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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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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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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 – Ducks Overboard!

DUCKS OVERBOARD!:
A TRUE STORY OF PLASTIC IN OUR OCEANS 

by Markus Motum

(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 7-10)

 

Ducks Overboard! cover

 

We Don’t Need to Wait Until Earth Day to Pay Attention to Our Environment

 

If you’re looking for a nonfiction book that reads like a story, you’ve found it! Narrated by a rubber ducky, this picture book by author-illustrator Markus Motum, Ducks Overboard!: A True Story of Plastic in Our Oceans, explains how 28,000 ducks ended up in the middle of the ocean. The reader adventures along with the ducks in unknown territory as they encounter sea creatures and garbage. Viewing it from the duck’s perspective reinforces how animals are endangered by plastics in their environment, eating them or becoming entangled.

 

Ducks Overboard int1
DUCKS OVERBOARD! © 2021 Markus Motum. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

 

A world map clearly explains how the ducks traveled on ocean currents to various destinations. Our duck, however, becomes stuck in the swirling Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a mass of trash about twice the size of Texas—until, finally, freed. Though this duck’s story has a happy ending, much is learned in the process that gives us cause to think about how our everyday choices are hurting our planet.

 

Ducks Overboard int2
DUCKS OVERBOARD! © 2021 Markus Motum. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

e

The mixed-media illustrations are done in beautiful ocean blues which showcase the bright yellow duck(s). Back matter includes “Lost at Sea” (about other missing shipping containers) and “Ocean Currents” (explaining ocean movement and gyres). “Plastic Facts” and “How You Can Help” reminds us that 40 percent of plastic is single-use and, because most cannot be recycled, those items break down into smaller and smaller pieces causing far-reaching damage. I appreciate how this book handles such a dire topic in a manner that feels as lightweight as your bathtub ducky.

 

 

 

 

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The Diamond and The Boy by Hannah Holt

THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY:
THE CREATION OF DIAMONDS AND THE LIFE OF H. TRACY HALL
Written by Hannah Holt

Illustrated by Jay Fleck
(Balzer & Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

The Diamond and The Boy book cover art

 

Starred Review – Booklist

Holt’s debut nonfiction picture book digs deep into family history, introducing readers to natural and industrial diamond creation with an engaging dual narrative structure.

Cleverly designed, THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY: THE CREATION OF DIAMONDS AND THE LIFE OF H. TRACY HALL is engineered to compare graphite, a common gray rock, and young Tracy Hall, an inventor and the author’s grandfather. Free-form poetry on facing pages invite easy associations between the rock and the boy, subjected to physical and societal pressures respectively, which transform them over time.

Tension builds naturally through Holt’s lyrical mirrored text. Of the graphite; “Mighty, unyielding, brilliant. The rock would dazzle if it had any light to reflect, but it doesn’t.” She writes of the boy; “Mighty, unyielding, brilliant. His inventions dazzle classmates, But Tracy is still penny poor, with so many ideas floating just out of reach.”

 

int spread rock boy from The Diamond and The Boy by Hannah Holt
Interior illustrations from The Diamond and The Boy written by Hannah Holt with artwork by Jay Fleck, Balzer & Bray ©2018.

 

The tale celebrates Hall’s perseverance and resolve in the face of poverty and bullying. These obstacles ultimately build his resilience as he develops an invention to produce industrial diamonds. For those interested in learning more about diamonds, Holt provides backmatter on the mined diamond industry including the DeBeers monopoly and “blood diamond” conflict in Africa. A timeline and bibliography are also appended.

 

int artwork small gray meager from The Diamond and The Boy
Interior illustrations from The Diamond and The Boy written by Hannah Holt with artwork by Jay Fleck, Balzer & Bray ©2018.

 

Fleck’s color-saturated illustrations are digitally enhanced and multi-layered, keeping the focus squarely on the man and the gem. Clever use of the color palette, alternating between the echoing narratives, helps balance the book visually. The contrast nicely reinforces the natural comparison of Hall’s and the diamond’s transformations. Fleck makes excellent use of angular elements such as the striations of the earth, books shelved in the library, diamond facets and kite strings, while occasional red-orange ‘explosions’ emphasize dramatic changes.

 

interior artwork from The Diamond and The Boy Waiting
Interior illustrations from The Diamond and The Boy written by Hannah Holt with artwork by Jay Fleck, Balzer & Bray ©2018.

 

In THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY, Holt offers a personal and noteworthy celebration of a man deep in substance and character. This book is a different and delightful choice for readers of history, industrial manufacturing, or STEM classroom libraries. The intersection of science and personal character development is a unique and rich format that will engage a variety of readers and potential young inventors.

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
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