Tag Archives: nature

Day 173 – The Raft

For June 21, in honor of the first (official) day of summer, we read a magical summer story called “The Raft” by Jim LaMarche. As the author himself says in his Author’s Note at the beginning, “The Raft” is a semiautobiographical tale about “a summer in the woods, a special grandparent, becoming a river rat, and becoming an artist.” It’s an outstanding book that gets extra points from me for how much it resonated with our oldest daughter.the raft

Nicky is a little city boy who begins the book in the car with his father, despondent at the soul-crushing prospect of spending a summer alone in the country with his “river rat” grandma. For crying out loud, Grandma doesn’t even have a TV! Unperturbed by Nicky’s attitude, Grandma – whose house is full of her sketches and wood sculptures – keeps Nicky busy stacking firewood, cleaning gutters, changing spark plugs on her old truck, and fishing for dinner (unsuccessfully). Nicky seems determined not to enjoy himself, until, a few days into his summer, an old raft bumps into the dock where Nicky is sitting with his fishing pole. The raft is accompanied by a flock of birds and it has drawings of animals all over it. His curiosity piqued (who drew those pictures?), Nicky corrals the mysterious raft. The next day he and his Grandma go on a raft trip together, and grandma teaches Nicky to pole the raft himself. From that point forward, Nicky can’t wait to finish his chores so that he can explore the river on his own, watching the animals along the bank and sketching them. Sometimes, grandma and Nicky picnic together on the river as Nicky does cannonballs from the raft, and he even occasionally sets up a tent and sleeps on the raft.

One day late in the summer, Nicky rescues a little fawn who he observes from the raft. The fawn is caught in the mud, so Nicky poles over, sets him free and carries him up to his mother. Afterwards, he sketches the fawn on the raft, and his grandma helps him to outline his drawing with oil paint. “Now, you’ll always be a part of the river,” she tells him…a river rat just like grandma.

This was another three-love book (as in “I love love love” this book) for our oldest. Mr. Lamarche’s warm, earth-tone illustrations are soft and comforting, and the story is sweet and inspiring. Reading this book made me want to get our girls out to the country side before they are too much older – to play and explore in the woods.


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 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 94 – Where Do They Go When It Rains?

Inspired by April showers, one of the themes we are exploring in our reading list this month is the water cycle. We’ve gathered several books that touch on this theme, including our Sunday evening read aloud picture book “Where Do They Go When It Rains?” by Gerda Muller. It is a lovely story about children exploring outside and reveling in the beauty and wonder of nature, complete with Ms. Muller’s characteristically delightful illustrations.

WhereMarion and Luke are twins who live in an apartment building in the big city. On this warm, sunny morning they head out to visit their cousin Stef at the country house where he lives with their grandmother. The twins spend their day with Stef, wandering the countryside: chasing grasshoppers, laughing at sparrows taking dust baths, visiting with the animals on a nearby farm, and wading in a shallow pond to find a snail for Stef’s fish tank. Before making it back to the house they are caught in what I assume is a spring shower, which leads Marion to ask the question in the book’s title: “Where do (the animals) go when it rains?”

As they walk back to the house Stef and the twins find the answer to their question by observing how each animal they pass reacts to the rain. Some hide under leaves, some huddle against a fence as a shield from the wind, and some seem not only unperturbed but rather invigorated by the wet weather. Perhaps inspired by the ducks playing in the pond, and already too wet to care about staying dry anyway, the three explorers begin an impromptu dance in the rain, splashing and playing in a big puddle…and that is where grandma finds them. After donning some dry clothes, and downing some hot chocolate, the twins see a beautiful rainbow from Grandma’s porch, complete with a little science lesson from Stef; he tells them how rainbows are formed, and how they can find one in the sky.

“Where Do They Go When It Rains” is vintage Gerda Muller: the illustrations are detailed, colorful, and charming and they convey a childlike wonder that I can imagine the twins must feel as they marvel at the natural beauty that surrounds grandma’s country house. I particularly enjoyed the comforting idea of just enjoying a carefree day in the country, and the joyful abandon on display as the twins and Stef splash around in the rain. We also appreciated the lesson on rainbows toward the end of the book – right on time for “National Find a Rainbow Day!” It’s always gratifying to find a book that combines a great story with attractive illustrations and bit of information about how the world works. Gerda Muller books are wonderful for that, and it’s one of the reasons why we have so many.


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.