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!”.
Topics – bugs, habitat
Summary – It is always sweet to read a story of such a common backyard creature – in this case, Hank, the pill bug – as so many kids can relate to this tale. In Evan Kuhlman’s Hank’s Big Day, Hank ventures out from his house, a “big rock”, passing by curious creatures and daring to cross the road to meet his friend, Amelia. Their imaginative play is right out of a child’s head, complete with the dialogue from Amelia and the funny commentary from Hank.
The story comes full circle afterwards, as Hank goes repeats his adventure in reverse to return to his rock at bedtime under the moonlight. Chuck Groenink’s bold, almost Matisse-like illustrations enhance the story by inviting the reader into Hank and Amelia’s world.
While this book doesn’t include the scientific content of some of the others I’ve reviewed, it captures something else so important for young children – the ability to imagine being another creature.
Suggested Ages – This book is aimed at young readers (pre-K and early grades) who can follow the simple story. They will enjoy some of the repetition in the text as well as the circular form of the story.
Summary – Along the lines of my recent of review of Rebecca Hirsch’s Plants Can’t Sit Still, JoAnn Early Macken’s Flip, Float, Fly similarly animates seeds and takes us whirling, twirling, tumbling along on an adventure exploring the amazing adaptations of seeds. Kids reading along or listening will connect with the familiar fun movements. Macken’s alliteration and onomatopoeia in phrases like “Skitter. Skate.” make the text fun to read. Pam Paprone’s illustrations nicely show a landscape view of the habitat, complete with animals important to that type of seed, as well as a close-up detailed picture of each seed that feels like looking through a magnifying glass. The story moves from how animals are involved with seeds to how people plant them both purposefully and by accident. There is a lovely illustrated glossary at the end with common seed terms.
Suggested Ages – Listeners will enjoy the sounds and imagining the movements of the seeds. Early readers can follow the simple words and phrases. The glossary provides a bit more detail for more advanced students.
Topics – leaves, fall, seasons
Summary – My love for picture books stems from my love of poetry, so I am a big fan of Laura Purdie Salas’s writing. A Leaf Can Be . . . is a beautifully illustrated poem that is whimsical and informative. The other titles, also illustrated by Violeta Dabija, A Rock Can Be . . . and Water Can Be . . . , are equally lovely and worth checking out. The text layers wonderful rhythm and crisp sounds over collage-like images, describing what leaves can be both to the little girl in the story and to the animals around her. Purdie Salas takes us through the seasons to explore how the leaves themselves as well as their roles change. She includes a helpful “More About Leaves” section at the end of the story with a sentence or two more fully describing each reason why leaves are important, and also a glossary of terms and list of other great leaf books.
Suggested Ages – The text is simple enough for pre-K readers who will enjoy the rhythm and rhyme. Older readers will learn about new and different functions of leaves than they might have landed upon before. They can also explore further by reading the material at the end of the story, both for content and vocabulary.
Topics – plants, adaptations, seeds
Summary – They “wiggle, squirm, and creep,” but Plants Can’t Sit Still. Rebecca Hirsch’s anthropomorphizing of plants here is both silly and instructive, as kids reading this book can feel their own similar wiggly, squirmy tendencies. Some of the plants she describes are truly remarkable – squirting cucumbers flinging their seeds out through a pressure-charged explosion and Venus flytraps desiccating withering flies. Mia Posada’s illustrations help us see these sometimes hidden movements in a colorful, clear way. Hirsch leaves out much of the details of the plants in the text of the story, instead diverting it to a “More about Plants” section at the end of the text. This lets the pages of the story be more narrative and less cluttered. She also lists several other great books and websites that provide more information (you should definitely watch the cucumber shooting its seeds – weird!) Hirsch has written several other science and nature books, all listed on her website, and all of which I look forward to checking out.
Suggested Ages – This book is great for young readers who can follow the story as well as the bright illustrations. The additional information at the end provides plenty for older grade school students to learn from as well.
Topics – summer, fall, seasons
Summary – With a welcoming, “Hello, late summer morning,” Kenard Pak invites readers into an unfolding dialogue between the narrator child and the natural world around her. I loved how this drew me in, as I have to admit that I’m always quite sad when summer ends. The little girls’ first interaction is with the trees, which answer, “We love how our branches sway in the sun.” She then greets the foxes, who are gathering food, the beavers making dens, and the leaves changing colors. ends with the sun setting earlier on a summer night, and then awakening to say, “Hello, autumn!” as the sun rises on a new day. Like the leaves, the girls’ scarf changes color from red to blue in the final page turn. Pak’s accompanying illustrations are bright and simple, showing the small changes from one season to the next. This story, while less of a factual nature book than some others I’ve reviews, is an elegant poetic tribute to the seasons.
Suggested Ages – This story is most appropriate for young readers who can follow the illustrations as well as the repetition in the text. The repetition will be helpful to those learning to read, who can recognize familiar words from page to page.
Topics – clouds, weather
Summary – As we head into fall, the whimsy and drama of the clouds have captivated me.
Josepha Sherman seems to share this fascination in her book, Shapes in the Sky, as she celebrates the beauty and oddity of clouds along with their composition and function. Omarr Weley’s illustrations are cartoon-like, but caricature the clouds in just the right way to show us the uniqueness of each type. Anyone who has cloud watched has certainly found strange animals and castles in the sky, as does Sherman when she describes clouds “like scoops of vanilla ice cream”. Her scientific descriptions are accurate, but not overly complicated. The table of contents at the beginning is helpful in finding specific information about each cloud and the “Fast Facts” and “Glossary” at the end give a curious reader more to absorb. I love the activity page as well, which says, how “You Can Make a Cloud”. I can’t wait to try it. I’m also eager to check out the other books in Picture Window Books’ “Amazing Science” series, which cover topics from sunshine, rain, and snowflakes to name a few.
Suggested Ages – The youngest children will like the simple cartoon-like illustrations, while early readers will recognize simple words. Students grades 3 and up can glean much useful information from the text as well as the additional information at the end.
Topics – birds, natural history
Summary – I loved My Book of Birds already when I read in Geraldo Valerio’s introduction, “Learning about these birds makes me happy, and I hope My Book of Birds will make you happy, too.” And, when I found my girls deciding which of the entrancing birds they would become, I was further delighted. Rather than tell a story, Valerio presents a series of evocative collages of birds along with a brief description of how to identify the bird and a few interesting tidbits about its habits. It’s like a field guide turned into an art show. Rather than lengthy back matter, he uses the interior of the jacket to add more illustrations – the front is filled with an array of lovely eggs and the back with feathers. There is also a brief glossary and list of resources to accompany.
Suggested Ages – This book is suited for two levels – young children, who will enjoy the visually stimulating collages, and older children capable of reading the full descriptions and common and scientific names of each bird included.