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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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Nonfiction Picture Book Review – A River of Dust

 

A RIVER OF DUST

Written by Jilanne Hoffmann

Illustrated by Eugenia Mello

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

A River of Dust cover North Africa to Amazon.

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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

 AN INTERVIEW WITH ISHITA JAIN

ABOUT HER ILLUSTRATOR DEBUT

THE FOREST KEEPER:
The True Story of Jadav Payeng 

(NorthSouth; $18.95, Ages 5-9)

 

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

INTRO:

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

 

INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

IJ: Without a doubt, yes!

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

 

Click here to order a copy of The Forest Keeper today

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

Get a teacher’s guide here.

 

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

ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

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

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Picture Book Review – Wake, Sleepy One

 

 

WAKE, SLEEPY ONE:

California Poppies and the Super Bloom

by Lisa Kerr

Illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun

(West Margin Press; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

From seed to “super bloom,” debut author, Lisa Kerr, introduces readers to the California desert poppy in a combination of lyrical and expository nonfiction text. From the publisher: “A lyrical ode to California’s most treasured wildflower, Wake, Sleepy One gently captures the quiet strength of the poppy in all its breathtaking wonder.”

 

Wake Sleepy One int1 desert
Interior spread from Wake, Sleepy One written by Lisa Kerr and illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun, West Margin Press ©2022.

 

As the sleepy poppy wakes, it “rises” from the ground “reaching” for the sun and “waiting” for her time to shine. This “tiny dancer” swirls and twirls in the breeze as it is joined by hundreds of other waking seeds in a rare natural phenomenon of the desert super bloom.

 

Wake Sleepy One int2 poppies wake
Interior spread from Wake, Sleepy One written by Lisa Kerr and illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun, West Margin Press ©2022.

 

Lisa Powell Braun’s charming artwork supports Kerr’s spare text and offers a variety of reading options for this book. The youngest of listeners will be able to grasp the story’s concept and watch the poppy “wake…rise…reach…wait…unfold…dance” and “shimmer” with a simple reading of each page’s single italicized line. Preschool and kindergarten listeners will delight in the added emotional tension of the entire main text, while older readers will appreciate the facts in Kerr’s nonfiction sidebars.

 

Wake Sleepy One int3 backmatter
Interior art from Wake, Sleepy One written by Lisa Kerr and illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun, West Margin Press ©2022.

 

Two full spreads of stellar backmatter add to its usability in the classroom, and make this a perfect resource for learning about desert landscapes!

  •  Reviewed by Roxanne Troup
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Kids Book Review – The Night Flower for National Garden Month

 

 

THE NIGHT FLOWER:
The Blooming of the Saguaro Cactus
By Lara Hawthorne
(Big Picture Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

 

The Night Flower by Lara Hawthorne book cover art

 

 

The Sonoran desert is busy with all sorts of activity. Lara Hawthorne’s 32-page nonfiction picture book, The Night Flower: The Blooming of the Saguaro Cactus invites the reader to explore this lively world. The book’s rhyming lines are upbeat and evocative: “Around the saguaro, in the shining moonlight, the desert is festive and thriving tonight.”

Facts bookend the text, deepening a reader’s understanding about the wonderful saguaro cactus’s spectacular bloom which occurs only one night each year. “During this short period, their strong scent and brilliant white petals attract rare pollinators, including bats, moths, and doves.” For a few hours in the morning, the pollen’s shared with day creatures such as birds and bees.

 

interior artwork from The Night Flower by Lara Hawthorne
THE NIGHT FLOWER. Copyright © 2018 by Lara Hawthorne. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Kids will like the “Did you spot . . .?” section at the end which encourages them to connect the descriptions of ten animals back to the story. The colorfully illustrated saguaro life cycle and glossary are in kid-friendly language to engage even the youngest child. I enjoyed the fresh perspective on animals such as the grasshopper mouse, a “fierce, furry hunter” which is “known to stand on its hind legs and howl at night.”

 

 

The Night Flower by Lara Hawthorne interior artwork
THE NIGHT FLOWER. Copyright © 2018 by Lara Hawthorne. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Hawthorne’s watercolor images introduce whimsy and beauty. This glimpse at something rare is educational and fun. I may have missed the saguaro’s amazing bloom, but, if our travels take us to the desert, I’ll keep a lookout for the gorgeous rainbow grasshopper.

 

 

 

 

 

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Never Say Never! Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story

NATURE’S FRIEND:
THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY
Written by Lindsey McDivitt
Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 6-9)

 

cover art from Nature's Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story by Lindsey McDivitt

 

One of the best parts about reviewing children’s books is learning about someone or something new. That’s exactly what happened after reading Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story by Lindsey McDivitt with illustrations by Eileen Ryan Ewen. You may have noticed that there aren’t a lot of traditionally published picture books about people with disabilities, but there are more now than there used to be and that’s a good thing. Authors like McDivitt are making a difference by writing about diverse individuals and topics which I truly appreciate and why I jumped at the chance to review Nature’s Friend.

This inspiring debut picture book biography introduces children to the art and writing of Gwen Frostic, someone about whom, as I mentioned above, I knew nothing prior to reading the book. And now I’m eager to see her art in person and you will be, too. Born in Michigan in 1906, Frostic contracted an illness as an infant that left her physically disabled. But with the positive influence of her mother, Gwen never avoided doing all the things that her brothers and sisters did. “I never knew I couldn’t do something,” is the overarching message of Nature’s Friend, a quote in McDivitt’s book that captures the essence of who Gwen was—a bright, creative and resourceful woman who never let perceived obstacles hold her back. She clearly was ahead of her time.

 

Int illustration by Eileen Ryan Ewen from Nature's Friend by Lindsey McDivitt
Interior artwork from Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story written by Lindsey McDivitt and illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen, Sleeping Bear Press ©2018.

 

Gwen’s mother, a former teacher, could have taught her daughter at home because in the early 20th century it was more common for disabled children to stay at home. Instead, Mrs. Frostic “sent Gwen to school and pushed her to learn.” While the bullying might have painful, the young girl chose to focus on her academics and was an adept student. In fact, it was also due to her mother’s encouragement and guidance that Gwen’s weak hands grew stronger as her mother had her practice sketching. Gwen, who had embraced nature at an early age, would find later in life that this experience greatly influenced her career path.

 

int art by Eileen Ryan Ewen from Nature's Friend by Lindsey McDivitt
Interior artwork from Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story written by Lindsey McDivitt and illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen, Sleeping Bear Press ©2018.

 

At age 12, Gwen’s family moved to Detroit. It was there in high school that she learned mechanical drawing and other skills not typically part of a girl’s curriculum. Someone wrote in her yearbook, “Her brush, her pencil and her pen will make this world a better place!” But pursuing a career in art wasn’t necessarily going to provide for her. The tides turned in her favor when wealthy and influential people began purchasing her designs. What joy and satisfaction it must have been for Frostic when her art was chosen to be exhibited at the 1939 New York World’s Fair! Soon though her grand plans were put on hold due to WWII. She went to work at the Ford Motor Company to help the war effort by designing “tools for building the airplanes.”

In addition to Gwen’s airplane construction work, at home she remained drawn to art, eventually purchasing a printing press and starting her own business. Frostic called it Presscraft Papers Stationary Company and based it first in Frankfort, Michigan and then on the Betsie River to be closer to nature. The back matter states that Frostic created greeting cards and books that “celebrated Michigan plans and wildlife.” She was awarded countless honors in her lifetime and worked in her shop well into her 90s.

 

int art by Eileen Ryan Ewen from Nature's Friend by Lindsey McDivitt
Interior artwork from Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story written by Lindsey McDivitt and illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen, Sleeping Bear Press ©2018.

 

Ewen’s serene artwork conveys Frostic’s love of nature on every page. I also felt the movement and emotion as Gwen clenched her sketching pencil, smelled the fresh Michigan air in the beautifully rendered outdoor scenes and watched the changing fashions go by as Gwen matured. The illustrations, coupled with McDivitt’s honest and uplifting prose that applauds determination and individuality, promises hope and invites creativity (there’s a craft included at the end), make this a wonderful and worthwhile read for not only kids, but for adults too who may be unfamiliar with Frostic.

Everything about Gwen Frostic was unique, from her art to her attitude. Rather than let society define what she could and couldn’t do as a woman and as a person with disabilities, she wrote her own rules and lived happily and successfully by them. Considering the era she lived in, it’s especially encouraging to read about female trailblazers like Gwen Frostic who forged ahead with their talents allowing their heart to guide them.

“As long as there are trees in tiny seeds … there will be miracles on earth.” – Gwen Frostic, A Walk With Me

Learn more about Gwen’s studio here.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read another picture book biography here.

 

 

 

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Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez

JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR
Written by Patricia Valdez,
Illustrated by Felicita Sala
(Alfred A. Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Cover illustration from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor

 

Lovely language and engaging illustrations energize Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles, an amazing picture book biography about a trailblazing scientist from debut author Patricia Valdez and illustrator Felicita Sala.

 

Interior illustration of young Joan from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor
Interior spread from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez with illustrations by Felicita Sala, Knopf BYR ©2018.

 

Fascinated by reptiles from an early age, Joan Procter followed her childhood passion for slithery, scaly, unusual animals to an internationally renowned career at London’s Zoo and the Natural History Museum. Valdez introduces us to young, curious Joan, holding tea parties with reptiles while her peers preferred dolls. As Joan grew, her interest did not wane, so at 16 years old she received a pet crocodile as a birthday gift!

 

Interior illustration spread from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor
Interior spread from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez with illustrations by Felicita Sala, Knopf BYR ©2018.

 

In due time, Joan chatted up the director of Natural History museum about his work with reptiles. She began working there, surveying the museum’s vast collections, publishing research papers, and creating detailed, realistic models and drawings for the reptile exhibits. Given her enthusiasm, experience and extensive knowledge, Joan eventually became the Curator, an unusual role for a female scientist at the time.

When invited to re-design the London Zoo Reptile House, Joan fell in love with a new and exotic creature, the Komodo dragon. This so-called fierce, man-eating lizard was “rumored to be…Thirty feet long! Faster than a motorcar! Stronger than an ox!” Joan, undeterred, could not wait to study the dragons first-hand. Her deep connection with one Komodo called Sumbawa led to some of the most stunning and innovative work of her career.

 

Interior illustration of tea party from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor
Interior artwork from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez with illustrations by Felicita Sala, Knopf BYR ©2018.

 

Valdez keeps the paces of this fascinating story lively by introducing wonderful vocabulary woven carefully and completely within a child-friendly framework and perspective. She highlights her heroine’s passion and determination in an understated yet direct manner, giving Joan relevance and timeliness that transcend her time period. Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor is an essential addition for collections on women in STEM fields, with the broad appeal of reptiles and science for many young readers boosts this title to the top.

Salas illustrates dramatically, choosing with vibrant, rich colors for the settings, the tropical plants, and the starring-role reptiles. Joan is elegant yet serious, portrayed close to and interacting with her creatures, focused on them with great intensity, delight and passion. The reptiles themselves are marvelously textured and stylized, creeping, curving and twisting with dignified realism. Throughout the story, Salas provides tantalizing glimpses of early 20th century London through architecture and fashions of the era.

 

Interior illustration from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor
Interior artwork from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez with illustrations by Felicita Sala, Knopf BYR ©2018.

 

Valdez includes additional biographical information on Procter as well as on Komodo Dragons. A bibliography with primary and secondary sources is a helpful resource for young readers who wish to explore more. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn about this impressive scientist, her beloved ‘dragons’ and her trailblazing career in a book that is as beautiful and brilliant as it is important.

 

Where obtained: I reviewed an advanced reader copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

ABOUT JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR

For fans of Ada Twist: Scientist comes a fascinating picture book biography of a pioneering female scientist–who loved reptiles!

Back in the days of long skirts and afternoon teas, young Joan Procter entertained the most unusual party guests: slithery and scaly ones, who turned over teacups and crawled past the crumpets…. While other girls played with dolls, Joan preferred the company of reptiles. She carried her favorite lizard with her everywhere–she even brought a crocodile to school!

When Joan grew older, she became the Curator of Reptiles at the British Museum. She went on to design the Reptile House at the London Zoo, including a home for the rumored-to-be-vicious Komodo dragons. There, just like when she was a little girl, Joan hosted children’s tea parties–with her Komodo dragon as the guest of honor.

With a lively text and vibrant illustrations, scientist and writer Patricia Valdez and illustrator Felicita Sala bring to life Joan Procter’s inspiring story of passion and determination.

Starred Reviews: Booklist, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

 

 

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Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean written by Sigrid Schmalzer

 

MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN:
Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong’s Work

for Sustainable Farming
Written by Sigrid Schmalzer,
Illustrated by Melanie Linden Chan
(Tilbury House Publishing, $17.95, ages 6-9)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean cover image

 

 

A farm boy in China relates the tale of Pu Zhelong, a scientist and conservationist, and introduces readers to early research in sustainable agriculture practices in MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN.

Through a series of flashbacks, author Sigrid Schmalzer reveals how invasive moths and beetles were destroying precious village crops. When villagers try to defeat the pests, their methods repeatedly fail. As the threat of famine looms, Pu Zhelong, an outsider, arrives bearing new, untested scientific ideas. Can Pu Zhelong save the rice crop without using harmful and ineffective pesticides?

With patience, restraint and deference, Pu Zhelong eventually wins over the skeptical villagers. His innovative methodology, introducing parasitic wasps to destroy the crop-consuming moths, led to a successful and sustainable victory for the farmers. Schmalzer’s imaginative and informative text weaves a tale that will engage young scientists with its ingenuity and sophistication while celebrating this little-known environmental hero.

Debut illustrator Melanie Linden Chan pairs intricate and multi-layered images with the factual content, making this book a pleasure for young readers to pore over. Structuring the narrator’s flashbacks in a journal format, Chan cleverly weaves scientifically precise illustrations against a lush agricultural setting. Elements of Chinese art, history and culture frame the narrative in an engaging, pictoral manner that both delight and inform.

An extensive endnote provides additional information on the history of the story, as well as suggestions for further reading. Also included is a detailed explanation of the decorative Chinese folk art papercuts utilized by the illustrator, and referenced to the pages where they appear in the text.

MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN offers a unique, child-friendly perspective on a earliest origins of agroscience. Add this STEAM selection to your school or classroom library to add depth to collections on organic farming, sustainable agriculture and Chinese history.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained: I reviewed a digital advanced reader copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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B is for Bear: A Natural Alphabet by Hannah Viano

B IS FOR BEAR: A NATURAL ALPHABET
Written and illustrated by Hannah Viano
(Little Bigfoot/Sasquatch Books; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

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Hannah Viano dedicates her new alphabet book to “…all of those who let children run a little wild, climbing trees and splashing in puddles. It is worth all the laundry and lost mittens.” It is a delightful sentiment for a book that will inspire a strong appreciation for the natural world in readers both young and old.

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Interior artwork from B is for Bear: A Natural Alphabet by Hannah Viano, Little Bigfoot/Sasquatch Books, ©2015.

The illustrations in B is for Bear are perfectly stunning. Although they appear to be woodcuts at first glance, the process is even more interesting. Viano uses a graceful papercutting technique, carving thick outlines from black paper with an X-ACTO knife. She then adds soft pastel colors digitally in a rich range from gold to olive to amethyst. The look is at once classic and contemporary, as the bold lines capture the energy and motion inherent in her natural subject matter.

IntartRBisforBear
Interior artwork from B is for Bear: A Natural Alphabet by Hannah Viano, Little Bigfoot/Sasquatch Books, ©2015.

The alphabet letters, upper and lowercase, are suspended at the top of each page, punched in a white font onto the thick black border around each illustration. The natural keywords that she selects range nicely from animals (J for Jackrabbit) to natural objects (P for Pebble). Below the bottom border Viano provides clear but poetic descriptions as well as a few additional fascinating facts. For example, from L for Lightning Bug, “Call them fireflies or lightning bugs or Lampyridae. They fill a summer night with magical lights.”

Viano adeptly shows natural objects of all sizes, from massive mountains and soaring waves to tiny dandelion puffs and Queen Anne’s lace florets. The variety keeps the A to Z alphabet format interesting and surprising, with a fair mix of unusual versus familiar subjects for children. The book as an object itself is lovely, with sturdy proportions perfect for small hands. The pages are printed on thick, smooth, semi-matte paper that lends a sophisticated, organic feel.

B is for Bear, and for book, beautiful and breathtaking!

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of B IS FOR BEAR from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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