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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 by Armineh Manookian – The Garden We Share

 

THE GARDEN WE SHARE

Written by Zoë Tucker

Illustrated by Julianna Swaney

(NorthSouth Books; $18.95; Ages 4-8)

 

The Garden We Share cover

 

Seasons bring change–in the garden and in life–in author Zoë Tucker and illustrator Julianna Swaney’s tender, intergenerational story, The Garden We Share, about love, loss, and hope.

 

The Garden We Share int1
Interior spread from The Garden We Share written by Zoë Tucker and illustrated by Julianna Swaney, NorthSouth Books ©2022.

 

Walking into a community garden on a crisp spring morning, a little girl and her elderly friend plant seeds, “each little dot full of hope and promise.” Elderly friends join in to help and share each other’s company as they pass the time together, waiting patiently until the plants finally “burst into life” and the garden is “a riot of color.” Swaney’s soothing palette of olive greens, mustard yellows, peachy reds, and poppy-pumpkin oranges provides spaces filled with warmth and comfort. 

 

The Garden We Share int2
Interior spread from The Garden We Share written by Zoë Tucker and illustrated by Julianna Swaney, NorthSouth Books ©2022.

 

 

Sometimes relaxing under the sun and sometimes busy with garden work, the little girl and her friend take their treasures into the kitchen, processing the beautiful bounty they’ve collected–all of which culminates into a jubilant feast for the whole community. 

 

 

The Garden We Share int3
Interior spread from The Garden We Share written by Zoë Tucker and illustrated by Julianna Swaney, NorthSouth Books ©2022.

 

As the season grows cold, petals “fall, and colors fade,” the little girl’s special friend is sadly “gone.” All she’s left with are the seeds of last season’s crops. But as the spring season returns anew, those “tiny dots” she plants spring up “big memories” of patience, stewardship, and fellowship.

 With quiet and calming overtones, The Garden We Share invites gentle conversations about death while lovingly cultivating a spirit of hope.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Wordless Picture Book Review – Whirl

 

 

WHIRL

by Deborah Kerbel

Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon 

(Owlkids Books; $18.95; Ages 4-8)

 

Whirl cover

 

 

From the Publisher: “A stray maple seed, is picked up by the wind and begins a long, wordless journey through a local neighborhood…Eventually, it finds a place to rest …Years later, a family that encountered the whirligig on its journey takes a walk in the forest and meets the seed again—this time as a fully grown maple tree.”

 

Whirl interior art1
Interior illustration from Whirl by Deborah Kerbel and Josée Bisaillon, Owlkids Books ©2022.

 

In this appealing wordless picture book with inviting art and a diverse cast of characters, Deborah Kerbel and Josée Bisaillon describe the unpredictable journey a seed takes as it whirls its way through a family’s backyard, past the wheels and paws of several park visitors, into the hands of a few curious kids, and onto the artwork of another.

 

 

Whirl interior art2
Interior illustration from Whirl by Deborah Kerbel and Josée Bisaillon, Owlkids Books ©2022.

 

Before, eventually being found (and fought over) by birds and accidentally planted by a dog.

 

Whirl Interior art3
Interior illustration from Whirl by Deborah Kerbel and Josée Bisaillon, Owlkids Books ©2022.

 

In time, the seed sprouts and grows, and is discovered by another park visitor who delights over its “magic.” A swirl of wind grounds the story and guides the reader through this visual tale perfect for spending time in nature. A back page of maple seed facts also offers readers inspiration for conducting their own research into similar topics.

  •  Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Middle Grade Nonfiction – Can You Hear the Trees Talking?

CAN YOU HEAR THE TREES TALKING?:

DISCOVERING THE HIDDEN LIFE OF THE FOREST

by Peter Wohlleben

Translated by Shelley Tanaka

(Greystone Kids; $17.95, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

Peter Wohlleben has adapted his New York Times adult best seller, The Hidden Life of Trees, into a young readers’ edition, Can You Hear the Trees Talking?: Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest. Wohlleben brings his passion to the page and surprises us with interesting facts about trees. This beautifully laid out book is sure to please.

 

CYHTTT spread 1
Interior spread from Can You Hear the Trees Talking: Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest by Peter Wohlleben, Greystone Kids ©2019.

 

Every two-page spread offers a question. In “Can Forests Make It Rain?” we realize that, indeed, some trees do just that. “Do Trees Sleep at Night?” intrigued me; with no sun, trees take a break and let their branches droop until daylight. Kids will get a kick out of “Is There a Forest Internet?” discovering that fungi help trees relay messages to each other through liquid in the roots. I couldn’t put this book down, enjoying unique information including the more typical topics such as respiration, hydration, and reproduction.

 

CYHTTT spread 2
Interior spread from Can You Hear the Trees Talking: Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest by Peter Wohlleben, Greystone Kids ©2019.

 

Subjects are grouped for easy reference while full-color photos, sidebars, and short quizzes keep readers interested. This fun, gorgeous book is nonfiction at its best because it doesn’t feel like learning at all. The “Try This” sections are some of my favorites. I definitely want to blow bubbles out of a birch log!

 

CYHTTT spread 3
Interior spread from Can You Hear the Trees Talking: Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest by Peter Wohlleben, Greystone Kids ©2019.

 

Wohlleben’s decades in the forest service and love of nature enlivens this topic. Showcasing trees allows us to appreciate their amazing abilities and care about their conservation. Grab your kid and explore nature, finding an educational adventure as close as your own backyard. A free Companion Guide for Teachers and Parents is available here.

• Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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