As warm temperatures and sunny skies finally have reached the northeast US, I’m enjoying the local flora and fauna, much like the main character in today’s Perfect Picture Book relishes visiting her rain forest friends.
Title: Zonia’s Rain Forest
Written & Illustrated By: Juana Martinez-Neal
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2021
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: rain forest, social activism, #OwnVoices, nature, Amazon
Zonia lives with those she loves in the rain forest, where it is always green and full of life.
Brief Synopsis: Zonia, a young indigenous girl, enjoys playing with the animals in the rain forest. But when she discovers an area filled with tree stumps, she realizes that she must do something to protect the forest, her friends, and her way of life.
Links to Resources:
- Check out these rain forest and Amazon facts;
- Zonia meets several animal friends in the rain forest. Draw a picture of one of them or of an animal that you like;
- Find more resources in back matter and in the Teachers’ Guide.
Why I Like this Book:
Filled with gorgeous illustrations of the rain forest and the many creatures that inhabit it, Zonia’s Rain Forest is a wonderful introduction to this fascinating ecosystem. Our guide is an endearing young girl, Zonia, who is Asháninka, the largest Indigenous group living in the Peruvian rain forest. She begins her day with her loving Mama and new baby brother, in a scene that will resonate with readers, even if the setting may be foreign.
At the end of an idyllic day greeting and playing with many different Amazonian creatures, the reader learns that the rain forest is in danger. The bucolic setting and fascinating creatures are under threat, as we see in one gloomy spread featuring gray tree stumps. In text, we learn that Zonia is frightened. The illustration, a stark contrast to the other scenes, shows us the problem.
But Martinez-Neal doesn’t prescribe a specific solution. Rather, she reminds us that one child and her community can answer the forest’s cry for help, and that we all must do so.
I love the open-ended conclusion to this story. I also love that it features a main character whose background and culture are probably new to most readers.
Martinez-Neal created the colorful illustrations on banana leaf paper using woodcut prints, ink, and pencils. A translation of the story into Asháninka, a note about the Asháninka people, some facts about, and threats to, the Amazon rain forest, and a gallery of Zonia’s animal friends complete this lovely picture book. It’s perfect, I think, for families with new siblings, those who care about the environment, those who want to learn about other cultures, and for classroom use.
A Note about Craft:
Author-illustrator Martinez-Neal includes a blue butterfly in each spread. I think she does so to show that Zonia is never alone in the rain forest, to provide a butterfly’s eye view at times, and to add a glimmer of hope to one particularly bleak spread. Younger children can also try to spot the butterfly in each illustration.
At the end of the story, Zonia notices that the forest needs help. Her mother wisely remarks that it is speaking to Zonia, who agrees to “answer” it, as we all must do. But neither wise Mama, Zonia, nor even Martinez-Neal indicates how to help the forest. It’s an open-ended conclusion which, I think, will provide a perfect jumping off place for teachers and other adults to discuss ways we can help the rain forest, its inhabitants, and the environment generally.
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!