Category Archives: Real World

refers to books that tell stories about how the world around us works – mostly non-fiction, but may include fiction as well

Day 154 – From Seed to Plant

For June 2, we read another book from that prolific purveyor of “infotainment”: Gail Gibbons. “From Seed to Plant” was actually left over from our May theme of seeds and planting – but better late than never! Today’s selection, in true Gail Gibbons fashion, is full of colorful and informative illustrations that help to explain a real-life subject in an engaging way that pulls little listeners right in.

seed to plantIn “From Seed to Plant”, Ms. Gibbons introduces readers to a wide variety of seeds and to some of the flowers that grow from those seeds. There are informative drawings of plant anatomy and examples of the different and innovative ways in which seeds have adapted in order to travel from their source – such as being carried by squirrels, attaching themselves to someone’s pant leg, or floating on the wind. Aspiring gardeners will be inspired by Ms. Gibbon’s explanation of how seeds sprout into new plants, and her “From Seed to Plant” project for growing your own bean plant.

Once again, we turned to Ms. Gibbons for an entertaining and educational “real-world” picture book, and once again she came through with flying colors! Thank you, Ms. Gibbons.

Day 153 – Down Comes the Rain

For June, we chose a theme of sea creatures and beaches – but to start the month off, we thought we’d try another book on rain and the water cycle. Hey – the sea is a pretty big part of the water cycle, to say the least, so I think it works. Plus it’s been monsoon season around here for what seems like months.down comes the rain

So, where was I? Ah, yes: we are starting June and for our first book of the month, we picked an entertaining and informative volume from the “Read-and-Find-Out-Science” collection: “Down Comes the Rain” by Franklyn Branley. As with several of our other water-cycle books so far this year, “Down Comes the Rain” manages to address the subject in a concise, engaging and accessible way.

The book follows four children who alternately narrate (through speech bubbles) and appear in various stages of the water cycle – including, strangely, talking about hail. I say “strangely” because with all the books we have read on the water cycle, I think this is the first time that we have read about hail…in a book that did not talk about snow. Interesting – and a reminder that each book in a particular theme may be similar to others we have read, but each has something unique to offer.

Day 144 – Secrets of the Vegetable Garden

If you were following us back in March, you may already know how much we enjoyed our lift-the-flap experience with “Whose Egg” by Lynette Evans. Today’s book, “Secrets of the Vegetable Garden” by Carron Brown is similar in the sense that it provides little readers and listeners with information about the natural world in a colorful and engaging format – with a touch of mystery!

secretsThe twist, in this case, is that they mysteries are not revealed by lifting the flap, but by holding pages up to the light. Birds who were eating seeds in the garden suddenly flee – why are they flying away? If you hold the page up to the light, you can see…its a scarecrow! What kind of creatures are in the soil under the tomato plant? Hold the page up to the light, and you see…worms! After each mystery is revealed, you can turn the page to read a brief explanation before moving on to the next (the worms are breaking down leaves and bits of dead plants in the soil to make food for growing plants, the spotted thrush hiding behind the leaves is there pecking harmful insects like aphids off the plants…)

This book was a lot of fun, with a particularly attractive look and feel (it’s the kind of book that I see on the shelf and want to pick up). The illustrations by Giordano Poloni fill every other page of the book with bold color, and in between he provides the large black-and-white illustrations needed to create the “shine a light” effect, which I thought made this book particularly engaging. It looks like Ms. Brown has several other “shine a light” books out there – perhaps we will work another one into one of our monthly themes later this year.

p.s. you reveal the mysteries by holding pages up to a light – I suggest having a flashlight on hand.


Day 138 – Did a Dinosaur Drink This Water?

In keeping with our seasonal theme, tonight it was water cycle time again. This evening’s book, “Did a Dinosaur Drink This Water?” by Robert E. Wells, was another great example of Storybook Year “info-tainment”: an engaging and accessible picture book that sheds a little more light on how the world really works. Laid out much more like a comic book than a science text, Mr. Wells’ book grabs your attention with an intriguing premise and then imparts a lot of great information about the water cycle and about conservation. It’s a message that would have fit quite well with Earth Day just two days ago, but we enjoyed it just as much today nevertheless.dino water

Now, I’m a sucker for a good (or even a mediocre) dinosaur storybook – but this particular volume isn’t really about dinosaurs. In truth, Mr Wells spends about one page talking about my favorite prehistoric creatures – but the book was entertaining enough that the dearth of dino-discussion didn’t bother me. The question on the cover actually refers to the fact that the Earth recycles water – meaning that the same water molecules we have today have been on the planet for millions and millions of years. It’s a fascinating concept to ponder.

The book follows two children who I presume are a brother and sister, travelling around the globe in what looks like an oversized, glass-domed drone. They stop along the way and learn about the water cycle, the way the earth recycles and cleans water (evaporation, running over rocks in streams, seeping through the soil to underground aquifers), the way that people use the movement of water from river to sea to help generate electricity, and plenty of other great facts. The message about conservation comes right at the end and is presented as a set of common-sense suggestions for using water mindfully.

With pages full of colorful and active illustrations, plenty of great knowledge about the real world, and a flow to the pictures that draws your eye around each page, this is a great book to read aloud or to have laying around for aspiring readers to pick up and peruse on their own.


Day 136 – What Makes it Rain? The Story of a Raindrop

It’s raining, it’s pouring, being stuck inside is boring…unless…you have a good book to read…and we have plenty to suggest! Today, if you haven’t been keeping up with your water cycle studies (or even if you have), we are happy to propose another wonderful learning opportunity: “What Makes it Rain? The Story of a Raindrop” by Keith Brandt, and illustrated by Yoshi Miyake. Part of the “Learn About Nature”, series “What Makes it Rain?” is a remarkably comprehensive and engaging overview of the water cycle complete with gentle watercolor illustrations apropos of the subject matter.

what makes itMr. Brandt manages to cover a lot of ground in this book. He introduces the reader not only the stages of the water cycle, but to the journey that water takes from mountain to sea (and even into your own home!), and the importance of water in sustaining plant and animal life. While there is a lot of text it is not at all cumbersome; the language is accessible for younger listeners, and (for those to whom this matters) there is no heavy-handed lesson on environmentalism. “What Makes it Rain” is straight-up edu-tainment! We found it to be quite an enjoyable read-aloud…and it is a book we are happy to have available in our own collection.


Day 135 – A Seed is Sleepy

As part of our May focus on flowers, seeds, and gardening, today we read a fantastic reality-based picture book by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long: “A Seed is Sleepy”. Like their collaboration on “An Egg is Quiet”, “A Seed is Sleepy” is a true work of art, blending poetic text with vibrant and detailed watercolor illustrations to introduce younger listeners to the world of seeds – where they come from, their many different shapes and sizes, and the remarkable ways in which they ensure that they will grow into the plants they are meant to become.

sleepyAlmost every page of the book ascribes a human characteristic to seeds, and uses that characteristic to help explain a seed’s journey. It’s an engaging and clever approach. A seed is secretive because it does not reveal itself too quickly, a seed is adventurous because it must strike out on its own in search of a less crowded place to put down roots, and a seed is generous because it gives the baby plant a seed coat to keep it warm, etc. The flowing cursive font and the pictures work together to enhance the poetic feeling of the book. On each page you can also find short paragraphs of additional information, in smaller block lettering, placed between the illustrations – and each of the seeds or plants shown are labeled in the same font for easy identification – not unlike a handwritten and lovingly prepared field guide.

I love how this book introduces children to all the different things that a seed can be, or the different ways they can behave, in such an artistic and engaging way. I also appreciated the little nuggets of information, including an anecdote about the oldest known seed to actually sprout: a date palm seed found in the remains of an ancient palace in Israel. The book is a wonderful combination of fact and art. There is a bit of a magical quality to it as well – which fits with the magical fact that a single seed has everything necessary to grow into a giant tree, all packed inside a tiny seed coat. While the cursive font may be challenging for some younger readers to follow on their own, they should still have fun picking this book up just to examine Ms. Long’s illustrations – I certainly enjoyed looking back over it again as I was writing this review.


Day 132 – Planting a Rainbow

If you have been following us you may have noticed that we are running a little bit behind on our book reviews…but bear with us – we have plenty of reviews yet to post and we will eventually get caught up…some time before the end of the summer! So – where was I? Ah, here we go…
In keeping with our “May Flowers” theme, on May 11 we read “Planting a Rainbow” by Lois Ehlert, a simple but charming book about growing flowers in every color of the rainbow. Before reading, however, you should be prepared: vibrantly illustrated with Ms. Ehlert’s trademark collages, “Planting a Rainbow” is an inspiring introduction to gardening for little listeners who may start making plans for you to help them create their own rainbow.rainbow
From the opening line (“Every year Mom and I plant a rainbow”) I expect little ones will be hooked; planting your very own rainbow?!? Awesome! Ms. Ehlert then walks readers through the year-long process. There are bulbs to be planted in the fall…including tulips, tigerlily, hyacinth, and crocus. There are seeds to be ordered during the winter and sown in spring…including zinnia, aster, morning glory, and cornflower. And, while you wait for those to sprout, there are seedlings to be purchased at the nursery to be transplanted in your garden…including poppy, delphinium, roses, and carnations. With sunshine and proper care, eventually you earn the payoff: all summer long, there are flowers to be picked to make rainbow after rainbow!
We had fun reading this book together. I particularly enjoyed reading out some of the more interesting flower names (delphinium…hyachinth…zinnia…I’m easily entertained). If you are not familiar with the pronunciations, you may be able to find a video dramatization online – we were able to access one through our local library’s Web site.
“Planting a Rainbow” can be a quick read, but it’s exactly the kind of book that little ones will want to pick up later and read to themselves if it’s left within reach!

Day 131 – Jo MacDonald Had a Garden

With Mothers’ Day in the rear-view mirror today, we got back to our themes of flowers, gardens, and growing with “Jo MacDonald Had a Garden” by Mary Quattlebaum and illustrated by Laura Bryant. Like the other books in Ms. Quattlebaum’s Jo MacDonald series, “Jo MacDonald Had a Garden” plays on a familiar tune that helps grab the reader’s attention for a story that focuses on children getting outside and experiencing nature first hand. It’s a theme we especially love, all bundled up with some playful watercolor illustrations in a fun and engaging read-aloud package.macdonald

In the book, Jo and her cousin Mike set out to create a garden – with a bit of a twist: they plan not only to only grow plants that feed people (tomatoes, squash, etc.), but to create an environment that will attract and help sustain wild animals as well. To this end, Jo plants sunflowers for cardinals, coneflowers for bees, and even lays out a flat rock for butterflies to rest. The back of the book provides additional information about some of the plants and animals in Jo’s garden community, and there are some suggested indoor and outdoor activities – including some questions about specific details you may have missed in Ms. Bryant’s artwork the first time through the book!

Upon further research, I discovered that Ms. Quattlebaum actually grew up on a farm, and that her own father served as inspiration for Jo’s grandfather in the book (Old MacDonald). After listening to her talk about her work, I appreciated this book that much more. It was a truly delightful read…and so I’ll sign off with a book, book here…and a book, book there…here a book…there a book…everywhere a picture book…e-i-e-i-o…


Day 130 – Planting the Wild Garden

In keeping with our May theme of flowers and pollinators this evening, we read “Planting the Wild Garden” by Kathryn O. Galbraith and illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin. It’s really quite a good story about all the ways in which wild seeds are spread about the “wild meadow garden” of the world around us, including several of, what were for me, revelations about some of the ways in which seeds might be spread. It was one more beautifully illustrated example of natural world “info-tainment” for our Storybook Year.

wildThe book begins with a farmer and her son planting seeds in the garden, but reminds us that “many seeds (in the wild meadow) are planted too, but not by farmers’ hands.” There is, of course, the wind blowing seeds far from home (“oooooo-whishhh”), and goldfinches (“per–chik-o-ree!”) who knock seeds from plants when they land…or eat them and poop them out later. The Scotch broom pops seeds into the air from pods, rain knocks seeds loose, streams carry them, squirrels bury acorns – some of which are lost and grow into great oaks, and several different kinds of animals may carry them in their fur as they amble or skitter through the meadow. And then, of course, there are people who (“stomp stomp”) pick up seeds on their boots and sweaters or simply blow them free while making wishes on dandelions. Everyone – animal and human alike – work together to keep the wild meadow garden flourishing.

Ms. Galbraith’s language in the book is simple and accessible, and the repeated use of onomatopoeia adds entertainment value to the read-aloud experience. We also really enjoyed the illustrations which are laid out almost like a collage or gallery on several pages – showing various stages of the process described in the writing. My favorite picture was the rabbit gnawing on some tall grass…as a fox watches in the background. This was a lot of fun to read and share, and the book fit perfectly with our May themes.


Day 120 – A Tree is Nice

In honor of Arbor Day on April 29, we read “A Tree is Nice” by Janice May Udry and illustrated by Marc Simont. A lovely cover illustration, and an atypically tall and narrow layout drew us to this book immediately. Inside, the simple but delightful prose from Ms. Udry shares multiple ways in which a tree can be special. The Caldecott Medal-winning illustrations from Mr. Simont picture in enchantingly abstract detail all the wonderfully fun activities described in the text. It’s a combination that makes for a great read-aloud, and it’s an attractive book for inspiring beginning readers.tree is nice

As Ms. Udry reminds us, trees are wonderful for so many reasons: leaves whispering in the breeze or providing soft piles for play in the fall; limbs for climbing and playing pirate ship or for hanging a swing; trunks against which to sit in the shade and rest…even (in some cases) apples for snacking! Perhaps best of all for Arbor Day, if you plant a tree and you tell people about it, they will wish they had one and will plant a tree too!

Mr. Simont’s drawings, alternating vibrant color (especially in fall) with black and white, look sort of like rough sketches – which adds to the charm. In fact, as a veteran doodler, the drawings looked to me like exactly the sort of simple but compelling work that might inspire a budding artist to pull out their own sketch book and go to work. We loved all the life and activity taking place around the trees, and I was particularly fond of the tree growing from the rocks by the sea; it made me wish I were inside the book myself.

All in all, this is a beautiful little book about subjects we love – trees and playing outside. I believe now I will step out and have a go on the swing hanging from the live oak in our own front yard!