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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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.
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.
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.
DON’T LET THEM DISAPPEAR: 12 ENDANGERED SPECIES ACROSS THE GLOBE Written by Chelsea Clinton Illustrated by Gianna Marino (Philomel Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
New York Times best-selling authorChelsea Clintonfollows the success of her previous middle-grade and YA children’s books about the environment withDon’t Let Them Disappear:12 Endangered Species Across the Globe. This 40 page nonfiction picture book shares the important message that “[e]very animal species is unique and important to life on Earth.” Kids learn more about popular animals (lions, elephants, tigers) while realizing they face extinction because of man-made problems such as habitat destruction, climate change, and poaching—a term that’s defined in a way kids can understand.
I like how Clinton weaves together facts including animal group names: towers of giraffes and embarrassments of giant pandas. Fun insights will engage kids; for example, when a sea otter finds a particularly useful rock for cracking open those tough clamshells, the otter will travel with their rock.
The closing pages explain why animals are endangered and how we can help by celebrating them on their special days (i.e., July 14th is Shark Awareness Day), placing trash only in trash cans or recycling bins (recycling helps fight global warming), and planting trees to combat climate change. Don’t Let Them Disappear offers an avenue for reflection and family discussions about the effects our decisions have on animals with whom we share the planet. Clinton’s hopeful words encourage us to act; “We can work together to change the future.”
Gianna Marino’slively art brings out each animal’s beauty and personality. The twelve featured creatures are depicted in various family groupings, warming the reader’s heart. Don’t forget to check under the cover for a bonus illustration!
Today is Earth Day. In fact, today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Back in 1970, the world woke up to the fact that mankind was destroying the planet. Horrible smog covered many major cities. Rain forests were disappearing. The hole in the ozone layer was getting bigger. And many animals were on the brink of extinction.
“Thefirst Earth Dayin 1970 enlisted 20 million Americans and is credited with launching the modern environmental movement. It is now recognized as the planet’s largest civic event and it led to passage of landmark environmental laws in the United States, including the Clean Air, Clear Water and Endangered Species Acts. Many countries soon adopted similar laws, and the United Nations chose Earth Day 2016 to sign the Paris climate agreement.”
Back in 1970, I was a young woman teaching kindergarten in the New York City public schools. I knew that picture books were a wonderful way to educate, entertain, and inspire young children. But what I didn’t know then was that I would write a book to aid in our quest to protect the environment and save the species.
In those days, I often accompanied my husband on his fly-fishing expeditions to pristine mountain streams in the back country of whatever state we lived in at the time. These were areas not yet touched by residential and industrial development. And when I’d grow weary of casting the rod, I’d sit on a rock and be still … so still that after a while, woodland creatures would venture out. In Colorado, otters splashed, falcons circled, and butterflies would flit, flutter, and hover, sipping nectar from wild columbines. I knew then that one day I’d write a story about them, a story that would encourage children and their parents to cherish wildlife and protect their habitats because a world that is safe for wild animals is safe for human beings.
FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK(Pomegranate, Ages 5-8)introduces children to ten endangered animals: river otters, Peregrine falcons, fritillary butterflies, yellow mud turtles, and more. The text is lyrical yet simple enough for the very young. And the illustrations are fabulous original woodcuts by the talented artist Mirka Hokannen. The rich STEM back matter contains facts about each animal and also information about protection of these species and what factors threaten them. There is also a wonderful activity book created by the illustrator, available here forfree download.
Although much work has been done over the last fifty years, there is still so much more to do if we are to leave a legacy of clean water, fresh air, and a healthy planet for our children and for all of the species that live here. Because there is a chain of life that connects us all and, if even one species is threatened, we humans are threatened as well.
There are simple things that parents, teachers, and kids can do together and in the activity book, there are Six Steps to Care for Endangered Animals:
Turn the lights off (less electricity use means less pollution)
Place pictures on your windows (so birds won’t fly into them and hurt themselves)
Reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic bags (animals often mistake plastic for food)
Make your home wildlife friendly (keep garbage out of reach from wild animals)
Plant a native garden (provide food and shelter for wildlife)
Learn about endangered species in your area (so that you can better protect them)
Thank you so much, Ronna, for giving me the opportunity to shout out about EARTH DAY and aboutFOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN. We only have one planet – and we need to take good care of it and all of its inhabitants.
A huge thanks to Vivian for writing her charming picture book and for this enlightening guest post. As global citizens, we are custodians of our world and must pay attention to the signs all around us that climate change, waste, pollution, and the poisoning of our waters with plastics and chemicals will not go away just by wishing it so.
BUTTERFLIES IN ROOM 6: SEE HOW THEY GROW Written and photographed by Caroline Arnold (Charlesbridge; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
Caroline Arnold’s newnonfiction picture book, Butterflies in Room 6, is both an educational and enjoyable read. Its release last week could not have been more timely, especially for those of us living in SoCal who have been privy to a rare treat of nature.
“Those black-and-orange insects that seem to be everywhere you look in Southern California aren’t monarchs and they aren’t moths. They are called painted ladies, and these butterflies are migrating by the millions across the state,” says Deborah Netburn in a March 12 Los Angeles Times article.
If Butterflies in Room 6doesn’t make you want to head back to Kindergarten, I don’t know what will. Arnold takes us into Mrs. Best’s classroom to witness first hand the amazing life cycle of a painted lady butterfly. Colorful and crisp photographs fill the the book and are most impressive when they accompany all four stages of this butterfly’s brief but beautiful life. The first stage is an egg. The second stage is a larva also know as a caterpillar. Following this is the pupa and third stage when the metamorphosis occurs that transforms the pupa into a butterfly. The forth or last stage is when the butterfly emerges as an adult and the cycle will begin again.
A host of illuminating facts are shared in easy-to-understand language complemented by Arnold’s fab photos. Helpful notations on each picture explains the process depicted. Seeing the faces of the delighted children engaged in Mrs. Best’s butterfly project is certain to excite young readers who may also be planning to participate in this “common springtime curriculum activity.” If there is no project on the horizon, this book (coupled with a video recommended in the back matter) is definitely the next best thing.
Obviously a lot goes into raising butterflies and Arnold provides step by step details so anyone thinking about this will know exactly what’s involved. Pictures illustrate the process from preparing the eggs sent via mail, to leaving food for the soon-to-be caterpillars and then shifting their environment to one that is ready for the pupa stage before moving the chrysalis (thin shell) covered pupa into a special “flight cage” that resembles a clear pop-up laundry basket. Ultimately butterflies emerge. This particular part of Butterflies in Room 6 will thrill every reader who has vicariously followed along with the class’s journey. When Mrs. Best allows each child to hold a butterfly before they fly away, whether to a nearby flower or to find a mate, the reader will feel a sense of joy at having been privy to this unique experience. I know I was!
The book contains enlightening back matter including “Butterfly Questions,” “Butterfly Vocabulary,” “Butterflies Online,” “Further Reading” and “Acknowledgements.” Arnold must have read my mind when she answered my question about the red stains on the side of the flight cage. Turns out they are due to the red liquid called meconium, “left over from metamorphosis.”
While the book should certainly find a welcome place on the shelves of schools and libraries, I also hope it will find its way into homes across the country so families can share in the wonder and delight of butterflies that Arnold’s words and photos perfectly convey.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
INTERVIEW WITH CAROLINE ARNOLD
GoodReadsWithRonna: First there was Hatching Chicks in Room 6 and now there’s Butterflies in Room 6. What was the history of how this second book came to be? Caroline Arnold: Several years ago, when I was doing an author visit at Haynes school in Los Angeles, I met Jennifer Best, a kindergarten teacher. Each spring, her students learn about life cycles. Two years ago I spent time in her classroom while they were hatching chicken eggs in an incubator. That resulted in my book Hatching Chicks in Room 6. At the same time, the class was also raising Painted Lady butterflies from caterpillars–watching the caterpillars grow in a jar, turn into chrysalises, and, after a week or so, emerge as beautiful butterflies. It seemed like the perfect sequel to Hatching Chicks in Room 6.
GRWR: Your photos are wonderful. How difficult is it photographing elementary school children whose awe at the butterfly project you capture so well? And the subject themselves – the images of the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis are an eye-opener! How hard was this?
CA: As with the book about chicks, I realized that the best way to tell this story was with photographs. I embedded myself in Jennifer Best’s classroom, which enabled me to follow the process along with the children and get the photos I needed. A challenge was that neither the children nor butterflies stayed still for long! My secret was to take LOTS of pictures. The story takes place in real time, so I had to get the photos I needed as they happened. There was no going backwards. For the close-up photos I raised butterflies at home. Even so, catching a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis isn’t easy. The whole process only lasts about a minute, so I had to watch constantly to catch it in time. And no matter how many times I watched a butterfly come out, it was always miraculous. GRWR: Where do you go to enjoy nature in L.A.?
CA: I am a bird watcher and like to go for walks on the beach and watch sandpipers and other shorebirds skitter at the edge of the waves or pelicans flying in formation. I also enjoy walks on the path along Ballona Lagoon in the Marina, another great place for birdwatching. But, one of the best places to enjoy nature is my own backyard and my neighborhood near Rancho Park. Ever since writing Butterflies in Room 6 I have been much more aware of the variety of butterflies that one can see in Los Angeles—monarchs, swallowtails, painted ladies, white and yellow sulphurs, and many more. Last year I bought a milkweed plant for my garden and was delighted to discover several weeks later monarch caterpillars happily eating the leaves. A surprising amount of nature is around us all the time—we just have to look!
WILD LA: EXPLORE THE AMAZING NATURE IN AND AROUND LOS ANGELES Written by Lila M. Higgins & Gregory B. Pauly with Jason G. Goldman & Charles Hood, Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County (Timber Press, Inc.; $24.95, Ages 10 and up)
Wild LA is an ideal book for a person like me who loves Los Angeles for its many urban activities but needs nature for balance. Consider this new book your go-to guide when tired of the same old thing.
The 332-page full-color book is divided into three parts. The first, “Wild Los Angeles,” reviews ecology and natural history in ten categories such as “Water Writes the History of Los Angeles,” “Fire, Past and Future,” and “Migration” (birds, whales, and insects). “Los Angeles sits right in the middle of a four thousand-mile bird highway, a sort of endless conveyor belt of feathered critters coming and going throughout the year.” Billions of birds use this migration highway each year.
A favorite section for kids—or anyone who likes looking at pleasing pictures—may be “101 LA Species to Know.” Choose from “Birds,” “Insects and Spiders,” “Mammals,” “Reptiles and Amphibians,” “Snails and Slugs.” “Mushrooms, Slime Mold, and Lichen,” and “Plants.” Each category contains gorgeous photos and summaries. For example, male mallards molt (replace their feathers) in the late summer, becoming a duller color, and are flightless for a few weeks.
The final section, twenty-five “Field Trips,” conveniently provides three to four pages of information on each outing, including hand-drawn maps, tips, and trivia. Though I’ve frequented Griffith Park countless times, Wild LA still uncovered a wealth of interesting facts. I wasn’t aware of the three so-called Secret Gardens and will surely search them out on my next walk in the hills.
Locals and visitors alike will find this guidebook useful and a fascinating read. Keep it on hand or use it as a coffee-table book to page through, admiring the lovely photos which adorn every page.
NATURE’S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY Written by Lindsey McDivitt Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen (Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 6-9)
One of the best parts about reviewing children’s books is learning about someone or something new. That’s exactly what happened after readingNature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Storyby Lindsey McDivitt with illustrations by Eileen Ryan Ewen. You may have noticed that there aren’t a lot of traditionally published picture books about people with disabilities, but there are more now than there used to be and that’s a good thing. Authors like McDivitt are making a difference by writing about diverse individuals and topics which I truly appreciate and why I jumped at the chance to review Nature’s Friend.
This inspiring debut picture book biography introduces children to the art and writing of Gwen Frostic, someone about whom, as I mentioned above, I knew nothing prior to reading the book. And now I’m eager to see her art in person and you will be, too. Born in Michigan in 1906, Frostic contracted an illness as an infant that left her physically disabled. But with the positive influence of her mother, Gwen never avoided doing all the things that her brothers and sisters did. “I never knew I couldn’t do something,” is the overarching message of Nature’s Friend, a quote in McDivitt’s book that captures the essence of who Gwen was—a bright, creative and resourceful woman who never let perceived obstacles hold her back. She clearly was ahead of her time.
Gwen’s mother, a former teacher, could have taught her daughter at home because in the early 20th century it was more common for disabled children to stay at home. Instead, Mrs. Frostic “sent Gwen to school and pushed her to learn.” While the bullying might have painful, the young girl chose to focus on her academics and was an adept student. In fact, it was also due to her mother’s encouragement and guidance that Gwen’s weak hands grew stronger as her mother had her practice sketching. Gwen, who had embraced nature at an early age, would find later in life that this experience greatly influenced her career path.
At age 12, Gwen’s family moved to Detroit. It was there in high school that she learned mechanical drawing and other skills not typically part of a girl’s curriculum. Someone wrote in her yearbook, “Her brush, her pencil and her pen will make this world a better place!” But pursuing a career in art wasn’t necessarily going to provide for her. The tides turned in her favor when wealthy and influential people began purchasing her designs. What joy and satisfaction it must have been for Frostic when her art was chosen to be exhibited at the 1939 New York World’s Fair! Soon though her grand plans were put on hold due to WWII. She went to work at the Ford Motor Company to help the war effort by designing “tools for building the airplanes.”
In addition to Gwen’s airplane construction work, at home she remained drawn to art, eventually purchasing a printing press and starting her own business. Frostic called it Presscraft Papers Stationary Company and based it first in Frankfort, Michigan and then on the Betsie River to be closer to nature. The back matter states that Frostic created greeting cards and books that “celebrated Michigan plans and wildlife.” She was awarded countless honors in her lifetime and worked in her shop well into her 90s.
Ewen’s serene artwork conveys Frostic’s love of nature on every page. I also felt the movement and emotion as Gwen clenched her sketching pencil, smelled the fresh Michigan air in the beautifully rendered outdoor scenes and watched the changing fashions go by as Gwen matured. The illustrations, coupled with McDivitt’s honest and uplifting prose that applauds determination and individuality, promises hope and invites creativity (there’s a craft included at the end), make this a wonderful and worthwhile read for not only kids, but for adults too who may be unfamiliar with Frostic.
Everything about Gwen Frostic was unique, from her art to her attitude. Rather than let society define what she could and couldn’t do as a woman and as a person with disabilities, she wrote her own rules and lived happily and successfully by them. Considering the era she lived in, it’s especially encouraging to read about female trailblazers like Gwen Frostic who forged ahead with their talents allowing their heart to guide them.
“As long as there are trees in tiny seeds … there will be miracles on earth.” – Gwen Frostic, A Walk With Me
100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK Written by Kate Narita Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99, Ages 5-7)
FLYING DEEP: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN Written by Michelle Cusolito Illustrated by Nicole Wong (Charlesbridge Books, $17.99, Ages 5-9)
are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Sharpen your math and science observation skills with two new, detail-packed STEM-rich picture books from debut authors.
In100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK, two young summer explorers aren’t bugged by insects at all. They are on a seek-and-find counting quest from the pond to the field to the forest and everywhere in between. Armed with a butterfly net and magnifying glass, the daring duo discover and count an astonishing variety of interesting insects.Naritaemploys bouncy repetitive couplets to keep the mathematical and entomological journey moving at a quick pace in increasing sets of ten.
Kaufman’sbright, colorful collage-style art is engaging and cheerful, adeptly including an impressive accumulation of bugs throughout every page. A beautiful array of wildflowers and plants are also featured, complementing the detailed and intricate insects. Kaufman adds lots of birds and animals as well as an enthusiastic dog who follows the children on their adventures. With so much visual interest, young readers will be captivated. Notes at the end provide additional information on the insects and plants, making this a great STEM book selection.
InFLYING DEEP readers will imagine an underwater journey of exploration with the pilots of ALVIN, a deep-sea submersible. Their mission is to observe and analyze creatures and structures from the depths of the ocean floor, and to collect samples for further research at the surface. Cusolitouses a narrative logbook structure, inviting readers to ponder practical and procedural questions as if they are one of the crew members. What might you eat? How will you breathe? What will you see? Exciting discoveries and the possibility of danger raise the stakes for readers who will soak up this immersive science adventure.
Digital illustrations fromWongenrich this tale with incredible scenes from inside and outside the ALVIN. Realistic details abound, including the amazing variety of sea life and the riveted, technical components of the ALVIN itself. Wong uses light to her advantage, balancing sunlight and ALVIN’s spotlights above and below the ocean surface to focus attention on the stunning discoveries. A glossary, resources for further reading and notes from the author and illustrator round out this unique, informative book.
100 BUGS and FLYING DEEP were both recipients of starred reviews from Kirkus!
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
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