, orcas, squid, krill, and fish. The book finishes with ten crimson sea stars that dazzle, bright red against the dark background.

Court has created a picture book that very successfully combines factual information about Antarctic animals with counting them. Her language is marvelous, building rhymes directly into her descriptive sentences. She also uses words that will stretch young vocabularies such as “courtly, portly emperor penguins” and “lumbersome, cumbersome southern elephant seals.” The language is such a treat to discover in a nature-focused counting book.

Court’s illustrations are a combination of printmaking and collage. The deep colors and textures bring the cold and icy landscape to life. Court also beautifully designs each page, paying attention to both ease of counting, but also making all of the animals look lifelike too. Readers will enjoy the additional information at the end of the book on both the continent and the featured animals.

Icy and delightful, this is just right for even the youngest of readers to discover a new continent. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Charlesbridge.

Music for Tigers by Michelle Kadarusman

Cover image for Music for Tigers

Music for Tigers by Michelle Kadarusman (9781772780543)

A musician in a family of conservationists and scientists, Louisa finds herself sent away from her home in Canada for the summer to spend time in Australia with her mother’s family. In the remote Tasmanian rainforest, the family has a camp run by her Uncle Ruff. She has brought along her violin, determined to spend time practicing so that she can successfully compete, something her nerves when she plays publicly haven’t allowed her to do. A local resort owner’s son quickly becomes friends with Louisa, who is one of the first teens not to mock his autism and his quirky behaviors. Louisa also learns more about the camp, which is actually a sanctuary created by her great-grandmother to protect the Tasmanian tigers, thought to be extinct. At least one of these large dog-like marsupials may still live on Convict Rock, an island nearby. With a mining operation soon to destroy the sanctuary and the island, they have to work quickly to save this last tiger. By reading her great-grandmother’s journals, Louisa realizes she may be the key to its survival.

This book transports readers into the Tasmanian rainforest. Written with a focus that keeps its length nicely manageable, the novel doesn’t ever feel rushed. Instead it is a journey personally for Louisa through her own fears of performing to a desire to save a creature from true extinction. Her steadily building connection to the Australian wildlife and environment allows readers to explore it as well, falling just as hard as Louisa has for its unique habitat.

This is an environmentalist book that takes a different path. It doesn’t lecture at all, instead allowing immersion within a singular place to really speak to its importance, the vitality of threatened species, and the need to take action. All of the characters are well drawn and complete, filled with multiple dimensions that make them interesting to spend time with in this beautifully described natural wonder.

Amazing writing, vivid characters and lost species come together into a marvelous read. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

While You’re Away by Thodoris Papioannou

Cover image for While You’re Away

While You’re Away by Thodoris Papioannou, illustrated by Petros Bouloubasis (9781662650055)

When you leave nature behind and head indoors, nature keeps on happening all the while. Mother deer may search for blueberries for their fawns. Squirrels might leap closer to their sweethearts. Lizards still laze in sunny spots among the strawberries. A fox may be asleep with her babies. Bears may be drinking from the river. One after another, the activities of nature and wildlife continue, even when a human isn’t there to witness it all. But if you do happen to be out in nature, stay quiet and still and soon you will be witnessing all of the small activities that make up a day in the life of the creatures around you.

This European import speaks to that realization that children suddenly have that things go on even when they are absent, and not just after bedtime! Here nature, insects and animals are used as the example with real impact, as they have lives just like the children do. Their bustling busyness continues even when a child leaves the side of the lake, exits the forest or enters their house. Papioannou uses marvelously specific examples, showing the beauty of nature and also the reasons the animals are doing what they do.

The art is fantastic, creating a modern and colorful vibe where each turn of the page is surprising. Readers quickly move from one animal to the next, from sun dapples to the brilliance of a red fox in a black cave, from a dragonfly near the lake to an owl still and hidden in the trees. The book is a series of discoveries, much like sitting in nature can be.

An inviting look at nature and how it carries on whether you are there or not. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by minedition.

In the Woods by David Elliott

In the Woods by David Elliott

In the Woods by David Elliott, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey (9780763697839)

Enter the woods through this book of poetry for children. The picture book volume shares insight into the different animals living in the woods. First is the musky bear, emerging from his den in the early spring. The red fox also appears in the melting snow, hunting to feed her kits. A scarlet tanager flashes past announcing spring alongside the cowslips. Soon the grass greens, the opossum and her babies bumps along with skunks and their perfume too. Porcupine and fisher cat are also there, quiet and fierce. Hornets buzz in the air while millipedes munch on rotting leaves. Moose, beaver, turkey, raccoon, bobcat and more appear here, each with their own poem that eventually has winter returning with deer appearing ghostlike through the snow storm.

Elliott chains his poems together leading readers steadily through seasonal changes as each animal appears on the pages. The focus is not the seasons though but the animals themselves. Some get longer poems while others get a couple of lines that capture them beautifully. There is a sense that Elliott is getting to the essence of many of the creatures he is writing about here. Each poem is focused and very accessible for children.

Dunlavey’s illustrations in watercolor and mixed media are rendered digitally. Their organic feel works well with the subject matter. Each creature is shown in their habitat and turning the pages feels like rounding a new corner on a walk in the woods.

A poetic journey through the forest that is worth taking. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

Southwest Sunrise by Nikki Grimes

Southwest Sunrise by Nikki Grimes

Southwest Sunrise by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Wendell Minor (9781547600823)

Told in first person, this is the story of a boy moving from New York to New Mexico. He wakes up to a mountain “striped in rainbows” that he didn’t notice there the night before. He knows that deserts are only tans and browns, so he doesn’t anticipate the colors that he finds. As he leaves the house with a guide book, he quickly notices the patches of desert flowers. He discovers an adobe house, spots a magpie in the trees, and notices the broad blue spread of sky above him. As he moves on, he sees a raven, holds a lizard, and finds a tortoise. Rock formations form new skyscrapers for him.

Grimes has created a love song for the desert here, filled with all of the elements that will fascinate children who either already love the desert or who have never experienced it before. She plays against stereotypes of deserts, noting the bright flowers that bloom there, the various animals who live in that habitat and the span of sky. Through the eyes of Jayden, readers explore alongside him.

Minor brilliantly captures the beauty and expanse of the desert in this picture book. He plays with framing his landscapes at first through windows, and then in a two-page spread allows the landscape to burst in front of the reader as if they too opened a door wide and stepped through.

An ode to the beauty of the southwestern United States and its desert. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

Review: Tanna’s Owl by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley

Tanna’s Owl by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, illustrated by Yong Ling Kang (9781772272505)

Based on the story of the owl one of the author’s cared for as a child, this picture book offers a glimpse of life in the Arctic as an Inuit family. Tanna’s father came back from hunting with a baby owl. It was so ugly, it was somehow also cute. The owl had to be fed two or three times a day, so Tanna and her siblings caught lemmings to feed it. The owl, named Ukpik (or owl in Inuktut), lived in her father’s workshop. When the owl was hungry she would stomp her feet, sway back and forth, and chomp her beak. Soon Ukpik wanted even more to eat and everyone was tired of catching lemmings, so they started to feed her other types of meat, including caribou and fish. Her beak was very sharp, so now she had to be fed with gloves on. When summer ended, Tanna had to return to school in another community. She didn’t return home until the next summer. That’s when she found out that Ukpik had been set free. But maybe the large white owl that she saw around their home was Ukpik coming back to visit.

The authors clearly share both sides of caring for a wild animal. There is the initial joy of learning about the animal and starting to be able to understand their needs and ways of communication. Then there is the drudgery of the ongoing care. At the same time, there is a delight in being that close to a wild creature, of knowing it needs to learn to fly away someday, and knowing you are helping in some way. The book also shows modern Inuit life complete with an unusual way of attending school. 

The art is large and bold with the images fully filling both of the pages. Readers will get to see the transformation of the owl from small and gray to a graceful white bird. They will also get glimpses of the Inuit home and the wide-open setting of the Arctic.

An inspiring picture book for kids who dream of caring for wild animals themselves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Inhabit Media.

Review: Puma Dreams by Tony Johnston

Puma Dreams by Tony Johnston

Puma Dreams by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim Lamarche (9781534429796)

The narrator of this book, a young girl, longs to see a puma before they disappear entirely. There have been reports about sightings near her gram’s home. Puma kittens were found in a barn, pumas have stalked horses, and been seen dozing on a tree limb. But the girl has never seen one herself. So she spends her allowance on a fifty-pound salt lick that she put out in the field. Other animals visit the salt lick, including deer, cattle, elk, but no puma appears. The salt lick dwindles down. There are signs of a puma in the area, large paw marks left in wet dirt. Then one day at breakfast, the girl feels a prickle and looks behind her and there at the salt lick is a puma in the golden morning light.

Johnston writes in poetry in this picture book. She paints entire pictures with her words, sharing the delicate balance in nature where a species is on the decline. She shares the young narrator’s wistfulness and wonder at the puma, dreaming along with her about its life and what it is doing right then. The amazement and delight when the puma finally appears is so satisfying after the longing she has conveyed on all of the previous pages.

Lamarche’s illustrations are exceptional. They capture the landscape of grassland and mountains, illuminated by the time of day with the colors of dawn or the golden light of evening. The setting is depicted so clearly that one could almost walk to the salt lick from the house. He also shows the little girl and her gram in the images, living in connection with the land around them. The beauty of the hidden puma is also there, sometimes featured on the page and other times elusive but there.

A gorgeous picture book about dreams, plans and patience. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

Review: Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Wait, Rest, Pause Dormancy in Nature by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature by Marcie Flinchum Atkins (9781541561922)

This nonfiction picture book explores hibernation and other forms of dormancy in cold weather. The book looks not only at animals, but at trees as they enter their own dormant winter period. Ladybugs gather together for warmth and pause until spring. Ground squirrels hibernate, shivering for hours to keep warm. Chickadees slow their hearts and pause on cold nights until the next day. Alligators sink into the mud. Earthworms go dormant during a drought until water returns. Then when water or warmth comes back, everyone returns to full life once again.

The breadth of subject matter here is impressive and makes the book far more fascinating than just being about hibernation. The writing is poetic with recurring phrases that call for the dormant species to pause… and the reader will naturally do the same. Each creature is approached in a similar way, making for a book that reads well aloud and also creating a cohesiveness that this broad a subject requires. The book ends with definitions of different types of dormancy and a bibliography for further exploration of the subject. The photographs in the book come from collections such as Getty Images and stock photos. They work well here, offering glimpses of the species dormant as well as active.

An interesting science book that will share well with a group. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Millbrook Press.