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Throwback Thursday: Olinguito Speaks Up/Olinguito alzo la voz by Cecilia Velástegui

Olinguito Speaks Up/Olinguito alzo la voz by Cecilia Velástegui
with illustrations by Jade Fang 
(Libros Publishing, 2013, $19.99, Recommended for ages 4 and up)

Olinguito-Speaks-Up-cvr.jpgThe recent discovery of the Olinguito, a new species of mammal resembling “…a cross between a cat and a furry teddy bear …” prompted Ecuadorian author Cecilia Velástegui to write a contemporary children’s fable about respect for others and for the world’s wildlife.

Shy Olinguito helps forgetful Tómas, an ancient Galapagos tortoise, recall how he ended up far from his native island and in Ecuador’s cloud forest. Due to Tómas’ memory loss and confusion, the other animals think his stories are “tall tales” and tease him. Olinguito finds the other animals treatment of Tómas disrespectful and sets out to help Tómas prove the truthfulness of his stories. With Olinguito’s support, Tómas reveals the twists and turns that took him from his island home to the cloud forest.

While the story focuses on its moral: “honor our elders and cherish our wildlife,” Velástegui uses the fable to gently point out the threats to the diverse wildlife referred to in her story. Through the long-lived and widely traveled Tómas, Velástegui hints at mankind’s devastating impact on the nature. In his narrative, Tómas refers to several “friends” who are now “gone” or “rarely seen” such as the Pinta Island (Galapagos) Tortoises, the Galapagos Petrel, and the cloud forest’s Harlequin Frogs.

Despite the dismay readers will experience over the loss of the many and striking species, the book ends on some positive notes: Olinguito shows young readers the importance of respect for others and the natural world and of standing up for friends who are being bullied or teased. Again, through Tómas, children will learn that some species, such as the Galapagos Pink Land Iguanas, are thriving and that other new species, such as the Galapagos deep sea catshark have been discovered.

Additional front and end material includes a brief note on the discovery of the olinguito, a “Facts/Datos” page, a colorful map of South America dotted with cheerful symbols marking significant cultural, historic, and wildlife locations, and photos of an olinguito and a giant tortoise.

As the book is bilingual, the layout consists mostly of two page spreads. On the left are the English and Spanish versions of the story. The right side features an accompanying illustration. Occasionally, illustrator Fang takes advantage of the expanse of the two page spread to create an illustration that floats across both pages. The illustrations contribute to the story, realistically capturing characteristics of the animals in the misty and diffused light of the cloud forest.

Primarily a fable, use this picture book with younger children as bibliotherapy for social and/or emotional issues around respect, aging, friendship, teasing and bullying. This book could be used with older children to introduce them to South American geography and ecosystems, threatened or extinct or new animal species, and the effects of exploration, colonialism, and development on the natural world and indigenous people. Needless to say it could also be used with children as a springboard for writing their own fables.

Visit the Olinguito Speaks Up website for more author info, facts, and a book trailer.

The author won First Place in Adventure Fiction at the International Latino Book Awards for her adult novel Missing in Machu Picchu.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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One Beetle Too Many

076361436xAuthor Kathryn Lasky did extensive research before writing One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin. She read many books, audited evolutionary biology classes and even attended lab sessions to look at bones at Harvard University. What resulted from her impressive preparation is a factual account of Darwin’s fascinating life, from childhood to his later years.

Before getting into the meat of the story, I simply cannot go further without mentioning the captivating illustrations in this book. Artist Matthew Trueman used a most unusual assembly of mediums to achieve the uniquely spectacular illustrations you see here. These included layers of acrylic ink, watercolors, graphite pencils, gouache paints and colored pencils. He then brilliantly used collage elements like paper, string, flowers and leaves to really give the illustrations true depth. You’ve simply just got to see these illustrations for yourself to appreciate them.

Now back to the story . . . Readers of One Beetle Too Many will not only learn about the focus of Charles Darwin’s passion – nature – but also of his struggles. As a young boy in the early 1800s, Charles was a failing student, though his sister shined in school. His disappointed father urged him to join the clergy, but although Darwin spent many hours each day reading the Bible, his passion was with nature. After a friend invited him on a long voyage to South America to serve as the naturalist on board a ship called The Beagle, Darwin had found his true calling. I like that this book mentions his early struggles so children can understand that not everyone who is smart and accomplished successfully mastered every aspect of his early life.

In the pages of the book, we learn of the many plants and animals Darwin observed on his long journey, and how he viewed the world only as a true scientist would. He noted minute details and questioned so much of what he saw. His observations led him to realize that animals of the same species differed slightly from island to island in the Galapagos. The outcome of his great voyage was Darwin’s theory that species changed over time to adapt to their environment, stating that sometimes the most minuscule changes may have taken millions of years. Naturally Darwin’s theory of evolution was not received well by many religious people of his time. To this day there remains controversy among some over Darwin’s theories. Yet still we can all greatly benefit from learning about Darwin’s life and work, and One Beetle Too Many is a great way to introduce readers ages 7 to 12 years old, the scientific world of naturalist Charles Darwin.

dsc_0024-300x217Regular Good Reads With Ronna contributor Debbie Glade gave us this informative review. Glade is the author, illustrator and voice talent of the award-winning children’s picture book The Travel Adventures of Lilly P Badilly: Costa Rica, published by Smart Poodle Publishing. She visits South Florida schools with her reading, writing and geography programs. For years, Debbie was a travel writer for luxury cruise lines. She writes parenting articles for various websites and is the Geography Awareness Editor for WanderingEducators.com. She blogs daily at smartpoodlepublishing.com.


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