EARTH VERSE: HAIKU FROM THE GROUND UP
Written by Sally M. Walker
Illustrated by William Grill
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 7-9)
A Junior Library Guild Selection
At the intersection of Earth Day and National Poetry Month is Earth Verse: Haiku From the Ground Up written by Sally M. Walker with illustrations by William Grill. Let these 32 pages of unique 17 syllable poems fill you with awe and respect for planet Earth. From her place in the solar system to her “molten magma stew,” from her “fossil family” to her “sky shenanigans,” Earth is at once a marvel and our home.
“a flat stone, skipping,
casts circles across the lake,
lassoing the fish.”
Earth Verse celebrates the planet in all its majesty and mayhem. In other words, not only are the oceans and rivers written about, so are storms and tsunamis. We read about fog, volcanoes, glaciers and icebergs. We travel underground to see stalactites and stalagmites because there’s so much more below the surface, both in the verse and on our planet. Grill’s colored pencil artwork conveys just enough of a reference point while leaving lots to our imaginations. Nine pages of STEAM-themed back matter round out the book and make this picture book appropriate and desirable for both Earth Day and National Poetry Month though it can truly be enjoyed year round, just like our precious planet.
MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN:
Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong’s Work
for Sustainable Farming
Written by Sigrid Schmalzer,
Illustrated by Melanie Linden Chan
(Tilbury House Publishing, $17.95, ages 6-9)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
A farm boy in China relates the tale of Pu Zhelong, a scientist and conservationist, and introduces readers to early research in sustainable agriculture practices in MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN.
Through a series of flashbacks, author Sigrid Schmalzer reveals how invasive moths and beetles were destroying precious village crops. When villagers try to defeat the pests, their methods repeatedly fail. As the threat of famine looms, Pu Zhelong, an outsider, arrives bearing new, untested scientific ideas. Can Pu Zhelong save the rice crop without using harmful and ineffective pesticides?
With patience, restraint and deference, Pu Zhelong eventually wins over the skeptical villagers. His innovative methodology, introducing parasitic wasps to destroy the crop-consuming moths, led to a successful and sustainable victory for the farmers. Schmalzer’s imaginative and informative text weaves a tale that will engage young scientists with its ingenuity and sophistication while celebrating this little-known environmental hero.
Debut illustrator Melanie Linden Chan pairs intricate and multi-layered images with the factual content, making this book a pleasure for young readers to pore over. Structuring the narrator’s flashbacks in a journal format, Chan cleverly weaves scientifically precise illustrations against a lush agricultural setting. Elements of Chinese art, history and culture frame the narrative in an engaging, pictoral manner that both delight and inform.
An extensive endnote provides additional information on the history of the story, as well as suggestions for further reading. Also included is a detailed explanation of the decorative Chinese folk art papercuts utilized by the illustrator, and referenced to the pages where they appear in the text.
MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN offers a unique, child-friendly perspective on a earliest origins of agroscience. Add this STEAM selection to your school or classroom library to add depth to collections on organic farming, sustainable agriculture and Chinese history.
- Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed a digital advanced reader copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
EVERY DAY BIRDS
Written by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
Cut paper illustrations by Dylan Metrano
(Orchard Books/an imprint of Scholastic; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
In Every Day Birds, rhyming text and cut paper illustrations make up this nonfiction picture book for the youngest bird enthusiasts. Twenty common North American birds are featured, one on each page, along with a simple fact. Featured birds include: the bluebird, the cardinal, the crow, the hummingbird, the robin, the sparrow, and more. Additional information can be found about each bird in the back of the book, along with an author’s note.
Both the author and the illustrator do an exceptional job bringing the birds we see every day to life in the pages of this book. VanDerwater’s deceptively simple, rhyming text flows brilliantly from page to page.
Opening Spread: “Every day we watch for birds weaving through our sky. We listen to their calls and songs. We like to see them fly.”
Metrano’s extraordinary layered cut paper illustrations bring each bird to the reader for a closer look. The art is colorful and full of detail, and is reminiscent of stained glass. Interesting textures abound throughout.
Text from Every Day Birds written by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater. Illustrations copyright 2016 by Dylan Metrano. Used with permission from Orchard Books/Scholastic.
In my opinion, you can never have too many bird books. Birds are a fascinating subject for young readers, so many shapes and sizes and, let’s not forget, the plethora of brilliant plumage colors. Though it’s important to introduce children to animals they may never see in person, it’s just as important to offer them more information about the birds they see every day in their own neighborhoods. Every Day Birds will help children develop a better understanding of and appreciation for the birds in their backyards.
- Guest Review by author Lauri Fortino
My copy of Every Day Birds was an ARC and was obtained by a colleague who attended ALA, Boston. The final product may differ slightly. The publication date for Every Day Birds was February 23, 2016.
Guest reviewer, Lauri Fortino, wrote the picture book The Peddler’s Bed reviewed on Good Reads With Ronna here.
FUN ACTIVITIES FOR EVERY SEASON
Written and illustrated by Emma AdBåge
(Kids Can Press; $15.95, Ages 5-8)
I am so glad I had the chance to read Outdoor Math and have only positive things to say about it. This delightfully illustrated book is super fun and packed with hands-on activities that focus on going outdoors and playing. The book starts off with an introduction to numbers 0-10 with real world examples, then there are numerous math activities for each season of the year, followed by a brief explanation and examples of plus and minus, then multiply and divide. There’s even some science that can be learned especially when engaging in the seasonal-themed activities.
Outdoor Math: Fun Activities for Every Season, written and illustrated by Emma AdBåge, Kids Can Press ©2016.
The majority of the book is divided into the four seasons, each with five to seven outdoor math activities so the book provides year round entertainment and education. All of the activities listed looked interesting so of course I had to try a few. My daughter and I enjoyed bouncing a ball for a minute. She was so good at bouncing the ball it was hard to keep track, but we managed to count 135 bounces in one minute. Then we played Tic-Tac-Toe from the book’s Autumn section. We had such a good time playing with our placeholders–seedpods and bits of mulch. After three tied games, I was the lucky winner!
Photograph of Outdoor Math inspired activity – Tic Tac Toe by Lucy Ravitch ©2016.
The counting and tossing outdoor activities are sure to be a hit with kids even as young as three years old. I felt the rest of the activities could work for almost any age. There are timed activities with counting, as well as activities with maps and shapes, and some games that require coordination. What I love about the book is how many of the activities have kids exercising while they’re doing a math skill. Outdoor Math: Fun Activities for Every Season gives great examples of educational play with simple rules for young kids.
Outdoor Math: Fun Activities for Every Season, written and illustrated by Emma AdBåge, Kids Can Press ©2016.
Although I live in sunny southern California where it’s summer almost all year long, the activities can be done anywhere. The book is a wonderful STEM resource because it’s easy to substitute objects depending on the time of year and where you live. For example, Pine Cone Math where you collect pine cones can be substituted with shells, rocks or toys instead. I feel confident recommending Outdoor Math as it’s a terrific book for kids and their parents/teachers/grandparents that’s certain to get everyone moving outside while doing math activities. It goes to show that math is all around us and almost any activity can be a math activity! Thank you Emma AdBåge for making a playful and hands-on book for kids.
After playing Outdoor Math, your kids might just find other ways to incorporate math into play too. I was surprised and happy to see my kids making designs from the objects we used. In fact, as you can see below, there is even math to be found in neat designs!
Photograph of Outdoor Math inspired activity – design from nature by Lucy Ravitch ©2016.
A Roundup of Smithsonian Series Children’s Books
Children’s librarian Dornel Cerro reviews an exciting and inviting variety of nonfiction Smithsonian middle grade books for your curious kids.
No Way … Way!: Are You My Dinner? 300 Fun Facts
Written by Tracey West
Illustrated by Luke Flowers
(Smithsonian/Grosset and Dunlap; $9.99, Ages 8-12)
Can food facts be fun? Sure they can … here’s a few examples:
Ever heard of borborygmi? Sure you have, it’s the rumbling sound your stomach makes (p. 38).
Did you know that 16,000,000 jelly beans are produced at Easter? Red is the most popular color (p. 103).
If you’re dieting you may not want to know that by the time you’re 80 years old you will have eaten about 87,660 meals (p. 7).
However, No Way …Way! is not limited to food for humans. Animal eating habits are also included:
Guess what the vampire finch eats … or rather, sucks? (blood from other birds, p. 161).
You don’t want to know what a naked mole rat eats (it’s own poop to aid digestion, p. 187).
No Way …Way! is neatly organized into sections that cover the history of food, holiday meals, unusual dishes (like chocolate-covered cicadas, p. 89), where people eat (imagine eating where Julius Caesar was assassinated, p. 120), what not to eat (raw lima beans become cyanide in your body, p. 202), and more. Short, humorous facts, colorful illustrations, and eye-popping designs (plus a little gross-out factor) make this a fun book to browse. Recommended as “cool,” “awesome,” “humorous,” and “interesting” by my second and third graders. One of my fourth graders told me she “had to have it!” A great book for beginning and reluctant readers as well as for children who like to browse through books like Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Guinness Book of World Records.
Budding young astronauts and space aficionados will love these engaging early reader books. Each is succinctly and clearly written and accompanied by great photographs.
Written by James Buckley, Jr.
(Smithsonian/Penguin Young Readers; $3.99, Ages 8-9, A Level 4 Reader)
The moon has fascinated people throughout history and across many cultures, from worship of the moon in ancient times to the 1969 Apollo Moon landing and beyond. Buckley leads young readers through the history of moon exploration separating fact from fiction (there’s no old man living there). My second graders enjoyed this book for its’ accessible text and striking photographs. The book also contains a handy table of contents and glossary.
Home Address: ISS International Space Station
Written by James Buckley, Jr.
(Smithsonian/Penguin Young Readers. $3.99, Ages 8-9, A Level 4 Reader)
What is the International Space Station? Who lives there? What’s life like miles above earth? How difficult is it to eat and dress in zero gravity? How do you use the toilet in space? Buckley helps children understand daily life at the ISS. A “great book …” commented my third grade Star Wars fans.
The Human Body: The Story of How We Protect, Repair, and Make Ourselves Stronger
Smithsonian: Invention & Impact (Book 1)
Written by H.P. Newquist
(Smithsonian/Viking BYR: $17.99, Ages 8-12)
A fascinating and well-researched look at the different parts of the body and how people throughout history have devised ways to repair or replace non-functioning body parts. From ancient surgical practices to relieve headaches (pp 80-81) to inventions of machines to see inside the body (magnetic resonance imaging), Newquist examines the reasons for and the history behind their design. He takes a peek inside our medicine chests and explains what’s inside it and concludes with the development of vaccines to curb the staggering rates of death from diseases like smallpox.
Although the engaging narrative is written for an older reader, the vivid and well-captioned illustrations (yes, there’s a little gross out factor here) will engage younger and reluctant readers who enjoy browsing through Guinness Book of World Records or Ripley’s Believe It or Not. My third graders found it “cool and interesting.”
Curious About Zoo Vets
Written by Gina Shaw
(Smithsonian/Grosset & Dunlap; $3.99,
Would you like to work in a zoo? Meet some of the many people who take care of the 18,000 animals at the National Zoo (Washington, D. C.). These include veterinarians, animal keepers, and nutritionists, whose work includes wellness check-ups, handling emergencies, preparing food, creating “enrichment activities” to keep the animals engaged (like art activities and chew toys) and more. Wonderful, nicely captioned color photographs allow young readers to visualize what they learn in the narrative. More advanced vocabulary is highlighted in yellow and defined in the book’s glossary. Perfect for individual readers as well as for kindergarteners learning about the roles of people in their community.
Oceans Doodle Book
Written by Karen Romano Young
(Smithsonian/Grosset & Dunlap; $12.99, Ages 8-12)
The Smithsonian’s marine experts have come up with a collection of fun and creative activities to help educate children about the ocean environment. Youngsters are challenged to use a variety of skills with the many activities available in the book. Creativity and imagination are needed for some activities such as designing and drawing a sea monster (“Sea Monsters, Ahoy!” pp. 24-25). Teachers and parents will appreciate the many activities that require various critical thinking skills. Looking at photographs of the skeletal remains of extinct whales, children determine what they may have looked like when alive (“Extinct Whale,” pp. 82-83). Another great one is determining where a floating object might land from a map of ocean currents (“Where Will it Float?” pp.16-17).
Each activity is accompanied by brief background information that supports the activity. For example, “Fish Face, Fish Tale,” (pp. 42-43) notes the more than 27,000 varieties of fish that scientists have discovered. Children then match fish heads on one page to the fish tales on the facing page. Concepts of bilateral symmetry (pp. 36-37) and radial symmetry (pp. 38-39) are explained and children draw the missing half of an ocean animal to reinforce the concept. Turn off the devices and hand this book to your kids guaranteeing hours of fun and learning.
A Boy and a Jaguar written by Alan Rabinowitz and illustrated by CáTia Chien is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.
Starred reviews from both Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus.
“Moving and sweetly resonant.”
—Kirkus Review, starred review
Alan Rabinowitz, author of the new nonfiction picture book A Boy and a Jaguar (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; May 2014; Ages 4-8), grew up as a stutterer, someone who has trouble forming words and getting them out. His difficulties speaking, and a lack of understanding by those around him, caused him to feel “broken” and separate from people. As a boy he spent much of his time with animals. They never hurried him or made fun of him for stuttering. In fact, when he spoke to animals, he didn’t stutter at all! He makes a promise to his pets and to his favorite animal, a sad caged jaguar at the Bronx Zoo.
“…if I can ever find my voice, I will be their voice and keep them from harm.”
In A Boy and a Jaguar, illustrated by CáTia Chien, Rabinowitz has found his voice. By doing so, he has given hope to people of all ages, that no matter what their personal obstacle, with hard work and a sense of purpose, that obstacle can be transcended, and great things can be achieved.
While in college, Rabinowitz finally learned to speak without stuttering, but still didn’t feel whole. He enjoyed his study of bears in the Smoky Mountains, but found that he was more comfortable in the jungles of Belize tracking and studying jaguars than he was anywhere else. Rabinowitz never forgot the jaguar at the zoo from his childhood, or his promise to the animals, and so he convinced the prime minister of Belize to set up a preserve to save jaguars from the trophy hunters who were killing them. Quite an accomplishment, stutterer or not!
By the end of the book, Rabinowitz speaks fluently, feels whole, and has a very special close encounter in nature. This is a beautiful inspirational story in and of itself, but Chien’s use of charcoal pencil and acrylics enhances the mood of the book. Solemn grays and blues, peaceful forest greens, and bright and cheery golds compliment the metamorphosis that occurs for Rabinowitz.
Bonus: There is a Q&A with the author himself on the back cover flap, where we discover Dr. Alan Rabinowitz has devoted his life to being the voice for those who can’t speak for themselves, whether animal or human.
Here’s a link to Publisher’s Weekly interview with Rabinowtiz.