Tag Archives: Nature

Perfect Pairing of Poetry Picture Books

I’ve been serving as a Round 1 panelist for the Cybils Awards poetry section these past few months, reading almost 50 picture book, middle grade and young adult books of poetry and novels in verse. I had known about the first book I feature below, but hadn’t had the pleasure of reading it until it was nominated to that list. I’m so glad I’ve now read it! Not only was the publication of this collection a gift from a daughter to her late mother, but the haiku themselves are a gift to kids young and old. I hope you read and enjoy both of these picture books – I certainly did.

H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z

Author: Sydell Rosenberg

Illustrator: Sawson Chalabi

Publisher/Date: Penny Candy Press/2018

Ages: 5-11

Themes: haiku; poetry; nature

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z, the late poet Sydell Rosenberg, a charter member of the Haiku Society of America and a New York City public school teacher, and illustrator Sawsan Chalabi offer an A-Z compendium of haiku that brings out the fun and poetry in everyday moments.

Read a review and interview with Rosenberg’s daughter, Amy Losak, at Picture Books Help Kids Soar.

 

Poems in the Attic

Author: Nikki Grimes

Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon

Publisher/Date: Lee & Low Books/2015

Ages: 7-8

Themes: poetry; family history; intergenerational

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

During a visit to her grandma’s house, a young girl discovers a box of poems in the attic, poems written by her mother when she was growing up. Her mother’s family often moved around the United States and the world because her father was in the Air Force. Over the years, her mother used poetry to record her experiences in the many places the family lived. Reading the poems and sharing those experiences through her mother’s eyes, the young girl feels closer to her mother than ever before. To let her mother know this, she creates a gift: a book with her own poems and copies of her mother’s. And when she returns her mother’s poems to the box in the attic, she leaves her own poems too, for someone else to find, someday. Using free verse for the young girl’s poems and tanka for her mother’s, master poet Nikki Grimes creates a tender intergenerational story that speaks to every child’s need to hold onto special memories of home, no matter where that place might be.”

Read a review and an interview with Nikki Grimes about this book in the Horn Book.

I paired these books because they are both poetry collections, perfect for reading together, and because they offer differing perspectives on an intergenerational theme: In H is for Haiku, Rosenberg wrote the poems for children, but they were collected and published by her daughter, Amy Losak – an act of filial love and a gift to readers. In Poems in the Attic, a grandchild exploring her grandmother’s attic finds letters written by her mother as a girl and through them learns more about her mother. It also involves a gift, in this case, the original poems and the daughter’s responses, compiled into a book.

Looking for similar reads?

See Nikki Grimes’ A Pocketful of Poems (2001), which pairs haiku and free verse poems; Seeing Into Tomorrow, Nina Crews (2018), the haikus of Richard Wright with photographs by Crews; Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up, Sally M. Walker (2018).

Perfect Pairing – Feeling Blue?

In a favorite passage in Emilie Boon’s Ella & Monkey at Sea, young Ella utilized “angry black”, “scared gray” and “cold blue” crayons to color as a storm raged. Since reading these descriptions and writing a review of this awesome, new picture book, these images have haunted me. Blue is a favorite color, and I rarely associate it with coldness, sadness or angry feelings. But depending on shade, blue can be sad or happy, angry or peaceful, and so much more, as evident in these two recent picture books. How do you feel blue?

Blue

Author & Illustrator: Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press/2018

Ages: 3-6 (and older)

Themes: low word count; loss; dogs; blue

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

How many shades of blue are there?

There’s the soft blue of a baby’s cherished blanket, the ocean blue of a romp in the waves, the chilly blue of a cold winter’s walk in the snow, and the true blue of the bond that exists between children and animals.

In this simple, sumptuously illustrated companion to Caldecott Honor Book Green, award-winning artist Laura Vaccaro Seeger turns her attention to the ways in which color evokes emotion, and in doing so tells the story of one special and enduring friendship.

Read a review by Julie Danielson at Kirkus Reviews.

The Blue Hour

Author & Illustrator: Isabelle Simler

Publisher/Date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers/2017 (originally published in France as Heure Bleue, Éditions courtes et longues, Paris/2015)

Ages:  4-8

Themes: nature; evening; quiet; blue

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A lovely and tranquil celebration of nature

The sun has set, the day has ended, but the night hasn’t quite arrived yet. This magical twilight is known as the blue hour. Everything in nature sky, water, flowers, birds, foxes comes together in a symphony of blue to celebrate the merging of night and day.

With its soothing text and radiant artwork, this elegant picture book displays the majesty of nature and reminds readers that beauty is fleeting but also worth savoring.

Read a review at Waking Brain Cells.

I paired these books because they evoke feelings and emotions through various shades of the color blue. In the almost-wordless Blue, Seeger traces the lifespans and love of a boy and his dog from infancy, with a baby blue blanket, to the end, utilizing differing shades and descriptive words for blue. In The Blue Hour, Simler provides snapshots of many animals preparing for the darkness of night. Both of these picture books are quiet, and because of the illustrations, merit multiple readings and re-readings.

Looking for similar reads?

See Seeger’s Green and Aree Chung’s Mixed: A Colorful Story.

Perfect Pairing Takes on a Tough Subject: The Death of a Pet, 23Oct18

Every pet owner knows that at some point the time arrives to say goodbye to a beloved pet – a dog, cat, hamster or even goldfish who has stolen our hearts. After all, odds aren’t in our favor, as the lifespans of most of these critters is far less than that of humans. And when that dreaded time arises, it’s tough on the adults, and kids. Thankfully, there are some empathetic, pet-loving picture book creators out there. I’ve paired two today.

 

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The Rough Patch

Author & Illustrator: Brian Lies

Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books (an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers)/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: pets; loss; grieving; nature

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Evan and his dog do everything together, from eating ice cream to caring for their award-winning garden, which grows big and beautiful. One day the unthinkable happens: Evan’s dog dies. Heartbroken, Evan destroys the garden and everything in it. The ground becomes overgrown with prickles and thorns, and Evan embraces the chaos.
But beauty grows in the darkest of places, and when a twisting vine turns into an immense pumpkin, Evan is drawn out of his misery and back to the county fair, where friendships—old and new—await.

Read a review at Picture Book Builders.

 

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A Stone for Sascha

Author & Illustrator: Aaron Becker

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018

Ages: 5-9

Themes: pets; loss; history; wordless picture book; nature; grieving

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A girl grieves the loss of her dog in an achingly beautiful wordless epic from the Caldecott Honor–winning creator of Journey.
This year’s summer vacation will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride. But a wistful walk along the beach to gather cool, polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief. There, at the edge of a vast ocean beneath an infinite sky, she uncovers, alongside the reader, a profound and joyous truth. In his first picture book following the conclusion of his best-selling Journey trilogy, Aaron Becker achieves a tremendous feat, connecting the private, personal loss of one child to a cycle spanning millennia — and delivering a stunningly layered tale that demands to be pored over again and again.

Read a review at Common Sense Media.

I paired these books because they both deal with the loss of a pet, something that’s a difficult topic for children and their parents. In The Rough Patch, Evan, a gardening fox, angrily destroys his garden when his dog dies. But as the garden regrows, first as weeds and then with a pumpkin vine, Evan heals and makes peace with his loss. In A Stone for Sascha, a young girl who lost her pet dog grieves at the beach, but gains peace when a golden stone washes ashore, connecting her loss to those of history.

Looking for similar reads?

See My Old Pal, Oscar (Amy Hest, Amy Bates, 2016); Sammy in the Sky (Barbara Walsh/Jamie Wyeth, 2011); and about aging pets: Big Cat, Little Cat (Elisha Cooper, 2017); Stay: A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List (Kate Klise/M. Sarah Klise, 2017).

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.

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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!