Tag Archives: natural world

Day 100 – Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle

If you have you been looking for some fact-based picture books that help to explain the world around you to your children, while also providing enough entertainment to keep their attention from beginning to end, you’ve come to the right place! We are thrilled whenever we can find books that fill this need, and we like to fit as many into our reading list as possible. For the month of April one of our “real world” themes is the water cycle – in honor of the April showers for which this month is known (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least). Saturday’s selection, “Water is Water” by Miranda Paul and Jason Chin, is a lovely introduction to the water cycle, with lush, playful illustrations and poetic prose that makes for an entertaining read-aloud experience.water is water
The book follows a brother and sister as they and their friends experience the various forms that water can take throughout the year…steam, clouds, rain, ice, snow, etc. The changing seasons are beautifully illustrated with a backdrop that made me wish for a country house for our girls; nearly every two page spread presents a joyful scene of children playing outdoors and enjoying nature’s beauty to the fullest. The illustrations alone make me thankful to have this book in our library. The words are spare but they have a lyrical cadence with just the right amount of repetition to keep reader and listener alike engaged from beginning to end. I particularly liked the repeated use of the word “unless” to lead from one page to the next: “water is water, unless…it heats up…” in which case it is steam, or “fog is fog, unless…it falls down…” in which case it is rain, etc.
The last few pages provide additional detail to explain the various stages of the water cycle, along with some interesting numbers about water, like the fact that oceans hold 96.5% of all the water in the world, while 99% of the fresh water in the world is trapped as ice or snow or is hidden in underwater reservoirs. If I understood them correctly, that means that if you combine all the fresh-water lakes in the world, you would have collected no more than 0.04% of all the water on the Earth. I don’t know if that impresses anyone else, but it seems pretty amazing to me. If you are standing on the shore of one of the Great Lakes (for example) and all you can see is water, it must be mind-boggling to imagine that all that water is still only a tiny, tiny fraction of the world’s fresh water.
But I digress. “Water is Water” is another delightful picture book that happens to also be full of great information about how the real world works – and it conveys and captures a true sense of joy about being out in nature. It may also be of note for some parents that the brother and sister are biracial –  I didn’t notice it until I read another review of the book, but for some readers that could add valuable color to an already charming book.

Day 97 – Yucky Worms

“Yucky Worms” by Vivian French and Jessica Ahlberg introduces children to the wonderful world of worms, and the important role they play in loosening and fertilizing the soil so that plants can grow. The book is a great example of mixing storybook and science in a way that is compelling for little listeners. I love a fun picture book that teaches children about the real world around them, and this one fits that bill quite well.yucky

“Yucky Worms” is narrated by a little boy who is visiting his grandmother; he is playing outside while she is working in her garden. When grandma holds up some worms for our narrator to see, he is initially disgusted, but Grandma assures him that she considers worms to be her friends. After she explains why she feels that way, and describes the details of their everyday lives, her grandson finally comes around to her way of thinking – although he tells grandma that he might not let anyone know that his “new friends” are worms.

Ms. French and Ms. Ahlberg manage to disclose a lot of interesting information about their subject through the narrative as well as through the detail in the playful illustrations and in the numerous insets and call-outs. I expect that the word “Yucky” in the title and the subject matter – worms! – should grab children’s attention…even those who are disgusted by the idea of worms may not be able to look away. Our youngest was certainly engaged – she was literally (and I do mean literally) leaning off the edge of her seat to get a closer look. There is also a gross-out factor that our audience (and this reader) found particularly amusing, but we might recommend against reading this book at the dinner table. Suffice to say, the word “poop” appears several times in the text…and besides, it’s worms, YUCKY!

Day 83 – Whose Egg?

Riddle me this: what could be more awesome than a lushly-decorated book with a touch of mystery that also increases your children’s understanding of nature? That same book with lift-the-flap – of course! Enter “Whose Egg” by Lynette Evans and illustrated by Guy Troughton, the second of our Easter-inspired selections this week.whose

Each two-page spread of “Whose Egg” presents a riddle with clues to help identify the animal hiding behind the flaps, and Mr. Troughton’s vibrant watercolor paintings provide additional hints for observant readers. There are eggs from reptiles, birds, insects, and even a certain duck-billed mammal – eight in total. We really enjoyed trying to guess each hidden animal. The only challenge for us was keeping our youngest from opening the flaps too quickly!

Like “An Egg is Quiet”, which we read yesterday, the production quality of this book is wonderful; if nothing else, it is just fun to hold and to look at. I can already tell that it is going to be well loved in our house…and I have a feeling I will be taping some of these flaps back on at some point in the near future!

Day 82 – An Egg is Quiet

I had a feeling just from looking at the cover of this evening’s storybook that we were in for a treat, and I was not disappointed. “An Egg is Quiet” by Dianna Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long, is a beautiful combination of science, poetry, and art.quiet

The simple but elegant text introduces the reader to the wide variety of characteristics an egg can exhibit: not only can they be quiet, but they can also be “clever”, shapely, artistic, and fossilized…just to name a few. Each two-page spread presents a new characteristic complete with stunning watercolor illustrations that are well complemented by the choice in fonts; the production quality is excellent. There are notes scattered around each page providing additional information and letting the reader know what animal belongs to each of the eggs shown. One review I read had what I thought was a particularly apt description of the overall effect: it is like reading a naturalist’s journal.

We read the book through once to get a sense for the flow – the “big picture” if you will – before going back to soak in and discuss all the wonderful details. I really enjoyed being able to identify some of the more unusual eggs from the labels, and was fascinated to learn (for example) that seabird eggs are pointy on one end so that they “roll around in safe little circles, not off the cliff.”

We originally selected Ms. Aston’s book for this week because of the approaching Easter holiday. While not, strictly speaking, an Easter book, “An Egg is Quiet” still fits in nicely – presenting a natural variety and beauty to eggs that outshines the colorful plastic egg decorations we see everywhere this time of year. It seems like the kind of book that would be nice to have on the shelf for little ones to pull out periodically and pore over and I was happy to discover that Ms. Aston and Ms. Long appear to have published several similarly attractive collaborations. I expect we will be reading more of their work this year.


Day 80 – and then it’s spring

In honor of the first day of spring today we read a whimsical, wonderful book about a little boy and his animal friends waiting for the season to start. The story begins with the little boy, his scarf blowing in the wind and his nose red from the cold, looking into the distance across a barren brown landscape: “First you have brown, all around you have brown…” The text (“First you have…”), the boy’s distant gaze, and the expectant tilt of his dog’s head convey a sense of anticipation…something is coming.spring

Eager to help spring arrive as soon as possible, the boy plants seeds…and he waits. He inspects his handiwork…and he waits. He sits in his little red wagon and fears that his seeds have been devoured by fat little birds or stomped by clumsy bears…and he waits. He sets out bird feeders and hangs a tire swing…and he waits. Meanwhile, underground there is a riot of activity…a “greenish hum” which you can hear “if you put your ear to the ground and close your eyes.” And eventually, one day he walks out and all that brown isn’t around…instead “all around you have green.”

“and then it’s spring” by author Julie Fogliano and illustrator Erin E. Stead is a sweet and lovely book which we thoroughly enjoyed – in English and then in a Spanish translation as well. primaveraLike Kevin Henkes’ “Waiting”, “and then it’s spring” does a marvelous job of combining limited but well-chosen prose with beautifully detailed and subtly humorous artwork to effectively capture what I imagine waiting must feel like through the eyes of a child. We were particularly fond of Ms. Stead’s drawings: the little boy’s confident and determined posture as he pulls his wagon full of gardening supplies, the haphazard arrangement of seed mounds in the little boy’s garden, the little animal vignettes taking place all around him, and especially the small variations from page to page that hint of the coming change in seasons. I recommend reading the book once through to get the flow of Ms. Fogliano’s text first, followed by a slower second pass to truly savor all the fascinating and funny details Ms. Stead has managed to work into every page.



Day 69 – If You Hold a Seed

“If You Hold a Seed” by Elly MacKay is a gently inspiring story about patience and possibility, and how if you have the former and embrace the latter – your wishes can come true. The story unfolds against a luminous backdrop of unique illustrations.Hold a Seed

We originally selected “If You Hold a Seed” for March because growing season is just beginning in our neck of the woods (we actually did some planting ourselves just yesterday). In Ms. MacKay’s book, a little boy plants a seed, makes a wish, waits for something extraordinary to happen…and it does. The story introduces us to all the things a seed needs to thrive – sunlight, rain, insects spreading “magic”, and time. With the help of all of these things, season after season the little boy’s seed slowly grows into a tree that is big enough to be a part of his wish coming true. The growth of the seed is a metaphor for the way in which the little boy’s wish is planted in his heart; with patience and care, his wish grows inside him until it becomes reality.

Ms. MacKay’s pictures and words conspire to convey a sense of wonder. We were immediately struck by the originality of the illustrations in this book; we hadn’t seen anything quite like it. The pages appear to be decorated with layers of paper cutouts, but there is richness to the color, and an overall depth to the pictures that hints at something more. As we discovered upon Googling Ms. MacKay, her illustrations are actually photographs of carefully constructed, multi-layered dioramas. She calls it “creating miniature worlds inside a tiny theater.” You can watch a video about this particular book and her artistic process here: http://tinyurl.com/j4fr732. It’s pretty amazing and provides some further insights that made us appreciate this book all the more.