I have always thought that picture books are a bit like a poem, beautifully laid out line by line, but, with the added dimension of illustrations to give the reader a richer experience. Helen Frost’s Sweep up the Sun, is the perfect example of this. She has taken a poem that she wrote and laid it out in a picture book format with Rick Lieder’s striking photographs of birds stretched across the pages. The pairings of words and photographs showing birds learning to fly, playing and soaring through sun, rain and snow seem simple in their elegance, but are clearly the result of thoughtful interplay between the author and photographer. In not clutter the beautiful pages with too much text, Frost has limited the text within the story to the lines of the poem and saved more information for the end of the book instead. There is wonderful additional material there about the birds included and their behaviors for those interested in learning more. This book is another in the stunning nature series by Lieder and Frost, which also includes, Step Gently Out, Among a Thousand Fireflies, and Wake Up!.
Suggested Ages – This book is appropriate for very young children who will be amazed by the photographs and respond to the rhythm of the poetry. Early readers can follow the simple text along and older students will appreciate the extra information at the end of the story.
What better sign of spring is there than the appearance of new life in a pond? In Over and Under the Pond, Kate Messner and Silas Neal capture this magic. This is another in the terrific series, including Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt, about what you see and what you don’t. Messner’s simple and lyrical text is full of questions between a mother and child exploring a pond. There is so much imagination here – watching the shadows under water and the reflections on its surface. She uses a series of interwoven images over the pond and then under the pond, following the animals as they surface and then disappear. The text is peppered with great sounds as well, like, “gurgle, gurgle, sploosh,” which help the reader to think of him or herself as the observer. Silas Neal’s illustrations are colorful and bold and help us to see the connection between above and below as the main characters float along the surface. The progression from day to night as the mother and child return home to listen to the pond sounds as they fall asleep make it a lulling bedtime book. Having left the scientific facts out of the main text of the story, Messner puts additional material at the end about pond ecosystems and each of the pond animals she includes. There is also a helpful list of additional books and websites on ponds. I loved ponding with my girls and coming home to read this one and learn more about the animals we had seen. To read more about tadpoles, please visit my post on the Horn Book Family Reading Blog .
Suggested Ages – This book is written for ages 5-8, but older readers and parents will appreciate the extra material at the end with more information on the animals
in the story.
As spring emerges and the colors and scents dazzle our senses, let us not forget the sounds. In Cricket Song, author and illustrator Anne Hunter, reminds us of the gentle lulling sounds of crickets that symbolize spring breezes blowing into newly opened windows. The book has an elegant poetic form, starting with one child falling asleep to the “krek krek” and leading to another child far away falling asleep to the same sounds. Her airy watercolor and ink illustrations lead us through two stories that then converge as smoothly as the migration of the whales that link them. Filmstrip-like scenes run along the bottom of each page, tracing the second storyline. The reader is challenged to find the subtle differences from page to page. After exploring the natural world outside, Hunter brings us back inside to the snug room of a child falling asleep. It is fun to read a book written and illustrated by the same person, as there is unique a synergy in the way she presents the story that is subtle and mysterious – something she has done before in her Possum series (Possum’s Harvest Moon, Possum and the Peeper, and Possum and the Storm – due out spring 2018). This is certainly a book I would read to my daughters on a spring evening as they drift off to sleep.
Suggested Ages – This story is suited for young listeners ages 3-5, who will enjoy the sounds Hunter uses in her writing as well as her illustrations. The words are sparse and simple enough for early readers to try on their own, assisted by the pictures that tell much of the story.
Maybe it is because I am from the Midwest, but I have always been fascinated by the tides. When I went to college to study marine science, I remember wondering why the ramp to the dock was so steep one day. In The Creeping Tide, Gail Herman does a great job of providing a simple explanation of tides that kids can understand without going into the details of what create the tides. That is certainly beyond the Pre-K-1 age range this books aims to serve. John Nez’s cartoon-like illustrations make it fun for kids to follow and help them connect to their own beach experiences. This is the first of Kane Press’s “Science Solves It” books I have read and I really like the sleuth-like spin on things, getting the reader to ask questions and be a young scientist. The questions at the end help teachers or parents get their students thinking even further. There are many titles in this series, each categorized by topic and age range and I look forward to reading more.
Suggested Ages – This book is geared for grades Pre-K-1, although it isn’t an early reader. The content is easy enough for young readers to understand, however, and the pictures help to clearly explain the concept.
Told as a series of vignettes about her life, each located in a different environments that influenced her, Amy Erlich’s Rachel – The Story of Rachel Carson, tells the story of her life beginning as a little girl and ending with the legacy that she left behind. Wendell Minor’s beautiful paintings help the reader to imagine what Rachel felt when surrounded by nature, whether on top of a mountain or by the seaside. There is plenty of detail about where she lived and what she studied, but Erlich presents it in a personal way so that the reader feels like they know Rachel and can follow her path. She shows what inspired her and how she used her education and her writing skills to teach people about the importance of conservation and the dangers of using chemicals that affected the animals she loved. Rachel Carson was a quiet figure who led an amazing life and Erlich writes about her in a way that honors her personality as well as her legacy.
Suggested Ages – This is a great story for readers in grades 3-5, particularly students studying biography in school. It is a neat example of a technique for outlining a life through chronological snapshots and settings. The details provided help students to understand how to incorporate facts into a story-like book.
While I usually write about a seasonal story, I have to admit that I’m in a bit of a spring funk with the mucky melting snow and chilly wet weather. But, I Used To Be A Fish made me laugh. Tom Sullivan writes a whimsical story of evolution that balances being lighthearted enough to enjoy with enough meat to teach us something. The googly-eyed protagonist gets happier every time he evolves a new feature from legs to a tail to fur and somehow eventually into a human boy. Events like the Big Bang are simplified to a “BOOM! And things got a little crazy.” He is clearly in the mind of a child when imagining that what might come next is that the boy will turn into a superhero of sorts and learn to fly. It also leaves the reader with a literally uplifted feeling. Following the story, Sullivan includes graphic timeline of evolution, showing the characters in the book. He also adds a note on evolution and the processes afoot. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.
Suggested Ages –
The illustrations in this book remind me of a board-book style that would appeal to pre-school aged children. The content, too, is approachable by even the youngest audience, but will make more sense to those in middle grades (3-5) who are beginning to understand the concepts of adaptation and evolution.
At a time of year when many birds are just starting to come back to Maine, a few are leaving Maine for the Arctic, having come here for the winter. Follow the winter migration from the Arctic to the busy streets of Portland, Maine in Melissa Kim’s A Snowy Owl’s Story, based on a real story about a snowy owl who takes up residence in a vacant Portland building before being rescued and returned to her natural habitat. Jada Fitch’s illustrations bring the owl to life as she travels to familiar settings around Portland. This story is part of Islandport Press’s “Wildlife on the Move” series, written in cooperation with Maine Audubon as a part of their pre-K curriculum. Kim was previously the editor of Maine Audubon’s magazine, so the partnership was a natural one. She now is the children and young adult book editor at Islandport Press as well as the author of this series. The other two books, Little Brown Bat and A Blanding Turtle’s Story, are similarly sweet, simple stories about the adventures of endangered Maine animals. The story is told through the eyes of the owl, with details of her natural history tucked into the storyline in a way that is easy to understand for young readers. It also includes the role of people who found the owl and helped it back into the wild, an important lesson when teaching about endangered species. The full story is included at the end of the book for those interested. Kim has traveled with Maine Audubon educators to share these stories along with an array of animal artifacts with students in Maine. This kind of educational partnership is not only a great idea, but has won this book the designation as one of the best bird books of 2015 by the National Audubon Society. You can read more about the partnership and about these specific books here. The fourth and final book in the series, A Monarch Butterfly Story, is due to come out in May of 2017. Let’s hope for more partnerships like this one to create similar wonderful series’ for young readers.
At a time of year when much seems dreary and black and white, Carole Gerber and Leslie Evans bring Winter Trees to life. The first word, “Crunch!” had me right there, exploring in the woods with the little boy and his dog. The lyrical rhyming quartets for each tree make it fun to read and the simple silhouette illustrations make what often seem like complicated structures of winter trees look simple and discernible. There are playful elements like the carving of initials in a heart on a beech tree, the boy and his dog making snow angels by a paper birch, and finally the building of a snowman that includes elements from several types of trees at the end. As Charlesbridge often does so nicely in its inclusion of extra educational material, this book concludes with a set of notes on the seven trees, including deciduous and evergreens, along with the silhouettes all side by side for comparison. I would highly recommend the other seasonal books by the Gerber and Evans duo, Leaf Jumpers and Spring Blossoms, if you haven’t read those yet as well. To read about an activity you can do to study maple trees, please visit the Cornerstones of Science website.
Suggested Ages – This book is great for young readers, who will like the rhyme and collage illustrations. It is also helpful as a field guide for slightly older readers who can learn the identification techniques detailed in the text and in the supplemental information following.
This is yet another great educational book by Arbordale Publishing (formerly Sylvan Dell) that is a treasure trove of information both in the text, afterwards in the “For Creative Minds” section, and in the additional online resources. In On the Move, Scotti Cohn, gives wonderful descriptions of the migration patterns of a variety of animals. From seaside horseshoe crabs to arctic caribou, she covers many types of habitats and even includes seasonal interactions of animals in such as the salmon and the eagle. The details she adds like, “a mother caribou snorts and shakes her head. She is telling her calf to stay close to her,” help the reader to imagine being that animal. Susan Detwiler’s illustrations in this book as well as Scotti Cohn’s other stories, One Wolf Howls, and Big Cat, Little Kitty, are both eye-catching and realistic. These are all terrific books that I would highly recommend to classroom teachers as well as to parents.
Suggested Ages – This book is suggested for ages 4-8, but would be a wonderful text for slightly older readers as well. They can delve into the details and extra information at the end of the story. The illustrations will appeal to younger readers along with the sweet details of each animal’s life.
Topics – ocean, invertebrates, adaptations
My daughter came across this oversized picture book at the library. Expecting a fact-packed, detail-filled book, I was pleasantly surprised to see how playfully it was put together and how beautifully too. It is basically a giant lift-the-flap book where quirky information about animals such as jellyfish and urchins hides behind gorgeous illustrations. In The Open Ocean, as in Pittau and Gervais’ other books in this series, Out of Sight and Birds of a Feather, the reader gets a rich sensory experience through choosing which flaps to look under and what pace to take in the information. The details of the animals featured here are intriguing to young readers but also specific enough for older ones. I love the end section where you can match up different parts of fish to see how various heads and tails align. This is a book I’d love to own to come back to its useful information as well as to experience it at different age levels.
Suggested Ages – I would recommend this book to anyone of any age, really. It is so fun to flip open the panels and see what you discover underneath. The facts are fairly detailed, but can be pared down by a reading parent if necessary for younger children.