In Charlotte Offsay’sdebut picture book, The Big Beach Cleanup, the main character, Cora, is looking forward to the upcoming Crystal Beach Sandcastle Competition which she intends to win. So you can imagine her disappointment when a sign at the beach says it’s “Postponed due to beach conditions.” And what are those conditions you might wonder? The ever-growing problem of plastic and other kinds of trash that wash ashore from the ocean in addition to being left by people are ruining our beaches.
Together with her mom, the pair clean up what they can but four hands will never be enough. The next day Cora and her mom return, this time with Grandpa in tow, but the task of collecting the vast amount of litter and empties feels daunting for just six hands to tackle. Cora’s grandfather also explains how animals mistake the trash for food which further concerns the little girl. Clearly this pollution is wreaking havoc on the environment and its inhabitants. Then Cora comes up with a plan.
Maybe six hands aren’t enough to pick up all the trash, but many hands might be. So Cora creates flyers to post all over town with her mom’s help. When initially people don’t seem to respond to the flyers, Cora’s mom explains that people are busy and there are lots of ways to reduce trash such as cutting back on one-use items and not littering.
Undeterred, Cora continues to ask friends and neighbors to help her in a big beach cleanup and soon “more and more and more hands joined together.” So many people pitch in for this community effort initiated by one very motivated and caring young girl that before long the competition is back on! And though ultimately Cora does not win the contest, she can claim a much bigger and enduring prize—the knowledge and self-satisfaction of having made a difference.
Katie Rewse’s art is at once simple yet expressive and optimistic for a topic like pollution. Her emphasis on conveying the variety of garbage that washes up on the beaches and is left by humans will help children get a good sense of what a big mess the trash, especially plastics, is causing for our planet.
Offsay shares important and easy-to-grasp information for young readers to learn in a relatable way. After seeing how the abundant beach litter disrupts the sandcastle event, children will hopefully realize the impact that they as individuals can have and feel empowered to fight for the cleanliness of our oceans and our beaches. Perfect for Earth Day, The Big Beach Cleanup would also be a welcome year round read for homes, schools and libraries who view environmental conservation not as an option, but as a necessity. An added bonus to buying the book is that all author proceeds from the book are being donated toHeal the Bay.
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New York Times best-selling authorDavid Elliott’s latest picture book feels like a classic.In the Woodsspotlights fourteen woodland animals, capturing their essence in verse. I appreciate the inclusion of favorites such as the bear, fox, and raccoon but even more so the animals we may not know much about. My favorite of these outliers was the fisher cat: “Does not like fish. / Is not a cat. / I don’t know what / to make of that. / But when you are / as fierce as she, / there’s no need for /consistency.” This seeming puzzle is explained in the back matter where relevant and interesting facts elaborate on the poems. For example, it takes five to six sprays to deplete a skunk’s scent, then about ten days to produce a new batch.
The poems are easy to approach for young readers, using simple ideas plus humor. Kids may be surprised a poem can be two words. “The Moose”: “Ungainly, / mainly.” Or that the words in poems can be manipulated, adding to their depth. The millipede poem has a blank space running down the middle; some words are broken to create effect. As kids in this book’s age range are beginning to learn about verse in school and tasked with writing some themselves, Elliott’s poems introduce poetry in a fun, playful manner.
Rob Dunlavey’saccompanying art, done in watercolor and mixed media, adds another level to each glimpse. Echoing the woodland theme, the pictures speak of nature yet cleverly placed highlights or splashes of color guide your eye to what’s important: the flight of the scarlet tanager, the inquisitive muzzle of a raccoon, or the dangerous headlights that will just miss the porcupine crossing the road. The illustrations are big, memorable, and beautiful.
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Did you know Srinivasa Ramanujan was one of the greatest mathematicians the world has seen? I didn’t, but was thankful to come across The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity by Amy Alznauerand learn a little bit about this man whose amazing accomplishments are still studied today.
Born in a small South Indian village in 1887, Ramanujan began questioning the world at an early age: “What is small? And what is big?” He spent endless hours writing and erasing on his slate, trying to capture his thoughts about numbers and size. “Ramanujan was a number theorist, a person who studies the properties and patterns of numbers.” This book’s examples make these large concepts easy to understand such as when Ramanujan takes food to the man by the river who claims to see odd creatures that aren’t there. To this, Ramanujan says, “Sometimes even invisible things can be real.” Kids can relate to this while their parents have a greater understanding of what Ramanujan meant.
This self-taught genius felt alone with his thoughts until reaching out to Cambridge University in England because of its great mathematical center where he finally connects with top mathematician, G. H. Hardy (whose pamphlet on infinity Ramanujan had recently discovered). Just six years after making that connection, Ramanujan died in 1920, at the age of thirty-two. “The profound originality of his ideas has been a source of inspiration for mathematicians ever since.”
Daniel Miyares’s lovely illustrations show us Ramanujan’s India blended skillfully with the boy’s thoughts. One of my favorite scenes discusses how numbers whisper to Ramanujan in his sleep; he tries catching ideas before they disappear. The accompanying art has multiple images of Ramanujan leaping and climbing on numbers, set against a night sky. Get this book for the kid in your life with big thoughts—whether anyone else can see them or not.
Click here to order a copy of The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity. e Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks! e Recommended Reads for the Week of 10/19/20
Every two-page spread offers a question. In “Can Forests Make It Rain?” we realize that, indeed, some trees do just that. “Do Trees Sleep at Night?” intrigued me; with no sun, trees take a break and let their branches droop until daylight. Kids will get a kick out of “Is There a Forest Internet?” discovering that fungi help trees relay messages to each other through liquid in the roots. I couldn’t put this book down, enjoying unique information including the more typical topics such as respiration, hydration, and reproduction.
Subjects are grouped for easy reference while full-color photos, sidebars, and short quizzes keep readers interested. This fun, gorgeous book is nonfiction at its best because it doesn’t feel like learning at all. The “Try This” sections are some of my favorites. I definitely want to blow bubbles out of a birch log!
Wohlleben’sdecades in the forest service and love of nature enlivens this topic. Showcasing trees allows us to appreciate their amazing abilities and care about their conservation. Grab your kid and explore nature, finding an educational adventure as close as your own backyard. A free Companion Guide for Teachers and Parents is available here.
Holly loved experiments. But not today. It was slime day. And she didn’t want to touch anything sticky.
My son has sensory processing issues which we first noticed when he was a baby. He cried when hearing the vacuum cleaner, coffee grinder, car horns, and blaring music. As he got older he also actively avoided loud people, shouting and rough and tumble behavior from his peers. These were not the only things that clued us into his sensory challenges. He didn’t like touching sand or walking on it, and never got into Play Doh, unlike his older sister, because of the smell and consistency. His diet was and still is limited, but he’s faced a lot of these sensory issues head on and has learned ways to adapt. He even traveled to Japan last summer, tried a host of new foods and was flexible when encountering the many different customs there.
Not everyone understands the challenges that children face with sensory processing issues that often accompany autism. Author Jen Malia, a woman who lives with autism and sensory issues does. It’s fantastic that Too Sticky!is available to help open people’s eyes and to encourage empathy for kids coping with sensory stimuli that can be overwhelming, and even immobilizing at times. You may also not be aware that it’s not as easy to recognize in girls.
We meet the main character, Holly, at breakfast time at home. Lew-Vriethoff’s expressive and upbeat illustrations offer an excellent example of how kids like Holly react negatively to something that to other kids may seem like nothing—getting sticky pancake syrup on her hands. From both the art and prose, readers know immediately what makes this young girl uncomfortable. Holly is also reminded that “her science class would be making slime today” which gets her worrying.
What’s also terrific in this same scene is how Holly’s older sister, Noelle, is understanding and apologizes after her fork falls on the floor making a loud and sudden noise. Here Malia adds that Holly replies, “It’s okay,” because that social skill was taught to her by her father. Family support, guidance and modeling acceptable behavior are crucial for children on the spectrum.
At school, Holly’s mother explains to her second grade teacher, Miss Joy, that during slime play, Holly would like to have soap and water at her desk because “She doesn’t like sticky hands.” I remember having to discuss these same types of things with my son’s teachers since my son wasn’t old enough to self-advocate.
Throughout the school day, Holly dreads the approaching slime time. In fact she’s unable to focus on much else. She begins the science experiment reluctantly with the less difficult portion sensory-wise. Miss Joy then finds a clever way to get the overly cautious student to feel curious and involved. Her encouragement and compassion are evident in her dialogue and her poses. What could have been an upsetting experience turns out to be a positive one. It helps, too, that Holly’s not teased by her classmates and that her accommodations have been taken into consideration.
Since the main character experiences “the world differently” than her neurotypical classmates, readers see that it’s hard for Holly to navigate the many uncomfortable situations she faces at school. Her sensory issues and autism color a lot of her reactions and moods which is quite common. While the premise of Too Sticky! may appear straightforward and easily resolved, for children like Holly, such is not the case in real life.
Malia adds a candid Author’s Note describing how both she and her daughter live with Autism Spectrum Disorder and her goal in writing the picture book. With one out of every fifty-nine children in the U.S. diagnosed with ASD, it’s important more children, parents, teachers and caregivers learn about how these children experience the world. With Holly, readers on the spectrum can see a mirror on themselves. Too Sticky!is the ideal read not only for parents and children with these sensory issues, but for anyone wanting to understand the experience and struggles kids like Holly deal with on a daily basis. The backmatter also includes an easy slime recipe perfect for indoor science activities and silliness.
FLASH AND GLEAM Written by Sue Fliess Illustrated by Khoa Le (Millbrook Press; $19.99, Ages 5-8)
★Starred Review – Booklist
There’s more to light than meets the eye and Flash and Gleam: Light in Our Worldby Sue Fliesswith illustrations by Khoa Le makes that apparent and oh so interesting with every page turn. This read-aloud, rhyming nonfiction picture book introduces young readers to four diverse children, their light-filled lives and holidays, as well as the science behind light.
Fliess’s spare and poetic text takes us from morning, noon and night as we see wake up time, gardening, thunderstorms, birthdays, sunsets and rainbows, excellent examples of how light is at work in its myriad and miraculous forms.
I love how the words and art work so wonderfully together to convey the story of light in such an accessible way. It would be easy for kids to follow along just by looking at Le’s lovely illustrations with their warm tones and expressive poses. But Fliess’s poetic stanzas, “Flicker/Feel/Help us heal” (a family lighting candles at a sidewalk memorial), or one of my favorites, “Float/Guide/Far and wide” (visiting a lighthouse by boat), gently share the magic of light in a meaningful and repeatable way. Whether watching fireflies or enjoying a campfire, the scenes throughout Flash and Gleam show how light fills our lives with amazement, energy, entertainment and so much more.
Helpful back matter delves deeper into “The Science of Light” by breaking down the topic into six sections including What is Light?, Lightning, Rainbows, The Northern Lights, Fireflies, and Moonlight, all things that the four children experienced on the previous pages. Intermittent factoids shed light on fun facts: When you are looking at a rainbow the sun is always directly behind you! There is also a section called Light and Celebration where children can learn about the varying ways light is associated with certain holidays such Thailand’s Yi Peng and its “fire-powered rice paper sky lanterns.”
Flash and Gleam will be a welcome read at home, in classrooms or at the library. Not only is the subject matter fascinating, but how it’s presented will spark children’s curiosity about the light all around them, every day, everywhere.
In Earth Hour, an exquisite and educational book, Nanette Heffernan and Bao Luu take us around the world to glimpse people of many cultures using energy. From the simplicity of the lamp next to a child’s bed, to the grandeur of the pyramids in Egypt illuminated at night, the book beautifully and succinctly introduces children to the ways we, as people of the earth, use electricity. The text goes on to describe a world-wide celebration called “Earth Hour”. Back matter goes into detail. Started in 2007, this annual lights-out celebration, now managed by the World Wildlife Fund for nature (WWF), is observed at 8:30pm local time on a Saturday night in March (this year it’s March 28) near the equinox. It is celebrated on all seven continents, in almost every country, and involves millions of people as they turn off their lights for one hour as a pledge to live more sustainably and to conserve energy. (www.earthhour.org)
Heffernan’s friendly and inclusive text along with Luu’s detailed multi-generational, multi-cultural illustrations leaves lots of room for teachers and librarians, parents and guardians to talk to children about the importance of planetary conservation and climate change. The book will will no doubt spur many interesting and meaningful conversations and activities, not the least of which would be to participate in the event itself! The message of togetherness and unity at the end is uplifting and inspiring.
Bao Luu’s bold illustrations have a slightly retro feel, with high contrast scenes using rich tones of blues, greens and purples accented with golds, yellows and pinks. City lights and reflections pop against the deep hues, effectively showing the lights-out hour when the same settings are repeated without them. Starry skies remain throughout, emphasizing the fact that, as Heffernan states in the back matter, “here’s one thing we have in common: Earth is home to us all.”
Guest Post by author-illustrator Molly Ruttan
Molly Ruttan’s illustration debut, I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner from NorthSouth Books had its book birthday on September 3, 2019, and has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly’s author-illustrator debut, THE STRAY, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House in May 2020. Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art. She lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Find Molly online at www.mollyruttan.com, on Twitter @molly_ruttanand on Instagram @mollyillo
Do you know what GORP stands for? Or that thimbleberries are a real thing? Or that you can plant a Three Sisters Garden using corn, beans, and squash which naturally help each other grow? Alison Farrell’spicture book,The Hike, shares many such fun and fascinating facts in this story of sisterhood among friends who share a deep love of the outdoors.
Since there is much flora and fauna to see, the hike starts off with a bang as friends Wren, El, and Hattie “run like maniacs.” But the plot slows down, too, so the girls can enjoy a bounty of thimbleberries (which I learned is NOT a make believe snack for Thumbelina or forest fairies) and a lesson on how to make leaf baskets (that this city girl would love to try making). Joining the group are Bean, the dog, and a curious little chipmunk who follows along and seems to play a hide and seek game with us readers, adding another level of entertainment and adventure to the story.
As the hikers face certain hardships on their journey their camaraderie grows stronger. We see values of kindness, perseverance, mindfulness, and respect as they help each other maneuver difficult terrain, find their way back to the trail, and stay present in their beautiful surroundings. The celebration at the top of the mountain also highlights everyone’s unique and important contribution to the group: Wren raises her flag, “El reads her poem, and Hattie releases feathers into the wind.”
I appreciate, too, Farrell’s gentle nod to poetry. In the opening page of the story, we see in El’s room a poster of Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver, and later El working on a poem during a break from the hike. This emphasis on the strong connection between the natural world and the written word brings us closer still to the wealth of wonders the outdoors offer. Even as the friends’ hike comes to an end in the early evening hours, they marvel at the constellations.
The Hikeis the kind of book readers can curl up with to enjoy all its lovely details (and there are many!). Farrell’s labels of the animals and plants on every page plus notes from Wren’s sketchbook in the back matter will inspire readers to visit the book again and again to see what they’ve missed. Rendered in gouache, ink, and pencil, the warm illustrations showcase varying shades of that unmistakable green of the Pacific Northwest.
Grab a sketchbook, a bag of GORP ( hiker lingo for trail mix), and your little one’s hand. Nature is calling.
From the moment you open this beautiful picture book and see the textures and tones of the end pages, you know you are in for a treat! Written in expressive rhyme,Numenia and the Hurricane by Fiona Halliday tells the harrowing story of a young whimbrel (a large and elegant northern shorebird) named Numenia, who becomes separated from her two siblings and the other migrating birds when a powerful hurricane rips her away from them. The detour leaves Numenia weak, tired and lost, but she manages, with the help of a kind stranger and strong instincts, to literally weather the storm and reunite with her family.
Fiona’s artwork is graphic, stylized and bursting with layers and texture. Her treatment of the birds is so delicate that it makes you want to reach into the paintings and feel their feathers. The color palette shifts as Numenia’s journey—both emotional and external—progresses, from the pale and stormy blues of the skies at the beginning to the rich yellows and greens of her final destination. The juxtaposition of soft and sharp edges along with bold shapes, fine details, and great use of perspective makes each page a visual delight.
In the back matter readers will find the true story which inspired the book. Between 2009 and 2011 scientists from the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary tracked whimbrels in order to learn about their migration. In 2011 scientists witnessed a bird called “Hope” fight her way her way through a dangerous storm for 27 hours, non-stop, and survive. Fiona Halliday recounts the event as a beautiful tale of courage, strength, persistence and joy. Her poetic language combined with her stunning illustrations will inspire children to revisit this book again and again.
Guest Review by Molly Ruttan
Visit the publisher, Page Street Kids, website here.
For Halloween or any day for that matter, Skulls! will entertain young readers with its eye-opening facts and fun watercolor illustrations featuring oblong faces and childlike representation.
Blair Thornburgh’s hit the nail on the head with this unique picture book that introduces kids to an important part of the human body via an adorable young narrator. Made up of twenty-two different smaller bones, the skull accounts for “about 10 percent of our body weight” but we often don’t think about it. When we do, as Thornburgh points out so perfectly, it’s absolutely amazing, kind of gross and thoroughly entertaining.
We tend to take for granted how a skull is “like a car seat for your brain,” keeping it safe and in place. It’s also actually full of holes otherwise it would be so much heavier. “But most important of all: skulls are not trying to be scary.” Once kids learn about all the cool skull-related things shared in Skulls!, they’ll probably want to share them with you, especially the jaw and mouth ones. And when they do, they’ll probably ask for a grilled cheese sandwich which means they’ve learned something. After they’ve eaten they’ll probably thank you for helping their “skull grow hard and strong.” In turn, you can use your mandible bone and connecting muscles to smile.
Happy Halloween, Pirates! is a large-sized, kid-friendly, 18-page lift-the-flap board book that’s a rollicking, rhyming read aloud for Halloween. Toddlers will love hearing the story then peeking under the flaps to see what treasures the illustrator has buried beneath.
Shiver me timbers! A pirate crew receives an invitation via crow to a Halloween party. The action starts immediately as they and assorted pirate ship creatures (a cat, some mice) plan their costumes.
Next the pirates go ashore to have some fun with friends galore. They find the haunted party house and join in the festivities. Whoa! The kids who invited their sea-faring pirate pals surprise them by dressing up as pirates themselves on board a mini pirate ship! Between the flowing rhyme, the interactivity of the flaps and the vibrant artwork, children will stay entertained this Halloween as they play with and say Happy Halloween, Pirates! And who doesn’t enjoy a pirate party?
My level of manageable frightening can be found in Ghastly Ghosts. This pleasing and well paced rhyming picture book starts off by setting a Halloweenish mood, but the main character, Old Dave, refuses to be scared by the moaning noises emanating from coal shed. The rhyme works wonderfully in moving the story forward with a subtle upbeat vibe so as not to make little ones’ (or my) hair stand on end. The art style is appealing with a lovely palette that also keeps the fright level slight.
Old Dave wishes for some company as it gets lonely up in the middle of nowhere which is exactly where he lives. But alas, no one goes out on a night so dark and freezing, and if they do it’s not to the place where a ghostly choir can be heard loudly saying, “Ghastly ghosts in the old coal shed!” Oh how I admire Old Dave’s guts. Rather than cower at the scary sounds, our hero faces off with the spirits who he reckons might also enjoy the warmth of his cottage once he replenishes his coal supply. Still more of the “Ghastly ghosts …” chorus erupts, but they’re interrupted by brave Old Dave. “I know. I do. I’d like to bet you’re cold ghosts too.” Together with the ghosts, Old Dave’s coal pail gets filled and everyone is welcome in his now warm and cozy place. “In fact, they’re quite good company. His friendless nights are history.”
Clever Little Witchis more of a sibling tale than a Halloween one, but since witches abound during this season, it still feels appropriate to share. Plus Thi Van has written a story that will definitely resonate with older kids who’d like nothing more to get rid of their younger siblings.
In this charming picture book narrated by Little Linh, we learn instantly from her that she’s “the cleverest little witch on Mãi Mãi Island” if she does say so herself! She tells us what she needs which are a broomstick, a book of spells and a rare and magical pet. What she doesn’t need is an annoying baby brother who does things like ride her broom without asking, chew pages from her spell book or use her magical mouse “as a flashlight.” Yup, the little guy’s gotta go!
Baby Phu is offered around by his older sister, but no one on the island has any desire to take her little bro off her hands. Nope, not the troll, not the forest fairy queen and not the Orphanage for Lost and Magical Creatures. Youngsters will get a huge kick out of these scenes when the reasons why Baby Phu is rejected are explained. The troll, for instance, got hiccups from the last baby brother he ate.
When Little Linh turns to her magical book of spells she sees that “Baby Phu had eaten half the spell.” Clever as she was, she could certainly figure out what the rest was and transform her brother into a goldfish. When the spells go awry and she creates first a frog, then a seal and finally a dragon that steals her wand, things are not looking good. The story’s heroine chases the dragon on her broom. But when the dragon’s tail accidentally knocks down the broom and Little Linh begins falling, guess who comes to her rescue before she crashes to the ground? YES—the dragon, much to her surprise! Does the dragon stay a dragon or does he turn back into Baby Phu who becomes more appreciated? Ahh, you’ll have to visit Mãi Mãi Island to see for yourself! Hyewon Yum’s illustrations of acrylic gouache and color pencil are full of energy. The variety of colors she uses exudes a warm and happy feeling with every page turn. What a sweet, humorous and imaginative sibling story to share with kids!
Ginny is a force of nature and, though perhaps not the best role model for children, will definitely make them laugh and maybe even answer back to the narrator speaking right to them, and that’s just what an ideal read aloud like Ginny Goblin Cannot Have a Monster for a Pet should do.
As I read this picture book, the follow-up to Ginny Goblin is Not Allowed to Open This Box, I thought about a little girl some 22 years ago. No matter what her parents told her, she’d do the opposite. I always worried about her, but she’s actually doing great now that she got all those wild escapades out of her system … and a horse as a pet.
What’s so fabulous about this story is that Ginny’s crazy antics ultimately get her just what she wanted in the first place which is a goat, a non-monsterish pet unlike all the unbelievable others she goes in search of page after riotous page to drive her point home. Whether it’s on a beach where the narrator hopes “she’ll find a tropical fish, or a cute little hermit crab,” Ginny always has something else in mind and goes for it. In one case that means going into the deep, dark sea in a submarine seeking a kraken. We’re reminded that krakens “are unfathomable monsters, and Ginny Goblin cannot have a monster for a pet.” I can just hear the kids at story time repeating that phrase and loving it.
So what do you suppose happens next? You guessed it, as will young readers. Down she goes into a cave in search of a dragon. That sized pet won’t fit in a house will it? So of course Ginny’s taken to a forest where birds who make great pets live. Ha! Instead Ginny catches a basilik, but a magical pet isn’t the answer either. If you think she’s done thinking about getting a monster for a pet because she’s distracted by a visit to a space museum, think again. Ginny commandeers a rocket to outer space where an acid-spitting alien is on her agenda but not the narrator’s.
Goodner skillfully brings the readers and Ginny back to Earth where the idea of a pet like a goat is suddenly looking a lot better than it originally did! Paired with Thomas’s whimsical gouache and pen-and-ink artwork, Goodner’s prose take youngsters on an amusing and mischievous journey that will delight them and anyone lucky enough to read the story to them.
THIS IS A SEA COW Written and illustrated by Cassandra Federman (Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
This Is a Sea Cow, the debut picture book by Cassandra Federman, will have kids laughing out loud at story time especially at the lines about how much a sea cow weighs, how her milk “squirts out of her armpits!” and the size of their brains. Federman knows how to quickly pull her readers into this funny and informative story about the popular underwater mammal perhaps better known as a manatee. The titular sea cow actually prefers to be called a manatee for multiple reasons kids will learn about. Fact: Happy faces plastered with huge grins will appear throughout the duration of this book.
One thing I particularly adore about This Is a Sea Cow is the format Federman uses. The story unfolds as a child’s school book report about sea cows. Soon, however, the sea cow, who is the subject of the report, begins responding to the facts presented. This interactive approach is certain to engage young readers. I’m guessing they’ll start talking back to the book much like the audience does in an English pantomime.
At first the adorable blue-crayon-colored sea cow disputes most of what the student writes when it’s not complimentary. Fact: weight of 1,000 pounds. Response: “Hey! That’s personal information.” With each eagerly awaited page turn, youngsters will note how the student author highlights a fact or two the sea cow cannot disagree with. There’s the small size of its brain (see bottom illustration) and how small-brained explorers thought sea cows were mermaids. The report’s flattered blue subject basks in being considered the mythical water nymph. Those irresistible illustrations are some of my faves.
The book’s colorful, kid-like artwork cleverly incorporates a variety of features guaranteed to keep a child’s interest. There are speech bubbles (just some of the bubbles they’ll read about … the others being gassy ones), hand lettering, hand drawings, and paper cutouts. Interspersed with these are photos of real objects such as scissors, crayons, shells, staples, paper clips and a backpack.
The pleasing twist at the end will charm children who, like the second grade writer, easily fall for the sea cow, small brain, gassiness, toenails and all! And if that’s not sweet and silly enough, several other cute creatures chime in after being mentioned. Federman’s adept use of kid-friendly prose in this light-hearted look at the much-loved manatee will make this a regularly requested read for animal lovers.
Helpful back matter provides kids, parents and teachers with additional interesting info about sea cows like where they live and how fast they can swim. The names of several websites where readers can adopt a manatee or help injured ones are also included. Head over to your local independent bookseller to pick up a copy today and make a manatee (and me) happy.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Find This Is a Sea Cow activities for children on the Albert Whitman website here.
When I was the target age for a book like The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!, if I scraped my knee or bumped my head, my dad would examine the injury and say, “Oh no. We’re going to have to amputate!” It worked every time, turning my tears to belly laughs. Similarly, in this most recent addition to the popular series kicked off by Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Mo Willems tackles first day of school fears with Pigeon’s slightly subversive wit and my dad’s effective approach: identify the worst-case scenario and demonstrate how silly and ridiculous it is.
Pigeon hints he’s worried even before the title page, ordering the reader, “WAIT! Don’t read that title!” After all, why should Pigeon have to go to school? He already knows everything. Also, he’s not a morning person. And if he learns too much — his head might pop off! Looking and feeling very small on the page, he finally admits he’s scared. “The unknown stresses me out, dude.” What is he worried about? “Why does the alphabet have so many letters … Will FINGER PAINT stick to my feathers?” Or the one that really gets me: “What if the teacher doesn’t like pigeons?”
Like other books in the series, the illustrations are spare, with large blocks of pastel colors. All the words belong to Pigeon and are delivered in prominent speech bubbles in a large hand-lettered Courier-style font. There are opportunities for interaction; I can already picture my favorite two-year-old responding to Pigeon’s command, “Go on — ask me a question. Any question!” and then giggling proudly when the next page shows Pigeon is stumped. Pigeon eventually reasons out why school will be okay, but in a fun finish, he really feels it when he realizes how he’s going to get to school: a bright yellow … bus!
If the music teacher, the art teacher, the school librarian, and even the principal of Maple View School didn’t change the rule to allow pets in class, who did? Author Linda Ashman answers that question in Take Your Pet to School Day, but only after chronicling the rowdy behavior of the animal visitors. The lively, easy-to-read verse can be a fun way to start a conversation about why we need rules at school.
Suzanne Kaufman depicts both the human and animal populations at Maple View in colors that feel vibrant, soft, and warm at the same time. The illustrations are full of variety and detail. Kids will find children of every skin and hair color and enjoy inspecting their clothes in pastel solids and rainbow stripes, their high tops and cowboy boots and sneakers. The pets include the expected cat, dog, and bunny, as well as the unexpected: a turtle, a hedgehog, and even an entire ant farm. It’s an adventure just to find the hamster, who rolls somewhere new in its wheel on each page. I can’t recommend taking your pet horse to school, but I heartily recommend Take Your Pet to School Day.
I’M TRYING TO LOVE MATH Written and illustrated by Bethany Barton (Viking Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
As someone who loves math and wants kids to love it, too, I approach I’m Trying to Love Math with caution. Is math going to get a bum rap in this book? The narrator starts off by saying, “If you ask me, math is not very lovable. I know I’m not alone here either. 4 in 10 Americans hate math.” Worried, I study the pie chart right beneath the dreaded “H” word. Sixty percent of the pie is a bright wash of green labeled “YAY MATH!” and adorned with hearts. Forty percent is lemon yellow with “BOO MATH!” above a broken heart. Meanwhile, an adorable purple alien pops up in the corner and asks, “Did you just use math to explain how much you don’t like it?”
What a relief! I can see we’re in good hands here. I’m Trying to Love Math provides a variety of awesome answers to the age-old question: “When will I ever use math in real life?” Baking cookies? Check. Making music? Check. Exploring Earth and other parts of the universe? Check and check. After fun illustrations of ice cream and ships and electric guitars and cash registers—and a whole page of pi—the narrator comes to the conclusion that “math is a part of so many things I already love … I guess I don’t need to try to love it at all. It turns out … I already do.” I recommend this book to all math lovers, especially the ones who think they are haters.
The Broken Bees’Nestby Lydia Lukidis with illustrations by André Ceolin is part of the Makers Make It Work Series. “The goal of each Makers Make It Work book is to pique children’s interest through an engaging story about making, show how it translates to everyday life, and get kids excited about exploring new ideas and creating things with their own hands.” Lukidis has chosen bees and beekeeping as her topic and it’s really quite fascinating since I happen to know a local beekeeper but have no idea what’s involved. Additionally, bee colonies are under constant threat from pesticides and, in certain circumstances even Mother Nature, so we need to pay more attention to helping these invaluable pollinators thrive.
Arun and his little sister, Keya, were looking for the perfect place for a treehouse. When Arun spotted a huge oak he knew it was the one. However there was a catch. A colony of bees had already made that tree its home. Arun also noted that it looked like the beehive was broken. That couldn’t be a good thing. Fortunately for the kids, their neighbor, Dr. Chen, was a beekeeper who kept bees in homemade wooden beehives in her backyard. She also sold honey at the local farmers’ market. She’d know what to do.
Curious and eager to help, Dr. Chen accompanied the siblings to the tree where the broken bees’ nest was located. Keya wasn’t as keen as her brother and worried about getting stung. It helped that Dr. Chen was a pro and recommended wearing protective clothing which she provided for the children. Once she confirmed the comb was damaged, most likely by a honey-loving raccoon, she explained how they’d smoke out the bees. What a cool experience for Arun!
Once they safely secured the Queen Bee and the hive, they brought them to Dr. Chen’s. That’s when it was time to start the fun and very sticky honey prep work.
At home following a busy day, Keya wondered if the bees would be happy in their new home especially now that she and Arun intended to use their old home, the massive oak, for their tree house. Arun had a plan that he felt certain would help his sister feel better. It didn’t hurt that Dr. Chen stopped by the next morning and assured everyone that the bees were adjusting well. She even dropped off a jar of honey the kids had helped package. Lukidis brings the story to a satisfying ending, one that includes the parents, a special picnic and a sweet surprise.
The artwork by Ceolin depicts diverse characters working together both as neighbors and STEM explorers and is a great fit with Lukidis’s easy-to-read and always interesting text. Throughout the 32 pages of The Broken Bees’ Nest, factoids about honeybees are incorporated into little boxes (as shown in several illustrations above) where the info can help enlighten young readers whether mentioning that honey was discovered inside the Egyptian pyramids or what a honeycomb is. Then, in the book’s back matter, there are some questions teachers or parents can ask to engage children once they’ve finished the story. Also included is an educational activity—planting a bee-friendly garden of blue, purple and yellow flowers that are sure to attract some honeybees.
The Broken Bees’ Nest is a leveled reader for the educational market targeting K-3. Kane Press, a division of Lerner Publishing, distributes their books to libraries, and schools. But Lukidis’s book is also available on Amazon for individuals to purchase. Lukidis says “It’s an especially fun read for parents so they can introduce STEM topics to their children starting at a young age.” And I agree! Got a budding beekeeper at home or a child keen on nature and helping our environment? Then order your copy of the bookhere so you and the entire family can begin learning about the importance of bees in our world.
SAVING EMMA THE PIG (The Biggest Little Farm) Written by John Chester Illustrated by Jennifer L. Meyer (Feiwel & Friends; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Last month I had the good fortune to see the delightful documentary, “The Biggest Little Farm” and I’m not kidding when I say my husband thought I’d immediately head home to don overalls and work boots after the film had ended. Yes, I was that enthused but I’d also like to add that you don’t have to have seen the film to appreciate this farm story or the real life characters in Saving Emma the Pig reviewed here today.
Saving Emma the Pig, an utterly adorable 40-page nonfiction picture book just recently released, is going to win fans and perhaps even inspire future farmers and vets once in the hands of young readers. “Based on the award-winning film” by documentary filmmaker John Chester about bringing Apricot Lane Farms to life in Moorpark, California, Saving Emma the Pig is the first in a new series of children’s books. Each book, narrated by Chester, will capture a unique and engaging tale of an Apricot Lane Farms animal and “the special people who care for them.”
Chester’s debut story recounts the true events about a particularly personable and apple-loving pig named Emma. Not just a new arrival at the farm, Emma also happens to be pregnant, and ill. Chester is determined to get her well again so she can properly care for her piglets. The premise here is quite simple yet also powerful, selflessly give love and devotion and it’ll come back to you tenfold. And that’s exactly what Chester, his wife Molly and his team set out to do.
Everyone expects Emma will have a fairly normal sized litter but when she goes into labor, the piglets keep coming. It doesn’t even stop at a dozen. Nope, seventeen piglets are born, close to a record number and quite a feat for a sickly swine. But the poor hog isn’t producing milk so the newborns move into Chester’s “teeny-tiny” farmhouse where they can be looked after while hopefully Emma recovers. There’s just one problem and it’s rather a big one. Emma has no appetite and in order to get better she must eat.
Perhaps offering Emma apples is the way to get her back onto her feet. When this solution doesn’t work and Chester is at his wit’s end, there’s just one last thing to do to save Emma, bring back the piglets. Clearly they were missing their mama and she was missing them because, once reunited, Emma’s health and spirit improve. Together again, Emma and her piglets thrive with the piglets eventually growing up and moving into their own pasture.
It’s here both in art and text that Chester introduces another farm animal, Greasy the rooster, who bonds with Emma. This unlikely and funny friendship is setting the stage for what is sure to be the next book in the series. Meanwhile, John and Molly figure if Emma can handle seventeen little ones, surely they can “raise one of our own,” and an addition to the Chester family is also depicted.
Artist Jennifer L. Meyer’s illustrations are so good that I cannot picture anyone else’s working as well. There’s a warmth that emanates from every page and brings Chester’s charming narrative to life. In the second spread we even spot Greasy taking up much of the left hand page as he watches Emma from a distance following her arrival. I also like that she’s added bees in her artwork. Another spread, with the piglets splashing, burping and slurping in the Chester home, shows Molly and John just outside a window wondering how they will cope with the litter and worrying if Emma will recover. An author’s note on the last two pages details the origin of Apricot Lane Farms, tells a bit more on Emma who now weighs in at seven hundred pounds and includes acknowledgments as well.
Bring the Chester family and the animals of Apricot Lane Farms into your life today. Share the Biggest Little Farm stories with your family to enter the wonderful world of bio dynamic farming where humans and nature are interconnected, helping us to learn about more about ourselves and the world around us.
TREES: A ROOTED HISTORY by Piotr Socha + Wojciech Grajkowski Translated from Polish by Anna Burges (Abrams BYR; $24.99, Ages 8-12)
★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
Large-format middle-grade nonfiction book, Trees: A Rooted History, will engage readers with stunning full-page illustrations and fascinating information. Trees are the largest living things on Earth showcasing nature’s incredible power. They can be seen as sacred but also have practical purposes such as being used for wood or to make paper.
Leaves, roots, seasons, seeds—this we know. But what about tree eaters, tree dwellers, and the animals using trees for camouflage? We learn that the largest-diameter tree is a Montezuma cypress in Santa Maria del Tule, Mexico—so wide that not even twenty adults could link hands around its trunk. And that a quaking aspen in Utah, estimated to be at least 80,000 years old, is both a tree and an entire forest because it originated from a single seed and its root system has formed a 106-acre colony of trees.
There is much to consider in this book. For example, a tree can withstand the rise and fall of several civilizations, or may grow alongside as works of art are created or important inventions are made. It’s fascinating that a 400,000-year-old wooden tool (the sharpened end of a wooden spear) was found in the British town of Clacton-on-Sea and that countless legends and fairy tales are set in forests.
This beautiful book of discovery invites you to flip through its pages, stopping wherever your eye leads you.