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An Interview with Author Christine Van Zandt

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

MILKWEED FOR MONARCHS

AUTHOR CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT

Illustrated by Alejandra Barajas

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

 

 

Milkweed for Monarchs cover monarchs flying in milkweed plants.

 

 

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

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

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

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

 

INTERVIEW:

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

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


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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

GRWR: How did you do that?

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

BUY THE BOOK:

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

FOLLOW ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

•Christine Van Zandt 

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

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

Instagram: christinevanzandt9

Bluesky: christinevanzandt.bsky.social

•Alejandra Barajas 

Instagram: ale.barajas.illustration

•Publisher – Beaming Books

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

Facebook: www.facebook.com/BeamingBooksPublishing

Instagram: www.instagram.com/beamingbooksmn

 

 

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

AUTHOR BIO:

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

 

 

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Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Butt or Face?

 

BUTT OR FACE?
Can You Tell Which End You’re Looking At?

by Kari Lavelle

(Sourcebooks Explore; $14.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Butt or Face cover can you tell which end is shown?

 

 

 

“The silly, simple premise is carried out splendidly; younger readers will be entranced by fascinating photos, bright colors, and googly eyes galore, while older readers will appreciate fast-fact boxes, clear explanations, and endless animal puns.”―Booklist, STARRED Review

 

When I saw the cover of this picture book by Kari Lavelle, I was immediately pulled in by the hilarious photo and questions posed by the title, Butt or Face?: Can You Tell Which End You’re Looking At? The cover image is an okapi’s rear with googly eyes added, but all the other animal parts are unaltered photos. If you’re someone who likes to play games and laugh, this book’s for you.

 

 

Butt_or_Face_int1_Cuyaba_dwarg_frog
Interior photos and art from Butt or Face? Can You Tell Which End You’re Looking At? by Kari Lavelle, Sourcebooks Explore ©2023.

 

Each quiz begins with a photo to analyze. Turn the page to see more of the animal along with lots of cool and unusual facts. I love the beautiful but deadly—watch out siblings!—orchid mantis (insect) whose appearance is otherworldly. While some of the information tells you basics such as where an animal lives, there are plenty of fascinating things like discovering a fish that’s really not a great swimmer. My favorite details are the ones that will make kids squeal in delight like the pearlfish that lives in a sea cucumber’s bottom. Yes, really.

 

Butt or Face int2 okapi and mole
Interior photos and art from Butt or Face? Can You Tell Which End You’re Looking At? by Kari Lavelle, Sourcebooks Explore ©2023.

 

Once kids know the answers, they’ll want to test their friends and share this book repeatedly. Beyond this being a learning tool at home and in classrooms, the book’s full-color photos are gorgeous. I’m ready for the sequel (out in April 2024) that continues on in this manner.

 

 

 

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An Interview with Wombats are Pretty Weird Author-Illustrator Abi Cushman

 

VICKY FANG INTERVIEWS ABI CUSHMAN

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR OF

WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD

(GREENWILLOW BOOKS; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Wombats are Pretty Weird cover four wombats

 

 

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

Wombats might be pretty weird, but they’re pretty awesome, too! Wombats Are Pretty Weird is funny, kid-friendly, and informative, and features sidebars, comic panels, extensive backmatter, and a map. Acclaimed author-illustrator Abi Cushman’s nonfiction debut contains everything anyone could ever possibly want to know about wombats!

 

INTERVIEW:

Vicky Fang: Abi, WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD is such a funny and informative book! I love how you use humorous dialog and illustrations to introduce so much fascinating information about wombats! How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Abi Cushman: Thank you, Vicky! I’ve been obsessed with wombats ever since I studied abroad at the University of Melbourne in Australia in 2001. I learned on a guided hike that wombats are the only animals in the world that have cube-shaped poop. This very odd tidbit of information along with the fact that wombats are adorable quickly made them one of my favorite animals. 

But it didn’t occur to me to write about them in a book until 2018 after I’d written several other fiction picture books. I was thinking about the cube poop fact, and I thought it would be funny to make a little comic where a wombat makes a tower out of its cubes of poop (similar to how a kid would make a tower out of blocks) and then is just really proud of how tall it was. I wasn’t sure at that point if there was enough there for a book, so I did more research, gathered more weird facts about wombats, and gained momentum.

 

VF: I love that scene in the book with the cube poop tower! Hilarious. Could you tell us about your process in writing this book?

AC: I started with a lot of research about wombats. I listened to podcasts, watched videos, and read everything I could about them. Then I compiled the weirdest, most interesting facts. The next step was to see if I could make a joke about each fact. I have pages and pages in my sketchbook of facts plus doodles. I tried to come up with as many jokes as possible, and then and then really hone in on the funniest dialogue, facial expressions, and scenes. 

Once I was satisfied with the jokes, I worked on putting them together in a dummy (a rough mockup of the book) in a way that made sense and that would also build to a final scene with all the wombats together. 

 

Wombats are Pretty Weird Dummy Sample
Wombats are Pretty Weird Dummy Sample

 

 

VF: I love the addition of the snake adding color and commentary throughout the book. What made you decide to include the snake in a book about wombats?

AC: Adding the snake was a way for me to put a stand-in for the audience in the book. He could react and make comments that the reader was thinking when learning about these very weird animals. And this animal character had to be something other than a wombat. After all, the wombats wouldn’t consider themselves weird at all. In their world, it’s strange when poop is round. I chose a snake specifically because I wanted an animal that could technically live in the same area as a wombat, but was vastly different from them. 

 

WAPW burrowing marsupial spread
Interior spread from Wombats are Pretty Weird written and illustrated by Abi Cushman, Greenwillow Books ©2023.

 

VF: Your illustrations do such a wonderful job of balancing humor and information. You’ve written funny books before (SOAKED! and ANIMALS GO VROOM! are so good!), but what was it like writing and illustrating non-fiction for the first time?

AC: Writing and illustrating non-fiction for the first time was a wonderful challenge. For this book, which includes factual information but also talking animals and other silly stuff, it was very important to me that kids didn’t think the facts were made up. One of the things I was very careful about was to ensure the narration was factual and accurate, and then have the wombats and snake react to those facts in the illustrations and speech bubbles. That way there was a clear separation.

For research, I consulted science journals and talked to wombat experts to verify and ensure the way I phrased things was correct. It was pretty wild to me that my work entailed being knee-deep in these dense scientific papers, trying to distill the information and make sense of them, and then using that to make the best poop joke I could.

For the illustrations, I wanted them to be very accessible and fun, but I also wanted them to show a decent resemblance to actual wombats and to clearly convey scientific information where appropriate. So I used a lot of references. I looked at photos of wombats’ feet, watched videos of them moving, and really studied the differences between three species. Then I drew them using hair dryers and wearing party hats.

 

VF: Can you talk about how you approach humor? Do you have any tips for writers who want to write funny books?

AC: The books I find funniest always contain a bit of absurdity. So that’s something I like to play with a lot in my books. For this book with weird animal facts, it was a chance to push the absurdity in the actual facts to a higher level. 

For example, one of the facts in the book is that there are three species of wombats: the southern hairy-nosed wombat, the northern hairy-nosed wombat, and the bare-nosed wombat. And I just thought the names were pretty silly. So I wanted to play with that idea of hairy (or unhairy) noses and push it further into absurdity by having two of them talk about nose hair styling to the annoyance of the bare-nosed wombat. 

e

WAPW hairy and bare noses
Interior spread from Wombats are Pretty Weird written and illustrated by Abi Cushman, Greenwillow Books ©2023.

 

 

I think with humor, you have to let yourself be pretty vulnerable. I put everything I think is funny into a story and then show it to people with the full knowledge that a lot of the jokes will absolutely not land. But I have NO IDEA which ones those are. The trick is to put the weirdest, totally out-there jokes into your story and then see how many you can get away with.

 

VF: That’s such great advice, and it has clearly paid off for you. What do you hope young readers take away from this book?

AC: I hope this book will get kids excited about wombats and animals in general. There is so much in the natural world that is bizarre and captivating. Kids have a natural curiosity so I think it’s our job as authors to foster and encourage it. I also hope kids come away with the idea that being weird is a good thing. It’s what makes all of us special and unique. And finally, I just hope kids laugh and find this enjoyable to read. 

 

WAPW multiple joeys
Interior spread from Wombats are Pretty Weird written and illustrated by Abi Cushman, Greenwillow Books ©2023.

 

VF: I love that. I feel like you’ve definitely accomplished those goals with this book and kids are going to love it. So what’s next for you?

AC: I am currently polishing up the next book in the “[Not So] Serious Guide” series. This follow-up to WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD is all about the very strange, very tough FLAMINGO! And I’m happy to report that Joey the snake is back to experience it all with the reader. This book is scheduled to release in the summer of 2024.

I also recently finished illustrating a wonderfully clever book written by Charlotte Offsay called THE QUIET FOREST. This book will be released in March 2024 from Paula Wiseman Books. It’s about a very mischievous mouse who starts a chain of chaos in a formerly quiet forest, and it involves a lot of very disgruntled forest animals. It’s a ton of fun, and I’m really excited about it. This was the first time I illustrated a book I didn’t write, and it was fun to see how Charlotte’s words and my pictures came together.

 

VF: Those both sound fantastic! I look forward to seeing them next year. Thank you so much for sharing your journey for WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD with us. I’ve learned so much from chatting with you and from getting a peek at this hilarious book!

AC: Thanks so much for the interview, Vicky! This was fun. And I’m looking forward to chatting with you again later this summer about your upcoming book, THE BOO CREW NEEDS YOU!

VF: Looking forward to it too! Thank you again for sharing your insights with us today, Abi!

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click below for a local indie to purchase signed copies (type in the comments how you’d like the book inscribed): https://www.banksquarebooks.com/book/9780063234437

Publisher’s Page: https://www.harpercollins.com/products/wombats-are-pretty-weird-abi-cushman

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AbiCushman

IG: https://www.instagram.com/abi.cushman/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AbiCushmanArt

Author/Illustrator Website: https://abicushman.com

 

Author-Illustrator Abi Cushman Photo credit: P.A. Smith

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Abi Cushman is the author-illustrator of SOAKED! (Viking, 2020), ANIMALS GO VROOM! (Viking, 2021) and WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD (Greenwillow, 2023).

She has also worked as a web designer for over 15 years. She runs two popular websites of her own: My House Rabbit, a pet rabbit care site, and Animal Fact Guide, which was named a “Great Website for Kids” by the American Library Association. Did you know that wombat poop is cube-shaped? You do now! (And no, you’ll never un-know that.)

Abi lives in a small Connecticut beach town with her family. In her spare time, she enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. (Yes, at the same time.)

She is represented by BookStop Literary Agency and is a proud member of the Soaring 20s, a group of picture book authors and illustrators who debuted in 2020/21.

 

INTERVIEW BIO:

Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author, and sometimes illustrator, of nineteen new and upcoming books for kids, including the Layla and the Bots series, Invent-a-Pet, I Can Code board books, Friendbots series, and the forthcoming Ava Lin series, Best Buddies series, AlphaBot, and The Boo Crew Needs You!. You can visit Vicky at vickyfang.com.

 

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Five Mother’s Day Books for Children 2023

A ROUNDUP OF
FIVE MOTHER’S DAY BOOKS FOR CHILDREN 2023

 

 

 

 

Moms Can Do It All! cover caped mom holding babyMOMS CAN DO IT ALL!
Written by Ted Maass,
Illustrated by Ekaterina Trukhan 
(Grosset & Dunlap; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

This 18-page rhyming board book lovingly portrays moms as positive role models for little ones. Maass and Trukhan hooked me with an illustration that shows a mom typing on her laptop beside Baby accompanied by this text, “Some moms use their imaginations to become writers, …” Alongside that one, the sentence ends “while others use their courage to become firefighters,” depicting a mom extinguishing a building on fire. Kids will see moms as architects, pilots, athletes, actors, newscasters, and working behind the scenes (in this case behind a camera). The scenes with mom as a homemaker show how busy she is looking after her home and family. Moms also teach, build, nurse, and farm. In fact, children will see there’s actually nothing moms cannot do, which in turn applies to their children when they grow up. An inspiring message to share this Mother’s Day! There’s a place to write in a dedication in the front making this a sweet gift a child can offer to their mom or vice versa!

The colors Trukhan uses in Moms Can Do It All! are bold, bright, and energetic. Her characters, not outlined, are composed of simple shapes that will appeal to the young audience.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Are You My Mommy? cover calf sheep in meadowARE YOU MY MOMMY?
Lift-The-Flap Stories
Written by Yulia Simbirskaya

Illustrated by Katerina Veselova
(Clever Publishing; $10.99, Ages 2-6)

I never tire of lift-the-flap books and I’m sure it’s the same for your kids. Are You My Mommy? is a sturdy 10-page  board book that takes place on a farm. The bucolic setting is a perfect backdrop for Calf’s journey to find his mother.

A nice feature is that as Calf approaches each animal asking if they’re his mommy, the response includes the sound the animal makes. For example “Are you my mommy?” he asks Hen.  Then, lift Hen’s flap to read “No my babies are chicks,” Hen clucks. “Ask Cat.” Here toddlers are also introduced to the various names of animal babies such as chicks, kittens, lambs, puppies, ducklings, foals, and piglets in the artwork under the flap. It ends with six flaps under which are the sounds made by that particular animal. Readers will also find vocabulary words to match the art in the final spread such as sun, house, tractor, bush, and sunflower. If you’re looking for an adorably illustrated interactive book for Mother’s Day that includes an educational element to it, check this one out.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Supermoms!_Animal_Heroes_Flexing_GiraffeSUPERMOMS!: Animal Heroes
Written by Heather Lang and Jamie Harper
Illustrated by Jamie Harper
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

A Junior Library Guild Selection

From the Publisher: “In comics-style panels full of facts and humor, this lively picture book investigates the amazing lengths animal mothers go to in caring for their young.”

Authors Heather Lang and Jamie Harper tap into kids’ fascination with superheroes to share fun (and funny) facts about animal mothers in this first installment of their new Animal Heroes series from Candlewick.

Whether Mom is building a home underground to keep her young safe from predators [groundhogs] or separating her young to keep them safe from each other [strawberry poison frog], kids will find plenty to giggle at in Supermoms!

The classic cartoon-style art in comic-book panels (complete with speech bubbles) pairs perfectly with expository nonfiction text to add humor and instant kid appeal. And maybe…just maybe…inspire young readers to think about all the amazing qualities and sacrifices their own caregivers provide to protect and provide for them as they grow.

Supermoms! would make a great pick for the budding (or reluctant) naturalist, and would be a fun read-aloud for Mother’s Day. I can see it being used in the classroom to discuss the differences between fiction and nonfiction text, and explore dialog and characterization. Its unique backmatter highlights all the “super” characteristics moms have [“super protective,” “super caring,” “super devoted”] and would be an excellent mentor for building students’ adjective vocabulary.
• Reviewed and recommended by Roxanne Troup

 

Mommy Time cover mom with two kidsMOMMY TIME
Written by Monique James-Duncan

Illustrated by Ebony Glenn
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 This is an extra special Mother’s Day for debut author, and busy stay-at-home mom, Monique James-Duncan who has brought to life the love and caring involved in working from home in Mommy Time, an enduring and timeless picture book showing the love between a mom and her two young children.

It’s not an easy job being a stay-at-home mom (trust me I was one) and they often go underappreciated. James-Duncan takes the reader through a typical day in a mother’s life from waking up her daughter, who is snuggled in bed with her sweet white cat, and getting her ready before sending her off to school time. But special Mommy time continues for her baby boy who she brings to a parent class with other devoted moms and dads.

Ebony Glenn’s endearing digital art depicts a diverse group of parents shown in soft greens, yellows, and blue tones. Her art of modern-day parents doing life, with smiles on their faces, reinforces that it’s not just the moms who stay home with their young kids. A dad with a dark beard is swinging his daughter at the playground, and another bald dad participates in the singing class.

The rhythmic prose adds a fun page-turning quality to this story as “She hurries with the cleanup time. Me? Help? It’s so exhausting time! Sweeping time, laundry time. It’s stinky diaper changing time.”

The busy day continues when sister is picked up from school and Mommy takes her for library time, playdate time, and on this particular day dentist time. I’m exhausted just reading about her day. Throughout the book, Glenn uses spot art to convey a variety of activities to move the story forward. Then she paints Mommy cuddling baby brother in her arms, while sister lays with mouth wide open in the dentist’s chair. When Daddy returns home it’s evening time and dinner time, and Mommy helps with homework time. But the kids’ favorite time is when sister tells Mommy about her day snuggled on her lap for story time. “Love in her eyes, care in her smiles. Tender, precious moments time.”

This book reminded me of all those meaningful moments spent with my kids when they were that age. This timeless story is a wonderful bedtime read for stay-at-home moms as well as for moms and dads who work outside the home. And a big shout-out to James-Duncan, who found time to write her first book when not cooking, cleaning, or grocery shopping for her children. Bravo to all the hardworking moms.  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Together With You cover Grandma grandchild walk in rainTOGETHER WITH YOU
Written by Patricia Toht

Illustrated by Jarvis
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

I wanted to include a grandmother book on Mother’s Day to extol their importance since many are raising their grandchildren or acting as caregivers and making a huge difference in kids’ lives. What I love about Together With You is what a super job it does of getting into a little boy’s head as he describes the special time spent with his grandmother.

In this well-crafted rhyming picture book, Toht conveys the story via seasons spent together, making it feel like four lovely poems. It begins with spring as showers rain down while Grandma and Grandson “dash through the drops, side by side” as seen on the cover. Jarvis’s illustrations, though created digitally with hand lettering, have a watercolor-mixed-with-pastels look where colors blend into each other.  They switch from the darker, more muted shades of spring to the golden yellows of summer. When the little boy says he’s drippy with sweat, I could feel the change in temperature. When autumn rolls in, the palette becomes more golden with burnt oranges and colors that blend beautifully on the page. The wind pushes again the grandmother and her grandchild as they fly a kite and try to keep their balance. The winter scenes of this adoring pair, whether cozy in jammies or watching snowflakes fall, will warm your heart. I recommend this touching story to share on Mother’s Day, Grandparents’ Day, or for that matter any day you want to celebrate the special bond between a grandparent and grandchild.

 

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Nonfiction Picture Book Review – The River That Wolves Moved

 

 

THE RIVER THAT WOLVES MOVED:
A True Tale from Yellowstone

Written by Mary Kay Carson

Illustrated by David Hohn

(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99,  Ages 5-9)

 

 

The River That Wolves Moved cover wolves river fish in Yellowstone

 

The title of Mary Kay Carson’s new picture book drew me in: The River That Wolves Moved: A True Tale from Yellowstone. What?! How? I wanted to find out. Using the structure of “The House That Jack Built,” we learn why wolves are a crucial part of the ecosystem. Without them, elk overpopulate, overgraze, and, ultimately, cause muddied rivers to forge different paths.

Pages incorporate new lines while repeating what’s come before. Additional information is provided below the main text to paint a broader picture of each animal’s contribution to diversifying the environment.

 

The River That Wolves Moved int1 pack of wolves along river
Interior spread from The River That Wolves Moved written by Mary Kay Carson and illustrated by David Hohn, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872. In the subsequent years, wolves were legally hunted, trapped, and poisoned by rangers and ranchers. By the early 1900s, wolves were gone. Facts are presented in a manner that kids can understand and, rather than seeing wolves as the bad guys, we learn they are helpful and necessary.

 

The River That Wolves Moved int2 walking along the riverbank
Interior spread from The River That Wolves Moved written by Mary Kay Carson and illustrated by David Hohn, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

The illustrations by David Hohn capture the beauty of nature through the eyes of a young girl and her grandfather. Evocative, warm art combined with the lyrical text make this important topic accessible for the youngest child, hopefully fostering environmental stewardship.

 

 

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Nonfiction STEM Picture Book Review – Deep, Deep Down

 

DEEP, DEEP DOWN:
The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench

Written by Lydia Lukidis

Illustrated by Juan Calle

(Capstone; $18.99; Ages 7-11)

 

Deep, Deep Down cover art of Mariana Trench

 

 

From the Publisher:

“Deep, deep down, at the very bottom of the ocean, lies a secret world. Through lyrical narration, this spare-text STEM picture book takes readers on a journey to a place very few humans have ever been—the Mariana Trench. The imagined voyage debunks scary myths about this mysterious place with surprising and beautiful truths about life at Earth’s deepest point. Deep, Deep Down shows a vibrant world far below, and teaches readers how interconnected our lives are to every place on the planet.”
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Deep Deep Down int1 submersible
Interior spread from Deep, Deep Down written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by Juan Calle, Capstone Publishing © 2023.

 

Review:

Lydia Lukidis and Juan Calle bring the underwater world of the Mariana Trench to life in Deep, Deep Down,  a narrative nonfiction title with art that hints at the color and form that may be hidden down below. (Since no one knows for sure what that world would be like to the human eye, I appreciate the disclaimer given on the copyright page, though would like it to be larger to grab readers’ attention.) And while I would not call this a “lyrical” title (it doesn’t have the consistent rhythm I would expect from a lyrical title—even the non-rhyming ones), the text reads smoothly and the author has done a good job of describing this world using vivid, child-friendly verbs and adjectives.

 

Deep Deep Down int2 Sea Cucumber
Interior spread from Deep, Deep Down written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by Juan Calle, Capstone Publishing © 2023.

 

I especially love the added sidebars and captions on each spread that indicate both where we are in the ocean and the creature highlighted in the illustration. These added bits of information (and the three pages of backmatter!) make this title perfect for all ages of fact-hounds; however, I’d like to point out that the suggested age for this picture book is seven to eleven years old. I can see this title being used in the classroom both as a science text and an excellent example of vivid language, and becoming a favorite of students who just want to sit and browse the beautiful illustrations.

*A Recommended Read

Click here for an Educators Guide.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

 

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Picture Book Review by Roxanne Troup – Iceberg

 

 

 

ICEBERG: A LIFE IN SEASONS

Written by Claire Saxby

Illustrated by Jess Racklyeft

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

 

 

Iceberg_cover_solitary_iceberg

 

 

From the Publisher:

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

 

Review:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Picture Book Review by Christine Van Zandt – If Tigers Disappeared

 

IF TIGERS DISAPPEARED
 If Animals Disappeared series, book 5

by Lily Williams

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

 

 

 

If Tigers Disappeared cover

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Battle of the Butts

 

 

 

BATTLE OF THE BUTTS:

THE SCIENCE BEHIND ANIMAL BEHINDS

Illustrated by David Creighton-Pester

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

 

 

 

Battle of the Butts cover

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Middle Grade Book Review – Singing with Elephants

SINGING WITH ELEPHANTS

Written by Margarita Engle

(Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Singing With Elephants cover

 

 

Starred reviews – KirkusPublishers Weekly

 

Struggling to belong, Cuban-born eleven-year-old Oriol discovers her voice in Singing with Elephants, a beautifully moving middle-grade novel in verse written by Newbery honoree and Pura Belpré Award-winning author, Margarita Engle.  

The story takes place in 1947 in Santa Barbara where Oriol lives with her family. She helps take care of injured animals in her parents’ veterinary clinic, located near a “wildlife zoo ranch” that has connections to Hollywood (6). Grieving the recent death of her grandmother and facing hardships at a school that is unwelcoming to immigrants, she struggles with loneliness–until she befriends “la poeta” Gabriela Mistral who has moved near Oriol’s home (12). While the meeting (and subsequent story) is fictional, the poet is a real person, the first Latin American winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature. Oriol is relieved to have found someone who speaks her native tongue, but little does she know the unexpected gift she’ll be receiving from her new friend: learning the language of poetry. 

These lessons are for all of us. “There is no better home for emotions than a poem,” la poeta advises, “which can easily be transformed into a song” (27). The book is rich with simple yet profound expressions of love, loss, heartache, and wholeness. As we learn along with Oriol, poetry is the soul’s way of singing, whether that soul is human or animal. This lesson becomes more apparent as Oriol’s connection to the animals she cares for grows stronger and stronger, in particular her relationship with a pregnant elephant named Chandra whose rhythmic sways and sounds remind her of poetry.

Through her mentor’s gentle encouragement and guidance, Oriol’s writing blossoms–from using it as a source of healing to using it as a force for change. Bit by bit, she “no longer yearn[s]” for Cuba and Abuelita “every moment of every day” (106). And when a famous movie star takes special interest in Chandra, Oriol drafts “poetry-petition[s],” eventually organizing a protest against animal abuse (188). Fighting for her beloved elephants, Oriol finds a sense of belonging. 

Singing with Elephants is the kind of book readers will want to read again and again, catching the pieces of poetry missed from the previous read. An author’s note at the end details Cuban cultural traditions as well as Gabriela Mistral’s life. A list of further readings about and by the poet is also included.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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An Interview with Author Angela Burke Kunkel

 

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

ANGELA BURKE KUNKEL

AUTHOR OF

PENGUIN JOURNEY

ILLUSTRATED BY

CATHERINE ODELL

(Abrams Appleseed; $16.99, Ages 3 to 6)

 

 

Penguin Journey cover

 

 

SUMMARY

 

Packed Snow / Moon glow

Wind-blown / All alone

Penguin Journey is a picture book about the incredible lengths to which emperor penguins go for their young ones. Angela Burke Kunkel’s lyrical text and Catherine Odell’s gorgeous illustrations detail the penguins’ amazing journey, and an author’s note and bibliography provide added context.

 

INTERVIEW

 

Colleen Paeff: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your second book. Penguin Journey will be out in just under a week on October 26. Does it feel any different to have a book coming out once you’ve already experienced it?

Angela Burke Kunkel: Thank you so much! I don’t think it feels very different, no. Each book is its own journey (not to use the title as a pun), and I’ve really enjoyed the process for each one. So it’s equally exciting this time around. 

 

CP: I love the sparse rhyming language in this book. Did it start out that way or were you using spare, beautiful language right from the start?

ABK: It was always intended to be a spare, low-word count story, but the tone definitely changed through revision! Originally, it didn’t rhyme, the language wasn’t as lyrical, and it relied heavily on a refrain. I’m indebted to my editor, Meredith Mundy at ABRAMS Appleseed, for making these suggestions when she requested a revise and resubmit. They really resonated with me and helped guide the book into how it reads now.

 

 

Penguin Journey int1
Interior spread from Penguin Journey written by Angela Burke Kunkel and illustrated by Catherine Odell, Abrams Appleseed ©2021.

 

CP: I love Catherine Odell’s illustrationsespecially the nighttime spreads with the northern lights and the starry skies. They’re so soft and beautiful! Did you give any notes on illustrations in the manuscript? And what did you think when you saw the final art?

ABK: Interestingly enough, Meredith requested that I include art notes with my revision because the text was so spare. I think this throws a lot of picture book writers, who often hear that we should not include any art notes. I’m not sure how many of the notes Cat Odell actually ended up seeing through the process, but it was another tool that helped me communicate the overall story effectively at the time I submitted it.

I’m in awe of Cat’s artwork. She captured the bonds between penguins so beautifully and created such a soft, comforting feel for young readers. And the skies! Just from the stars to the Northern lights and the sunrise. It really takes you on a journey through Antarctica. 

 

CP: What do you hope young readers take away from Penguin Journey?

ABK: Two things, reallyfirst, I hope that this book is one of those bedtime books that families curl up with, that helps a parent feel connected to their child during those read-aloud moments, and where the child just feels immersed in the quiet tone of the book and that feeling of connection. Secondly, I hope that this book instills a love of wildlife even in the youngest readers. As mentioned in the author’s note, penguins have been severely impacted by climate change, and I hope that families will respond to the great lengths penguins go to to raise their young and be motivated to join efforts to protect the species.  

 

 

Penguin Journey int2
Interior spread from Penguin Journey written by Angela Burke Kunkel and illustrated by Catherine Odell, Abrams Appleseed ©2021.

 

 

CP: I hope so, too. Your debut picture book, Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library he Built, was incredibly well-received. It appeared on a number of “Best of 2021” lists and it won the 2021 Américas Book Award. You must have been thrilled to receive so much recognition for all your hard work. Was there one particular honor that really stands out?

ABK: This is a really tough question to answer because I hope that each one is a different opportunity to reach readers! I’m incredibly grateful for all of the recognition that the book has receivedincluding Paola Escobar’s incredible illustrations and the careful guidance of our editor, Ann Kelleyand I’m glad that José’s work resonates with readers. I recently had the opportunity to participate in a virtual panel through CLASP and the Library of Congress with other Américas Awards recipients Aida Salazar, Yamile Saied Méndez, and Raúl the Third, and that was a tremendous honor and a pretty surreal moment.

 

CP: That sounds incredible! Penguin Journey and Digging for Words are both nonfiction, but the styles are very different. Would you say one style comes more naturally than the other for you?

ABK: I would say both books had their joys and their challenges. I do think that despite differences in length and subject matter, Digging for Words and Penguin Journey both have lyrical language, which is a style I’m drawn to. I’ll also add that I found writing in rhyme very challenging, particularly for nonfictionyou have to be accurate and still consider rhyme at the same time, which created two sets of limitations to work within. 

 

CP: That does sound exceptionally challenging. You work as a school librarian. Was it being around all those books that inspired you to start writing for children or was it something else? 

ABK: I definitely think that working as a school librarian is a complementary career! I actually work with adolescents, but try to use picture books when and where I can (and get teens and other adults to buy in). Really it was having children of my own that led me to transitioning from the classroom to librarianship and to writing picture books. In addition to rediscovering old favorites, like Madeline, and Where the Wild Things Are and Miss Rumphius, my kids and I made weekly trips to the library. And suddenly, I was not only revisiting classics I thought I had outgrown and appreciating them with new eyes, but I was reading stacks and stacks of more recently published picture books that were charming, or funny, or feminist, or lyrical, or political, or subversive . . . you get the idea. I found I enjoyed picture books as much as my kids didif not more! and really wanted to try my hand at writing them.

 

CP: How do you manage to squeeze in writing time between work and family? Do you have any favorite productivity hacks?

ABK: I was about to say I wish I had some favorite productivity hacks, because I could definitely use some help, but then I remembered there are two I use regularly and really like. The first is that I gave up bullet journaling (I was spending too much time making it pretty) and now use a Passion Planner. The layout helps me juggle home, day job and writing to-dos all in one place. It’s helpful to have tasks and goals laid out in one notebook rather than separate ones because I tend to forget about what’s not right in front of me. 

I also recently started using a Pomodoro app (I use Focus Keeper) to get started on those tasks I’m dreading or just sort of unmotivated to do at the moment. Once I set the timer and get in the groove, 25 minutes goes by quickly and it’s easier to stay in that zone and continue working.

 

CP: I will definitely be trying those! Is there anything else I should have asked?

ABK: You should have asked me about my new hobby that I picked up during the pandemic: birdwatching! I started to keep a “life list,” or log of all the species I’ve spotted at the start of the pandemic, and I’m trying my hand at bird photography now. It’s snow goose migration season in Vermont, which is just a gorgeous sight.

 

CP: That sounds like an excellent hobby! What’s next for you?

ABK: My next book with illustrator Claire Keane, Make Way, comes out in spring 2023. It’s a dual picture book biography that parallels Robert McCloskey’s creation of Make Way for Ducklings and the work of Nancy Schön, who created the famous duck sculptures for the Boston Public Garden. It was a challenging structure to work within, but so satisfying when it came togetherI loved researching both McCloskey and Schön’s artistic process(es), and I can’t wait to see how Claire Keane represents their stories in her own artwork.

CP: I can’t wait to read it!

 

 

Angela Burke Kunkel
Author Photo Credit ©Mei Lin Barral

BRIEF BIO

Angela Burke Kunkel is a picture book author, school librarian, and former English Language Arts teacher. After soaking up the sun in the Southwest for a number of years, she now lives in Vermont with her family, two dogs, one guinea pig, and one rapidly-growing bearded dragon (really, it’s rather alarming). Her debut, DIGGING FOR WORDS: JOSÉ ALBERTO GUTIÉRREZ AND THE LIBRARY HE BUILT, received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal and has been recognized on multiple book lists. Her second book, PENGUIN JOURNEY, will be published October 26th and has already received a starred review from Kirkus. She has two more nonfiction picture books forthcoming, in 2023 and 2024. 

 

 

PREORDER PENGUIN JOURNEY HERE

https://www.vermontbookshop.com/book/9781419745898

BUY ANGELA’S OTHER BOOKS HERE

https://www.angelakunkel.com/books

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/angkunkel/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/angkunkel

Website: https://www.angelakunkel.com

 

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Colleen Paeff is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (available August 31, 2021, from Margaret K. McElderry Books) and Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi and illustrated by Saffa Khan (available in the spring of 2023 from Chronicle Books).

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Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Out of The Blue

 

OUT OF THE BLUE:
How Animals Evolved from Prehistoric Seas

Written by Elizabeth Shreeve

Illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon

(Candlewick; $17.99, Ages 6-9)

 

 

 

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus and School Library Journal

 

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

e

 

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

 

e

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

e

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

 

 

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

 

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Six Kids Books for National Poetry Month

CELEBRATE NATIONAL POETRY MONTH

WITH THESE GREAT KIDS BOOKS

 

 

 

TheBonYourThumb coverTHE B ON YOUR THUMB:
60 Poems to Boost Reading and Spelling
Written by Colette Hiller
Illustrated by Tor Freeman
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books; $19.99, Ages 3-8)

The title and cover pulled me in and I could not wait to read this hilarious poetry book meant for children and parent, caregiver or any adult to experience together. It’s done so well that kids will laugh while learning some unusual things about the English language that grown-ups may now take for granted. “The illustrated rhymes and delightful ditties” will definitely boost early reading “as each poem teaches a specific sound, spelling, or rule.” There is clever wordplay and just so much to enjoy. I found it hard to narrow down the poems that I wanted to share here, but I’ll try with this one about sounds.

 

The Man in the Moon
The Man in the moon
dropped into our school,
just yesterday morning
round about noon.
You may not believe me
but I have the proof:
there’s a man-in-the_moon
shaped hole in the roof!

 

Some poems in the section on silent letters that I loved include The K on Your Knee, Answer This, Why is That?, A Secret Number, and Christmas at the Castle. In the spellings sections, I’m sure kids will LOL at A Clue, Separate, and A Lot. And in the homophones section, Two, Too, and To is a great one to share as is Which Witch, and A Whole Donut. Especially helpful is the backmatter with exercises and activities to do with children. Tor Freeman’s personified letters and cheerful art bring the poems to life with their quirky charm and vibrant colors. As adults we may have forgotten how hard the peculiarities of our English language are for youngsters to grasp. This book makes it not only educational and entertaining but utterly irresistible! 

 

Catch the Sky coverCATCH THE SKY:
Playful Poems on the Air We Share
Written by Robert Heidbreder
Illustrated by Emily Dove
(Greystone Kids; $17.95, Ages 3-8)

All around the world, one thing there’s no denying, is we all can look up and see the moon in the night’s sky because, in addition to sharing the air we breathe, we also share the sky and all its treasures. Heidbreder captures the marvel of nature and more in bite-sized poems filling 40 pages of pure delight. In his opening poem, Catch The Sky he writes

Look up! Gaze round!
Cast eyes to air.
Catch the sky
that we all share.

Two-page spreads with poems on opposite pages cleverly take readers around the world to meet diverse characters finding so much wonder everywhere. Whether that’s a squirrel walking a power line or crows heading for home in the evening, there’s always something to enjoy with every page turn. One particular spread I like is a city buildings scape with the first poem showing people on rooftops flying kites. In the foreground of the same spread is a birthday celebration and the poem is about balloons. With the story moving from sunrise throughout the day to nightfall, Catch the Sky can also be an ideal bedtime read that, with the lovely and calming art, should inspire beautiful and sweet dreams.

 

A Poem is a Firefly cvrA POEM IS A FIREFLY
Written by Charles Ghigna
Illustrated by Michelle Hazelwood Hyde
(Schiffer Kids; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

This gentle introduction to poetry is a rhyming tale that tips its hat to nature when describing all the things a poem can be. What perfect inspiration for the littlest poets in your family! A bear and his forest friends share their impressions about what makes a poem which teachers can use as a jumping-off point for creative writing prompts.

A poem is a wild rose,
a promise just begun,
a blossom new
with fragrant dew
unfurling in the sun.

Even without the vibrant art, Ghigna’s words are easy to imagine. Yet Hyde’s illustrations are not only cheerful and packed with adorable animals—the moose is my fave—they’re lush with a jewel-toned palette that complements the rich colors of all the animals. Kids will love how poems can be found everywhere, from a laugh to a sigh or in the stars in the sky. Talk about poetry at your fingertips! 

 

This Poem is a Nest coverTHIS POEM IS A NEST
Written by Irene Latham
Illustrated by Johanna Wright
(Wordsong; $17.99, Ages 7 and up)

A Kirkus Reviews Best Book
An NCTE Notable Poetry Book

I have never read a poetry book quite like This Poem is a Nest. Its brilliance will stay with you long after you’ve finished your first reading. I want to emphasize first because you will want to return to it again and again, especially as your moods change. I could not put it down, eager to see how Latham would take her original 37-line, four-part poem, “Nest,” then create what she calls nestlings, 161 smaller poems within it on topics as broad as the seasons, space, the alphabet, relationships and emotions. I read in awe how she took the nest concept and then soared. It begins in 1. Spring 

This poem has twigs in it, and little bits of feather-fluff.
It’s got wings and birdsong stitched together with ribbons of hope. 

Consider this book a key to an alchemist’s lab. It will take children to magical places they have never imagined words could take them, places where they will definitely create gold. Using the concepts of found poems or blackout poetry that Latham explains in the beginning of the book, she makes it all look so easy. But clearly it was not effortless. It obviously takes patience and commitment. This Poem is a Nest resonated with me because I could feel the love and devotion she put into each and every nestling. Latham includes tips in her conclusion to set readers off to find their own nests of inspiration. Wright’s simple black and white spot art is a treat, full of children dreaming, birds flying, and animals playing. I’ll leave you with this beautiful one called Parent Poem: this poem has endless faith in you. ENJOY!

ICE!PoemsAboutPolarLife cvrICE! POEMS ABOUT POLAR LIFE
Written and illustrated by Douglas Florian
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 7-10)

Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year

Author-illustrator Douglas Florian deftly tackles those two remote places on our planet known as the Arctic and Antarctica in the most whimsical and unexpected ways in his poetry and art. At the same time he adds important factual information below each poem making this a must-read picture book. In other words, kids can come for the verse, but they’ll stay for the info since there is so much to learn, especially since these areas and their flora and fauna are threatened by climate change. There are 21 poems ranging from those about animals such as the polar bear, blue whale, the Arctic hare, and musk ox to ones about the polar regions, the tundra and climate change. Florian’s included clever wordplay and makes every poem a joy to read aloud especially the one about a ptimid bird called the Ptarmigan whose home is the rocky tundra. I pfound this one about krill especially pfunny:

Fish and penguins, squids and seals,
all find krill make splendid meals.
Blue whales eat krill by the millions:
Millions! Billions! Trillions! Krillions!

Describing his original artwork, The Poetry Foundation said, “Florian’s illustrated poetry books for children often incorporate elements of collage, watercolor, and gouache on a surface of primed paper bags.” Kids will find the humor in the art pairs perfectly with the characteristics of the animals presented whether it’s the Arctic Hare toting an umbrella on a bad hare day or with the menace to small creatures, the very TALONted Snowy Owl. Backmatter includes info about Florian, his interest in natural science, and his engaging art style.

 

Spiku coverSPI-KU:
A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs

Written by Leslie Bulion
Illustrated by Robert Meganck
(Peachtree Publishing; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

Starred Review – Kirkus

If you have a child that loves to learn while enjoying all different kinds of poems, Spi-Ku is the book for you to share with them. As wonderful as the poems are, so too is the variety of factual information included.

Middle-grade readers quickly learn that “all spiders are arachnids, but some arachnids mite not be spiders.” I always thought a daddy long legs was a spider, but it’s not. I also had no idea that a mite and a tick are part of the arachnid family. For some reason, I thought spiders have antennae but they don’t. What they do have are two main body regions and are “the only arachnids that have a narrow waist called a pedicel connecting the two main body parts.” How closely do you look at spiders? I honestly don’t take the time. At home, when I see a spider, I usually grab a plastic container to catch them and set them free outside.

Bulion breaks down different aspects of spiders. In Spiders on the Move this funny poem says it all.

 

Fishing Spider
Row, row, row my legs,
Pairs two and three are oars,
My first legs feel the way ahead,
Which do no work? My fours!

One of my favorite sections details in poems and prose how clever spiders are. Masters of disguise and creating ploys to catch their prey, these eight-legged creatures are not to be underestimated. There are sections on Spider Mamas, Spider Enemies and topics you might not ever have considered when thinking about spiders such as senses or their interesting courting rituals.

The plethora of poems are presented alongside descriptive paragraphs, and illustrations that are both whimsical, and scientifically accurate. Each one is so distinct and full of character. I applaud Meganck for not creeping me out with his spider art, and I think even mild arachnophobes will likely agree. Readers will find limericks, concrete poems, haiku, free verse, cinquains throughout the book with explanations about these and other poetic forms used in the comprehensive backmatter. Teachers can take advantage of the glossary of common and scientific names, a relative size chart, and more. Here’s a link to a teacher’s guide.

 

 

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Kids Picture Books for World Butterfly Day 2021

 

WORLD BUTTERFLY DAY

∼A Roundup∼

 

 

 

 

This year World Butterfly Day is on Sunday, March 14 so we’ve rounded up three picture books
that will help kids learn about these natural beauties, why they matter, and how we can help them since the Monarchs especially risk going extinct.

 

Butterflies Belong Here coverBUTTERFLIES BELONG HERE: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies
Written by Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrated by Meilo So
(Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

Blending story and facts, Deborah Hopkinson’s engaging 68-page picture book, Butterflies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies, takes us through a school year via girl new to the US. Just as monarch butterflies travel far, so did her family. The girl learns to read through books like her favorite one with a butterfly on the cover.

The text alternates between the girl’s journey from one spring to the next with her school class and that of the monarch butterfly. As seasons pass, she hopes to see a monarch but realizes that she may not. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed but butterflies have a hard time finding it. “Some people think of milkweed as a useless weed, so they’ve used chemicals to keep it from growing in fields and on farmland. In other places, climate change has been causing droughts that make it difficult for milkweed to grow.”

I can empathize with the girl as she realizes that the “problem is so big, and butterflies are so small.” Though uncomfortable standing in front of her class, the girl gains their support in planting a monarch way station which “needs at least ten plants, with two different kinds of milkweed, and nectar flowers.”

Throughout, Meilo So’s uplifting art enlivens the girl’s growth as she enacts the librarian’s words, “It’s surprising what such a tiny creature can do,” demonstrating the power when we come together as conservationists and activists. Monarch butterflies traverse up to 3,000 miles, from Canada through the US to Mexico. They do not recognize borders, seeking only safe passage to survive from one generation to the next.

Beyond being a heartfelt read, Butterflies Belong Here is a call to action, providing notes in the back matter on how to help by involving your community. This book belongs in your classroom or home, just as these beautiful pollinators belong in our lives.

 

Winged Wonders coverWINGED WONDERS: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery
Written by Meeg Pincus
Illustrated by Yas Imamura
(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99, Ages 7-10)

Meeg Pincus’s nonfiction picture book, Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery, investigates where these beautiful butterflies travel, sweeping from Canada through North America, then seemingly disappearing. In 1976, through the work of people from all walks of life, the fact that millions of monarchs overwintered in Southern Mexico’s oyamel groves were finally officially documented because of tags placed on the butterflies.

Kids will enjoy how everyone pitched in: Fred the Canadian scientist, Norah a master organizer of collected data, plus thousands of “science teachers, backyard gardeners, and other curious souls.” The search unravels in a series of questions that figure out this fascinating migration. I appreciate that the back matter points out “history depends on who tells the story—Mexican poet and environmentalist Homero Aridjis asks: ‘Did the white scientists really “discover” the wintering sites that people in Southern Mexico knew about for centuries?’”

One of the book’s final questions, “So, who can make a difference for monarchs today?” is answered in Yas Imamura’s evocative art. The concluding “How to Help the Monarchs” section provides the shocking statistic that “habitats for monarchs are declining at a rate of 6,000 acres a day in the United States.” Steps we can do to help include planting pesticide-free milkweed (the only food the caterpillars can eat) and nectar plants for the butterflies, learning and educating others about the need for conservation, and treading more lightly on our planet—“use less plastic, electricity, water, chemicals; eat more plant-based, local foods.”

 

Hello Little One coverHELLO, LITTLE ONE: A Monarch Butterfly Story
Written by Zeena M. Pliska
Illustrated by Fiona Halliday
(Page Street Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)    

Zeena Pliska’s picture book, Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story, shows the monarch butterfly life cycle through the eyes of a newborn caterpillar surrounded by the color green until Orange (a monarch butterfly) soars into view. A friendship grows with the caterpillar wanting to see and know everything while Orange provides gentle guidance. The expressive art by Fiona Halliday zooms in close, providing detail and personality.

Kids will enjoy this relationship story—barely realizing it’s also educational! While much of the book is uplifting, the truth of a monarch’s short existence is handled delicately, with Orange honestly saying they will not be back. The loss is acknowledged and mourned but the main character goes on, boosted by the remembrance of their time together.

I like the circular nature of the story and how personification makes the text accessible to even the youngest kids. Back matter includes detail about the stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult (butterfly). Check under the book jacket for a second cover image.

 

Click here to read a review of another wonderful butterfly book.
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Kids’ Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Becoming a Good Creature

BECOMING A GOOD CREATURE

Written by Sy Montgomery

Illustrated by Rebecca Green

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

 

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Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

 

Sy Montgomery’s New York Times best-selling memoir, How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals, inspired the picture book, Becoming a Good Creature. Herein she conveys her beliefs that we can—and should—learn from animals. Montgomery’s fundamental messages include “respect others,” “find good teachers,” and “see for yourself.” She encourages us to take a closer look at the world and everything inhabiting it. In doing so, we are bound to “love little lives” and find ways to nurture them because we’re all in this together.

 

GoodCreature int1
Interior spread from Becoming a Good Creature written by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BYR ©2020.

 

While naturalist and adventurer Montgomery has led an extraordinary life, traveling the world and living with animals, we don’t have to fly far away to find something worth exploring.

 

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Interior spread from Becoming a Good Creature written by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BYR ©2020.

 

During the pandemic, my family has discovered and interacted with previously overlooked insects in our garden. Becoming a Good Creature reinforces such behavior. It also shows that women can make their own families and forge their own paths.

 

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Interior spread from Becoming a Good Creature written by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BYR ©2020.

 

Rebecca Green’s paintings, full of delightful animals, depict Montgomery from girl through woman and showcase how curiosity inspired her positive interactions with animals around the globe. For example, alongside the beautifully poignant illustrations of an octopus, a young Montgomery wonders what could we possibly have in common with them; the answer is playing! This uplifting book stresses the importance of communication and caring—much-needed actions for successful coexistence on our planet.

  • Click here then scroll down the page to learn more about Rebecca Green’s artwork.
  • Read a review of another picture book about animals here.

 

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