The days are getting longer, and with them there’s more time for reading with young and eager minds about winged wonders, migration, wild animals, and even inventions and spies. These ten picture books will inspire, educate, and provide joy.
“You Are Mine, Porcupine” is written by Helen L. Wilbur and illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman. In simple rhyming text, this picture book will be easily understood by young readers, and it includes information for older readers in the back, under the page titled “Fun Facts about the Mighty Fine Porcupine.” Interesting tidbits include that when porcupine babies are born, their quills are soft for a day, and then they harden. I’m sure that makes it easier to give birth to the cute little animals. The story follows a day with a porcupette, which is what a baby porcupine is called. There are clever plays-on-words with “porcu-trees” and “porcu-play.” This is a picture book that toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy. (Sleeping Bear Press)
“Numenia and the Hurricane: Inspired by a True Migration Story” is written and illustrated by Fiona Halliday. This is really a special picture book. Both the text and the illustrations are noteworthy. The rhyming text is not a simple story. It’s filled with metaphor and simile, and readers will rely on the illustrations to help them to understand what is happening. The illustrations are important and are both colorful and somber as they play up light and dark, feathers, and a long curved bill. The bird’s large eyes are very expressive, and readers will want to stop and examine each page carefully to really see everything that is carefully included. It’s based on the story of a whimbrel from Canada and her journey (as related from a tiny solar-powered satellite transmitter that was on her back) through a terrible storm. This would be a great addition to any classroom or school library. (Page Street Kids)
“The Bug Girl (a true story)” is written jointly by Sophia Spencer (the bug girl) and Margaret McNamara and illustrated by Kerascoët. It’s a beautiful and touching story of a girl who from a very young age became enamored with bugs. She studied them and looked for them everywhere. She refused to kill them and loved to share her knowledge with those around her. She writes that through kindergarten, her peers liked to hear about her passion, but when she got to first grade, that all changed. No one wanted to hear about bugs, and one day, something horrifying and traumatic happened. She brought a grasshopper to school to show everyone, and the kids killed it. (I love grasshoppers. Watch my video of an adorable grasshopper rubbing his head!) Her mother was determined to help Sophia realize that others shared her passion, so she wrote to a group of entomologists and asked for help. Well, read the story to find out the lovely and perfect ending – although the story is not over yet since Sophia is still a child. The bug girl shares her favorite bugs and gives her reasons for loving them. The grasshopper is #1! The illustrations are by the same husband and wife team who created “I Walk with Vanessa” and illustrated “Malala’s Magic Pencil.” The brilliant combination of ink, watercolor and colored pencils and judicious use of white space make each page a work of art. (Schwartz & Wade)
“Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery” is by Meeg Pincus, who also wrote “Miep and the Most Famous Diary.” In this picture book, she explains how the great monarch migration was originally discovered and how the discovery was due to the hard work of many people. The combination of questions, dialogue, and simple, straightforward text keeps the reader’s interest. At the end there is a page titled “More about the monarch migration discovery” and another page with information about how to help the monarchs. People need to plant milkweed and educate others about the plight of the monarch. Others, like me, enjoy raising the caterpillars through all stages and then setting the adult butterflies free. A fact is that less than 95% of monarch eggs make it to become butterflies because of all the predators out there. Raising them is extremely satisfying. (Sleeping Bear Press) For more on the monarch, read “Señorita Mariposa.”
“Flash and Gleam: Light in Our World” is by Sue Fliess, author of “Little Red Rhyming Hood,” and “Mary Had a Little Lab.” In this multicultural picture book, we follow children from diverse places around the world as they enjoy natural light from a sunrise, lightning, and the Northern Lights; and then we see how lights are used for other important purposes. From lighting candles in a memorial to a lighthouse guiding boats, from a campfire by the shore to fireworks, and in cultural and religious displays from Diwali to Hanukkah and Christmas — we see that light is universally celebrated and used to celebrate important events all over the world. The illustrations are beautiful as Khoa Le, the artist behind the colorful pictures, uses dark to enhance the feeling of bright light throughout the pages. At the end are pages about the science of light (explaining some of the light phenomena in the book like lightning, rainbows and the Northern Lights) and about light and celebrations. (Millbrook)
“Big Breath: A Guided Meditation for Kids” by William Meyer is an important nonfiction book about how children can learn about meditation. It’s a perfect way to teach young kids who might need the visual representations to help them relax or understand how to relax. The plain text guides the readers through deep breathing and letting go of “the coulds, the woulds, and the shoulds, the goods and the bads.” The pastel illustrations by Brittany R. Jacobs support the calming theme throughout the book with plenty of white and cool, calming colors. There aren’t many books for children about meditation, so this is a natural choice for school libraries, young classrooms, and parents who want to introduce a world of calm to their children. (New World Library)
“Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots” by Michael Rex is a clever, clever picture book that will educate as it entertains. Young readers will get a start at learning the very important difference between fact and opinion. In this world, that’s an important distinction. (I think there are politicians who don’t know the difference!) You don’t even have to open the book to get an idea about what’s inside. On the back cover is an olive green boxy robot with five eyes and white teeth that appear to have braces on them. The text states, “This is the back cover of the book. That is a FACT. There is one robot on the back cover. This is a FACT. The robot needs more eyes. This is an OPINION!” Throughout the book, there is information followed by the question, “Is that a fact or an opinion?” Readers will get lots of practice figuring out if a favorite ice cream is a fact or not. There is even a page that presents a dilemma – not enough information to know if something is a fact or an opinion. Not to worry. Rex gives advice about how to proceed. This book is such a treasure that I’d advise proceeding to your nearest indie bookstore to purchase a copy immediately! That is an opinion. (Nancy Paulsen Books for Young Readers)
“You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks” by Evan Turk is just that — the whole beautifully illustrated picture book is a poem to the National Parks. And that’s an important part of America to share with young readers — the vastness, the magnificence, the splendor of all our parks. Especially in these times when the sanctity of some parks is in question as permits are being given for mining and grazing in some parks, the next generation must understand what would be lost if we lose the ability to keep all our National Parks free from corporate greed and plunder. These parks belong to the American people and the animals who reside therein. They should not be for sale. 23 of the 60 National Parks are included here, and they are located from Alaska to Arizona a from Montana to Maine, and include Mesa Verde and the Everglades, Sequoia and the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. The lyrical text sends the message that when you visit a National Park, “you are home.” (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
“The Story of Inventions: A first book about world-changing discoveries” is written by Catherine Barr and Steve Williams and illustrated by Amy Husband. From the invention of the wheel, to compasses and paper, we also learn about the history of clocks, trains, the internet, and even vaccinations. This is a very simple book for young readers. Older readers will not be satisfied with the very basic information presented in these pages, but for primary school students and preschoolers, this book will serve as a perfect introduction into learning about our history and what inventions have done to completely change our way of life. The information is organized chronologically, with helpful arrows at the bottom of the page with the year of each invention. It’s also a fabulous choice for use as a springboard to give kids a variety of inventions to think about and then encourage them to explore one in greater detail. Obviously, this picture book would be a valuable addition to any classroom or school library, but it’s also one that parents should consider for their children. (Francis Lincoln Children’s Books)
“Spies, Lies, and Disguise: The Daring Tricks and Deeds that Won World War II” is written by Jennifer Swanson and illustrated by Kevin O’Malley. While this isn’t a picture book per se, there are plenty of photographs and illustrations, and there is plenty of fascinating information about several operations and plans that were set into action during the war. Some didn’t work, some weren’t actually enacted because the war had ended, and some worked brilliantly. One story is about a plan to find a corpse to use to send fake information to the Germans. We learn about the careful search for a dead body that suited being “drowned” and the fake background that was created for the corpse. Would the body be found before all the ink on the fake documents dissolved in the water after the body was “drowned at sea”? Would the Germans fall for it? They did. Another plan with a not-so-happy ending was to poison the German cows with anthrax. Suffice to say that because of this horrible and inhumane plan, an entire island where the plan had been tested on cows was uninhabitable for half a century. This book is filled with thrilling scenarios and daring plans, and intermediate and middle school students will enjoy reading it. I love what the author shares at the end in “A Final Note.” She writes, “While this book was presented in a slightly off-center sort of way, all the operations that are listed here were real. They actually took place. So did the war. It is no joke that 60 million people lost their lives in one of the most destructive wars that ever happened.” She also cautions, “War is not glamorous.” This is yet another book that would be an important addition to any school library or classroom library. (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.
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