Welcome and beware – wild animals roam these bookshelves! Here you’ll find true stories about fascinating creatures like otters and octopuses, platypuses and prairie dogs. Many of the books also show scientists in action, studying and helping to protect wild animals. I briefly summarize the books and share what I love about them. Although the books are mostly nonfiction picture books focused on nature, I occasionally include other genres. I hope you will enjoy these books and share them with children, inspiring their curiosity about the natural world and about science.
I’m guided and motivated in my nonfiction reading by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy. I’m participating in her Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge for the second time.
Oct 30, 2017
Brief overview: You Nest Here With Me, written by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (2015), is a fresh and unique lullaby, written in enchanting rhyme. While showing the myriad of places and ways birds nest with their young, the story draws an analogy between birds’ nests and human homes. The accurate information in the story, plus the back matter on the birds and an author’s note, carry this lullaby over into the realm of nonfiction.
What I love about this book: I’m in awe of Jane Yolen’s and Heidi Stemple’s informational, rhyme in perfect meter! What a grand feat and treat for the ear. I also love Melissa Sweet’s cool palette splashed with flourishes of warmth, whimsy and collage. There are recognizable details in the birds and their nests, and so much else to see in each illustration. Share this one at bedtime with four-to eight-year olds, and follow up with some time spent watching birds.
Oct 24, 2017
Brief summary: On Duck Pond written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall (2017). Jane Yolen’s vivid poem and Bob Marstall’s engaging and fun illustrations give the reader a front row seat in nature as a noisy raft of ducks lands and shatters the tranquillity of a pond, sending all manner of creatures away. As the ducks move on, the creatures return and bring a new peace to the pond, one that the reader shares in. Back matter about various species of ducks and other pond life will satisfy curious children ages three to five or six.
What I love about this book: I love the simple evocative language with its wonderful rhythm and rhyme. It begs to be read aloud. I admire Jane Yolen’s ability to show a moment in nature, one that shares a special feeling and a truth. I feel this book reads like nonfiction, though it’s shelved with fiction. It’s perfect for inspiring and informing a lesson on wetlands, and for reading before or after a visit to a pond any time of year.
(Apologies for the 3 month hiatus. I’ve been extra busy training a standard poodle puppy, but am ready to begin reading and writing again. I’ll kick off with binge of books from one of my favorite children’s nonfiction authors, Melissa Stewart.)
August 15, 2017
Brief summary: Can an aardvark Bark, written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Steve Jenkins (2017), shares the sounds of wild animals, from bellows and barks to grunts and growls, and decodes their meanings, showing us how animals have thoughts and feelings not so different from our own.
What I love about this book: I love the fun, interactive question and answer format with the twist in the middle of the book. It will have children calling out and laughing. The simple yet lyrical language including rhyme and repetition makes the nonfiction information engaging and memorable. Steve Jenkin’s artwork pops off the page, and you can almost hear the animals talking with open mouths and expressive eyes. This picture book packs in information about thirty-five different animals, and is sure to make children and adults alike squeal and roar with delight! Great for ages 2-8.
August 14, 2017
Brief summary: In Feathers: Not Just for Flying, author Melissa Stewart and illustrator Sarah S. Brannen (2014) share the surprising array of jobs performed by bird feathers. Each job is clearly and memorably explained through a simile comparing feathers to familiar objects like umbrellas, blankets, and sunscreen. A second layer of text provides a concrete example accompanied by realistic illustrations of the birds in their natural habitats and close-ups of the feathers and familiar objects. The book showcases birds and their feathers from around the world, including favorites like penguins and peacocks and less well-known species like American bittens and club-winged manakins.
What I love about the book: The use of similes to convey the jobs of feathers is clever and effective and fun. This book might be used for teaching a lesson on similes as well as on how animals are adapted to their environments. I also love the illustrations and the layout that looks like a nature journal or scrapbook. Inclusion of birds in specific locations can prompt a trip to an atlas to find those places and to a bird book to find out where else the birds live. Share this one with elementary-age children, especially after finding a feather together.
July 31, 2017
Brief summary: Did you ever wonder where chocolate comes from? Look no further than No Monkeys, No Chocolate, written by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young (2013), illustrated by Nicole Wong, for the answer. This book traces the chocolate in our desserts back to the cocoa trees growing in tropical rain forests where the web of habitat, plants and animals help these trees thrive. Some of the players are quite surprising, like the coffin flies and fungi and monkeys! The cartoon bookworms commenting on the text will keep you laughing as your learn all about where and how the magical beans that make chocolate come from.
What I love about this book: What a fabulous book structure for teaching about how plants and animals and habitats interact and depend on each other, all while connecting this science to a beloved topic – chocolate. I love how this book makes learning fun and accessible to a wide range of ages with its three layers of text, engaging and informative illustrations, and back matter. I also love how the monkeys are saved for last, and that the reader gets to be in on the anticipation along with the book worms. Especially for aspiring writers, the author’s note about the development of this book is inspiring. The cherry on top is the “What You Can Do to Help” section that empowers children everywhere to help preserve tropical rainforests.
Brief summary: Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water Around the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm (2017). Our sun –lively, serious, knowledgeable – narrates this detailed account of the Earth’s water cycle, from ocean evaporation and cloud formation to the “great Ocean Conveyor Belt”. The sun paints a complete picture that links the sun and earth and water and life, our life, and inspires appreciation for water. The logical text flows as smoothly as water and is peppered with outstanding facts and graphics. The back matter will satisfy even the most curious children. This book is sure to invoke questions and help children gain a deep understanding and appreciation of the water cycle.April 11, 2017
What I love about this book: I love the sense of scale and movement and endless cycling that the text and illustrations work together to create. I like how this book tackles big questions head-on and dives straight to the answers, not shying away from challenging words and ideas.
March 23, 2017
Brief summary: Grand Canyon, by author and illustrator Jason Chin (2017), takes the reader on a discovery hike through the Grand Canyon, showing why and when and how it formed, the life that flourishes there now, as well as the life and conditions of the deep past. This in-depth lesson on the canyon’s geology and ecology is firmly routed in science and brought to life with imagination and artistry that keep the pages turning. The journey concludes with a breathtaking panorama of the canyon and comprehensive back matter.
What I love about this book: I love the depth, length and seriousness of this book. It’s not a light treatment of a beautiful natural wonder, but a detailed look filled with lucid explanations and diagrams, challenging vocabulary and concepts, and stunning artwork. It’s a book to linger over, to go back to again and again with a curious child. Each visit will bring new insight and wonder.
March 13, 2017
Brief summary: Does a Fiddler Crab Fiddle?, written by Corinne Demas and Artemis Roehrig with paintings by John Sanford, reveals the life of fiddler crabs “in the most delightful way” – with silliness and relatability.
What I love about this book: Demas, Roehrig and Sanford make learning about fiddler crabs just plain old fun! The silly questions beg page turns and child responses. The questions effectively teach by relating the life of fiddler crabs to things that all children will be familiar with, such as sandcastles, magic and pizza. I love how a little nugget of information about these creatures is tucked into the nonfiction answer pages. I also love the engaging, expressive paintings, which bring the fiddler crabs to life and make one laugh out loud. Read this unforgettable nonfiction work out loud to children ages 4-8 today!
February 27, 2017
Brief description: See What a Seal Can Do, written by Chris Butterworth and illustrated by Kate Nelms (2013), follows a grey seal as it transforms from a seemingly lazy, graceless sunbather into a swift, nimble acrobat of the sea, diving deep, hunting for fish, and evading predators. Come away with surprising new facts and appreciation for these puppy-eyed creatures.
What I love about the book: I like how the story reveals two opposite aspects of grey seals – the lazy sunbather that is a somewhat common site for beachgoers, and the “super-swimming underwater wonder” that is surprising because we don’often have a chance to see it. The voice is fun and celebratory. I loved the definition of flump, “…a flop and a jump both together.” The facts in small font contain wonderful tidbits such as seals breath out rather than in before they dive. Although the seal goes on a hunt and encounters a predator, the level of suspense is light and appropriate for children as young as preschool. I also love the green, blue and beach-beige palette, the light filtering down through the water, and the closeness of the seal in the illustrations. Gorgeous! A few of the illustrations have a sketch-like quality that might inspire some student drawings. Share it with nature-loving children, 4-8, today!
February 21, 2017
Brief description: When The Wolves Returned, written by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and photographed by Dan Hartman and Cassie Hartman (2008), tells the true story of the wolves’ disappearance and reappearance in Yellowstone National Park. Readers come to understand the wolves’ history and how even a single animal can have a profound cascading effect on an entire ecosystem, on everything from bears to beavers to willow trees.
What I love about this book: The gorgeous spreads of photographs, both historical and present, riveted my eyes to the pages, and took me back to my visit to Yellowstone. The two layers of text, one short and simple, another adding details, make this a versatile book for sharing with both younger and older elementary children. In addition to showing the concepts of tropic levels and food webs, this book also is also filled with clear examples of topic sentences and supporting details. An engrossing straight ahead read about wolves that neither demonises nor glorifies them, but rather shows their importance.
February 13, 2017
Brief description: OCTOPUSES ONE TO TEN, written by Ellen Jackson and illustrated by Robin Page (2016), is a compilation of fascinating octopus facts that incorporates counting one to ten. For example, “Octopuses in disguise have four ways to fool your eyes.” The layer of rhyming text celebrates this extraordinary creature and is enhanced by a second layer of additional information. While the main text focuses on the Pacific octopus, the ending introduces nine additional species, plus activities and resources. An outstanding nonfiction nature read aloud for preschool and early-elementary children!
What I love about this book: The clever rhyming couplets are not only fun to read, but also convey interesting information about octopuses while reinforcing counting – not an easy feat! The illustrations and diagrams charm and help us to know this creature. This book superbly marries science and writing and art; it will surely engage, enlighten, and entertain children. Read it out loud today!
February 11, 2017
Brief description: A BLACK HOLE IS NOT a HOLE, written by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano and illustrated by Michael Carroll (2012), gets you up to speed an everything black holes: what they are, how they form, why they form, who discovered them, how scientists “see” them, what it might be like to visit one.
What I love about this book: It transforms complex, obtuse matter into clear, comprehensible matter. The writing is detailed, in-depth yet lively, conversational, page-turning. The stunning images and simple graphs enhance explanations in the text. A great read for middle-school students and older folks looking to better understand the universe (and to write reports).
January 30, 2017
Brief overview: Swimming With Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark, written by Heather Lang, illustrated by Jordi Solano (2016). From childhood to old age, Genie pursued her uncommon passion –sharks. She shattered gender stereotypes of the 1930s as she spent her life investigating sharks in the wild, something that no one had done before. She helped change the stereotypes of sharks as simple “bloodthirsty killers”, revealing their deepest secrets. Genie’s story both inspires and surprises – a delight for elementary age children and shark fans of every age.
What I love about this book: My mother lives close to the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory, and I’ve passed by it many a time on trips to Florida. I’m thrilled to learn more about the pioneering woman who founded the laboratory. I love that Genie’s steadfast passion and determination, her deep curiosity about and empathy for a creature who is so different from us, shines through on every page. The inclusion of several of Genie’s fascinating discoveries, like caves where sharks come for cleaning and the fact that some sharks can be trained, brings Genie’s work to life. I felt like we were with her when she saw a shark for the first time and braved entering a dark cave. The illustrations are rich and evocative, showing Genie’s wonder and, at times, her angst. I appreciate that the story covers Genie’s concern for declining numbers of sharks, and has enriching back matter.
January 23, 2017
Brief summary: COYOTE MOON, written by Maria Gianferrari and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (2016), takes us along as a mother coyote hunts through the night to feed her hungry pups. This is a fictional account and reads like a well-paced adventure, but there is also much truth and insight about coyotes in this tale, complemented by factual back matter. An entertaining and enlightening read aloud book for preschool and elementary children.
What I loved about this book: The sparse, yet masterful language and carefully focused, active illustrations set the tone of the hunt, creating immediacy and intimacy. The language and illustrations also build empathy and understanding for these wild animals that successfully share our neighborhoods. I love the ending too, which invites the reader into the experience, the thrill of spying a coyote in the yard. I’ll be peeking out my window at night more often.
January 17, 2017
Brief overview: THE GREAT WHITE SHARK SCIENTIST, written by Sy Montgomery, photographed by Keith Ellenbogen (2016) intimately portrays the quest of a small group of scientists to better understand the lives of great white sharks for the purpose of helping this species survive. The true story unfolds like a travel and research log, and bursts with myth-busting facts that reveal the true, surprising nature of great whites. It’s written for a middle school audience, and is perfect for exciting pleasure reading and reports on sharks.
What I love about the book: Sy Montgomery’s writing style takes the reader along, so that you feel as though you are right there, viewing and tagging the sharks with the scientists. She helps you to know the scientists and appreciate what their days are like. I also love Keith Ellenbogen’s phenomenal photographs of both the sharks and setting; they complete the reader’s journey.
January 9, 2017
Brief summary: THE SECRET SUBWAY by Shana Corey, illustrated by Red Nose Studio (2016) recounts the almost completely true story of Alfred Ely Beach, the ingenuous, intrepid, sneaky inventor who built and ran New York City’s first subway for a short time in the late 1800s.
What I love about this book: With a narrator-like quality, the voice invites the reader into a secret world to observe a secret story unfold below New York city’s bustling streets. The voice evokes the inventor’s passion and shrewdness, the ambiance of the city in the 1800s, and is fun to read out loud. The artwork, with its three-dimensional quality and evocative palette, works hand and hand with the text to enhance the secretive, almost forgotten tone of the story and the feeling of NYC. Check it out!
To view the books I read and reviewed in 2016, please tap the link below.
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