Monthly Archives: April 2016

PPBF: What in the World? Numbers in Nature

I chose today’s Perfect Picture Book in honor of two women: my mother-in-law and my eldest child.

A nature-loving virologist in an era of few female scientists, my mother-in-law would have turned 100 today. Tragically, she died when our first child was an infant. All of her grandchildren know only “of her.” While none has become a scientist, all have inherited her strong spirit, they are “interested and interesting”, and all love nature.

We moved to England when our elder daughter was entering second grade. She did well in school for the first few years, but struggled in Mathematics during fifth grade. Even though we had practiced the multiplication tables every morning while driving to school, she just didn’t seem to “get it” and started falling behind as algebra loomed. Working with her teacher, we discovered the reason: an important building block to understanding multiplication – sets, was taught in first grade in England and in second in our daughter’s US school. She missed that unit! We quickly remedied the problem using her baby brother’s Duplos, and thankfully, she mastered the concept and caught up to her class. I wish today’s Perfect Picture Book, What in the World? Numbers in Nature, had existed then.


9781481400602_p0_v1_s192x300Title: What in the World? Numbers in Nature

Written By: Nancy Raines Day

Illustrated By: Kurt Cyrus

Publisher/date: Beach Lane Books, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Nature, counting, sets.

Opening: “What in the world comes one by one? A nose. A mouth. The moon. The sun.”

Brief Synopsis: This rhyming counting book invites nature exploration, from the single nose, mouth, moon and sun to the “vast amount” of stars in the sky.

Links to Resources:

  • In an author’s note, Nancy Raines Day explains the concept of numerical sets as groups of “similar things that occur together” and invites readers and listeners to “look for a numerical set in the world around you.”
  • Think of other types of sets and go on a scavenger hunt around the house or garden. Look for objects of a certain color, shape, size or even utility (e.g., things we use to cook or to create art).
  • Build sets with Legos, empty boxes or even pantry items.

Why I Like this Book: With the repeated question of “what in the world…”, Nancy Raines Day invites readers and listeners to see and savour nature, to bring order to our chaotic world. This book is a wonderful introduction to the important scientific habit of observation and to the mathematics concept of sets, the precursor to understanding multiplication. The colourful illustrations include other examples of sets that readers and listeners can find together. And spoiler alert: if you are wondering “what in the world” of nature has nine, in an endnote, Ms. Day confesses it took her two years to find the perfect example – the Stickleback Fish. Fun to say & well worth a Google!


This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF: Cricket Song

Tracing its roots to 1970 – the year the last Beatles album and Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water were released, Earth Day has become the largest secular holiday in the world. So let’s celebrate and spread some planet-love to the youngest among us. I think this Perfect Picture Book pick can do just that:


9780544582590_p0_v2_s118x184Title: Cricket Song

Written & Illustrated By: Anne Hunter

Publisher/date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes/Topics: Night sounds, nocturnal animals, time zones

Opening: “As the sun sails west, bringing the night, the evening breeze rises to meet it. The breeze carries the song of crickets into your room.”

Brief Synopsis: In this quiet bedtime book, the sounds of nature herald sleep and gently move west, bringing darkness to another shore, to another child ready for sleep.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book: Cricket Song is a quiet lullaby and homage to the lyrical sounds of nature that lull us to sleep at night: crickets, frogs, birds and even sea creatures. As nighttime progresses and the breeze carries these songs further west, a second child, on another shore, also is lulled to sleep to the sound of cricket-song. While seemingly telling no story, Cricket Song tells a greater one of the world’s interconnectedness through nature. The author/illustrator does so not just with her gorgeous illustrations but by reminding readers to listen for nighttime sounds, like the song of crickets, which sadly fail to reach so many of us in our urban/suburban homes.

With its second set of illustrations along the bottom of each page, Cricket Song also is an excellent, visual rendering of time zones – a concept difficult for most children, as well as many adults, to understand.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF: Elephant in the Dark

A few weeks ago I reviewed Two Parrots in honor of Persian New Year. While researching activities for that post, I discovered another holiday I knew nothing about: the Sikh holiday of Vaisakhi, also called Baisakhi, celebrated each year on 14 April. This harvest festival is celebrated throughout the Punjab region of India and by Sikhs worldwide. Interestingly, I found no picture books featuring Sikh stories or this holiday. If you know of any, please mention them in the comments.


9780545636704_p0_v1_s118x184Title: Elephant in the Dark

Retold By: Mina Javaherbin, based on a poem by Rumi

Illustrated By: Eugene Yelchin

Publisher/date: Scholastic Press, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Folktale; Fable; Elephants

Opening: “Merchant Ahmad had brought a mysterious creature all the way from India! The news spread fast through the village. What could the huge beast be?”

Brief Synopsis: When a merchant brings an unknown beast to the village and houses it in a darkened barn, everyone tries to guess what it is, and what it’s similar to, based on small sections of the animal.

Links to Resources:

  • Read more about Vaisakhi and color pages of Vaisakhi symbols and festivities including bhangra dancing, wheat for the harvest, and lions.
  • Fly a kite: a popular Vaisakhi activity.
  • Play 20 questions or another guessing game, such as discovering what’s in a closed box (based on shape and sound), or with eyes closed, touching one part of an object and trying to guess what it is.
  • Listen to Bhangra music and try a Bhangra dance – for ideas, check out the many youtube videos.

Why I Like this Book: This story is such a visual reminder to beware a tendency that many people share (myself included): to jump to conclusions without all of the evidence and then ignore evidence that doesn’t support those initial conclusions. Rumi’s fable is brought to life by Mina Javaherbin, an American immigrant born in Iran, and through the vibrant illustrations of Eugene Yelchin, also an American immigrant. In the end notes, Mr. Yelchin wrote,

       “I became an artist in Russia during the time when information was routinely obscured or distorted by the government. And that is why I so eagerly embraced the opportunity to illustrate this book. The importance of seeing the complete picture instead of groping for bits and pieces of it in the dark resonated deeply with me.”

I think this folktale will resonate on many levels with readers and listeners as well.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF: When Spring Comes

imageAnyone living in the Midwest or the Northeastern United States should understand the reason I chose this perfect picture book for today. If there’s any doubt, a very recent picture of some very sad pansies (before a snow blanket covered them) will show you why!

51So8yP1rNL._SX411_BO1,204,203,200_Title: When Spring Comes

Written By: Kevin Henkes

Illustrated By: Laura Dronzek

Publisher/date: Greenwillow Books, February 9, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Seasons, spring, weather, nature, waiting

Opening: “Before Spring comes, the trees look like black sticks against the sky. But if you wait, Spring will bring leaves and blossoms.”

Brief Synopsis: In lyrical language accompanied by vibrant illustrations, this book describes the change from winter to spring.

Links to Resources: As the seasons change,

  • draw what you see outside a window. What color is the grass? Are there leaves on the tree? Do you see flowers? What colors are they?
  • Take a walk and look for signs of spring.
  • Prepare for spring by planting seeds indoors (or outdoors if the snow has melted and the ground isn’t frozen). Tomatoes, cucumbers and marigolds are happy to start indoors and get transplanted outdoors. Sunflowers, beets and onions like to start and finish in one place.
  • There are so many springtime crafts! Try a thumbprint hyacinth or a birds’ nest collage

Why I Like this Book: This quiet concept book captures not only the sights, sounds, smells and feel of Spring, but the sense of anticipation for the earth’s rebirth. With a refrain of “If you wait” repeated throughout the book, the reader and listener are drawn into the change of seasons. The bright and simple illustrations complement the lyrical text and focus on aspects of spring that will delight children. The publisher recommends When Spring Comes for ages 4-8; I think younger children will enjoy it, too.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Two White Rabbits

4cd78f1910As those of you who have read this book already will have guessed, and those who read on will find out, I didn’t choose to review Two White Rabbits today to prolong the Easter festivities (spoiler alert: this review does not contain chocolate) nor because I mistakenly think Easter is in April this year. The two white rabbits have nothing to do with this or any other holiday, although I did choose to publish this review on the eve of International Children’s Book Day. Instead, these rabbits have everything to do with those seeking a life in which celebrations are possible.


9781554987412_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Two White Rabbits

Written By: Jairo Buitrago

Illustrated By: Rafael Yockteng

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-7 (per the publisher)

Themes/Topics: Migration, refugees, counting, journey

Opening: “When we travel, I count what I see. Five cows, four hens and one chucho, as my dad calls them.”

Brief Synopsis: Like the two white rabbits of the title, a young girl and her father journey together trying to find a way to, and across, a border.

Links to Resources: The unnamed narrator counts what she sees as she travels. Young listeners can also count what they see, either in the illustrations, in a room, house or garden, or during a journey. The narrator also counts clouds and finds shapes there, another possible activity for a young listener.

As I mentioned in my review of Mama’s Nightingale, there are a few teacher and classroom resources available online to explore immigration: Scholastic’s Immigration Stories: Yesterday and Today, focuses primarily on the Ellis Island experience, but includes oral histories, including child immigrants from more recent eras; TeachersFirst provides fiction lists by topic by age, including immigration–themed picture books.

Groundwood Books made a donation to IBBY to mark the publication of Two White Rabbits. To find out more about this not-for-profit organization that brings books and children together, click here. For a selection of other picture books exploring the theme of Latin American migration, click here.

Finally, for those looking to celebrate International Children’s Book Day, find ideas at, or read something by, or about,  Hans Christian Andersen, whose birthday was 2 April 1805.

Why I Like this Book: “Haunting” and “understated” are two words that run through online reviews. I would agree. We never quite know where the young narrator and her father come from, to where they journey, nor even the reason for the journey. We do know they are alone, except for a stuffed rabbit, the coyote (chucho) that joins them early in the story and the two white rabbits, a gift from an unnamed boy. The girl also alludes to the difficulty of the journey, “’Where are we going?’ I ask sometimes, but no one answers.”

Much of the reality of the situation is revealed through the illustrations: a tent city along railroad tracks; people riding atop the trains; soldiers; a toy “train” with soldiers and riders atop the carriages; the two rabbits heading towards a fence – will they be able to find a way through?

The plight of migrants is a topic that many adults don’t understand let alone are able to explain to young children. This is a timely book that could help spur discussion on many levels.


This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!