Tag Archives: Nature

PPBF – I Am the Storm

April is Earth Month and National Poetry Month. So I thought this is the perfect time to showcase today’s Perfect Picture Book. I hope you agree!

Title: I Am the Storm

Written By: Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple

Illustrated By: Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell

Publisher/Date: Rise x Penguin Workshop, an imprint of Penguin Random House/2020

Suitable for Ages: 3-5 and older

Themes/Topics: natural disasters, resilience, nature

Opening:

When the wind howled and blew, loud as a train,/ we had a party in the basement with Grandma, reading books and playing games with the flashlight.

Brief Synopsis:

In a series of fictional vignettes, young children and their families experience and survive natural disasters.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

In I Am the Storm, four young children and their families survive four different natural disasters. With short, lyrical text and repeated phrases, Yolen and Stemple show what each family does as the natural disaster rages. And after the disasters, because, as the authors reassure readers, these disasters always stop, the children help clean up and help others, mimicking the disasters with their actions, “howling and blowing like the wind,” tossing “big handfuls of snow”, swaying “like a slow beautiful flame”, and returning home. Addressing readers, the authors acknowledge, “It’s okay to be scared.” But they remind readers, too, that they can be “strong and powerful” like nature, and afterwards, calm.

Illustrated with an inclusive array of characters and representing a variety of settings, I Am the Storm is an important book for kids who live in regions where natural disasters are prevalent, which is many places these days, or who are dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters or any type of traumatic event (which is most of us, after this COVID-dominated year).

The Howdeshells use sweeping, earth-toned double-page spreads to show both the disasters and the calmer scenes afterwards.

A Note about Craft:

With four distinct main characters facing four different natural disasters, in four varied settings, how did Yolen and Stemple tie these disparate stories together and craft a cohesive picture book? Using the same format for each, disaster strikes and families hunker down and amuse themselves together, followed by post-disaster clean up, with a repeated phrase “as…always do,” the authors show the resilience of each main character. And by acknowledging that it’s okay to be scared, and showing how these kids, and the readers, possess storm-like qualities, they offer hope to readers that they, too, will overcome these temporary disasters.

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

PPBF – Birdsong

For my first Perfect Picture Book of the spring, I chose a quiet book filled with friendship and nature. Enjoy!

Title: Birdsong

Written & Illustrated By: Julie Flett

Publisher/Date: Greystone Books/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: moving, #OwnVoices, nature, intergenerational, creativity, friendship

Opening:

Spring

It’s a mucky spring morning as we pack up the last of our belongings and leave our little home in the city by the sea.

I’m going to miss my friends and cousins and aunties and uncles. I’m going to miss my bedroom window and the tree outside.

“Goodbye, tree friend,” I whisper.

Brief Synopsis:

When a lonely young girl moves to a new home, she becomes friends with an elderly neighbor who helps her discover the beauty of her new surroundings.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you moved from one house or neighborhood to another one? Draw a picture of something you miss from your old house or something you like in your new home;
  • In the summer time, Katherena’s new home “hums with peeps and whistles and ribbits and chirps.” What do you hear when you’re outside?
  • Check out the Teachers Guide for more resources.

Why I Like this Book:

Arranged by seasons and incorporating a few Cree words, Birdsong is a beautiful and multi-layered picture book that explores how one young girl adapts to her new home and life through her interactions with a kindly neighbor. As a serial mover whose kids have trouble naming their hometown, I can relate to Katherena’s sadness at leaving family and friends behind and venturing to a new, unfamiliar location.

An art lover, Katherena has no desire to draw in her new home until she meets Agnes, an elderly neighbor who shares her own creative endeavors and the beauty of her garden. Through Agnes, Katherena learns to appreciate the beauty of her new surroundings, and the two share their art and cultures.

I love that Flett highlights the power of intergenerational friendship, especially as both friends learn from each other and benefit from the relationship. I also love how nature, including the birds in the title, provides a bond between these neighbors.

The soft pastel and pencil illustrations provide sweeping views of nature, a lovely invitation to go outside and explore our own bit of the world.

A Note about Craft:

Flett perfectly ties together so many themes in this quietly beautiful picture book: moving, loneliness, creativity, Cree language and culture, friendship, and intergenerational relationships.

She arranges Birdsong by seasons, an apt metaphor, I think, for life as the two main characters, young Katherena and elderly Agnes, are in the different seasons of their lives.

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

PPBF – Poetree

Spring will be here soon. I hope! And while we’re awaiting its arrival, I found a Perfect Picture Book to get you in a springtime mood!

Title: Poetree

Written By: Shauna LaVoy Reynolds

Illustrated By: Shahrzad Maydani

Publisher/Date: Dial Books for Young Readers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: poetry, friendship, nature, spring, loneliness

Opening:

The snow had melted, the buttercups were blooming, and Sylvia celebrated winter’s end by writing a poem about spring.

Brief Synopsis: When a birch tree seemingly responds to the poems Sylvia had left for it, she is thrilled, until she realizes that someone other than the tree may be the mysterious poet.

Links to Resources:

  • Read or write a poem about a favorite place or season;
  • Take a walk and discover signs that the seasons are changing;
  • Do you know someone who can’t explore outdoors, like an elderly relative or neighbor? Send a poem, picture, or letter to that person, to help him or her experience the beauty of nature.

Why I Like this Book:

With lyrical language, Reynolds presents young poet, Sylvia, who shares poems with a nearby birch tree. Imagine Sylvia’s surprise when the tree seemingly answers each poem with one of its own! But Sylvia’s joy is short-lived when she discovers who really wrote the poems.

I won’t spoil the story by revealing the answer here, but this lovely picture book features not just beautiful poetry but also a reminder that friends can be found where you least expect to find them and that two people can bond over the beauty of words and nature.

Maydani’s graphite pencil and watercolor illustrations in muted shades perfectly complement the lyrical text and reveal the thoughts swirling through the young poet’s mind.

A Note about Craft:

In Poetree, Reynolds celebrates nature and poetry, and she reminds readers that friends can be found in unlikely places and that classmates aren’t always what they seem to be. The text blends poems that feature child-like simplicity with lyrical language such as “rhymes falling like autumn leaves” and “words…blossomed into her mind”. Although the individual poems are distinct from the lyrical language, including both encourages word-loving readers (and aren’t all readers word lovers?) to read this lovely picture book again and again.

Per the jacket flap, Poetree is Reynolds’ debut picture book. Maydani, of Iranian and English descent, grew up in Niger and Kenya, but currently resides in the US.

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

PPBF – A Story About AFIYA

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is one of a handful of picture books included in the New York Times’ list of top 25 children’s books of 2020. I think you’ll agree that it deserves this honor!

Title: A Story About AFIYA

Written By: James Berry

Illustrated By: Anna Cunha

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing/2020

Suitable for Ages: 3+

Themes/Topics: fantasy, nature, multicultural, poetry

Opening:

Afiya has fine black skin that shows off her white clothes and big brown eyes that laugh and long limbs that play.

She has a white summer frock she wears and washes every night that every day picks on something to collect, strangely.

Brief Synopsis:

Each day, as young Afiya ventures forth, the wonders of nature that she experiences imprint themselves upon her white dress.

Links to Resources:

  • Decorate a white sheet or other cloth or paper with the scenes of nature you experienced today;
  • Do you have a favorite outfit? Why is it your favorite? Draw a picture of yourself wearing this outfit;
  • Read and enjoy poems about winter.

Why I Like this Book:

Poetic language and dreamy illustrations combine to chronicle the wonders of nature as experienced by a young black girl, Afiya. On the title page, readers learn that Afiya (Ah-fee-yah) is a Swahili name that means health.

Like a young child’s mind, the “white as new paper” dress transforms each day, bearing the imprints of all that Afiya explores and enjoys, from colorful flowers to tigers at the zoo. And as a child’s mind resets after a good night’s rest, so, too, does the dress become a blank slate each morning, after Afiya has washed it each night.

I love the pure joy expressed in the text and the soft illustrations. Afiya almost appears to dance off of the page. I also find the focus on nature so refreshing.

If you’re looking for a picture book to help you forget about our current stress-filled times, I highly recommend A Story About AFIYA.

A Note about Craft:

James Berry (1924-2017) was a celebrated Jamaican poet who lived most of his adult life in Britain. In his text, I think he utilizes the white dress as a metaphor for an inquisitive child’s mind, that soaks up the wonders of nature each day and is washed clear each night, ready to absorb more of nature’s refreshing tonic the following day.

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

Perfect Pairing – Helps Save Nature

Today’s Perfect Pairing features two women, one famous and one not as well known outside her native Michigan, who loved the natural world and helped preserve it for future generations, including us.

Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story

Author: Lindsey McDivitt

Illustrator: Eileen Ryan Ewen

Publisher/Date: Sleeping Bear Press/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, ecology, women’s history, nature, art

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The art and writing of Gwen Frostic are well known in her home state of Michigan and around the world, but this picture book biography tells the story behind Gwen’s famous work. After a debilitating illness as a child, Gwen sought solace in art and nature. She learned to be persistent and independent–never taking no for an answer or letting her disabilities define her. After creating artwork for famous Detroiters and for display at the World’s Fair and helping to build WWII bombers, Gwen moved to northern Michigan and started her own printmaking business. She dedicated her work and her life to reminding people of the wonder and beauty in nature.

Read a review at GROG blog.

Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit

Author: Linda Elovitz Marshall

Illustrator: Ilaria Urbinati

Publisher/Date: Little Bee Books/2020

Ages: 5-9

Themes: countryside, rural England, biography, nature, women’s history, famous author/illustrator

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Growing up in London, Beatrix Potter felt the restraints of Victorian times. Girls didn’t go to school and weren’t expected to work. But she longed to do something important, something that truly mattered. As Beatrix spent her summers in the country and found inspiration in nature, it was through this passion that her creativity flourished.

There, she crafted The Tale of Peter Rabbit. She would eventually move to the countryside full-time, but developers sought to change the land. To save it, Beatrix used the money from the success of her books and bought acres and acres of land and farms to prevent the development of the countryside that both she and Peter Rabbit so cherished. Because of her efforts, it’s been preserved just as she left it.

This beautiful picture book shines a light on Beatrix Potter’s lesser-known history and her desire to do something for the greater good.

Read a review at A Mighty Girl.

I paired these books because they both involve women who helped save natural spaces in their later lives. Both were known during their lifetimes first and foremost as artists, and, in the more famous Potter’s case, as an author-illustrator of one of the most famous series of children’s books and perhaps its most famous main character, Peter Rabbit. Whereas Frostic helped save nature by creating artworks directly based on it, Potter used the vast sums she earned from her books to purchase farmlands and open spaces in the English Lakes District to preserve them for future generations.

Looking for similar reads? See Spring After Spring: How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement.

 

 

 

Perfect Pairing is Abuzz about Bee Books

It’s Earth Day tomorrow and a month when flowers blossom and insects reappear near my house. To celebrate, I’m pairing two recent non-fiction picture books that focus on a very important creature in our world: the honeybee.

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera

Author: Candace Fleming

Illustrator: Eric Rohmann

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Holiday House Publishing/2020

Ages: 6-9

Themes: honeybees, nature, nonfiction

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Get up close and personal with Apis, one honeybee, as she embarks on her journey through life, complete with exquisitely detailed illustrations.

Beginning at birth, the honeybee emerges through the wax cap of her cell and is driven to protect and take care of her hive. She cleans the nursery and feeds the larvae and the queen. But is she strong enough to fly? Not yet!

She builds wax comb to store honey, and transfers pollen from other bees into the storage. She defends the hive from invaders. Apis accomplishes all of this before beginning her life outdoors as an adventurer, seeking nectar to bring back to her hive.

Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann describe the life cycle of the hard-working honeybee in this poetically written, thoroughly researched picture book, similar in form and concept to the Sibert and Orbis Pictus award book Giant Squid, complete with stunning gatefold and an essay on the plight of honeybees.

Read a review at The Picture Book Buzz and another by Jilanne Hoffmann.

 

The Honeybee

Author: Kirsten Hall

Illustrator: Isabelle Arsenault

Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster/2018

Ages: 3-7

Themes: honeybees, nonfiction, nature, rhyming

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Buzz from flower to flower with a sweet honeybee in this timely, clever, and breathtakingly gorgeous picture book from critically acclaimed author Kirsten Hall and award-winning illustrator Isabelle Arsenault.

Bzzz…

What’s that?
Do you hear it?
You’re near it.
It’s closer,
it’s coming,
it’s buzzing,
it’s humming…

A BEE!

With zooming, vibrant verse by Kirsten Hall and buzzy, beautiful illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault, this celebration of the critically important honeybee is a honey-sweet treasure of a picture book.

Read a review at Julie Rowan-Zoch’s blog.

I paired these books because they explore the same topic in different ways. In Honeybee, Fleming and Rohmann get up close to one honeybee and recount her life in minute detail. This reader, and reviewers, have noted that it feels like you’re inhabiting the hive with Apis as the tension builds to the day Apis flies. In contrast, The Honeybee is a rhyming picture book, suitable for younger readers, that encourages readers to follow along with a flying honeybee, as she zooms through fields, pollinating as she flies, and then returns to her hive. Both books contain back matter, useful for further research about these fascinating and important insects.

 

 

 

Perfect Pairing – Features the Poetry of Emily Dickinson

I’d planned to feature two new picture book biographies about Emily Dickinson today, before the pandemic upended the normalcy of most of our lives. Thankfully, I picked up one of these before our local library closed, and I have a copy of the other one.

May you find plenty of poetry on your bookshelves or via internet sources to bolster your spirits during this time of crisis! Stay healthy, stay home, and read!

Emily Writes: Emily Dickinson and Her Poetic Beginnings

Author: Jane Yolen

Illustrator: Christine Davenier

Publisher/Date: Christy Ottaviano Books (Henry Holt and Company/2020)

Ages: 6-8

Themes: Emily Dickinson, poetry, nature, writing

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Jane Yolen’s Emily Writes is an imagined and evocative picture book account of Emily Dickinson’s childhood poetic beginnings, featuring illustrations by Christine Davenier.

As a young girl, Emily Dickinson loved to scribble curlicues and circles, imagine new rhymes, and connect with the natural world around her. The sounds, sights, and smells of home swirled through her mind, and Emily began to explore writing and rhyming her thoughts and impressions. She thinks about the real and the unreal. Perhaps poems are the in-between.

This thoughtful spotlight on Emily’s early experimentations with poetry offers a unique window into one of the world’s most famous and influential poets.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

 

On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson

Author: Jennifer Berne

Illustrator: Becca Stadtlander

Publisher/date: Chronicle Books/2020

Ages: 5-8

Themes: Emily Dickinson, biography, poetry, nature, writing

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

An inspiring and kid-accessible biography of one of the world’s most famous poets.

Emily Dickinson, who famously wrote “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul,” is brought to life in this moving story. In a small New England town lives Emily Dickinson, a girl in love with small things—a flower petal, a bird, a ray of light, a word. In those small things, her brilliant imagination can see the wide world—and in her words, she takes wing. From celebrated children’s author Jennifer Berne comes a lyrical and lovely account of the life of Emily Dickinson: her courage, her faith, and her gift to the world. With Dickinson’s own inimitable poetry woven throughout, this lyrical biography is not just a tale of prodigious talent, but also of the power we have to transform ourselves and to reach one another when we speak from the soul.

Read a starred review at Shelf Awareness for Readers and read an interview with Berne at Kidlit411 (which is how I received a copy of this book. Thank you!).

I paired these books because they explore the life and writings of Emily Dickinson. In Emily Writes, Yolen explores Emily’s early childhood and envisions Emily creating scribbled poetry before she could form letters or words. On Wings of Words is a cradle-to-grave biography with Emily’s poetry woven into the narrative. Read together, these new picture books provide greater appreciation and understanding of the genius that is Emily Dickinson. Author’s Notes and other back matter in each book provide greater context about the life and writings of this iconic poet.

Looking for similar reads? See My Uncle Emily, by Jane Yolen.

 

 

Perfect Pairing – is Feeling Thankful

Whether you’re preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, gathering in the harvest, or thinking about the calendar year drawing to a close, late November is a wonderful time to stop, reflect and give gratitude for blessings, big and small.

Thanku: Poems of Gratitude 

Authors: various

Editor: Miranda Paul

Illustrator: Marlena Myles

Publisher/Date: Millbrook Press, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group/2019

Ages: 6-10

Themes: poetry, gratitude, #WNDB

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This poetry anthology, edited by Miranda Paul, explores a wide range of ways to be grateful (from gratitude for a puppy to gratitude for family to gratitude for the sky) with poems by a diverse group of contributors, including Joseph Bruchac, Margarita Engle, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Naomi Shihab Nye, Charles Waters, and Jane Yolen.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews and see an interview with debut illustrator Myles at Kidlit 411.

 

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

Author: Traci Sorell

Illustrator: Frané Lessac

Publisher/date: Charlesbridge/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: gratitude, seasons, nature, Cherokee, #OwnVoices

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A look at modern Native American life as told by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation

The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. Beginning in the fall with the new year and ending in summer, follow a full Cherokee year of celebrations and experiences.

Appended with a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary, originally created by Sequoyah.

Read a review at Miss Marple’s Musings.

I paired these books because both express feelings of gratitude in this season of giving thanks. And if you want to delve more into the subject matter of either of these books, Paul includes a glossary of the various poetry forms used in Thanku, and Sorell includes backmatter about Cherokee culture and its language in We Are Grateful.

Looking for similar reads? See Thank You, Omu!

PPBF – Tahmineh’s Beautiful Bird

As we near the “unofficial” end of summer with September looming and kids heading back to school, I want to feature a Perfect Picture Book that captures the joy and beauty of summer landscapes. I think today’s choice does just that.

Title: Tahmineh’s Beautiful Bird

Written and Illustrated By: Parviz Kalantari

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd./2015 (originally published in Persian, Chekkeh Publisher, Tehran, Iran/2012)

Translated By: Azita Rassi

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Iran, nature, handicrafts, memory, #ReadYourWorld

Opening:

It was summer, and Tahmineh’s tribe were living with their animals on the grassy high pastures. When winter came they would pack everything up, and move down to the lower plains. But Tahmineh liked the summer pastures best.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl tries to preserve the lovely sounds of a beautiful bird of summer using her artistic skills.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

In this vibrantly illustrated picture book, Kalantari introduces readers to a little-known people, the nomadic Qahqai tribespeople, while exploring a universal theme, the desire to capture beauty, but doing so in a way that doesn’t harm the natural world. Like the main character, Tahmineh, I think children will be charmed by the appearance of a beautiful songbird that shares its gorgeous melody. I think, too, that they will be intrigued by the idea of capturing the “memory” of the bird and by Tahmineh’s method of doing so.

Although capturing the memory as Tahmineh does may not occur to many young readers, they will understand the need to keep the memory, while allowing the bird to remain free. And the magical ending is sure to please young and old readers alike.

A Note about Craft:

While focusing on the lives and traditional crafts of a little-known nomadic tribe, Kalantari manages to explore a universal issue, too: enjoying nature without harming it. I think Kalantari manages this duality well: I was intrigued to learn more about Tahmineh and her tribal culture, and I was so happy to learn that she and her family care about something that I care about. I think that by showing how we are similar to Tahmineh and her fellow Qahqai tribespeople, it encourages readers to want to learn more about them.

Per the publisher, Kalantari is a prominent Iranian writer, illustrator and painter who focuses on the “everyday life of nomad tribes, desert people, and those living by the sea.”

Tiny Owl Publishing is a UK-based independent publisher of beautiful and thought-provoking picture books, many of them by Iranian authors and/or illustrators.

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

Perfect Pairing – of Chocolate-filled Picture Books

School ends this week in much of the northeast, where I currently live. To celebrate, I think chocolate is in order. I hope you agree!

Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, From Farm to Family 

Author & Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon

Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury Childrens Books/May 2019

Ages: 3-6

Themes: grandparents, chocolate, family history

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This beautifully illustrated story connects past and present as a girl bakes a chocolate cake with her father and learns about her grandfather harvesting cacao beans in West Africa.
Chocolate is the perfect treat, everywhere!
As a little girl and her father bake her birthday cake together, Daddy tells the story of her Grandpa Cacao, a farmer from the Ivory Coast in West Africa. In a land where elephants roam and the air is hot and damp, Grandpa Cacao worked in his village to harvest cacao, the most important ingredient in chocolate. “Chocolate is a gift to you from Grandpa Cacao,” Daddy says. “We can only enjoy chocolate treats thanks to farmers like him.” Once the cake is baked, it’s ready to eat, but this isn’t her only birthday present. There’s a special surprise waiting at the front door . . .

Read my review.

 

No Monkeys, No Chocolate

Authors: Melissa Stewart and Allen Young

Illustrator: Nicole Wong

Publisher/Date: Charlesbridge/2013

Ages: 5-8

Themes: chocolate, non-fiction, nature

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Everyone loves chocolate, right? But how many people actually know where chocolate comes from? How it’s made? Or that monkeys do their part to help this delicious sweet exist?
This delectable dessert comes from cocoa beans, which grow on cocoa trees in tropical rain forests. But those trees couldn’t survive without the help of a menagerie of rain forest critters: a pollen-sucking midge, an aphid-munching anole lizard, brain-eating coffin fly maggots—they all pitch in to help the cocoa tree survive. A secondary layer of text delves deeper into statements such as “Cocoa flowers can’t bloom without cocoa leaves . . . and maggots,” explaining the interdependence of the plants and animals in the tropical rain forests. Two wise-cracking bookworms appear on every page, adding humor and further commentary, making this book accessible to readers of different ages and reading levels.
Back matter includes information about cocoa farming and rain forest preservation, as well as an author’s note.

Read a review at The Classroom Bookshelf.

I paired these books because they discuss aspects of chocolate production. In Grandpa Cacao, the emphasis is on the people involved in growing and harvesting cacao beans, in particular the main character’s grandfather in West Africa. In No Monkeys, No Chocolate, the emphasis is on the growth of cocoa trees in the rainforest and the interaction of the many rainforest creatures that enable these trees to continue to grow. Read together, readers learn about the origins of a favorite food.