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.
Topics – tracks, winter, snow
After we had exhausted ourselves skiing, sledding, and fort building, my girls and I spent the remainder of the first snow day looking at who else had been out playing atop the freshly fallen snow. In Tracks in the Snow, Wong Herbert Yee leads the reader out of a cozy house into the fields to discover who has left a set of mysterious tracks. With an inviting series of questions, Yee piques his readers’ curiosity. The little girl on the story makes both wonderful scientific observations about what animals would be there at that time of year and some wacky ones like, “maybe it’s a hippopotamus”, both of which make her seem real. As she follows the tracks through her field, she unknowingly encounters a series of animals tucked away in nests and burrows for the winter. It is as if they are watching her instead of the other way around. And, indeed, in the end, she discovers that it is her own tracks she has been following. The story has a lovely sense of completeness as Yee ends with her sitting at a table at home with her mom drinking tea. The fuzzy pencil illustrations add to both its frosty and cozy qualities. The repetition and rhyme throughout also heighten the sense as a reader of walking along in the snow. Along with the others in his seasonal series, “Who Likes Rain, Summer Days and Nights and My Autumn Book, Tracks in the Snow captures a child’s enchantment with the signs of the seasons.
Suggested Ages – This story is great for early readers who can find repeated, simple words and will enjoy the short phrases. Younger children will like the rhyme and can imagine making their own tracks along with the narrator of the story.
Topics – farm, seasons
As we slip into late fall and leaves become more crunchy than colorful, I shift to a cozier mode. Sleep Tight Farm lovingly describes preparing a farm for this shift. In Eugenie Doyle’s first picture book, she writes about her farm in Vermont and the varied tasks of cutting the last stalks of Brussel sprouts, trimming back raspberry brambles and covering the fields with a blanket of oats and rye. There is a hopefulness in her story in its celebration of the resurgence expected in the spring of old stalks and new shoots that they have cared for and put to sleep for the winter. The sweet parallel between a child’s bedtime and a seasonal bedtime is drawn through the refrain of, “Goodnight, fields . .. Goodnight, chickens.” The specificity of the farm makes the story bright – from tatsoi leaves protected by sheets of white cloth to the planters and cultivators that find their winter home in the shed. Becca Stadtlander’s illustrations are iconically New England in their detail and classic coloring, both of which add to the feel of the story. Finally, I love the author’s note at the end about her exchange with a group of local students who follow the changes in the farm along with her.
Suggested Ages – The text is lyrical with a nice refrain that will attract early grad school readers. Students grades 3-5 will enjoy the details of what happens in the farm in the late fall and perhaps be interested in her work with local students on her farm.
Topics – squirrels, fall, seasons
Squirrels are all around us this year especially since it is a mast year and there are innumerable acorns! Squirrels’ charisma makes them fun to watch and learn about. April Pulley Sayre’s Squirrels Leap, Squirrels Sleep captures the personalities of these fluffy friends through the seasons from caching acorns for the winter through the acorns sprouting in the spring. She sweetly ends with a squirrel curled up asleep in his nest – a quiet end that is a nice for a bedtime story. Steve Jenkins’ layout of the illustrations is fun with each action of the squirrel represented in a button-like circle with one of his wonderful collages as the centerpiece. The text is light and is full of rhythm, rhyme and repetition. Sayre includes an extensive section at the end of the book with descriptions of different species of squirrel, specifics on oak trees and other natural history followed by a list of suggested books and websites as well as related topics to explore. If you don’t know her other books, Sayre has many other wonderful ones that you can find on her website, and I always love Jenkins’ illustrations.
Suggested Ages – The text is rhythmic and rhyming, which will appeal to readers 3-5, and the repetition will help early readers to follow along. Older readers can delve into the additional information at the end.
As fall sets in, I already miss the loose, soft dirt that will harden with frost and soon be covered in ice and snow. I will have to read Dig In! in the middle of winter to feel the moist dirt in my hands vicariously through the little hand of a child exploring the world underground. In fact, all you see is the child’s hand, which has a way of making the reader feel the dirt all the more as he or she discovers underground treasures like a stone, a spider, and a pill bug (I had to laugh at this after reviewing Hank’s Big Day last week!). Mary Peterson’s colorful and bold illustrations are a nice complement to Cindy Jenson-Elliot’s simple text. I love the ending when dirt turns to “MUD!” and muddy footprints that feel like your own walk right off the page. Jenson-Elliot infuses her love of gardening into this book as she does similarly in Weeds Find a Way and in her wonderful blog, Nature Explorer, where she shares her experiences as an author, gardener and teacher of science and writing. Both are very much worth checking out.
Suggested Ages – This book is great for pre-K kids who will love a story about dirt and can imagine their way right through the story. It is a great invitation for readers of all ages to “dig in!”.