Tag Archives: Nature

Perfect Pairing of Bird Books

I chose today’s Perfect Pairing books for several reasons: to coincide with my husband’s birthday, as we lived for several years near the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s wild bird refuge, Sapsucker Woods, and enjoyed many visits there; to celebrate the author, who is a keynote speaker at a conference I’ll be attending this upcoming Saturday; and to mark the season when so many birds migrate to warmer climes. Binoculars ready?

ODP-3Dview-LROn Duck Pond (On Bird Hill and Beyond #2)

Author: Jane Yolen

Illustrator: Bob Marstall

Publisher/Date: The Cornell Lab Publishing Group (an imprint of Wundermill, Inc.)/2017

Ages: 3-5

Themes: birds; nature; rhyming

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In On Bird Hill, Yolen and Marstall took readers on a surreal journey with a boy and his dog, as they stopped, looked, and noticed things along their path—ultimately discovering the miracle of the birth of a baby bird. On Duck Pond continues the journey of the boy and dog story, this time in a new place—a serene pond, filled with birds, frogs, turtles and other creatures going about their quiet business. Their intrusion stirs the pond into a cacophony of activity, reaching climactic chaos, before slowly settling back to it’s quiet equilibrium.

Read a review at Unleashing Readers.

 

On-Gull-Beach-3D-Cover

On Gull Beach (On Bird Hill and Beyond #3)

Author: Jane Yolen

Illustrator: Bob Marstall

Publisher/Date: The Cornell Lab Publishing Group (an imprint of Wundermill, Inc.)/2018

Ages: 4-7

Themes: shore birds; nature; rhyming

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Together again! On Gull Beach reunites bestselling children’s author Jane Yolen and award-winning illustrator Bob Marstall for the third installment of the acclaimed On Bird Hill and Beyond series of children’s books written for the renowned Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

On Gull Beach brings us to an idyllic shoreline in Cape Cod, where gulls hover, dive, and chase with pitched acrobatics in pursuit of a seastar. This enchanting sequel in a brand new habitat will delight readers young and old.
As with all Cornell Lab Publishing Group books, 35% of net proceeds from the sale of this title goes directly to the Cornell Lab to support projects such as children’s educational and community programs.

Read a review at Miss Marple’s Musings.

I paired these books because they feature nature and encounters with birds, but in different locations, with different types of birds. And who doesn’t love to think about birds and read books about them? Both books feature rhyming, lyrical text by a master of the craft, as well as the same illustrator. I think it’s fun and instructive to think about the different types of birds found in these locations and the moods evoked in the two settings – woodland and beach. There’s also interesting back matter to explore further in both books.

Looking for similar reads?

See the first book of the series, On Bird Hill. Visit Jane Yolan’s website to find more of her 365+ (and counting) published books.

Perfect Pairing – Focuses on the Little Things in Life

Sometimes, when life gets hectic or the newsfeed seems overwhelming, I find it helps me to take a deep breath, take a walk, and look for the beauty that is everywhere in nature. And when we can share the beauty of nature with others, that’s even better.

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Sidewalk Flowers

Author: Jon Arno Lawson

Illustrator: Sydney Smith

Publisher/Date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2015

Ages: 4-7

Themes: wordless picture book; finding beauty; nature; generosity

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In this wordless picture book, a little girl collects wildflowers while her distracted father pays her little attention. Each flower becomes a gift, and whether the gift is noticed or ignored, both giver and recipient are transformed by their encounter. “Written” by award-winning poet JonArno Lawson and brought to life by illustrator Sydney Smith, Sidewalk Flowers is an ode to the importance of small things, small people, and small gestures.

Read a review at Katie Reviews Books.

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tiny, perfect things

Author: M.H. Clark

Illustrator: Madeline Kloepper

Publisher/Date: Compendium, Inc./2018

Ages: 3-7

Themes: finding beauty; nature; intergenerational; multicultural

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The whole world is a treasure waiting to be found. Open your eyes and see the wonderful things all around. This is the story of a child and a grandfather whose walk around the neighborhood leads to a day of shared wonder as they discover all sorts of tiny, perfect things together. With rhythmic storytelling and detailed and intricate illustrations, this is a book about how childlike curiosity can transform ordinary days into extraordinary adventures.

Read a review at Brain Pickings.

I paired these books because both feature walks by a child and adult, in which small things are noted, such as the flowers growing between the cracks of sidewalks, birds, leaves and even shadows. To be present in the moment and to appreciate nature and one’s neighborhood are gifts for children, and adults, to share.

Looking for similar reads?

See Ask Me (Bernard Waber/Suzy Lee, 2015) and Be Still, Life (Ohara Hale, 2017).

PPBF – Leaf

I discovered today’s Perfect Picture Book at my local library and was, frankly, surprised I hadn’t learned of it sooner. Not only does it include themes of current importance and interest, it’s also beautiful. Enjoy!

Leaf_RGB-728x623Title: Leaf

Written & Illustrated By: Sandra Dieckmann

Publisher/Date: Flying Eye Books (an imprint of Nobrow Ltd)/2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-5 (or older)

Themes/Topics: newcomer; polar bears; nature; global warming

Opening:

Crow saw it first. The strange white creature, carried upon the dark waves towards the shore.

Brief Synopsis:

When a solitary polar bear arrives in a forest, the woodland creatures are afraid and avoid him because he is different, until some clever crows realize the reason he’s there and how they may help him.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about polar bears and the disappearance of polar ice;
  • Draw some of the gorgeous leaves shown in the illustrations, or visit a garden or park to find leaves you can draw and color;
  • Sometimes people are afraid of people, places or things that seem different. Describe or draw a picture of a time when you encountered something or someone “different;”
  • See a lesson plan using Leaf to help children think about differences and overcoming prejudices.

Why I Like this Book:

Leaf is a contemporary fairy tale, set in a lush, exotic forest, inhabited by a community of animals. A polar bear arrives to this strange woodland, retreats to a cave on a hill, and keeps apart from the woodland creatures. They, however, view and judge the bear, fleeing “in fear” when he approaches, calling him “monster,” and naming him Leaf, not only due to his strange habit of collecting leaves but also “because they wanted him to leave”.

I think kids will notice right away that the animals rush to judgment about this newcomer without learning Leaf’s story. Particularly poignant and instructive is a two-page spread in which a few small creatures voice compassion and offers of help while others term him “dangerous” and “destructive” and focus on his “teeth.”

I think kids also will be happy to see how the crows, a bird species not generally thought of as compassionate (at least not by me), lead the efforts to learn the truth about Leaf and help him. This made me realize that it isn’t always the creature that we expect to be a hero who steps up to help, and that sometimes small creatures can have big impacts.

Finally, I think the environmental message of Leaf, of animals separated from their native environment and of other animal groups learning to live with these newcomers, will resonate with kids and offer important opportunities to discuss global warming and its effects on nature and people, and to discuss the current refugee and immigration crises.

Dieckmann’s detailed and colorful spreads are gorgeous! The deep blues are haunting, and the contrast of the white polar bear against the lush background focused my attention immediately on the main character. The image of Leaf covered in leaves made me cheer his determination to fly home, even as it reminded me of the mythological Icarus.

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Interior spread from Leaf, reproduced from Dieckmann’s website

A Note about Craft:

Dieckmann populates her modern fairy tale with animals instead of people.  I think using animals as protagonists helps kids relate to the issues of non-acceptance and fear of newcomers who are different. Because climate change is affecting animals, especially those in the colder climes, so much, I think the choice of a polar bear as the main character is particularly effective.

Interestingly, Leaf engages in almost no dialogue in the story. We learn what he’s feeling through the illustrations and the crows’ comments. While this could, arguably, provide distance from his plight, it also has the laudable effect of encouraging children to think about how they perceive newcomers and to see that they, like many of the animals depicted, view newcomers through a lens of prejudice.

Dieckmann is a German-born, London-based illustrator/author and artist, “deeply inspired by all that’s weird and wonderful in nature, drifting thoughts and dreams”. Leaf, her debut picture book, has been “nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal, long listed for the Klaus Flugge Prize and short listed for the Waterstones Children’s book prize as well as the AOI World Illustration Award.”

Flying Eye Books focuses “on the craft of children’s storytelling and non-fiction” and is the children’s imprint of London-based, “award-winning visual publishing house” Nobrow Ltd.

For a picture book presenting similar themes, see Barroux’ Welcome.

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 – Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad

I had the pleasure this past March of visiting Cuba, the setting of much of today’s perfect picture book. To prepare for that journey, I read several of the Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle’s historical novels in verse about that lovely island. It was through Margarita’s work that I first learned about José Martí. I also had the pleasure of meeting both today’s debut author, Emma Otheguy, and her agent, Adriana Domíngez, at the recent New Jersey SCBWI conference and seeing a copy of the book there. To say that I’ve been eagerly awaiting its release is an understatement! Without further ado:

9780892393756_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad

Written By: Emma Otheguy

Illustrated By: Beatriz Vidal

Text Translated By: Adriana Domínguez

Publisher/date: Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books Inc/July 2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes/Topics: Cuba, biography, poetry, freedom, nature, social justice, bilingual book, #WNDB, #OwnVoices, #debutPB

Opening: 

When José was a young boy,

his father took him to the countryside,

where he listened to the crickets chirp

and the roosters crow.

José bowed to the palmas reales,

the grand royal palms that shaded the path

where he rode his horse.

He chased the river

as it swelled with the rains

and rushed on to the saltwater sea.

José fell in love with his home island, Cuba.

Brief Synopsis: José Martí, a 19th century Cuban poet, writer and political activist, loved nature and fought for the abolishment of slavery and freedom from Spanish rule during his lifetime in Cuba and New York City.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover Cuba, the country of Martí’s birth and death;
  • Martí traveled to the Catskill Mountain region of New York State. Find out more about this forested, natural area near New York City.
  • Take a walk in the woods and write about what you experience and feel.
  • What issue are you passionate or upset about? Think about some ways you could help solve the issue or encourage others to help you bring about change.
  • Write a poem in the style of Martí’s Versos sencillos, his most-famous poem, using Lee & Low’s Activity Guide.
  • An Afterword, Author’s Note, further Excerpts from the Versos sencillos, and a Selected Bibliography accompany the text.

Why I Like this Book:

Debut picture book author Emma Otheguy has written an enlightening biography of a Spanish-language poet that showcases the power of words to bring about positive social change. I especially appreciate that Otheguy highlights Martí’s learning process, how he saw, and abhorred, the treatment of slaves during his Cuban childhood, and how he then went on to fight the Spanish colonial rule that supported slavery.

I also loved learning how the emancipation of slaves during the American Civil War helped shape young Martí’s beliefs and how experiences he had in New York influenced his later writing. I believe that learning from others’ experiences is an important lesson for children, whether it’s learning how to solve an individual problem or how to solve one that affects an entire country or people. That Martí found inspiration in the American fight for emancipation and solace in a natural setting so far from his country of birth are, to me, reasons why cultural interactions are important and why a country that prides itself on its democratic traditions should continue to be welcoming to those who travel here.

While I regrettably am not bilingual, I appreciate that Otheguy has made Martí’s words accessible to those who otherwise couldn’t read them, that Domínguez has translated the English text into Martí’s native tongue, and that Lee & Low has combined the texts in one picture book. To do so, the editors present the lyrical text in verse side by side on the left-side page, with the folk-art illustrations appearing as full-page spreads on the right side. I think this works well for this biography, as the illustrations appear as historic paintings, like one would find in a museum. Two small illustrations, often snippets of nature, appear on each page with text as well, and help carry through the theme of nature as freedom.

spread_3

From Lee & Low’s website

A Note about Craft:

Otheguy writes lyrical free verse text and verses from Martí’s Versos sencillos appear as separate text following her words. By doing so, she has allowed Martí to tell parts of his story in his own words. Otheguy also shows the reader in the first lines what was important to Martí, nature, equality and the freedom exemplified by the swaying of the palms, and carries these themes through the book.

Martí’s Song for Freedom received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. It is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Visit Emma Otheguy’s website here.

View more of Betriz Vidal’s work here.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – The Apple-Pip Princess

Today, as many of us recover from turkey hang-overs (at least those in the US), and others rush around to score Black Friday deals, I chose a story that celebrates the bounty and community that are at the heart of Thanksgiving. While it’s not a new book, I think its appeal endures and make it a Perfect Picture Book:

9780763637477_p0_v1_s192x300Title: The Apple-Pip Princess

Written & Illustrated By: Jane Ray

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2008 (UK edition: Orchard Books/2007)

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: kindness, sharing, nature, community, princess, apple seeds

Opening: “Let me tell you a story about something that happened a long time ago in a land far from here – a land ruled by an old king who had three daughters.”

Brief Synopsis: An elderly king ruling over a bleak, barren kingdom sets each of his three daughters a task: to build in seven days something that will make her mark, that will make the king proud. Whichever of his daughters builds that thing will inherit his crown.

Links to Resources:

  • Plant an apple-pip (seed) and watch it grow;
  • Make baked apples or apple pie;
  • Plan a picnic (indoors or out): what will you eat? Who will you invite to share your picnic?
  • For older children, discuss the king’s system of choosing his successor. How else could he have done so? Discuss the attributes of a good ruler (or president!).

Why I Like this Book:

The Apple-Pip Princess is a modern fairy tale. Need I say more? Like the best fairy tales, it is an allegory for issues in our own 21st century world: caring for the environment; the hollowness of material possessions; the power of one person to better the world; the power of community. Told by a narrator speaking directly to “you” in lyrical language that flows like the best fairy tales do and accompanied by illustrations fit for a royal tale, including several collages incorporating digital art in a unique manner, The Apple-Pip Princess is a wonderful way to open discussions about our need to care for our world, the effect our actions have on our world and fellow beings, the importance of community, and why being the tallest or the most beautiful really doesn’t matter.

A Note about Craft:

Ms. Ray offers the usual array of fairy tale elements plus a few twists:

  • An omniscient narrator who tells the tale and specifically brings “you” into the story, addressing the reader at the beginning, when the focus shifts to Serenity, the princess with the apple seed, or pip, and how she will complete the king’s task, and at the end;
  • A dead queen, although no evil stepmother nor a fairy godmother;
  • Three sisters with, you guessed it, three different ideas about how to complete the task;
  • They are given seven days and nights to complete the tasks – a nod to Biblical creation, although without the day of rest;
  • An ample dash of magic, in fact, seven dashes, but the magic works only after Serenity unleashes it;
  • The characters are dark skinned, although wearing European-style clothing from an earlier era and living in houses that would be at home in Europe or even parts of rural or small-town America.

Incorporating these twists into the  classic formula, I think, makes The Apple-Pip Princess a fairy tale that will endure.

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 – Circle

As darkness descends a bit earlier each evening, temperatures and leaves begin their slow but steady descent, and apples and pumpkins take pride of place in farm stands, I listen for the tell-tale honk honk honk and scan the sky for the familiar V of Canada Geese heading south. I know that many other birds and animals migrate, too. In today’s Perfect Picture Book, I enjoyed learning about one bird species that migrates across the Pacific, making the “longest unbroken journey of any animal in the world” – the bar-tailed godwits.

9780763679668_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Circle

Written & Illustrated By: Jeannie Baker

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press, 2016 (US), also published by Walker Books UK, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8 or older

Themes/Topics: Migration, Nature, Godwits, Non-Fiction

Opening: “In a place where mud and sand become sea…a godwit with white wing patches flies up with his flock. The moment is right for the long journey north.”

Brief Synopsis: This non-fiction picture book follows one godwit, a bird that migrates on a circular path across the Pacific between a southern home in Australia and New Zealand and a northern home in Alaska.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Author’s Note and map showing the godwits’ migration route;
  • There is a comprehensive teachers guide available through Walker Books that includes an interview with author/illustrator Jeannie Baker;
  • For a coloring page, additional resources, references and quiz, see Walker Books’ classroom guide;
  • Learn more about migration and why animals migrate.

Why I Like this Book:

The cover beckoned: azure sea merging to sky with green island below the line of shore birds and a one word title: Circle. My attention captured, I flipped through the pages of breathtaking artwork, including collage and watercolors, any one of the spreads worthy of a gallery or museum wall. I  wondered about the title – circle of life? circular journey? Maybe both. Only after I savored the scene did I start reading.

While the subject ordinarily may not have captured my attention, an unknown (to me) shorebird that migrates from Australia/New Zealand up to Asia and then heads to Alaska to nest and repopulate, Ms. Baker’s story did. I now know and care much more about godwits and find myself thinking about other migrating animals and the obstacles they overcome in their travels. I think this is a story that will captivate children, too, and hopefully encourage them to learn more, and do more to support, migrating birds and animals across the world.

A Note about Craft:

I mentioned what lured me to pick up Circle in the first place, and what intrigued me enough to start reading. But there’s more. Ms. Baker drew me in by focusing on one godwit, the “godwit with white wing patches,” that she follows on the migration. He appears on the cover and the last spread and many, many places in between. I found myself searching for him in the pictures and caring about his fate. This personalization is a tool non-fiction writers can use to their advantage to build empathy for the cause or species featured. And by writing in clear but lyrical language, this book is a perfect read aloud and mentor text for those writing non-fiction picture books.

Ms. Baker adds a further element.  Before the title page we meet a boy, stretched out on a bed, wheelchair by his side, surrounded by a globe, e-reader with text showing the meaning of godwit, a notebook, and a thought bubble, “Ahhhh- I wish I could fly!” Readers and listeners can search for this child who appears throughout the book, including the last wordless spread.

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 Green Becomes Tomatoes

I constantly am reminded of how my life has become less and less connected to the seasons in so many ways. As I sit in my air-conditioned home and drive from place to place in the air-conditioned car, eating what had once been considered “seasonal” foods at almost any time of year, I cannot but miss the seasonality of my youth.

The picture book I’ve chosen for today provides a perfect antidote and made me feel like a kid, immersed in nature once again.

 

9781596438521Title: When Green Becomes Tomatoes

Written By: Julie Fogliano

Illustrated By: Julie Morstad

Publisher/date: Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan), 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-10, but I’d say all ages

Themes/Topics: seasons, poetry, nature

Opening:

Spring

march 20

from a snow-covered tree

one bird singing

each tweet poking

a tiny hole

through the edge of winter

and landing carefully

balancing gently

on the tip of spring

Brief Synopsis: A collection of nature poems divided by seasons

Links to Resources:

  • Think of words or images that make you think of a particular season;
  • Write a free-verse poem using the words or images that come to mind;
  • Think of a color, animal, sound, etc. and then pair it to a season;
  • Older children, or the entire family as a group, can keep a nature diary;
  • Take a nature walk;
  • Plant a garden.

Why I Like this Book: This is a beautiful celebration of the seasons. Divided by date, as diary entries, Julie Fogliano’s lyrical poems take the reader and listener from one spring equinox to the next, beginning, and ending, with the image of one small bluebird poking from winter to spring.

The poems vary in length, but all evoke the sights, sounds, smells, touch and even tastes of the four seasons that children will readily recognize (at least those who live in a region with these four distinct seasons). They can be read separately or together, or grouped by season. Any way they are read, the imagery will leap off the pages: “sounds like slippers” (a house in winter), “snowy arms sagging” (an evergreen in winter), “a star…more flicker glow than blinding”, “a day that drips hot and thick like honey”, and many, many more.

Julie Morstad’s lovely illustrations complement the poems so well, and she includes many multicultural children – an added bonus.

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This is a book to own and savor throughout the year. And for those who can’t wait to read the book to find out, when does green become tomatoes? You’ll know because “there will be sky/ and sun/ and possibly a cloud or two….”

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!