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Picture Book Review and Interview – A Spider Named Itsy by Steve Light

 

A SPIDER NAMED ITSY

Written and illustrated by Steve Light

(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 3-5)

 

BRIEF REVIEW:

Author-illustrator Light’s newest picture book is one that encourages perseverance. Like Dan Santat’s After the Fall, a bevy of books is available showing children that many people need multiple attempts to ultimately succeed and that’s okay.

While I always sang this as the Eensy Weensy Spider, no matter how you’ve sung it, I think you’ll adore the unique approach of this captivatingly and whimsically illustrated picture book! It is such a clever take that imbues the beloved nursery rhyme sing-along with even more meaning. Perseverance and kindness take center stage in this recommended picture book. Read it as a companion to sharing the song with little ones. I can even see it being a jumping-off point for discussions with older kids about how they envision the prequel or sequel to any song they enjoy.

Q&A with Author/Illustrator Steve Light

Q: What drew you to write about this very famous spider?

A: As a teacher of three-year-olds, I was always fascinated that at least half of my class would enter my classroom already knowing the classic rhyme Itsy Bitsy Spider. When I was a kid and sang it I always wondered: Why does the spider go up the waterspout in the first place? What was up there? As a storyteller, this made for an interesting exercise in trying to answer that question. As an illustrator it allowed me to create a whole bug world around Itsy Bitsy Spider.

 

A Spider Named Itsy int1 sitting sipping unaware.
A SPIDER NAMED ITSY. Copyright © 2023 Steven Light. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Q: Did you encounter any challenges while writing or illustrating the book?

A: My first challenge was figuring out a good reason for Itsy to climb up the waterspout. Then how to draw insects that were friendly. Also how do I make the reader care and feel for Itsy as a character? Hopefully, I accomplished all of these. The other challenge was drawing Itsy with eight limbs-I gave him four legs and four arms but it was challenging to draw!

 

Q: Do you have a favorite illustration from the book? If yes, why is that your favorite?

A: I actually love the endpapers. I had so much fun drawing all those bugs. But I also love the page where the bugs are getting washed out. I loved drawing the water and the energy of that page. The water and the way I drew it was influenced by Japanese woodblock prints.

 

Q: Please tell us a little about your illustrating process.

A: All of my illustrations are hand-drawn. There is no computer or digital work in the illustrations. I start with lots of drawings. Designing the characters and the world that they live in, even down to Itsy’s bed, mailbox and teapot. Then sketches for each page. Once we have an approved sketch from my Art Director and Editor I can do full-sized drawings for each page. Then I can go to the finished illustrations. I put the approved full-sized drawing on my light box and place a piece of watercolor paper on top of it. I can then see the drawing and start inking. I use a fountain pen that uses a zebra G nib or point. This nib allows for the thick and thin line variation that gives so much interest to the line work. Then I can watercolor the inked illustration using Daniel Smith watercolors and a sable brush. The “web” lines that Itsy creates were drawn last using an old fashioned dip pen and opaque acrylic ink, a purple color that I custom mixed.

 

 A Spider Named Itsy int2 rain washed out Itsy Bitsy
A SPIDER NAMED ITSY. Copyright © 2023 Steven Light. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Q: Did you need to do any research for this book? If yes, what kind of research?

A: I researched many kinds of bugs and insects for Itsy to meet on his journey. Many of them are fascinating but sadly did not make it into the book. After all the research I picked bugs more for their personality because the story is more about Itsy’s journey and finding a family.

 

Q: What’s your favorite part of the writing and/or illustrating process?

A: I love the start of an idea for a book there are so many possibilities on how the story can be told and illustrated. I also like doing the final illustrations as I love escaping into these worlds. As a kid, that is why I drew, to escape the harsh realities of life. I found hope and peace in the worlds I would create, I still do.

 

Q: If you could only do one or the other, would you prefer the writing or illustrating, and why?

A: I would illustrate. I have been drawing since I was three years old. I draw every day. I also tell stories with my drawings so I feel I would still be “writing” if I had to stop writing words to tell stories, but I love both.

 

A Spider Named Itsy int3 what a mess washed out spider and bugs
A SPIDER NAMED ITSY. Copyright © 2023 Steven Light. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Q: Final Question – what are you hoping your fans will take away re your newest book for kids?

A: I am hoping that they realize that everyone gets “washed out.” The important thing is that you climb back up again.

 

 

WEBSITE:

SteveLightArt.com

SOCIAL MEDIA:

Facebook – Steve.Light.90
Twitter (X) – SteveLight
Instagram – StevLight

 

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Five Children’s Books for Earth Day 2024

 

EARTH DAY 2024

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

 

 

 

Love, The Earth cover Earth with a face watching child.LOVE, THE EARTH
Written by Frances Stickley
Illustrated by Tim Hopgood
(Candlewick Press; $17.99,  Ages 3-7)

In Love, the Earth, by Frances Stickley, our beautiful blue planet promises to take care of us, if only we will take care of it. Scenes unfold showing us all the Earth has to offer: “Please share my food, my lakes, my land . . . / and try to lend a helping hand.” Yet, we also see that the Earth can’t do it without us.

The mixed-media illustrations by Tim Hopgood are lush and layered. The Earth is present throughout, either smiling benevolently or saddened when its land is covered in litter. The book concludes with the Earth signing off, “With All My Love, the Earth,” a heartfelt reminder of how the planet has sustained a truly vast amount of life.

 

Solar Bear cover boy and polar bearSOLAR BEAR
Written by Beth Ferry
Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
(HarperKids; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Booklist

In Beth Ferry’s rhyming picture book, Solar Bear, a magical solar bear gathers bears from around the globe to share stories about species extinction. By shining their glowing light “[on] otters, sloths, and manatees. / On coral reefs and chimpanzees,” they hope to foster a generation of “solar kids” who learn as much as possible about our animals, mindfully use resources, and talk to others to encourage environmental stewardship.

The art by Brendan Wenzel illuminates the animals. This is beautiful but also a preview of how close many of them are to becoming ghosts. When the solar animals interact with children worldwide, the love and hope come through in his illustrations rendered in “watercolor, pencil, acrylic, colored pencil, and pretty much everything else under the sun including an iMac.” While this blurb is funny, it’s also a great representation of pulling together to create. The heartwarming image on the cover sets the tone for this hopeful but urgent request for action.

 

Green: The Story of Plant Life on Our Planet cover boy dog tree.GREEN: THE STORY OF PLANT LIFE ON OUR PLANET
Written by Nicola Davies

Illustrated by Emily Sutton
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

Nicola Davies’s nonfiction picture book, Green: The Story of Plant Life on Our Planet, opens with a line about how the tree pictured doesn’t seem to be doing much, just standing around being big and green. However, we come to find the many fascinating things that trees do from the huge importance of photosynthesis to its opposite: respiration, which keeps our air in balance. We learn the history of how plants have trapped carbon dioxide, changing the air from toxic to inhabitable for all kinds of life forms.

Emily Sutton’s illustrations showcase the color green. One scene shows green existing only on a single rooftop apartment building in a city where industry is upsetting the world’s delicate balance. The story finishes with a heartwarming companion image to the opening one that sums up why green is the “most important color in the world.”

 

Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth cover Sona among plants.SONA SHARMA: LOOKING AFTER PLANET EARTH
Written by Chitra Soundar

Illustrated by Jen Khatun
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 6-9)

In Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth (book two of the Sona series by Chitra Soundar), Sona Sharma’s personality continues to shine. This time, Sona and her friends Renu and Joy learn that the Earth is in trouble. Their teacher, Miss Rao, has them pledge to help look after the planet. Well-meaning Sona takes this to heart and starts making changes at home—without anyone’s consent. Who needs lights? Diapers—no more!

While the story is funny, the reality of this crisis comes through, showing ways we all can pitch in. The setting is vivid as are the characters. I particularly like how much of the plot is centered around the town’s annual kolam-making contest (“traditional designs that people draw in front of their homes to celebrate the winter months and the festival season”). Paatti (Grandma) uses rice flour to make the design but Sona’s other grandmother, the President, includes colored powders, glitter, and plastic decorations. Sona’s determined to stop participants from using artificial, bad-for-the-environment art supplies, but the contest is happening soon and it seems the rules allow these materials. Or do they . . .?

The black-and-white sketches by Jen Khatun throughout bring us right into Sona’s world showing her multigenerational family and the lovely kolam designs.

 

Be a Nature Explorer! cover backpack on grass.BE A NATURE EXPLORER!:
OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES AND ADVENTURES
Written by Peter Wohlleben

Illustrated by Belle Wuthrich
English translation by Jane Billinghurst
(Greystone Books; $12.95, Ages 6-10)

Fans of Peter Wohlleben’s best-selling books about trees will be glad to see he now has a hands-on guide for children in an easy-to-carry size to encourage exploration of nature, Be a Nature Explorer!: Outdoor Activities and Adventures. This illustrated 100-page book contains 52 activity ideas to keep kids busy for many outings, or even when they’re just in the backyard.

“Following Slugs and Snails” is one of my favorites because I find these creatures fascinating. I learned that snail shells almost always spiral to the right (clockwise) and sit on the right side of their bodies. If you find a snail whose pattern runs counterclockwise, they’re called “snail kings”—so exciting, like finding a four-leaf clover! You can even record a snail or slug’s slime trail imprint onto a piece of plastic wrap, then add that to your journal as part of your collection and for further observations.

This fun guide’s pages are enlivened with illustrations by Belle Wuthrich, and photos. This winning combo elevates this book to the top of my list for gift-giving. Pair this welcoming book with a blank journal and watch kids get their nature explorer groove on. Parents will thank you!

 

 

Click here to read reviews from last year’s roundup.

 

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Picture Book Review – A Place for Rain

 

 

A PLACE FOR RAIN

Written by Michelle Schaub

Illustrated by Blanca Gómez

(Norton Young Readers; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

A Place for Rain cover children in rain beside a rain barrel

 

 

From the Publisher: “A spring storm brings the chance to build a rain garden in this charming, actionable picture book about protecting our waterways.”

From Publishers Weekly: “An upbeat problem-solving story…”

 

 

With rhyming verse and bright, colorful illustrations, Michelle Schaub and Blanca Gómez tell an upbeat story of rain

 

A Place for Rain int1 drizzle turns to roar downpour.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

that gives kids a hands-on way to participate in conservation—rain gardens—in the newly released A Place for Rain!

A unique concept in the picture book space, this book would make a great classroom read-aloud for Earth Day or throughout Earth Month to promote environmental awareness.

 

A Place for Rain int2 make a trail of stone or bricks.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

Simple and cheerful illustrations that begin even before the title page fill the book and help encourage page turns.

 

A Place for Rain int3 make room for rain backmatter.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

Backmatter offers a step-by-step guide to help families create their own rain gardens at home, additional conservation resources, as well as a cautionary line to call your utility company before you start digging. A recommended for all who care about our planet.

Click here to download an Educators’ Guide.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Picture Book Review – Harold the Iceberg Melts Down

 

HAROLD THE ICEBERG MELTS DOWN

Written by Lisa Wyzlic

Illustrated by Rebecca Syracuse

(Feiwel & Friends; $18.99; Ages 3-6)

 

Harold the Iceberg Melts Down cover Harold worrying.

 

 

Kudos to Canadian debut author Lisa Wyzlic who has brought attention to climate change, and coping with big feelings in the original, humorous, and heartwarming Harold the Iceberg Melts Down.

 

Harold the Iceberg Melts Down int1 Harold liked to watch documentaries.
Interior art from Harold the Iceberg Melts Down written by Lisa Wyzlic and illustrated by Rebecca Syracuse, Feiwel & Friends ©2023.

 

The story opens with the reader being introduced to sweet, worrier Harold, a small green head of Iceberg lettuce. Rebecca Syracuse’s digitally rendered illustrations, full of whimsy, bring to life the vegetables residing in the refrigerator, and with each page turn the reader finds something new to laugh about. It took a second look for me to notice the television set was resting on a cube of butter (because, after all, it is living in a refrigerator).

One day Harold decides to watch a documentary to help ease his worries and turns on the television to learn that icebergs are melting. Syracuse depicts a variety of stickers placed on fruits and vegetables that we find in the grocery store (also in endpapers art). She illustrates Harold’s sticker with the word ‘lettuce’ partially hidden under a fold so only the word ‘Iceberg’ is visible. “I am an iceberg. See?” He announces to his friends as he stands on an upside-down sour cream container. “Though they didn’t really talk about how I ended up in a fridge…” Subtle humor like this should bring smiles to adult readers.

The other foods listen to his ramblings because sometimes feelings just need to be talked out. He tells Carrot, Tomato, Celery, and the Olives that he could slow down his demise if he moved to the freezer. The only problem is that the freezer is closed and under construction. So he decides it’s best to go to the very back of the fridge. “Maybe it’s colder there?”

 

Harold the Iceberg Melts Down int2 in the dark freezer.
Interior art from Harold the Iceberg Melts Down written by Lisa Wyzlic and illustrated by Rebecca Syracuse, Feiwel & Friends ©2023.

 

The pages turn dark and lonely as he is separated from the slice of pizza and veggie friends. He begins to worry even more. “Why didn’t the documentary tell me how to survive longer?” His friends try to help by telling Harold to count to ten and blow bubbles. He is focused only on the impending doom. While blowing the bubbles another friend from the lettuce family tells him that “he is an iceberg lettuce and lettuce doesn’t melt. ” Ooh, that’s a relief! But Harold begins to realize that even though he is safe real icebergs are melting. “What are we doing to help them?” It is too big a problem for these little guys to make a difference. Harold takes a deep breath and thinks up a plan. The slice of pizza and juice box high-five his idea. Together the refrigerator friends create posters that read Save The Planet and Save Our Bergs (their ability to write made them even more enduring).

Back Matter lists Harold’s Tips to Combat Climate Change which include turning off the tap to save water when brushing your teeth. Another list titled Harold’s Tips for Cooling Down explains the things you can do to release stress and anxiety from your body such as listening to soothing music and getting fresh air. Great tips for social and emotional learning.

Wyzlic’s book offers ideas to help children going through tough moments showing them that no matter how small they may be they have the power to do things to help change the world. I’d love to see this book in classrooms everywhere. It’s also a great read for story times and can spark many interesting discussions. Harold fans will be delighted to know the next book in the series, Harold the Iceberg is Not a Super Food, comes out this summer.

Click here for a downloadable activity kit.
Click here for some coloring pages.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 

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Early Reader Review – Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers

 

 

DIRT AND BUGSY BUG CATCHERS

Written by Megan Litwin

Illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn

(Penguin Young Readers; Available in trade paperback $15.99,
and hardcover, $4.99; Ages 6-7)

 

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers cover two friends ready to catch bugs

 

 

Author Megan Litwin and illustrator Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn have created an Early/Progressive Reader Level 2 book for young readers learning to use picture and context clues, recognize beginning, middle, and ending sounds, and predict what will happen in the text in this sweet story of friendship Dirt and Bugsy: Bug Catchers, Book #1.

The book opens with an illustration of best pals Dirt, who, of course, has dirt on his face, and Bugsy, who is wearing a ladybug t-shirt. Panczyszyn depicts smiles on their faces and arms around each other’s shoulders showing the bond between these friends. Her illustrations are joyful with wonderful detail.

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers int1 bugs that crawl bugs that slide
Interior spread from Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Penguin Young Readers ©2023.

 

Using both short and long sentences, Litwin guides the reader with words that explain the different kinds of bugs the boys like to catch. Bugs that crawl. Bugs that slide. The reader learns about various bugs as they crawl on the boys’ arms and down their legs. Dirt and Bugsy don’t mind. They love bugs!

The action changes when rain begins to pour down on the boys and their bugs. The progressive reader can use the more in-depth plot to figure out how the boys will find a solution to their problem. This is a great way for readers to decipher the problem and come up with a solution.

 

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers int2 Dirt and Bugsy are outside
Interior spread from Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Penguin Young Readers ©2023.

 

Litwin’s words guide children to think about how rain affects the bugs and how they can use their brains to come up with a plan. The plot has been set, and a problem has arisen, so the reader can now stop and think of solutions before continuing to read. This is a fabulous way to teach kids about plot development.

 

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers int3 They spy. They dig.
Interior art from Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Penguin Young Readers ©2023.

 

 

Together the boys decide they can build a shelter and that shelter will be a bug barn. Panczyszyn draws a beautiful, large red barn with a sign that reads ALL BUGS WELCOME as imagined by the pair but when the page is turned, the real bug barn is three cardboard boxes with towels tied to sticks to shield the rain. That problem is solved But now—they have no bugs.

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers int4 they give each bug a room.
Interior art from Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Penguin Young Readers ©2023.

 

 

Setting off individually, the boys spy, dig, lift, and sift placing the bugs in glass jars. They give the bugs individual names and play games until the rain stops. And then the bugs crawl, slide, and fly home. The story ends with talking quotes teaching the reader about quotation marks and dialogue tags.

The back matter outlines How To Be A Good Bug Catcher. I can see kids getting psyched to go out and search for their own bugs. There is also a suggestion for other Level 2 books and some Level 3. Once kids fall in love with the series, they can move on to book #2 in the series, Beetle Mania available now.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Picture Book Review – A Bear, A Bee, and A Honey Tree

A BEAR, A BEE, AND A HONEY TREE

Written by Daniel Bernstrom

Illustrated by Brandon James Scott

(Hippo Park; $18.99; Ages 3-7)

 

A Bear a Bee a Honey Tree cover bear gripping tree near angry bee

 

 

Daniel Bernstrom’s A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree, a rhythmic read-aloud that invites multiple reads, takes children on a journey with a hungry, fuzzy brown bear and a hive of angry bees.

The brown bear is first introduced yawning and stretching at the entrance to his cave, awakening from hibernation. Illustrator Brandon James Scott’s humorous and expressive digital art portrays the bear and his surroundings with glowing and warm woodsy colors. The illustrations, paired with Bernstrom’s engaging alliterative wordplay, motivated me to turn the page to spend more time with these characters.

 

A_Bear_a_Bee_a_Honey Tree int1 bee honey
Interior spread from A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree written by Daniel Bernstrom and illustrated by Brandon James Scott, Hippo Park ©2022.

 

The tree is filled with a honeycomb and lots and lots of busy worker honey bees doing what bees do best, passing the nectar to the house bee. Bernstrom’s words a bee, a busy bee, a honey bee next to the art visually showcase the bees focused on their work. That is until the brown fuzzy hungry bear discovers the gold and yellow bee hive up in the tree. And that’s where the playfulness of the words begins.

The bee eyes the brown bear who is staring up at the green foliage in the tree. The bee’s bulging black eyes and angry eyebrows show he is not happy when next he sees the bear’s bottom side hanging under those same leaves. The bear hangs from one branch and holds on to another while the bee’s angry eyes swirl around him. A busy bear and a busy bee. A cute little bird is intrigued watching the pair.

 

A Bear a Bee a Honey Tree int2 hungry bear
Interior spread from A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree written by Daniel Bernstrom and illustrated by Brandon James Scott, Hippo Park ©2022.

 

When the bear’s paw is pushed into the hive, the bee is not happy. In fact, he is a very angry bee who lands on the bear’s nose, catching him with honey dripping from his lips. Bernstrom’s writing encourages each child to joyfully experience the words of the story.

The bear’s eyes are now the ones that bulge when the bee does what he needs to in protecting his honeycomb. The bee has brought in his colony. A million buzzing bees are drawn with angry faces swarming the bear who unwillingly succumbs by falling out of the tree. The hilarious chase ends at sundown when the bees return to their hive and somewhere a hungry bear returns to his cave.

 

A Bear a Bee a Honey Tree int3 a fretful bee
Interior spread from A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree written by Daniel Bernstrom and illustrated by Brandon James Scott, Hippo Park ©2022.

 

This is a delightful picture book that, even with its spare text, teaches kids about bee and bear behavior with fun rhymes and rich, captivating illustrations that work together so well. Kids will ask to hear A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree over and over, a sure sign to keep the book close at hand.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Children’s Picture Book Review – My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me

MY GRANDPA, MY TREE, AND ME 

Written by Roxanne Troup

Illustrated by Kendra Binney

(Yeehoo Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

My Grandpa My Tree and Me cover granddaughter grandfather sit beneath pecan tree

 

There’s a timeless, feel-good quality to Roxanne Troup’s debut fiction picture book My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me, illustrated by Kendra Binney. After finishing it, I wanted to sit back and imagine myself in the bucolic surroundings where the story takes place.

Binney’s appealing artwork transported me to a pecan orchard for the first time where the action unfolds as a little girl spends time with her grandfather and narrates, “My grandpa planted a tree for me on the day I was born.” She also tells us that, despite having an orchard full of pecan trees, Grandpa’s favorite tree is that particular one, thus establishing the strong bond these two characters share.

 

My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me int1 girl and grandpa spreading mulch
Interior spread from My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me written by Roxanne Troup and illustrated by Kendra Binney, Yeehoo Press ©2023.

 

Through changing seasons starting in winter when it’s pruning time, and the annual growth cycle of the orchard, we learn how pecans mature and are harvested. At the same time, the special relationship between the child and her grandpa exudes from the warm, muted illustrations coupled with Trout’s lyrical prose. I especially felt that each time I read the lovely repeating phrase “But not my tree.” In spread after spread the young girl describes how the other pecan trees are treated en masse as part of the commercial harvesting process, while hers receives individualized care from her grandpa. Together the two tend to her tree with love and respect which also serves as a metaphor for their relationship.

 

My Grandpa My Tree and Me int2 prepping pecans for harvester
Interior illustrations from My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me written by Roxanne Troup and illustrated by Kendra Binney, Yeehoo Press ©2023.

 

At last, when the husks open, it’s harvest time. The joy is palpable on the page. Then “Grandpa attaches a padded arm to his tractor. It hugs the trees’ trunks and shakes until leaves and twigs and pecans rain down.” When it’s her turn and with Grandpa there to savor the experience, the girl uses a long pole to make the pecans drop. The orchard’s pecans will be collected by the harvester for sale but the girl’s pecans will be baked into a scrumptious pecan pie. And, not to spoil the beautiful ending, suffice it to say that Troup and Mother Nature’s miraculous cycle of growth delivers a delightful and very satisfying dénouement in this touching layered tale.

 

My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me int3 eating pecan pie time
Interior illustrations from My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me written by Roxanne Troup and illustrated by Kendra Binney, Yeehoo Press ©2023.

 

 

Troup, who is not a newcomer to writing, knows how to tell an engaging and tender story while infusing interesting information into it, clearly owing to her extensive nonfiction background. The pacing of My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me moves forward easily like the seasons in the orchard. There’s a soothing rhythm to the language that makes the book an ideal read any time of the day, including bedtime. Did you know that pecans are considered a native nut to North America? Find an All About Pecans note detailing the history of the commercial pecan industry along with a helpful glossary in the back matter.

Download a free teacher’s guide here.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NOTE: I’m thrilled that Roxanne is a reviewer at this blog so subscribe today so you don’t miss her thoughtful coverage.

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Children’s Books for Earth Day 2023

 

A ROUNDUP OF CHILDREN’S BOOKS 

FOR EARTH DAY 2023

 

 

 

The Tree and the River cover bucolic river scene with industry reflectionTHE TREE AND THE RIVER
by Aaron Becker

(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

Starred Reviews – Horn Book, Foreward Reviews, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Connection

Aaron Becker’s wordless picture book, The Tree and the River, shows how humans impact a specific plot of vibrant land. The time-lapse process he uses is fascinating and powerful. Some of the imagery is fictionalized yet this doesn’t take away from the understanding that people’s cities, industry, and war wreak havoc on the land.

I like how the almost totally destroyed landscape can, with a simple acorn, reestablish itself, giving the book (and our world) the possibility that we can recover from damage inflicted.

Beyond the stunning illustrations, Becker did so much more: he prepared by constructing a scale model which he then slowly transformed with clay and wood over many months. The book was inspired by “the rich history of layered civilizations” in Granada, Spain. Be sure to peek under the dust jacket for an alternate image.

 

The Forest Keeper cover Jadav Payeng in forestTHE FOREST KEEPER:
The True Story of Jadav Payeng

Written by Rina Singh
Illustrated by Ishita Jain
(NorthSouth; $18.95, Ages 5-9)

Rina Singh’s picture book, The Forest Keeper, introduces us to a tribesman from Majuli named Jadav Molai Payeng who labored in isolated anonymity for thirty years, growing a forest on an abandoned sandbar in a remote corner of northeastern India. He began in 1979 when the river burst its banks and left hundreds of water snakes to perish in the hot sun. When he sought help from elders and the forest department, he was told “trees don’t grow on sandbars” and was given a bag of bamboo seedlings. His diligence and dedication created habitats for a number of creatures in this 1,359-acre oasis—larger than New York’s Central Park.

The soft-focus illustrations by Ishita Jain bring India’s beauty alive. I particularly like the tiger, elephants, and dramatic trees filled with birds in the twilight.

This book reminds us that Earth Day truly is every day, and that one person can make a huge difference. Be sure to look under the dust jacket for a bonus image that reinforces this story’s humble beginnings. Read an exclusive interview with illustrator Ishita Jain here.

 

Water: How We Can Protect Our Freshwater cover children in village pumping waterWATER: How We Can Protect Our Freshwater 
Written by Catherine Barr

Illustrated by Christiane Engel
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

Catherine Barr’s picture book, Water: How We Can Protect Our Waterways, is broken down into easy-to-follow sections from “The First Water on Earth” through “It’s Water Action Decade!” The facts are thorough yet explained simply. It’s mind-blowing that only 3% of all water on Earth is freshwater; three-quarters of it exists in glaciers and polar ice sheets. I like how each section has an item that relates to a specific place: “These girls in sub-Saharan Africa can go to school because they have a water pump and tap in their village.” This makes the issues feel real and connects us all around the planet.

Christiane Engel’s detailed illustrations bring the world and its water sources to life such as the polluted rivers in India and salmon leaping up a fish ladder in Scotland (because their migration path has been dammed). The brightly colored art is something kids can look over again and again, finding new things each time.

The “How Can I Use Water Wisely?” section at the end is conveyed in a fun, wraparound style. Suggestions include realizing that most everything we use takes water to make and visiting local lakes or rivers to discover the animals and plants living there—if we care about something, we’re more likely to want to help protect it. Taking a few minutes to better understand our water is time well spent.

 

Something Happened to Our Planet cover kids cleaning trashSOMETHING HAPPENED TO OUR PLANET
Kids Tackle the Climate Crisis (Something Happened series)
Written by Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins 
Illustrated by Bhagya Madanasinghe
(Magination Press; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

In Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins’s Something Happened to Our Planet: Kids Tackle the Climate Crisis (Something Happened series), a young girl is worried about the far-reaching effects of plastics in our waterways. Encouraged by her family, she decides one person can make a difference so she starts an Earth Control group at her elementary school to make improvements in the cafeteria.

I enjoyed the illustrations by Bhagya Madanasinghe, especially the facial expressions of the unnamed main character. We feel the ups and downs these kids experience as their desire to help is met with setbacks.

Truly remarkable is the information provided in the Reader’s Note: facts beyond what’s found in similar texts, including a Q&A section to help parents answer hard questions posed by kids. While this section is huge, it’s manageably divided and the possible steps we can all take to mitigate climate change are surprisingly doable with suggestions such as reducing food waste, eating less meat, and using “art and music to give hope and remind others about the importance of nature and a sustainable planet.” This book is a must-have in classrooms, libraries, and at home. The publisher’s website contains several helpful downloadable pdfs.

 

Total Garbage cover kid sitting on trash pileTOTAL GARBAGE:
A Messy Dive into Trash, Refuse, and Our World

Written by Rebecca Donnelly
Illustrated by John Hendrix
(Henry Holt BYR; $21.99, Ages 8-12) 

Starred Reviews -Hornbook Magazine, Kirkus Reviews

Being able to “talk trash” in a way that’s engaging and even funny at times is quite an accomplishment. Rebecca Donnelly succeeds in her middle-grade book, Total Garbage: A Messy Dive into Trash, Refuse, and Our World. It is messy because we’re talking about the mountains of things we cast aside.

The text is guided by simple questions: “What is garbage, where does it come from, where does it go, why do we make so much of it, and how can we do better?” For such an overwhelming issue, the underlying message is hopeful yet does not shy away from the massive scope of this problem, acknowledging there’s no quick solution. Something we can all do is to buy less and use less, keeping in mind what it took to make that item and understanding that things don’t just go away because there’s not such place as “away.”

The book’s blue font is appealing and illustrations by John Hendrix add some levity. I would love to see informative and optimistic books like this one being used in classrooms because being oblivious about the garbage problem really stinks.

 

 

the day the river caught fire cover children watch flames on riverTHE DAY THE RIVER CAUGHT FIRE
Written by Barry Wittenstein
Illustrated by Jessie Hartland
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

In award-winning author Barry Wittenstein’s eye-opening narrative nonfiction picture book, children are brought back in time to the year of a moon landing, Woodstock, the Vietnam War, and the Stonewall Rebellion. But do they know that this was also the year before Earth Day was founded? Or that a big event that led to its creation was the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland catching fire?

Yes, the river caught fire and it wasn’t the first time! “Since 1886, it happened thirteen times.” Pollution from big industry covered the water in “a thick, gooey layering of sludge, oil, and sewage …” So when KABOOM! flames rose in what would ordinarily have been rather frightening, most citizens viewed it as no big deal. Only it was a big deal! Rivers are not supposed to burn. However, since the Industrial Revolution, rivers around the world were treated as dumping sites with no concern for the health of their inhabitants in the water or nearby.

Thankfully, Cleveland’s Mayor Carl Stokes made his voice heard. The “exploding river” even made it to the cover of Time magazine, but Cleveland was not alone. Fires on rivers were happening in other cities too. Ultimately, Congress passed the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, though these are still under attack today.

Not long after, on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day took place and more people made their voices heard. It was time to start caring for the planet we all call home. Earth Day is now celebrated around the world with a billion or more people taking part in hundreds of cities. The history of the fire and the lead-up to the first Earth Day is illustrated by Jessie Hartland in colorful gouache. The folk art style spreads will especially resonate with young readers with their warmth and whimsy. I cannot pick a favorite scene since there were multiple spreads I loved, particularly due to her depiction of people (Note: big hair lady on riverboat cruise).

53 years on, this important global movement continues with efforts to curb climate change and all forms of pollution. Seven pages of back matter include a compelling author’s note, a time line, reads and resources, and a black and white photo of an earlier Cuyahoga River fire in 1952. And though the Cuyahoga River eventually got cleaned up, and fish returned, that can easily change if enforcement of environmental laws grows lax and restrictions that help the environment get lifted. Wittenstein’s informative prose is a call to action that none of us can ignore.

 

Another Band's Treasure cover recycled instrument orchestra on landfillANOTHER BAND’S TREASURE:
A Story of Recycled Instruments
by Hua Lin Xie
Translated by Edward Gauvin
(Graphic Universe; $14.99, Ages 8-12)

Xie’s graphic novel debut was inspired by the true story of Favio Chávez, a musician and educator from Paraguay who founded the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura in 2006. To me, this quote at the end speaks volumes, “The world sends us its garbage. We give it back music.”

The story’s main characters are Diego, a musician and music instructor, his friend, Nicolas, a carpenter, and Ada and her younger brother Daniel. They come from a single-parent home, and they, like many of the residents in this poor village likely live hand to mouth. The kids find entertainment treasure hunting on the landfill while their mother would like them to contribute to the household. There is little excitement or motivation in the children’s lives. That is until Diego puts out a flyer offering music lessons. In hopes of helping the kids grow emotionally by exposing them to music and self-expression, Diego and Nicolas also hope this will keep local kids out of trouble.

The graphic novel is divided into seven chapters as the relationships with the students, Diego and Nicolas develop. At first, it’s only Nicolas who scavenges amongst the discards of the landfill for usable items to turn into instruments. Before long, as the kids’ pride in what they’re a part of blossoms, it’s wonderful to watch them start searching for potential musical instruments. Maybe this could be a drum, or maybe a violin.

When Diego receives an invitation from the mayor for the orchestra to perform at a musical event in Asunción, everyone is not only thrilled for a chance to visit the capital but honored at being recognized. So much so that Ada and Daniel tell every single person they meet heading home and shout it from the top of the landfill. “Hey, clouds! We’re going places!!” Of course, they’re a hit and so begins a journey to play concerts all over the world! In an epilogue, Daniel has grown up and now, when he is on summer break, he and other children from the first class come back to Diego’s new class to help out new students and return the kindness that changed their lives.

Seamlessly translated from the French original, this English version has almost no color. Executed in muted greyish-black tones, the art looks like pen and ink but may have been created digitally. The choice of color or lack of it conveys the dullness of life alongside a landfill. The only time color appears apart from the cover is when a guitar is made from an orange-striped paint can. This middle-grade graphic novel is a hopeful story and a beautiful tribute to the dream and dedication of Favio Chávez. Find out more at www.recycledorchestracateura.com.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Additional Recommended Reads for Earth Day

 

No World Too Big cover children holding up EarthNO WORLD TOO BIG: 
Young People Fighting Global Climate Change
Written by Lindsay H. Metcalf 
Written by Keila V. Dawson
Written by Jeanette Bradley
Illustrated by Jeanette Bradley
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

 

Climate Warriors coverCLIMATE WARRIORS:
Fourteen Scientists and Fourteen Ways We Can Save Our Planet
by Laura Gehl

(Millbrook Press; $24.99, Ages 9-14)

 

 

 

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Early Graphic Novel – Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite!

BURT THE BEETLE DOESN’T BITE!

Written and illustrated by Ashley Spires

(Kids Can Press; $12.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

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Sticky Burt is a bug who hugs!

 

Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! is the first in a new series by Ashley Spires, the author and illustrator of The Most Magnificent Thing and the Binky adventure series.

Meet Burt, he’s a ten-lined June (or watermelon) beetle. Burt has feathered antennae, a large body, a sticky abdomen, and can flail his legs when he falls on his back (but needs assistance flipping over). He notices that other insects have special or “super” abilities. A bumblebee is a “super hard worker” and ants can carry heavy loads. So what makes Burt special? Well, he’s trying to figure this out. As Burt meets more insects and learns about their amazing features, he wonders what his “super” ability is. Would winking count? How about hanging out around porch lights? Trying to imitate other insects’ super abilities doesn’t work either and Burt continually ends up on his back.

 

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Interior artwork from Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

When Burt discovers a spider web with insects trapped in it, he’s amazed to find that their super abilities cannot free them from the web. As the venomous spider taunts Burt, he realizes he does have some super abilities. Burt’s a hugger and he happens to be sticky, too. Furthermore, he’s big and heavy enough to tear up the spider’s web when he falls on it, saving the other insects–and landing on his back once again. This time he has very grateful friends to help him flip over!

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Interior artwork from Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

Cheerful and upbeat humor shines in this book. Commenting on his feathery antennae, Burt notes “it’s a style choice.” Gentle quips are exchanged between characters. When the spider, firmly stuck to Burt’s abdomen, asks “is this ever going to end?” Burt replies “I guess you’re stuck with me. Get it?” Exaggerated bodies and expressive faces, especially “bug” eyes, add to the enjoyment. 

 

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Interior artwork from Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite! written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press ©2021.

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Spires has created a graphic novel designed for younger readers, especially those new to the graphic novel format. The panels are clean and well organized, without a lot of distractions. The number of characters and speech bubbles in a panel are kept to a minimum and the print is bold and slightly larger than usual.  This book is appropriate for independent readers or as a read-aloud for emerging readers.  

The book includes some themes which could be used to invite children to discuss character and friendship. Burt’s search for what makes him unique is something children also explore for themselves. Perseverance is a challenge for children, but Burt’s positive “can do” type of behavior in the face of repeated failures may encourage them to keep trying. He takes care of his friends and “doesn’t bite because that’s not how you make friends.”

Lastly, this graphic novel engages children in the natural world around them, weaving in factual information about insects and including “awesome insect super facts” in the back matter. Hopefully, it will inspire children to continue exploring the world of insects and their “super” abilities. 

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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Kids Picture Book Review – Birds of a Feather

BIRDS OF A FEATHER

Written by Sita Singh

Illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman

(Philomel Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

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BirdsofaFeather cover

 

Join me as we journey to the Himalayan jungle where we’ll meet Mo, a stunning snowy white peacock, in Sita Singh’s picture book debut, Birds of a Feather, with illustrations by Stephanie Fizer Coleman.

 

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Interior spread from Birds of a Feather written by Sita Singh and illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman, Philomel Books ©2021.

 

Much loved and accepted by his more colorful friends, Mo is the one who, in time, begins to feel different. He finds no pleasure playing hide-and-seek and he doesn’t have dazzling plumes like his pals.

 

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Interior art from Birds of a Feather written by Sita Singh and illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman, Philomel Books ©2021.

 

With their encouragement, he often shrugs off his self-doubt. That is until a sign announcing The Annual Dance in The Rain event, the biggest day in the jungle, reinforces Mo’s feeling of being different. He can’t have his blues brightened at the Color Salon, or find a reason to shop at the Bird Boutique like all the others. To him his bird feathers are boring.

When he feels down, Mo’s friends continue to build him up with caring words like “Colors don’t make the bird!”, “You’re still a peacock!” and “Go, Mo, Go!” Does it help? Temporarily. Mo knows he lacks those bright, bold, beautiful feathers of his peacock peers. But when a dark storm on the night of dance makes it impossible for anyone to see, and the peacocks are tripping over each other’s trains and in a general fowl mood, Mo, watching the action from a distance, realizes he actually does possess something special. His bright and brilliant glowing white feathers light up the darkness and the dance. The night’s festivities are illuminated, and fantastic, even for Mo!

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Interior spread from Birds of a Feather written by Sita Singh and illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman, Philomel Books ©2021.

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Now that everyone can see, Mo, at last, sees something toothat what he had all along that made him different is what makes him unique and wonderful. Singh’s story about the power of friends and a supportive community is delightful and will lift readers’ spirits as they watch Mo’s spirits rise and shine. I love how Singh introduces us to a character so beloved by his friends who at first is unable to see his own self-worth while everyone else can.

Adding to the inspiring quality of Singh’s tale are Fizer Coleman’s lush illustrations in jewel tones created digitally with traditionally painted gouache and watercolor textures. Together they offer readers not only a charming and visually appealing read, but a helpful one in regards to social and emotional development as well. It’s great for parents, teachers, and librarians to have such a positive picture book celebrating diversity and differences for this age group. The book concludes with interesting back matter about peacocks—the national bird of India and features “a fact sheet on these beautiful creatures, their environment, their behaviors, and more!” Did you know that a group of peacocks is called a party? Well, party on now with Mo and company in Birds of a Feather.

Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Bedtime Story Review – Goodnight Veggies

GOODNIGHT VEGGIES

Written by Diana Murray

Illustrated by Zachariah OHora

(HMH BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

 

 

Starred Review –The Horn Book

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Written by Diana Murray and illustrated by Zachariah OHora, Goodnight Veggies invites readers to settle in and cozy up with an endearing host of anthropomorphized veggies getting ready for bed. 

 

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Goodnight Veggies written by Diana Murray and illustrated by Zachariah OHora, HMH BYR ©2020.

 

The bedtime journey begins when a clever worm narrowly escapes becoming dinner to a group of hungry baby birds. Clad in a cap, sock, and sneaker, we watch him jump from the nest to an urban rooftop garden, slowly making his way to his underground home. As he passes by the vegetables, we see their nighttime routine, each group of veggies adorable in its own right. While turnips “tuck… in tightly” and potatoes close their eyes, “[t]uckered out tomatoes hum … lullabies.” Like the affectionate smile of each vegetable, the friendly, humorous rhyme reassures and warms the heart. 

 

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Goodnight Veggies written by Diana Murray and illustrated by Zachariah OHora, HMH BYR ©2020.

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It’s sheer fun learning the variety of ways veggies like to turn in. “[C]uddly” cauliflower, baby carrots, and baby lettuce enjoy “snuggling.” Rhubarbs delight in “reading stories to worn-out broccolis.” Giggles from little ones will surely ensue when they discover how eggplants dreamsome about familiar places and some about galaxies far, far away. “Cranky corn” who “cover up [their] ears” because of a nearby veggie’s snoring will definitely be a familiar scene to readers young and old. 

 

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Goodnight Veggies written by Diana Murray and illustrated by Zachariah OHora, HMH BYR ©2020.

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Vibrant colors in acrylic paint add to the playfulness. Bold borders in black outline edges, creating a safe space to rest and soak in the illustrations, appropriately printed on 100% vegetarian printmaking paper. 

A delightful bedtime read-aloud, Goodnight Veggies is the perfect prelude to a good night.

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Earth Day Books for Kids – A 2020 Roundup

RECOMMENDED READS FOR EARTH DAY

A ROUNDUP OF PICTURE BOOKS

 

Wednesday, April 22, is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day which will be celebrated around the globe. Read below about some new picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, that Christine Van Zandt recommends to help your children understand the significance of this holiday.

 

One Little Bag coverONE LITTLE BAG: AN AMAZING JOURNEY
by Henry Cole

(Scholastic Press; $18.99, eBook available, Ages 4-8)

One of my favorite things about Henry Cole’s gorgeous, wordless picture book, One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey, is the prologue. I was hooked from the first image: a forest where one tree—colored brown—stands out. Cole’s amazingly detailed black-ink drawings are juxtaposed by brown-colored items: the tree, first made into paper, becomes an unassuming lunch bag.

In the Author’s Note, Cole shares how, in 1970 for the first Earth Day, he decided to not throw out has lunch bag that day. Or the next one. Eventually, he used that bag about 700 times! Then, when he went to college, he passed the velvet-soft bag to his younger friend who used it for another year. Wow! This really hit home with me. I’m conscientious about noncompostables, but will now consider the possibilities of paper products.

Using a humble brown bag as its central element, the story follows the bag’s journey from creation to conclusion. We are emotionally engaged with the little boy as he grows to adulthood and the family members we meet along the way. This story drives home the messages that even seemingly insignificant choices matter and that kids have the power to change things. These workhorse lunch bags are relatively inexpensive and typically don’t garner a second thought. Cole’s true-life story brings this simple item to the front page of his book and the forefront of our attention. Bravo!  Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

 

SAVING THE COUNTRYSIDE:
THE STORY OF BEATRIX POTTER AND PETER RABBIT
Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall
Illustrated by Ilaria Urbinati
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

When I think of the mischievously adorable Peter Rabbit, of course his creator, Beatrix Potter, comes to mind. But, who was the woman behind this famous character? Linda Elovitz Marshall’s picture book, Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit fills in the blanks.

Potter was a bright artistic girl who lived in the city but cherished the family’s summers in the country. Too soon, it was back to the constraints of being a Victorian-era girl. Focusing on her drawings, Potter, later, was able to land a job—but only because the publisher thought she was a man. Throughout the story, we see Potter pushing against and past the bonds of what a woman was “supposed to do.” While these actions were commendable, Potter also took on the role of conservationist, buying up more than 4,000 acres of beloved land to keep it peacefully undeveloped; her donation to the UK’s National Trust allowed the area’s preservation.

The illustrator, Ilaria Urbinati, enlivens Potter’s story in a muted old-fashioned style complementary to the text. Be sure to check beneath the cover for a clever second image: a before-and-after of Potter in her cherished landscape.

This behind-the-scenes look at Potter’s life will engage kids because it’s relatable and inspirational—showing you can make a career doing what you love, break through societal limits, and care for our planet. What Potter managed in her 77 years was exceptional. Starred Review – Foreward Reviews

 

THE GIRL WHO SPOKE TO THE MOON:The Girl Who Spoke to the Moon cvr
A STORY ABOUT FRIENDSHIP AND LOVING OUR PLANET
Written by Land Wilson
Illustrated by Sue Cornelison
(Little Pickle Press; $17.99, Kindle eBook available, Ages 4-8)

Land Wilson’s rhyming picture book, The Girl Who Spoke to the Moon: A Story About Friendship and Loving Our Planet, is a gentle story packing a powerful message. Little Sofia befriends the Moon and, one night when he’s blue, she imagines herself up there, seeing the Earth from a new perspective. The Moon sadly tells her, “With dirty waters, land, and air, it looks as though she’s in despair. Her people seem so unaware that what Earth needs is better care.”

Sue Cornelison’s soothing images are in the muted tones of a bedtime book, yet, the swoops of sparkles throughout give the story movement and feeling. Once Sofia realizes she must share her findings, we’re shown glimpses of children from around the world doing their part to help our planet.

The end matter provides explanations of how the Earth’s air, land, and water are polluted, followed by simple suggestions such as creating less trash and eating less meat. In the Author’s Note, Wilson shares how astronauts love looking back at our planet, but how that distance also brings an understanding of Earth’s vulnerability and precious importance. Wilson urges us to make the Earth’s well-being a priority: “When people work together, our power grows. But we need to work faster, harder, and smarter”—a message that should be taken to heart as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. I like how Wilson’s commentary is both realistic and optimistic, hopefully inciting readers to action.

 

Christine’s also reviewed If We Were Giants, a middle grade novel ideal for Earth Day reading.

Read an illustrator interview here for Greta and the Giants.

Click here for another recommended read for 🌎Earth Day.

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Kids Picture Book Review – Home in the Woods

HOME IN THE WOODS
Written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

 

Home in the Woods cover

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Kirkus

“This book is inspired not only by the stories from [my grandmother],” says Wheeler, “but by the entire generation that experienced the Great Depression. They will soon be gone, and if we haven’t yet collected their stories, the time is now.”

 

Home in the Woods, the latest picture book by Eliza Wheeler is a treat for the eyes and soul. The embossed title on the book jacket is gorgeous as is the winter scape underneath. The water color and ink artwork is simply stunning.

Travel back in time as this compelling story, based on Wheeler’s grandmother’s life in the Wisconsin woods during the Great Depression, pulls readers right into each meticulously and movingly illustrated page.

Told from the perspective of Wheeler’s grandmother, Marvel, Home in the Woods introduces readers to the six-year-old and her seven siblings along with Mum, a newly widowed and stoic 34-year-old. This 40-page book unfolds over four seasons beginning in Summer when the time is ideal to move into an abandoned tar-paper shack they find in the woods. “You never know what treasures we’ll find,” says Mum. While Marvel doesn’t believe the rundown hut can ever be a treasure let alone a home, she carries on nonetheless relying on the closeness of her family and her mother’s optimism. That energy is conveyed in scenes like the one where seven of the siblings (the youngest, at 3- months-old, is at home with Mum) happily collect berries. Wheeler subtly shows how nature plays an important role in both the family’s struggle and survival.

 

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Interior illustration from Home in the Woods written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2019.

 

The blue tones of Summer shift when Autumn arrives and “rust and ruby leaves” provide a beautiful backdrop for this season’s art. Everyone in the family pitches in whether it’s splitting wood to heat the shack or pulling weeds and picking “veggies.” As baby Eva munches a carrot, Mum cooks preserves and the children prepare for winter by stocking up the cellar with whatever they were able to harvest.

On a visit to Bennett’s General Store, the siblings look longingly at the inviting shop window, but they have learned how to do without. They can only afford to “buy some basics.” Cleverly, the kids have invented a game they’ve dubbed General Store that keeps them entertained for hours. Beside the hut, Marvel displays “mud sweets,” little Lowell is the jeweler, older sister Bea sells fine hats (note the creativity of the hats Mum is admiring), and the others all find fulfilling counters to man.

When Winter’s bitter winds blow, the family huddles by the pot-belly stove as the two oldest boys “trek out to hunt for food.” Blue tones return, but the flames of the fire, the glowing lantern, the gold in the children’s crowns, and in the patchwork pieces as Mum teaches Bea to quilt all depict a warmth that is the fabric of this loving family. Marvel shares how her brother Rich teaches her to read in another touching illustration that is rich with contentment.

 

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Interior illustration from Home in the Woods written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2019.

 

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Interior illustration from Home in the Woods written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2019.

 

The illustration above clues readers into Mum’s silent fears for her family while the words, “But Mum stays awake into the night …” tell us what we’ve guessed all along. Living in the woods, barely eking out a living, and supporting her family of nine has taken its toll on this strong woman. Mum prays for her children to get safely through winter and the Depression.

 

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Interior illustration from Home in the Woods written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2019.

 

The cycle of seasons culminates in Spring. “The cottonwoods are all in bloom” and a spirit of rebirth and renewal fills everyone’s hearts just as the family’s pail is filled with fresh milk at Erickson’s Farm. The children rejoice in the thrilling sound of birdsong and the blossoming of flowers. Enveloped by hope, the family has gotten through the harsh Wisconsin winter and emerged to find that the power of togetherness, teamwork and love has brought to them the promise of better days ahead and the true meaning of home.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

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Kids Book Review – The Broken Bees’ Nest by Lydia Lukidis

THE BROKEN BEES’ NEST
Written by Lydia Lukidis
Illustrated by André Ceolin
(Kane Press; $5.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

The Broken Bees’ Nest by 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.

 

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Interior artwork from The Broken Bees’ Nest written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by André Ceolin, Kane Press ©2019.

 

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!

 

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Interior artwork from The Broken Bees’ Nest written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by André Ceolin, Kane Press ©2019.

 

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.

 

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Interior artwork from The Broken Bees’ Nest written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by André Ceolin, Kane Press ©2019.

 

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Interior artwork from The Broken Bees’ Nest written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by André Ceolin, Kane Press ©2019.

 

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 activityplanting 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 book here so you and the entire family can begin learning about the importance of bees in our world.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Kids Book Review: A Thoughtful and Timeless Tale – Noah Builds an Ark by Kate Banks

NOAH BUILDS AN ARK
Written by Kate Banks
Illustrated by John Rocco
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

 

Noah Builds an Ark book cover artwork

 

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

A gentle retelling of the familiar Biblical story, Noah Builds an Ark by Kate Banks with art by John Rocco illustrates the giving and receiving of tender care in the midst of a major storm.

A slight tension fills the air as dark clouds approach Noah’s house. In the backyard, restless salamanders slither “to and fro” and beetles and mice try to take shelter. Getting his tools from the yard, Noah’s father makes a thought-provoking comment: “It’s going to be a beauty.” What is? The preparation, the storm, the aftermath?

 

Interior spread by John Rocco from Noah Builds an Ark by Kate Banks
NOAH BUILDS AN ARK. Text copyright © 2019 by Kate Banks. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by John Rocco. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Just as Noah’s parents work hard to prepare for the storm, Noah, similarly, takes thorough care of his garden friends’ needs. For shelter, he builds an ark out of his wagon and fills the space with all the comforts of home: food, furniture, water, and light from a flashlight. Whatever his parents provide for him and his sister, Noah, in turn, provides for his critters.

 

Noah Builds an Ark by Kate Banks int spread by John Rocco
NOAH BUILDS AN ARK. Text copyright © 2019 by Kate Banks. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by John Rocco. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Rocco’s detailed pencil and watercolor illustrations emphasize this give and take motion. On the left side of the page, we readers see the actions his parents take and on the right we see Noah mimicking that action. When the storm arrives, the illustrations once again draw similarities between the two. Both groups huddle, share food, and pass the time with calming activities. One double-page spread is particularly poignant as it draws our attention to the slats of woodwood that boards Noah’s window and wood that houses in his garden friends. It’s a powerful image of protection and community despite the raging rain “splash[ing] down like silver swords thrown from heaven.” Banks’ imagery captures, too, the beauty and danger of their situation.

When the clouds suddenly retreat and the “sun turn[s] its light back on,” Noah is treated to a wide and stunning rainbow. A sign of the covenant between God and the earth in the original story, the rainbow here represents a symbol of peace and restoration. Two by two the creatures leave the ark and resume their roles in Noah’s garden.

So what was “going to be a beauty” after all? Dedication in caring for one another, the sense of community during troubled times, and the healing qualities of the natural world are all beautiful themes in this story. For animal and nature lovers, for those familiar and new to Noah’s Ark, for those needing a quiet bedtime story and a suspenseful adventure, Noah Builds an Ark is for any child who enjoys a timeless tale.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian  
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