Just in time for spring, several nonfiction picture books are ready to be shared. They are about flowers and plants, about animals and their environment, about people who help the environment, and even about how our bodies are filled with energy. Some are quiet books, perfect for nighttime read-alouds; others are exciting books filled with bright colors and details kids will want to think about. They are all fabulous.
“Squirrel’s Family Tree” by Beth Ferry and illustrated by A. N. Kang is not just about spring, but it is about the life cycle of the squirrels and the oak trees and their co-dependence on each other. It’s another nonfiction book that features a main character, Squirrel, through whose actions the reader learns more about squirrels. Through clever, four-line rhyming text with a pleasant meter for reading out loud, the author tells the story of the mutual dependency between squirrels and oak trees. It ends with a new adorable squirrel family born in a nest in an oak tree. At the end of the book are “Nutty Facts” including vocabulary like “Mutualism” which is the “symbiotic relationship where both parties benefit in some way.” There is a lot of information contained in this little treasure of a book, and Kang manages to make the illustrations both informative and charming. (Orchard Books)
“Superlative Birds” by Leslie Bulion and illustrated by Robert Meganck is a brilliant book about birds that will delight librarians and teachers alike with its informative nature, lovely illustrations, and fabulous rhymes. In the title poem, Superlative Birds, one stanza says,
“Who’s smallest? Who’s the fastest flier?
“Deepest diver? Loudest crier?
Stores most dead prey on barbed wire?
This we’ve got to see!”
Did you know that the bee hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world? It weighs less than a penny. Or that the emperor penguin has the most feathers of any bird, and the albatross has the widest wingspan (almost 12 feet!), and the shrike has the most disgusting (my description) eating habits of any bird. And so on. The “mosts” are really most fascinating — for those who love bird watching and those who don’t. Who knew there is a bird nicknamed the “Timberdoodle”! The last poem is a plea to help our birds by thinking about climate change and using less plastic. And like all nonfiction books, there are a Table of Contents and a Glossary. There is even a section, “Poetry Notes,” that explains the types of poems used for each bird (free verse, limerick, triolet). A great idea to use this book in the classroom would be for a teacher to spend a week on each bird. One day, take five minutes to read the poem (and post it prominently in the classroom). The next day, talk about the type of poetry used in the poem, then discuss the illustrations, and the next day, read the science note. Kids can do some research on their own and see what additional interesting facts they uncover. There’s also a teacher’s guide. (Peachtree)
“Soar High, Dragonfly!” by Sheri Mabry Bestor and illustrated by Jonny Lambert is a beautiful collaboration of information and illustration and story-like text to make this a book that kids will love to read. The text on each page tells about the story of the dragonfly in simple language while the colorful text at the bottom of the page includes information in no-nonsense language. The illustrations in between are almost magical. Lambert uses collages to create colorful, bright dragonflies and water and leaves that draw the eye. It’s a wonderful combination of elements that makes this a great choice for the school library and equally for the home bookshelf. Note that because this is a shorter picture book, there is no table of contents or glossary. The informational text is on each page. (Sleeping Bear Press)
“When Rain Falls” by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Constance R.Bergum is another short nonfiction picture book about what happens when it rains in different ecosystems. The animals in the forest are different from the animals in the prairie and the desert, and they react differently when it rains. Who knew squirrels used their bushy tails like umbrellas? Ducks aren’t bothered by rain because raindrops just “slide right off their oily feathers.” In a wetland, dragonflies might hide under a cattail. In the desert, a tarantula hides in a tunnel in the ground when it rains. What better medium to use when illustrating a book on rain than watercolor? Bergum’s illustrations are colorful, but also delicate and beautifully blended. (Peachtree)
“A Place for Turtles” by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Higgins Bond is an important book which was voted an “Outstanding Science Trade Book” by the National Science Teachers Association, and with good reason. From the front cover to the back cover, both illustrated with maps of the United States showing the ranges of each turtle species that lives in the US, this book is filled with important information about the turtles, and perhaps most importantly, how they have been endangered and how to protect them. The text on the first page makes the book’s message clear, “Turtles make our world a better place. But sometimes people do things that make it hard for them to live and grow.” Each specie has faced dangers, like sea turtles being killed by fishermen and by eating plastic bags they mistake for food. Even red-eared slider turtles are hurt because people love their colorful bodies and take them home. Turtles are wild animals, and living in a terrarium is harmful to their health. All wild turtles should be protected and allowed to live and thrive in nature. The loss of turtles would affect other animals who rely on turtles for food. There is a page with helpful things that we all can do to help keep turtles safe. At the end of the book is a page with Turtle Facts, Selected Sources, and books recommended for young readers. This book would be a wonderful addition to any science curriculum or for use in any classroom. Kids will love the readable text and the realistic illustrations, and teachers (and parents) will love all the information that is imparted. (Peachtree)
“Home Builders” by Varsha Bajaj and illustrated by Simona Mulazzani is a nonfiction picture book for younger readers that doesn’t have complicated or detailed informational text. Instead, this book allows young readers and patient parents (or teachers) to use the text to allow eager eyes to find the animals who are building their homes. The text is very simple but gently guides the readers’ eyes in their search for the many homes and animals who live in them. “Deep on the trail, Beneath the mound, Down by the water, Safe off the ground.” On that page is a plethora of animals from deer to turtles and beaver, butterflies and owls, blackbirds and fish. The reader will see the animals building their homes and nurturing their young in those homes. It’s a quieter picture book meant for exploration and thinking. (Nancy Paulsen Books)
“An ABC of Flowers” by Jutta Hiluesch takes readers on a picture walk of flowers from asters to zinnia with all the lovely flowers of the alphabet in between. On each page is a small line drawing of Amelie, a tiny girl, interacting with the flowers. She flies the violet on a string and walks her small dog under the waxflowers. Amelie peeks out of the narcissus (daffodil) and swings down from an orchid, which really does look like a parachute! The flowers and each letter of the alphabet are framed against the white of the shiny thick paper to make reading and perusing this flowery concoction a pleasant experience. The letter “L” for laceleaf is tilted, and the flower itself sports a kite-like tail drawn in line art and Amelie running holding the “kite’s” string. At the end of the book are two pages with the whole alphabet in colored letters with corresponding flowers arranged in front of each letter. What better way to both welcome spring and teach the alphabet and look at beautiful flowers than to read this book with your favorite toddler? You’ll both have a blooming good time. (Philomel)
Another flowery, let’s-get-ready-for-spring book is “Bloom Boom” by April Pulley Sayre. In this book, also full of photographs, readers will enjoy full page pictures of flowers in their environment. There is also the occasional caterpillar or bunny to marvel over. The text is simple, mostly two works on each page, with one page’s two-word sentence rhyming with the next: “Petals curve. Insects swerve.” Photographs are of a beautiful pink blossom from a magnolia tree and a bumblebee flying near a wild lupine. After each close-up of the flowers and the two two-word rhyming sentences, there is a large photograph of a mass of flowers with the text, “Bloom boom.” Young readers will love chiming in on that repeated phrase when hearing the book read aloud. At the end are several pages that describe where and when there are “booms” of flowers like the Texas bluebonnets that bloom in quantity there, and a page which identifies the specific flowers shown on the pages of the book. While this is a wonderful choice for the school or classroom library, this is also a book that will be loved for a read aloud at home, especially after a day in the garden or at the nursery. (Beach Lane)
“The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng” by Sophia Gholz and illustrated by Kayla Harren tells the story of the title figure, a man who grew up a simple villager, but whose life was changed when as a child he saw dead snakes piled on the ground of a sandbar, scorched by the sun and lack of trees and grasses for shade. The river had been eating away at the land on either side. Jadav decided to start planting trees and plants, and he’s been doing that for around 40 years. Because of his planting and devotion to the land, herds of elephants and tigers returned to the land. Scientists were shocked to discover what he had accomplished. The story is told in a manner that is not only informative but very touching, as Jadav not only protected the plants and trees, but the animals who were drawn to live in among the branches of greenery. Most of Jadav’s life, he was unknown and thought of as crazy, but now people revere him and recognize that this simple man, with his incredible determination, had the ability to change the landscape. This book is truly inspirational from the first page with the proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is now,” to the last page. It’s a fabulous addition for any classroom or school library. Teachers can use it for a introduction to teaching ecology or ecosystems or about the environment (and there’s a teacher’s guide!). And kids will just enjoy hearing about the difference one child can make. Perhaps it will inspire more children to perform simple acts that lead to great change. (Sleeping Bear Press)
And last is a book that advises how to put a “spring” in ones step. “Power Up: Your Incredible, Spectacular, Supercharged Body” by Seth Fishman and illustrated by Isabel Greenberg is a picture book all about the energy contained in our bodies. Fishman explains that a little finger “… has enough energy to light up one of the biggest cities in the world for an entire day.” (Don’t ask me how that works, I’m just quoting the book!) Fishman then goes on to explain that you can’t use your finger as a power source “because you can’t flip a switch and turn your pinkie power on and off. And that’s a good thing…because your body needs all the energy it’s got.” This book is filled with suggestions about how to keep your body powered up by eating healthy food, getting lots of sleep, and exercising. Even young readers will understand the concepts because they’re explained in simple terms. Perhaps reading this book will help your youngsters enjoy spring by taking walks, observing all the energy around them, and thinking great thoughts. (Greenwillow)
Please note: These reviews are based on the final books provided by the publishers for review purposes.