With the turn in the season to chillier weather, I crave snuggly fabrics and nubby wool – and to feel it in my hands. When I came across Amy Novesky’s Cloth Lullaby about weaver Louise Bourgeois, it appealed to this connection between nature and craft. And, I also really love neat stories about people I’ve never heard of. Louise was, “raised by a river,” begins Novesky. This sets the tone for the book, as much of it is about her relationship with her mother, who dies when she is young, leaving Louise to weave together the remaining parts of her life into a tapestry of that same river. Novesky’s use of metaphor throughout is elegant – from vivid emotions like, “the color blue pinches my heart,” to her mother who was, ”as useful as an araignee (spider)”. Isabelle Arsenault’s colored pencil and pastel illustrations are layered and threadlike, including both broad scenes and small details. The “Author’s Note” at the end of the story provides further information about her life in a more factual style, and the photographs of her and her art are a nice inclusion.
Suggested Ages: This book is appealing to readers across many grades. Readers as young as Kindergarten will enjoy the illustrations as well as the story and older grade school students, particularly those studying biography, will be engaged in the story. The additional information at the end provides avenues for further study as well.
I have been recently pondering how much offspring model their behavior on their parents. Perhaps it is because our girls are at the age where I hear phrases come out of their mouths that I can hear in my own voice, and I marvel when they ask for help completing a task and then do it themselves before I even have time to respond. Toni Buzzeo captures this in the animal world in, Just Like My Papa, where lion cub Kito watches his father as he hunts and tries to follow in his footsteps. The story reaches a sweet ending when Kito is becoming ready to hunt on his own, making his first big catch – a fly. This is a nice companion to Buzzeo’s earlier, Just Like My Mama. He makes great use of evocative sounds and call and response dialogue between Kito and his father as they echo each other’s thoughts, each at his own level. Mike Wohnoutka’s bold, expressive illustrations spread across the pages, enhancing the disparity in size between big papa and little Kito. Buzzeo’s depiction of animal relationships, both with mama and with papa, enlightens his reader’s understanding of the same emotions between parent and child.
Suggested Ages – This story is perfect for listeners as young as pre-K who will love the illustrations, simple words, and repetition in the text. They can connect with the content as they imagine being little Kito.
In a season where we are losing green for the coming of winter, it was lovely to read this celebration of nature and the sounds of spring. In Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World, Laurie Lawlor draws the reader in on the first page with her image of a young Rachel sitting among the birds – “witchity-witchity-witchity!” they called as she captured a photo of their nest filled with newly-laid eggs. The colorful illustrations that spread across both pages remind me of airy French watercolors. They help the reader to see Rachel in nature and observe things along with her. Lawlor poses many questions in her text, reminding us that Rachel was a scientist and was driven by inquiry. Her portrait of the struggle she had to succeed as an educated woman of her time is inspiring and is told in a personal way that makes it compelling to read. The Epilogue at the end provides a continuation of the story after the publication of her book and gives the reader ample extra background about her life.
Suggested Ages – This is a great biography for middle and older grade school students. It is particularly useful for students studying biography, as it follows Carson’s life closely.
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.