It is a calm, dark night, but all is not quiet. A giant powelliphanta snail is on the prowl. Powelli-what? If you haven’t heard of these before, you can learn a great deal about them from the pages at the end of Watch Out, Snail. There, you will find a cluster of whimsically presented snippets about them at the end of the book. The facts are laid out along a snail’s trail and the map of their geographic range is patterned the same as the snail’s mantle. A second page describes more about these strange, large land snails that are native to New Zealand and Australia. The story that precedes this is playfully sneaky as is the snail. While you think that the snail is going to be the one to be eaten, in fact, “Snail’s the winner. Worm’s the dinner.” All the while, hints of other predators can be found peeking over the edges of the page – a beak here, a foot or feather there. The text is simple with the focus on observation and anticipation – eat or be eaten. Margaret Tolland’s alluring illustrations feature the glossy snail shell amidst its habitat and both its predator and prey.
This book really was a fun read and I look forward to checking out Go, Green Gecko! – another picture book by Hay and Tolland published by the Australian-based Starfish Bay Children’s Books.
Suggested Ages – This story contains multiple layers for readers as young as pre-school, who can run their fingers over the glossy snail shell, to middle grade readers who will like the amazing facts about these giant snails.
“Tup tup,” go the berries as little Clarence drops them into his otaskikowawa, or bucket in Julie Flett’s book, Wild Berries. Living in Maine, I have Robert McKloskey’s Blueberries for Sal ingrained in my summer experience and “kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk” is the sound I often think of. But, Flett’s story of a young Cree boy following his grandmother blueberry picking in the Pacific Northwest introduces all kinds of new sounds and images. Earl Cook’s translations of Cree words resonate on every page and teach new sounds and appreciations for the words we use to describe a classic experience like blueberry picking with a mother or grandmother. The simple collage-style illustrations remind me of Japanese wood block prints. And, the elegant sparse text is like a haiku, putting the focus on these unique words. I really enjoyed this story from another part of the country and from another culture and look forward to reading more of her books.
Suggested Ages – This book is great for pre-K children who will like the bold illustrations as well as the sparse text. They will particularly like the sounds of the Cree language. The information at the end about the language and translations of the words is very helpful and interesting to older students and parents.
I love the long light of summer days followed by all the life that emerges after dark – from sunny sensations like cooling off in a pool to night scenes of flashing fireflies and night sounds like the croaking of frogs. Wong Hebert Yee captures them all in Summer Days and Nights both in his words and his airy illustrations. The reader follows a little girl from waking in the warm morning sunlight to crawling into bed in the darkness listening to the night sounds. Yee’s rhyming phrases describe her tiptoe-ing through summer flowers and watching late afternoon shadows in the first person so that a child can imagine being that little girl and sharing in her little surprising observations along the way. This book is a wonderful seasonal chapter of Yee’s others, Tracks in the Snow (which I reviewed last winter) and My Autumn Book, both of which I recommend.
Suggested Ages – This book is great for early readers who can follow the simple text and will enjoy the rhyming phrases. The animal sounds and sensory descriptions will appeal to pre-K children listening to a parent read it aloud.
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.