skip to Main Content

Nonfiction Picture Book Review – A River of Dust

 

A RIVER OF DUST

Written by Jilanne Hoffmann

Illustrated by Eugenia Mello

(Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 5-10)

A River of Dust cover North Africa to Amazon.

 

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
A Junior Library Guild Selection
An ALA 2024 Notable Picture Book

 

Before even opening up A River of Dust written by Jilanne Hoffmann and illustrated by Eugenia Mello, I was dazzled by the dusting of gold on the title that I hadn’t noticed in photos.

Told from an engaging personified point of view, this picture book’s narrator introduces itself in the third spread. “I am dust, the dust of North Africa.” Readers are told that this dust connects continents and I, for one, was eager to find out how. The concept fascinated me; dust describing what an important role it plays in the ecosystem as it makes its way from “a ribbon of land spread between the Sahara Desert, to the north, and tropical savanna, to the south. Land that stretches from the Red Sea, in the east, to the Atlantic Ocean, in the west.” Wow! I never thought about dust this way before.

 

A River of Dust int1 millions of years ago.
Interior spread from A River of Dust written by Jilanne Hoffmann and illustrated by Eugenia Mello, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

 

The flow of Hoffmann’s lyrical prose shares just the right amount of information for young readers to absorb. The warm muted desert tones of Mello’s illustrations rendered digitally and filled with flora and fauna, combine with the text to convey the importance of dust in our world. Each spread shows movement as the dust is carried across the pages. Older kids will pick up details that may not necessarily resonate with Kindergartners yet there is still so much for them to glean.

 

A River of Dust int2 I come from the Sahel.
Interior spread from A River of Dust written by Jilanne Hoffmann and illustrated by Eugenia Mello, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

While all readers learn that much of the dust disappears in myriad ways along the journey from North Africa to the Amazon, they’ll also find out how crucial the remaining dust is. Its cargo, precious phosphorus, is vital for the “rain-washed, depleted soil.” It will nourish the trees and help maintain the ecosystem.

 

A River of Dust int3 I fly across the Atlantic.
Interior spread from A River of Dust written by Jilanne Hoffmann and illustrated by Eugenia Mello, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

I wanted to know more about this layered, lush, and poetic picture book because of the wide age range. I asked Hoffmann how she feels the book can meet the differing needs and interests of the youngest to oldest audience members. What she told me would be helpful for parents, caregivers, teachers, and librarians to incorporate into any reading. Its broad reach is what makes the book so appealing.

“I think that kindergarten through 5th grade can get things out of the book, at different levels of comprehension. When I read it to younger kids, I focus on how we’re all connected, and how two continents maintain their connections, despite being separated for a LONG time, something that littles understand, because they miss people in their lives who may live far away, or they remember what it was like to be left by a parent on their first day of school. And how they stay connected through phone calls, or letters, or even Zoom calls. I also talk simply about phosphorus, and how dust carries it, and how it’s a mineral like calcium and iron, things that their bodies need to grow and be healthy (and how every living thing on this planet requires those things).”

 

A River of Dust int4 the dust of North Africa
Interior spread from A River of Dust written by Jilanne Hoffmann and illustrated by Eugenia Mello, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

Info-packed pages of backmatter complete A River of Dust with facts for the oldest and most curious of readers. Even if you’re not scientifically minded, there is something in these six pages for everyone. Hoffmann explained this to me.

“The older kids get more info about how scientists figured this out through satellites, info about plate tectonics, how scientific understanding continues to change/evolve, etc. So the book can be understood simply or in a more complex way. My educator guide provides a ton of different activities across the curriculum for K-5, including a PE game.”

Be sure to check out the helpful and detailed learning resources available on Hoffman’s website to access the impressive educator’s guides, activities, and more. Pick up a copy today and let your kids be armchair travelers on this illuminating journey alongside dust that never ceases to amaze as it educates.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Share this:

An Interview with Author Christine Van Zandt

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

MILKWEED FOR MONARCHS

AUTHOR CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT

Illustrated by Alejandra Barajas

(Beaming Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Milkweed for Monarchs cover monarchs flying in milkweed plants.

 

 

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

Bold, gold, the chrysalis gleams. And deep down inside . . . the butterfly dreams.

Every year, monarch butterflies migrate to warmer climates for overwintering months. However, changing environments make it continually more difficult to find food and places to lay eggs. In this nonfiction picture book, the monarch’s life cycle is detailed in lyrical verse as stunning art accompanies each stage in the butterfly’s life.

The most recognizable butterfly, monarchs are classified as a vulnerable species by the IUCN, and face drastic challenges when it comes to locating food sources–milkweed. Milkweed for Monarchs is the perfect resource for young readers to learn more about these beautiful insects and how they can foster monarch-friendly environments in their own backyard. Backmatter includes actionable ways for readers to help this vulnerable species.

 

INTERVIEW:

GoodReadsWithRonna: How did you decide to write about butterflies in your new nonfiction picture book, Milkweed for Monarchs?

Christine Van Zandt: During the pandemic, we bought a milkweed plant with the vague idea that we were helping butterflies in some way. Little did we know that our plant was loaded with eggs and soon we had a bunch of very cute caterpillars. Sadly, they were eaten by various predators in our garden, but that set me out on this journey, wondering about monarchs.


GRWR:
What eats monarchs? I thought they were poisonous.

CVZ: When the monarch caterpillars eat milkweed leaves, they do retain some of the plant’s toxins. And they have the bright “stay away” body markings consisting of yellow, white, and black stripes. But they still end up being dinner for other insects, spiders, birds, lizards, and mammals. In our garden, we’ve seen ants carrying little caterpillars away; raccoons and birds pluck them off.

 

Milkweed for Monarchs int1 flitter flutter wings
Interior spread from Milkweed for Monarchs written by Christine Van Zandt and illustrated by Alejandra Barajas, Beaming Books ©2024.

 

GRWR: Did you encounter any obstacles trying to sell this book?

CVZ: It took me a while to figure out how to write it. I tried it in prose and verse, in fiction and nonfiction. The version that ended up working best was a short rhyming poem with facts in sidebars and in the backmatter.

An earlier version of this manuscript won first place at SCBWI-LA’s 2021 Writers Day and also earned me the annual Sue Alexander Grant. Even so, when the manuscript went out on submissions, some publishers passed stating they already had a monarch book on their list and they didn’t want to compete against their own products.


GRWR:
So it sounds like butterfly books are considered evergreens like dinosaur, alphabet, or things-that-go books?

CVZ: Yes they are, so both my area of focus for the story and how I presented the text had to come from a fresh angle. I’m passionate about trying to help the monarchs. The western monarch’s population went from 4.5 million in the 1980s to fewer than 2000 butterflies in 2020. The just-in 2023 count shows the population is still ~95% down.

Monarchs need milkweed because that’s the only plant their caterpillars can eat; that became my focus, how the milkweed plant is essential for this insect’s survival. Milkweed plants are also amazing: they get eaten down to nothing and keep regrowing. I welcome munched-on plants in my yard because that means insects are being sustained through their life cycle which, in turn, benefits the larger food web.


GRWR:
As picture book writers we’re often told not to write in rhyme unless it is extremely well executed. Was that a problem you encountered?

CVZ: I actually didn’t but I also feel my rhyme was solid by the time we sent it out on submissions because I’d applied the various checks such as scansion. However, writing in rhyme makes revisions much harder because each round with the publisher meant not just updating the text but also redoing the rhyme. Sometimes I had to scrap stanzas and write new ones.

And rhyming books have limitations because they are not as likely to be translated into a foreign language since so much more is involved in translating poetry, though it does happen. With my first book, A Brief History of Underpants—which was written in prose—a Korean-language translation came out not long after it was published. I’d love for Milkweed for Monarchs to be translated, especially into Spanish since many monarch butterflies overwinter in Mexico’s mountains and the butterflies have been part of Mexican culture for generations. Also because the gorgeous illustrations are by Alejandra Barajas who is from Mexico.

 

Milkweed for Monarchs int2 beyond human borders
Interior spread from Milkweed for Monarchs written by Christine Van Zandt and illustrated by Alejandra Barajas, Beaming Books ©2024.

 

GRWR: While the main text of the book is a short poem, the facts in the sidebar and backmatter are in prose, right?

CVZ: Yes, and that meant switching my brain back and forth as we worked through the various drafts!

GRWR: How did you do that?

CVZ: I would read through one pass focusing only on the poem, then on another pass, I’d work on the facts.


GRWR:
Beyond being a gardener, are you involved with monarchs in other ways?

CVZ: We’ve had our garden designated a sanctuary which basically means that we promise to garden without pesticides, providing a certain number and variety of different kinds of milkweed plants including native ones, and also providing nectaring plants for the butterflies and other pollinators.

Beyond that, I’ve applied for and been granted free plants for a local LAUSD inner-city school and started their butterfly garden. I’ve also volunteered for Xerces for several years now, helping count the butterflies overwintering along the Southern California coast, and uploading that data to their central database.


GRWR:
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

CVZ: I hope my book imparts a sense of wonder and a feeling of hopefulness. It doesn’t take much to make a difference whether for the monarchs or for other creatures in our world.


GRWR:
Thank you, Christine, for sharing your amazing experience with us today. I’ve learned so much!

BUY THE BOOK:

Support independent booksellers by purchasing a copy of Milkweed for Monarchs here.

FOLLOW ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

•Christine Van Zandt 

Twitter (X): www.twitter.com/christinevz

Facebook: www.facebook.com/christine.vanzandt.9

Instagram: christinevanzandt9

Bluesky: christinevanzandt.bsky.social

•Alejandra Barajas 

Instagram: ale.barajas.illustration

•Publisher – Beaming Books

Twitter (X): www.twitter.com/BeamingBooksMIN

Facebook: www.facebook.com/BeamingBooksPublishing

Instagram: www.instagram.com/beamingbooksmn

 

 

Christine Van Zandt author photo
Author Christine Van Zandt Photo Credit: Marlena Van Zandt

AUTHOR BIO:

Christine Van Zandt is an editor, writer, and award-winning author. Her nonfiction picture books include A Brief History of Underpants (becker&mayer! kids, 2021) and, Milkweed for Monarchs (Beaming Books, 2024). She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her family. You can find her at www.ChristineVanZandt.com.

 

 

Share this:

An Interview with Rajani LaRocca, Author of Your One and Only Heart

DARSHANA KHIANI INTERVIEWS RAJANI LAROCCA,

AUTHOR OF

YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART

ILLUSTRATED BY LAUREN PAIGE CONRAD

(Dial BYR; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

 

Your One and Only Heart Cover

 

 

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:
A lyrical introduction to the many wonders of the human heart, from award-winning author and practicing doctor, Dr. Rajani LaRocca

In this stunning non-fiction picture book, poetry and science come together with playful cut-paper illustrations to create a moving ode to the human heart and all that it does. Complete with illustrative diagrams and copious backmatter, this is a one-of-a-kind non-fiction picture book that gently guides readers through the various systems make up our most vital organ.

 

INTERVIEW:

Darshana Khiani: YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART is amazing in how it takes a complex organ and breaks it down into chunks. What inspired you to write about the heart?

Rajani LaRocca: Ever since medical school, when I learned about the heart and how it works, I’ve been fascinated by this most vital organ. I wrote a first draft of this book way back in 2013 (!), and it was called “The Hardest Working Muscle.” It was written in prose and was over 800 words long. But it didn’t have a unifying theme or a hook.

I worked on this book on and off (mainly off) for years, but I couldn’t figure out how to write it. Then one day in 2018, I had a breakthrough: I discovered the theme I wanted to carry through the book. I realized I wanted to write about contrasting characteristics of the heart! Then I immediately decided to write about these characteristics in poetry—with several sets of paired poems. This made sense because to me, the beauty of poetry reflects the beauty of the human body.

 

DK: Well, you are one of the hardest-working writers I know. You do an amazing job at getting the main ideas across without getting bogged down in details. How did you master that balance? Also, the nerd in me wants to know why larger organisms have slower heart rates. I was surprised to learn that a mouse’s heart beats 310-840 beats/min while an elephant is only 30!

RL: I tried to focus on keeping the poetry simple enough for young kids to understand, yet interesting enough to capture their attention. There are plenty of facts that I reserved for the back matter so that the poetry could shine.

In terms of the answer to your question, are you ready to nerd out a bit? Smaller animals have higher surface area to volume ratio than larger ones. Because of this, smaller animals (especially warm-blooded animals like mammals and birds) lose heat much more quickly than their larger counterparts. So their hearts (which are smaller, too) need to beat faster to circulate more blood to offset the heat loss and maintain their body temperatures.

 

YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART Int1 Your heart is Singular
Your One and Only Heart written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Lauren Paige Conrad, Dial BYR ©2023.

 

DK: Wow! Thank you for geeking out with me. Surface area … never would’ve guessed that. The book is divided into 15 poems, 7 pairs of antonym poems (yup, I made that up), and then a final stand-alone one. It is a unique structure, one I can’t say I’ve seen before. At what point in the writing process did you decide to organize the poems in this way?

RL: I designed those first 14 poems as “antonyms” or paired poems from the moment of that epiphany in 2018! When the book got acquired and my editor contacted illustrator Lauren Paige Conrad, Lauren came back with the incredible idea of using shades of different colors for each pair of poems. For example, “Singular” and “Cooperative” are in shades of red; “Simple” and “Complex” are in shades of orange; “Energetic” and “Relaxed” are in shades of yellow, and so on, resulting in a rainbow of colors! The back matter is also “color coded” to link back to the appropriate pages! Lauren works in cut paper collage, and it blows my mind how beautifully and precisely she depicted so many aspects of the heart with her art.

There are two poems at the end, and the very last poem brings everything together by restating the contrasting characteristics of the heart and noting that kids share the same characteristics themselves!

 

DK: I must admit the last poem took me by surprise since it is so matter-of-fact. I could almost hear the EKG flatline as I read the last words. Did you always know you wanted to end the story with this poem?

RL: Years ago, when I was at a writing retreat, I shared this manuscript with renowned nonfiction author Elizabeth Partridge. She loved it and advised me that I absolutely needed to include what happens when the heart stops beating. She said that death is something that children are curious about, and that by including it in a nonfiction book about the heart, I could demystify it and put it in perspective for kids from a scientific point of view. It took me a while to figure out how to write that poem; Lauren Paige Conrad’s illustration on that spread is absolutely perfect.

 

DK: Smart suggestion, and you presented it in such a matter-of-fact way. You’ve authored two novels-in-verse, MIRROR-TO-MIRROR and RED, WHITE, and WHOLE, and a rhyming non-fiction picture book, The SECRET CODE INSIDE YOU. Do you have any tips for writers who want to write lyrically?

RL: My first tip would be to understand what you want to say—for novels in verse, that means knowing at the very least the broad outlines of the plot and emotional arcs. And for nonfiction, that means compiling all the information you want to convey.

Next, I recommend getting in a “poetic mindset” by going out into nature, reading poetry, and/or listening to music.

And then you should just try writing the poems! Don’t worry too much about whether they’re any good.

When it’s time to edit: avoid cliches, use powerful words, condense and eliminate as much as possible, and endeavor to convey your message in a fresh or different way. I always read my poetry aloud in revision, because sometimes our ears are better than our eyes at noting when something isn’t quite right.

 

YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART Int2 Your Heart is Muscular
Your One and Only Heart written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Lauren Paige Conrad, Dial BYR ©2023.

 

DK: What’s up next for you?

RL: YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART is my fourth out of six books releasing this year!

Next up is THE SECRET OF THE DRAGON GEMS, an epistolary novel that I co-wrote with my friend Chris Baron. It’s about Tripti and Sam, two kids who meet at summer camp and find some unusual silvery rocks, which they each take home to California and Massachusetts. Then they start communicating via letter, email, texts, and video chats, because strange things keep happening, and they begin to wonder whether the rocks are more than just rocks. THE SECRET OF THE DRAGON GEMS releases on August 29!

My picture book MASALA CHAI, FAST AND SLOW, beautifully illustrated by Neha Rawat, releases on September 5. This is a story about a boy who likes to go fast and his grandfather, who likes to take things slow. Every day, they make masala chai together. One day, the grandfather sprains his ankle and can’t make masala chai, and the grandson decides to make some to cheer up his beloved grandfather . . . and hilarity ensues. This story is about learning to slow down and enjoy moments with those we love.

And next year on March 12 comes the release of my first middle grade fantasy, SONA AND THE GOLDEN BEASTS! Set in an Indian-inspired fantasy world, this story involves music and magic, and animals, but also contends with colonialism and who gets to tell history. I can’t wait to share it with the world!

DK: Yay for more books! We’ll be keeping a look out for them.

 

 

Author Rajani LaRocca headshot
Rajani LaRocca Photo Credit ©Carter Hasegawa

AUTHOR BIO:

Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she practices medicine and writes award-winning books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor-winning middle grade novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole. She’s always been an omnivorous reader, and now she an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, prose and poetry. She finds inspiration in her family, her childhood, the natural world, math, science, and just about everywhere she looks. Learn more about Rajani and her books at www.RajaniLaRocca.com. She also co-hosts the STEM Women in KidLit Podcast.

BUY THE BOOK: 

https://www.rajanilarocca.com/picture-books/your-one-and-only-heart/

LINKS TO SOCIAL MEDIA:

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Darshana Khiani is an author, engineer, and advocate for South Asian children’s literature. She is infinitely curious about the world and enjoys sharing her findings with young readers. If she can make a child laugh even better. Her debut picture book, How to Wear a Sari (Versify), was an Amazon Editors’ Pick. She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and a furry pup. You can visit Darshana here.

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review – Light Speaks

 

LIGHT SPEAKS

Written by Christine Layton

Illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell

(Tilbury House Publishers; $18.95; Ages 4-8)

 

Light Speaks cover boy in night reaching for firefly

 

From the Publisher:

“An enchanting picture book about the joyful, mysterious, awe-inspiring messages of light.”

 

Review:

This beautiful book begins with light’s first daily message to a young child: Awake

 

Light Speaks interior art1 boy sleeping in tent with flashlight
Interior spread from Light Speaks written by Christine Layton and illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell, Tilbury House Publishers ©2023.

 

And continues to explain all the ways light speaks to us—in our daily lives…

 

 Light Speaks interior art2 boy in 3 outdoor scenes at night
Interior art from Light Speaks written by Christine Layton and illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell, Tilbury House Publishers ©2023.

 

through nature…

 

Light Speaks interior art3 light in nature
Interior art from Light Speaks written by Christine Layton and illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell, Tilbury House Publishers ©2023.

 

and throughout space and time—covering both natural and manmade light sources.

 

Light Speaks interior art4 suns burned out long ago
Interior spread from Light Speaks written by Christine Layton and illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell, Tilbury House Publishers ©2023.

 

Christine Layton’s spare, poetic text leaves plenty of room for illustrator, Luciana Navarro Powell’s luminous art to shine in this nonfiction concept book. Young listeners will pour over Powells’ beautiful art as they listen to Layton’s lyrical, mysterious text while older readers delight in unraveling its mystery. (And for those who just can’t wait, Layton provides a more detailed, scientific look at some of the abstract concepts in the book like the way light “echoes off planets and moons” or “tells lies.”

Light Speaks would make an excellent science and ELA text for the classroom—especially when paired with more straightforward nonfiction like Light Waves by David Adler and Anna Raff (Holiday House, 2018)—as it would lend itself to cross-curricular discussions about science and poetry.

*Highly recommended

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

Share this:

An Interview with Ishita Jain – Debut Illustrator of The Forest Keeper

 AN INTERVIEW WITH ISHITA JAIN

ABOUT HER ILLUSTRATOR DEBUT

THE FOREST KEEPER:
The True Story of Jadav Payeng 

(NorthSouth; $18.95, Ages 5-9)

 

the forest keeper the true story of jadav payeng cover Jadav in forest

INTRO:

I’m honored to have been invited to host this NorthSouth Books interview exclusively in the U.S. Elena Rittinghausen, Zurich-based editor of NordSüd Verlag/NorthSouth Books recently spoke with Ishita Jain, debut illustrator of The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh, (on sale April 18 and available for preorder now), and the timing couldn’t be better as we approach Earth Day 2023.

 

INTERVIEW:

Elena Rittinghausen: What part does nature play in your life? How would you describe your relationship with nature? For you personally, what is the main lesson we can learn from this true story?

Ishita Jain: I consider myself a part of nature, all humans are, even though it’s easy to forget it in our fast-paced lives. I grew up in New Delhi and now live in New York, both of which are big, urban cities, yet I have been fortunate to spend a lot of my childhood and my present days in the midst of greenery.

 

The Forest Keeper endpapers
Endpapers by Ishita Jain from The Forest Keeper by Rina Singh, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

When I moved to NY, I was often homesick, and trees and parks became a source of comfort to me. I love going on long walks and it is fascinating to watch the seasons turn in my neighborhood. The same tree that is lush green turns to a fiery red in the fall and is then almost unrecognizable in the winter. Watching all these visceral changes in natural things around me has made me far more open to change and evolution within myself.

I am often told that individual acts matter very little when it comes to changing the world- that it all comes down to corporations and government policies. I don’t entirely agree, and this story is a reminder that no matter how small you are, you matter and even if you can’t change the world, you can change your world around you.

 

The Forest Keeper wholebook Page 05
Interior spread from The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh and illustrated by Ishita Jain, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

ER: You’ve lived in the US for some years now. Did it feel special to go back to illustrating a story set in India?

IJ: It’s interesting, the longer I live in the U.S., my sense of identity of being Indian and thinking of India as my home only grows stronger. So, in some ways, it didn’t matter where I was when I illustrated this book. Though I did illustrate some of the trees for the endpapers while I was in India, and to be drawing a neem tree when there is one right outside your window makes the process so fun!

 

The Forest Keeper wholebook Page 11 Jadev watering plants
Interior art from The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh and illustrated by Ishita Singh, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

ER: What was your first thought when you received our e-mail asking if you wanted to illustrate for a Swiss publisher?

IJ: This is my first picture book and when I got the email from you, I thought it was wild that someone was asking me to do this because I have very few drawings of kids, or even people in my portfolio! I am so grateful that you took that chance because I enjoyed the process, and it was a huge learning curve for me.

Funnily, the first time when I traveled outside of India was to Switzerland. I was 10 or 11 and my grandparents took me with them to Lucerne and I have very vivid memories of that trip. I used to spend all the loose change from the day on ice creams and for years, if anyone I knew went to Switzerland, I would jokingly ask them to bring me an ice cream. I was very close to my grandfather and I think he would have been thrilled to know that I got to work with a Swiss publisher!

 

The Forest Keeper wholebook Page 16 hungry elephants smashing huts
Interior spread from The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh and illustrated by Ishita Jain, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

ER: How did you approach the illustrations? Which technique did you use? Did you look for specific references for your images?

IJ: I love working analog and all the pictures are done in ink and watercolor. For this book, I also did my thumbnails as loose little paintings. It was important for me to get a sense of the color, texture, and mood in the sketch phase to be able to proceed to finals. I also made a tiny dummy to flip through to get a sense of the page turns and the visual pacing of the story.

 

The Forest Keeper Ishita Jain's thumbnails
Ink and watercolor thumbnails by Ishita Jain from The Forest Keeper by Rina Singh, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

In some illustrations, all the elements are painted separately and then stitched together digitally. This gives me the flexibility to make changes without having to start from scratch.  Other times I just go for it and love embracing the unpredictability that comes with watercolor.

India is huge and very diverse in terms of its people, its culture, and its geographies. I am from Delhi, which is quite far, and different, from Majuli. I did extensive research and referenced movies, news, documentaries, and the work of photographers from Assam and the northeast to make sure that I understood the flora and fauna, the physical features of the locals, their attire, and the visual geography of the region. I also looked for videos about the Brahmaputra floods, time lapses of bamboo growing, and travelers’ videos of Majuli to get a sense of the overall environment.

Ishita Jain's Studio
Studio of The Forest Keeper illustrator Ishita Jain

 

ER: Would you like to illustrate picture books in the future?

IJ: Without a doubt, yes!

Thank you Elena Rittinghausen and NorthSouth Books for this exciting opportunity to introduce Ishita Jain and her artwork to readers here in the U.S.

 

Click here to order a copy of The Forest Keeper today

Click here to read an interview with The Forest Keeper author Rina Singh

Get a teacher’s guide here.

 

Jain Ishita ©Anirudh-Garg 2021 sRGB
Photo of illustrator Ishita Jain ©Anirudh-Garg, courtesy of NorthSouth Books

ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Ishita Jain is an illustrator from Delhi, India, though she is now based in New York. She is an alumnus of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India, and the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Program at the School of Visual Arts, New York. Ishita loves to draw on location and enjoys documenting the people, places, and stories that surround her. Her work is inspired by day-to-day moments and the wonder that comes from being around nature. The Forest Keeper is Ishita’s first picture book. Find her on social media here: @ishitajain24

Share this:

Picture Book Review by Roxanne Troup – Iceberg

 

 

 

ICEBERG: A LIFE IN SEASONS

Written by Claire Saxby

Illustrated by Jess Racklyeft

(Groundwood Books; $19.99; Ages 3-6)

 

 

Iceberg_cover_solitary_iceberg

 

 

From the Publisher:

“An iceberg shears from a glacier and begins a journey through Antarctica’s seasons. In the spring, penguins trek across the ice while krill stir beneath. With summer comes more life…the sun softens its edges and undersea currents wash it from below. When autumn arrives with cooling temperatures, the sea changes and the iceberg is trapped in the ice for the winter freeze. Then spring returns and the iceberg drifts into a sheltered bay and falls, at the end of its life cycle. But if you think this is the end of the journey, look closer ― out in the ocean, an iceberg shears from a glacier and settles to the sea, beginning the process anew.”

 

Review:

Claire Saxby’s beautiful, poetic language and Jess Racklyeft’s luminous art bring this nonfiction concept to life for young readers who’ll never see this ecosystem with their own eyes. Here, “ocean, sky, snow and ice dance a delicate dance.”

 

 Iceberg_int1_new_iceberg_bobs_in_water
Interior spread from Iceberg: A Life in Season written by Claire Saxby and illustrated by Jess Racklyeft, Groundwood Books ©2022.

 

Though most people think of Antarctica as a cold, barren icescape, ICEBERG proves otherwise. Racklyeft even includes an amazing center gatefold highlighting the beauty and life thriving just below the ocean surrounding Antarctica.

 

Iceberg int2 varied underwater life
Interior spread from Iceberg: A Life in Season written by Claire Saxby and illustrated by Jess Racklyeft, Groundwood Books ©2022.

 

Originally published in Australia by Allen & Unwin, Groundwood Books adds an author’s note and a glossary explaining the effects of climate change (without being moralistic) and positioning ICEBERG for use in the classroom. *Highly recommended!

 

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review by Armineh Manookian – The Black Hole Debacle

THE BLACK HOLE DEBACLE

Written by Keri Claiborne Boyle

Illustrated by Deborah Melmon

(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99; Ages 4-7)

 

The Black Hole Debacle cover

 

 

 

Written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, The Black Hole Debacle is the perfect choice for any child who has a deep wonder for outer space and an appreciation for stories with heart and humor. 

An astronomer at heart, Jordie “even name[s] her dog Neptune.” When a literal out-of-this-world incident happens in her class one day, she is more than excited to explore it. A little black hole, “churning in [her] desk” is eating anything and everything around it and is hungry for more.

 

The Black Hole Debacle int1 bedroom classroom
Interior art from The Black Hole Debacle written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Like finding a pet, Jordie decides to keep the black hole, bringing it along with her on the bus ride home. After devouring belongings in her backpack, the black hole starts gobbling items in the closet where Jordie has put it to hide from her parents. The black hole doesn’t discriminate; all items are fair game–with one humorous exception. 

 

The Black Hole Debacle int2 schoolbus
Interior art from The Black Hole Debacle written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Readers will love this zany concept of a black hole that appears out of nowhere and causes problems of cosmic proportions. Adding to the delightful absurdity is its disdain for Jordie’s unicorn underwear that it spits out on more than one occasion. Like Boyle’s language, Melmon’s adorable and vivid illustrations add personality and pizazz to the antics of this one-of-a-kind character.

 

 The Black Hole Debacle Neptune the dog
Interior art from The Black Hole Debacle written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

When Jordie discovers Neptune’s empty collar, she finally decides enough is enough and finds a clever way to reclaim her possessions including her beloved dog. She sends the black hole back to where it belongs–in a galaxy far, far away. 

A fun, early elementary-grade-level read, this STEM picture book includes intriguing facts about black holes and a link for further study. 

Click here for a teaching guide.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review by Christine Van Zandt – If Tigers Disappeared

 

IF TIGERS DISAPPEARED
 If Animals Disappeared series, book 5

by Lily Williams

(Roaring Brook Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8) 

 

 

 

If Tigers Disappeared cover

 

 

Stand up and roar for Lily Williams’s If Tigers Disappeared, the fifth book in her award-winning series. If Tigers Disappeared follows the familiar pattern: we learn where the animals live, some history about them, and why their populations have declined. Tigers have been around for more than two million years, yet in the past 100 years, humans have nearly wiped out their population. When an animal becomes extinct, the ripple effect (also called the trophic cascade) has far-reaching effects on our ecosystem.

 

If Tigers Disappeared int1 India map
Interior spread from If Tigers Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams, Roaring Brook Press ©2022.

 

Since tigers are apex predators, the animals they eat flourish when no longer hunted by the big cats. These population booms then cause changes to the forest, waterways, and landscapes. This immense concept is conveyed simply, inviting kids to think about our world’s interconnectedness and demonstrating how indigenous people should continue to be involved in tiger conservation. Though the topic is quite sad, the overall feeling is of hope, emphasizing the importance of knowledge and advocacy for these amazing animals.

 

If Tigers Disappeared int2 photos on road
Interior spread from If Tigers Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams, Roaring Brook Press ©2022.

 

Williams’s tigers are magnificently drawn in many stages of action, including a couple of curious cubs. Back matter includes a glossary, recap of the tigers’ endangered status, and information on how we can help. This important book educates while charming us with lively images of six remaining subspecies of tigers.

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review – Look and Listen

 

 

LOOK AND LISTEN

Written by Dianne White

Illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford

(Holiday House; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

Look and Listen cover

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journaltar

 

From the Publisher: “In this exciting guessing game for budding nature lovers, a child takes a walk to explore the sights and sounds in a garden, across a meadow, and along a brook … Dianne White’s playful text is paired with the vibrant collage artwork of Amy Schimler-Safford.”

 

Look and Listen int1 garden
Interior spread from Look and Listen written by Dianne White and illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford, Holiday House ©2022.

 

Dianne White’s simple, rhyming text introduces young readers to the colors and sounds of creatures that live in each ecosystem using a riddle-like structure that invites page turns. At the same time, Amy Schimler-Safford’s gorgeous, collage-style art encourages little eyes to seek and find the hiding creature …

 

Look and Listen int2 sunflowers
Interior spread from Look and Listen written by Dianne White and illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford, Holiday House ©2022.

 

making this a truly interactive and enjoyable reading experience.

 

Look and Listen int3 bee
Interior art from Look and Listen written by Dianne White and illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford, Holiday House ©2022.

 

Accessible backmatter in Look and Listen offers readers and/or teachers more information about the habitats and animals highlighted in the book. This radiant picture book inspiring all five senses would make a great read-aloud for preschool classrooms to use just before a nature walk or trip to a National Park.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

 

Share this:

Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Battle of the Butts

 

 

 

BATTLE OF THE BUTTS:

THE SCIENCE BEHIND ANIMAL BEHINDS

Illustrated by David Creighton-Pester

(Running Press Kids; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

 

Battle of the Butts cover

 

 

Get ready to laugh as you learn while enjoying this funny, nonfiction picture book, Battle of the Butts by Jocelyn Rish. I thought I knew a lot of animal facts but was amazed by what this author uncovered in her research. The book is set up as a competition between ten creatures, inviting the reader to vote on each animal (rank them from Terrific Tush to Boring Backside), then choose a winner at the end.

 

Battle of the Butts int3 toot
Interior spread from Battle of the Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds written by Jocelyn Rish and illustrated by David Creighton-Pester, Running Press Kids ©2021.

 

 

One of my favorite contenders is the bombardier beetle. Its booty blasts a scalding 212°F chemical mixture at predators. This liquid can reach a speed of 22 miles per hour and its 270-degree swiveling butt can emit 20 blasts in a row before running out. What a superpower! However, it’s hard to deny the awesome, multitasking sea cucumber: it breathes, eats, and shoots organs out of its butt—“a Swiss Army knife of abilities.” Some species have anal teeth; yet, even with that kind of protection, long, skinny pearlfish like to live in a sea cucumber’s rear.

 

Battle of the Butts int4 toot
Interior spread from Battle of the Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds written by Jocelyn Rish and illustrated by David Creighton-Pester, Running Press Kids ©2021.

 

Bright, engaging, and hilarious illustrations by David Creighton-Pester add even more humor. For example, cutie-patootie wombats use their shield-like backsides for defense, and smiling, gassy schools of herring communicate by farting. These unusual attributes are conveyed in a kid-friendly manner making this book a hit in classrooms, libraries, and at home. Stay tuned for Battle of the Brains (fall, 2022) by this same fanny-tastic team.

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review – Ducks Overboard!

DUCKS OVERBOARD!:
A TRUE STORY OF PLASTIC IN OUR OCEANS 

by Markus Motum

(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 7-10)

 

Ducks Overboard! cover

 

We Don’t Need to Wait Until Earth Day to Pay Attention to Our Environment

 

If you’re looking for a nonfiction book that reads like a story, you’ve found it! Narrated by a rubber ducky, this picture book by author-illustrator Markus Motum, Ducks Overboard!: A True Story of Plastic in Our Oceans, explains how 28,000 ducks ended up in the middle of the ocean. The reader adventures along with the ducks in unknown territory as they encounter sea creatures and garbage. Viewing it from the duck’s perspective reinforces how animals are endangered by plastics in their environment, eating them or becoming entangled.

 

Ducks Overboard int1
DUCKS OVERBOARD! © 2021 Markus Motum. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

 

A world map clearly explains how the ducks traveled on ocean currents to various destinations. Our duck, however, becomes stuck in the swirling Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a mass of trash about twice the size of Texas—until, finally, freed. Though this duck’s story has a happy ending, much is learned in the process that gives us cause to think about how our everyday choices are hurting our planet.

 

Ducks Overboard int2
DUCKS OVERBOARD! © 2021 Markus Motum. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

e

The mixed-media illustrations are done in beautiful ocean blues which showcase the bright yellow duck(s). Back matter includes “Lost at Sea” (about other missing shipping containers) and “Ocean Currents” (explaining ocean movement and gyres). “Plastic Facts” and “How You Can Help” reminds us that 40 percent of plastic is single-use and, because most cannot be recycled, those items break down into smaller and smaller pieces causing far-reaching damage. I appreciate how this book handles such a dire topic in a manner that feels as lightweight as your bathtub ducky.

 

 

 

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review – Night Becomes Day

 

NIGHT BECOMES DAY: CHANGES IN NATURE

Written by Cynthia Argentine

(Millbrook Press; $29.32, Ages 4-9)

 

 

 

 

Cynthia Argentine’s picture book, Night Becomes Day: Changes in Nature is such a great idea for a children’s book. Through lovely, lyrical prose coupled with stunning photography, this nonfiction book takes readers on a kind of before and after look at nature’s wonders which youngsters might take for granted or do not have time to notice during a day at the beach, a walk in the woods, on a wilderness adventure or a national park visit.

Children will learn that “nature is always at work, transforming.” Some of the changes detailed are small, subtle even and others are large. And the results can be so different. A footprint in the sand washes away with the first wave and yet over time, the Colorado River has worn away the stone, carving out a massive space we know as the Grand Canyon.

 

Night Becomes Day int1
Photo credit: Interior spread from Night Becomes Day © 2022 Millbrook Press ™, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group.

 

Some changes can be witnessed quickly while others cannot. They can occur in just a few minutes like when “A pumpkin tendril wraps around a rope in minutes.” Or slowly over time as an acorn grows into a majestic oak. Argentine notes that change brightens—such as when desert flowers bloom following rain and change dulls—such as when a fallen leaf becomes mulch supporting “new life.”

One of my favorite changes in nature depicted is how diamonds are formed over eons making them ancient as compared to a snowflake or sparkling new ice crystal. “Everywhere on Earth—from shore to mountain, field to forest, surface to sky—nature is at work, TRANSFORMING.”

 

Night Becomes Day int2
Photo credit: Interior spread from Night Becomes Day © 2022 Millbrook Press ™, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group.

 

 

The power of observation and the beauty of nature are in focus in this wonderful ode to change that should get kids taking more time to notice what’s around them. Argentine has created a clever study in contrasts that is enjoyable to read aloud and to admire since the photos are breathtaking.

The author’s note in the three pages of back matter highlights how some things like a healing wound or out-growing a pair of shoes are examples of change or metamorphosis. And things don’t have to be alive to change—think rocks, waves, caves.  Changes that occur at the intersection of living and nonliving things, Argentine explains, are called ecology. This helps children understand their impact on the world and how important that is.

 

 

Night Becomes Day int3
Photo credit: Interior spread from Night Becomes Day © 2022 Millbrook Press ™, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group.

 

Kids can read through page 29 for the more poetic portion of the book or carry on through page 32 for additional scientific notes Argentine’s included that refer back to each section: Beaches and Canyons – Geology; Pumpkin Tendrils and Oak Trees – Botany; Deserts and Forests – Biology; Clouds and Caverns – Chemistry and Geology; Volcanoes and Glaciers – Geology; and Diamonds and Snowflakes – Chemistry, Geology, and Physics. Whether reading for pleasure or for a class project, this STEM book is an engaging and accessible introduction to the science of change that will be welcomed by parents and teachers alike.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

To support local bookstores, here is the link for Bookshop.org:

https://bookshop.org/books/night-becomes-day-changes-in-nature/9781541581241

Educators may also use Lerner’s website: https://lernerbooks.com/shop/show/21209

Glossary/free eResources can be found here: https://lernerbooks.com/teaching_guides/620

Share this:

Our Favorite New Hanukkah Books for 2021

 

NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS FOR 2021
∼A ROUNDUP∼

 

Hanukkah menorah clipart

 

 

Baby Loves Angular Momentum on Hanukkah! coverBABY LOVES ANGULAR MOMENTUM ON HANUKKAH!
Written by Ruth Spiro
Illustrated by Irene Chan
(Charlesbridge; $8.99, Ages  0-3)

The popular Baby Loves Science board book series has notched up over 15  titles in the collection touching on myriad STEM subjects from quarks to coding. In Baby Loves Angular Momentum on Hanukkah! little ones are introduced to the holiday, and in particular, the dreidel or spinning top game played by Jewish families around the world. Using the dreidel, Spiro presents the fascinating physics’ concepts of torque (what makes a dreidel spin), angular momentum (spinning rather than falling over), friction (what slows down the dreidel), and gravity (what makes a slowing dreidel tilt, wobble and eventually fall down). The best part is how the dreidel game ties everything together. There’s even the added element of learning the Hebrew letters on the dreidel, Nun, Gimmel, Hay, and Shin which also represent the words “A Great Miracle Happened There.” Chan’s bold, cheerful illustrations will engage children even if they don’t necessarily grasp the info. To be honest, learning this topic via a board book is about my speed and I’m sure there are other parents out there who’ll feel the same. The book provides a great way to start science conversations for curious minds constantly asking, “Why?”

The Three Latkes coverTHE THREE LATKES
Written by Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by Feronia Parker-Thomas
(Kar-Ben; $7.99, Ages 4-8)

Award-winning author and storyteller, Eric A. Kimmel has created a simple and simply funny Hanukkah tale about three potato pancakes, one red, one yellow, and one gold, competing to see who is the best. Is it the type of potato they are, the kind of oil they’re fried in, or the type of topping they’re dipped in?  But what neither the lip-licking cat they ask to judge nor the latkes themselves never consider is exactly what that judging entails. Does the feline have a fave? I’m not going to spoil things except to say that I loved the surprise ending The Three Latkes delivers to readers who, if like me, were already tempted to dive into this book because of the cat and latkes on the cover. Kimmel consistently writes engaging books for the Jewish community and this one is no exception. Parker-Thomas’s art, achieved with lots of line work and playful details, is full of movement, expression, and warm tones.  Why not read this Hanukkah story aloud and have family members each play a role to add more fun to the story experience?

A RUGRATS CHANUKAH (POP CLASSIC)
Based on the series created by Arlene Klasky, Gábor Csupó, and Paul Germain

and the episode “A Rugrats Chanukah” written by J. David Stem and David N. Weiss
Illustrated by Kim Smith
(Quirk Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8) 

“In time for the Rugrats’ 30th anniversary, and 25th anniversary of the beloved Chanukah Special” comes a picture book version sure to be a hit with the whole family. And I for one could not be happier being reminded of the first time I watched the episode, then several years later sharing it with my children. Even if you never saw the special, A Rugrats Chanukah brings the entertainment to you in a 40 -page larger format picture book with illustrations by Kim Smith that make it feel as if you’ve stepped inside the original program and are watching like a fly on the wall.

Unfamiliar with the story? The story starts with funny endpapers that introduce readers to the main characters as a menorah sits atop a TV set. The Rugrats (Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, Lil, and Angelica) are at Tommy’s house and his mom is preparing the latkes. Meanwhile, Grandma Minka reads the little ones a story about Hanukkah (Chanukah in this book) where they learn about the bravery of Judah Maccabee. Here’s where one of my favorite lines appears. “A Maccababy’s gotta do what a Maccababy’s gotta do!” But Grandma Minka doesn’t finish the story and the babies speculate what all the activity going on at Tommy’s house, thinking it has something to do with birthdays. That’s when Tommy is close to blowing out the candles when Angelica stops him. 

Everyone heads to the synagogue to see Tommy’s Grandpa Boris in a play about the meaning of Chanukah only the Rugrats mishear and think the play is about “The meany of Chanukah!” The babies decide they must help Grandpa Boris and save him from the meany. The funny misunderstanding is further exacerbated when the meany accidentally collides with Angelica and makes her cry. Now the babies must put their plan into actiongetting the meany to fall asleep by reading them the Chanukah story. Will the Rugrats succeed? Like the miracle of Chanukah itself, the babies end up lighting the way and bringing everyone together in a heartfelt ending that is as warm and comforting as latkes with applesauce!


THE GOLDEN DREIDEL
Written by Ellen Kushner
Illustrated by Kevin Keele
(Charlesbridge; $15.99, Ages 7-10)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

This chapter book is a fast, entertaining Hanukkah read that feels more geared toward the younger readers in its category. Kushner blends fantasy and adventure with contemporary elements after introducing us to the main character, Sara, and her big extended family.

When the story opens Sara is admiring all the Christmasy decorations in her neighborhood. She’d love a tree, too, but her mom explains that Jews don’t have Christmas trees. Sara simply is not convinced that Hanukkah (Chanukah in this book) is anything special. “Why can’t we just have the same stuff as everyone else for once?” 

Sara, her mom, and her annoying older (though not by much) brother, Seth, are off to Aunt Leah’s house for a sleepover Chanukah party which neither sibling is keen to attend. Along with their cousins, Sara and Seth play dreidel, a game Sara finds boring, a foreshadowing of what’s to come. The party is in full swing when mysterious Tante Miriam shows up out of the blue and with more foreshadowing says, “It’s been some trip! Deserts, mountains, rivers . . . I crossed the Red Sea with all the rest. On the shore I danced, and then I sang and beat my drum and tambourine. . . . And then I collected a few things—you know, for the children.” From her immense satchel, Tante Miriam pulls out presents for the children. Sara, the last to get a gift, receives an oversized golden dreidel much to her displeasure. Before long, she and Seth are fighting over it when she accidentally throws it at the large plasma TV, shattering it. While Sara is to blame, all the kids get sent to bed.

Unable to sleep, Sara heads downstairs where she is distracted by a glowing light near the TV. That’s when she is transported through the cracked TV to a fantastical land by a girl with “crazy golden hair and sparkling eyes” who is totally into spinning. It turns out Tante Miriam’s dreidel gift is actually this very girl or Dreidel Princess, daughter of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. Once through the portal, it doesn’t take long for the Dreidel Princess to be kidnapped by demons who have escaped Solomon’s Cave. In this spin on The Nutcracker, rather than waging battle against an evil Mouse King, Sara finds herself needing to fight the Demon King, Ashmedai, to rescue the princess he has captured upon her return from Sara’s world. On her colorful journey to find the Dreidel Princess, Sara meets several interesting characters including the Queen of Sheba (my favorite of all the black and white illustrations). But ultimately it’s the Fool with his repertoire of riddles who provides the most help finding and then taking on the challenge the Demon King poses. Illustrator Keele has drawn the Fool aptly with wild hair, a sock as his hat, and a tie around his waist.

As the Dreidel Princess, this young girl possesses the power of the Tree of Life that her father, King Solomon transferred to her for protection. That power needs to be returned to the tree. Luck has it that the Demon King will let Sara and the Fool have the Princess back if they agree to play the Riddle Game. Readers, who have learned some riddles during Sara’s quest, will be happy to see Sara’s quick thinking stymie the opposition in order to free the Princess. After proving herself worthy of King Solomon’s praise, Sara asks him to help her right some wrongs. Now back at Aunt Leah’s, Sara awakens to a fresh new day with an enlightened perspective on Jewish history, dreidels, and likely will no longer balk at celebrating Hanukkah traditions in the future. Kushner’s book is an engaging read for kids not yet ready for longer middle-grade novels but eager for a satisfying holiday adventure.

 

Click here for last year’s Hanukkah roundup.

Share this:

STEM Picture Book Review – Good Night, Oppy!

 

GOOD NIGHT, OPPY!

Written by James McGowan

Illustrated by Graham Carter

(Boyds Mills Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

 

Good Reads With Ronna is thrilled to be the third stop on the Good Night, Oppy! Blog Tour. I didn’t hesitate to join in when I heard that James McGowan’s debut picture book was about the Mars rover, Opportunity. I live less than a mile or so from NASA’s JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) where the rovers are created, maintained, and communicated with so I was eager to learn more about Oppy. She was first launched in 2003 when I still lived abroad and was raising children, with little time to think about planetary exploration.

 

Good Night Oppy! int1
Interior spread from Good Night, Oppy! written by James McGowan and illustrated by Graham Carter, Boyds Mills Press ©2021.

 

 

In McGowan’s story, he’s anthropomorphized the rover and introduced us to Oppy, one of two rovers on the Red Planet in 2004 searching for signs of past life. He blends the fictionalized narrative of hard-working and fun-loving Oppy, a solar-and-battery-powered robot roaming Mars and reporting back to her handlers on Earth, with fascinating scientific facts on most spreads. Plus, the onomatopoeia of the sound effect “Ping! Ping!” before a command from Earth adds an extra atmospheric touch that kids will enjoy repeating.

Readers learn that Oppy, as an Interplanetary Detective, remained in daily contact with “Teams of scientists and engineers …” who command and operate spacecraft using the Deep Space Network (a system of huge antennae throughout the solar system).  I always wondered how that worked! In fact, my friend’s husband was one of those JPL experts who, among other key responsibilities, received Oppy’s real-life signals on Earth. Equipped with cameras and other equipment for info transmission, Oppy’s job was to photograph and navigate Mars, report back and explore, explore and explore. In fact, over her lifetime she trekked twenty-eight miles providing invaluable information about the Red Planet for scientists and engineers.

 

 

Good Night Oppy! int2
Interior art from Good Night, Oppy! written by James McGowan and illustrated by Graham Carter, Boyds Mills Press ©2021.

 

Having successfully dodged many potential disasters, things changed for Oppy in June of 2018 when she went to recharge her battery. She needed a place where the sun could reach her solar panels unobstructed, but a powerful dust storm approached. Getting a message to Earth was impossible as layer upon layer of dust covered her panels. Oppy’s power was running low. With the sun obscured, she’d be unable to recharge. She managed to outrace the worst of the storm and transmit one last time to Earth before losing power forever.

What a game changer the rovers have been! Some of Oppy’s finds have been groundbreaking including her discovery of the mineral hematite on the surface of Mars meaning that at one time there had been groundwater. Another time Oppy got stuck in a sand dune and the process of getting her out required clever commandeering (see art above). That unfortunate experience also helped future rovers and technicians know what areas to avoid! Oppy was productive and persevered well beyond what the teams had ever expected. McGowan’s Author’s Note explains that both Opportunity and her sister rover, Spirit, were designed for ninety-day missions yet Spirit worked for six years while Oppy “worked for almost fifteen years!”

 

 

Good Night Oppy! int3
Interior spread from Good Night, Oppy! written by James McGowan and illustrated by Graham Carter, Boyds Mills Press ©2021.

 

 

Carter’s expansive illustrations in an array of red tones depict the vastness and dryness of Mars. Spreads are never stagnant and present an expressive Oppy on the go, investigating, soaking up the sun, and receiving commands from Earth that dictate which activities to pursue. I like how several times we’re transported to JPL command central for a different perspective of Oppy’s daily life. And, as the massive storm that ultimately ended Oppy’s career bore down on Mars, I felt sad when Oppy fell silent. By humanizing the rover, McGowan’s made Oppy’s contributions feel that much more important than they already are. Presenting Oppy’s story in this way makes it more compelling to younger readers and those more reluctant to pick up a STEM book. I learned so much and children will too. Such a great way to make kids care about our universe. Thank you and good night, Oppy! If you want to read more about Good Night, Oppy!, check out the other bloggers on the tour listed below.

 

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here for coloring pages.

 

Oppy Blog Tour

Share this:

Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Out of The Blue

 

OUT OF THE BLUE:
How Animals Evolved from Prehistoric Seas

Written by Elizabeth Shreeve

Illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon

(Candlewick; $17.99, Ages 6-9)

 

 

 

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus and School Library Journal

 

Before the text begins, Elizabeth Shreeve’s nonfiction picture book cleverly has readers guess, among hippos, dolphins, and sharks, which two animals are the closest relatives? For the answer, you’ll have to read Out of the Blue: How Animals Evolved from Prehistoric Seas.

e

 

Out of the Blue int1
OUT OF THE BLUE. Text copyright © 2021 by Elizabeth Shreeve. Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Frann Preston-Gannon. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

e

Shreeve impressively chronicles life on Earth from its beginning until present. Yet, for such an intricate topic, her kid-friendly text is easy to follow. Readers wanting more data can reference the time periods (noted at the bottom) or learn from the notes accompanying various creatures. The back matter includes sources and further reading.

The illustrations by Frann Preston-Gannon add drama and dimension showing lava-flowing eruptions and the starkness of what scientists call the Great Dying when temperatures soared and life perished. However, most of the art depicts brightly colored celebrations of the wonderful creatures that have inhabited our planet. I like how sketches are used in the sidebar to demonstrate, for example, the size of a prehistoric dragonfly in comparison to a human. (These insects grew huge because of the abundant oxygen levels.)

 

 

Out of the Blue int2
OUT OF THE BLUE. Text copyright © 2021 by Elizabeth Shreeve. Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Frann Preston-Gannon. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

 

e

Information is conveyed in an exciting manner, encouraging page turns to discover the changes of life on Earth while also learning the answer to the opening question. This comprehensive reference book will engage curious young readers.

 

 

NOTE: I received the book for free from Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.

 

Share this:
Back To Top