Tag Archives: real world

Day 161 – Manfish (a Story of Jacques Cousteau)

June is our month to read about the beach and the ocean, and it also happens to be National Scuba-diving Month. What better time, then, to read a picture book about Jacques Cousteau, the world’s most famous scuba diver, who also happens to have been born in June (June 10, 1910). “Manfish” by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Eric Puybaret is a lovely book, with poetic prose, attractive full-page illustrations, and an inspiring story about the explorer and inventor whose many films (over 115!) introduced the world to the wonders of the ocean.manfish

Ms. Berne introduces us to Jacques as a little boy in France – a little boy fascinated with the ocean who dreams that one day he will be able to “fly” and breathe under water. He is also fascinated with machines and with films – which he begins creating with a small home-movie camera he bought by saving his allowance “penny by penny.”  After finishing school, he travels the world as a member of the French Navy, filming everything he sees. Then, one day, wearing a pair of goggles given to him by a friend, he wades into the ocean and his eyes are opened to the wonders below the surface. Driven by a passion to explore the deep as a “manfish”, Jacques eventually invents the “aqualung” – and for the first time a person is able to swim for an extended time below the surface of the ocean. Success! With his cameras, his new invention, his best friends, and his ship (Calypso), he sets out to explore the oceans and to share the experience through his films. Along the way, he discovers amazing creatures the world has never seen and continues to innovate – improving his diving apparatus and even inventing cages for him and his crew to be able to film sharks without being eaten!

We really enjoyed learning more about Jacques Cousteau, including the extra details provided in the Author’s Note at the back and the surprise pull-out page. The story is informative without being dry – this is no “laundry list” of events in the life of a famous explorer. This story is about a little boy’s dream that grew into a man’s passion to become a manfish and fly beneath the waves – and how he worked to share that passion with the world. I think Ms. Berne does a wonderful job of conveying the feeling of wonder that the ocean inspired in Jacques, and which he hoped to inspire in everyone else.


Day 160 – How to Hide an Octopus

Ever wondered how to hide an octopus? How about a cuttlefish? Don’t know what a cuttlefish is? Well, have we got the book for you: “How to Hide an Octopus” by Ruth Heller. With rhythmic, rhyming text, it’s an entertaining and informative read-aloud about some very clever, camouflaged sea creatures.

octopusWhile most children will already be familiar with the titular octopus, Ms. Heller adds interest by introducing readers to some less-well-known denizens of the deep. Along with the aforementioned cuttlefish, there is a (spectacular) sea dragon, a (splendid) sargassum fish, and a (deceptive) decorator crab – just to name a few. In the flow of the book, Ms. Heller presents each animal and then hides it insider her colorful illustrations – great for engaging little listeners: can you find where the octopus is hidden? It’s quite fun. My favorite part was the closing page, which hints at a sequel…after summing up why these sea creatures might want to hide themselves, Ms. Heller observes that:

…predators to live must eat,

so also fade and are discreet,

and then their prey on which they sup

can’t see who’s going to eat them up.

If you’ve been wondering about how to hide an octopus and you’re looking for a light and lively read-aloud on the subject, we’ve found it! Eight tentacles up!


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 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 111 – Raindrops Roll

April showers may eventually bring May flowers, but around here over the past several days it seems like the showers just bring more showers. How appropriate, then, that today’s book was “Raindrops Roll” by April Pulley Sayre. The book is an extended poem about rain set against the lush, beautiful backdrop of Ms. Sayre’s photo illustrations. After your eyes have feasted on the colorful close-up pictures of water droplets on leaves, spider webs and flowers, you can also get a little science lesson about the water cycle (“a splash of science”) on the end pages.raindrops

This is the first photo-illustrated book we have read for many weeks – and the pictures are stunning. It’s a kind of book which we particularly love: entertainment and information about the real world! There are close-up pictures of bugs and slugs which add to the attraction of the book. Ahhhh, poetry and rain – what a great combination for April and National Poetry Month!


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 88 – Circle of Seasons

Today’s book, Gerda Muller’s “Circle of Seasons”, is a simple and soothing introduction to the seasons, complete with playful and captivating illustrations in Ms. Muller’s characteristic style. While paging through this lovely book, we kept feeling as though we wanted to be inside each of the seasonal scenes, and we could feel a love of nature and of natural beauty shining through each of the drawings.

Circle“Circle of Seasons” is actually a compilation of four “Seasons” board books that were individually published in 1994. The four original books have no text, just Ms. Muller’s charming pictures. This “Circle of Seasons” compilation adds only minimal prose to these illustrations, and does a really nice job of maintaining a slow and inviting pace. After reading the cover page for Spring, (“You know it’s spring when…”) the reader is presented a wordless 2 page bucolic scene of a little country house with flowers in bloom, buds on the trees, baby sheep in the field, and many other sweet details that children can come to associate with the season. Each wordless spread, two per season, presents a welcome invitation to stop and explore the illustrations, to discuss what is happening in the picture and to pick out the details that might be associated with the season depicted. I love the timeless nature of the seasonally-appropriate games and activities taking place in each scene, and I thought it was neat that Ms. Muller included both Christmas and Hanukkah as representative of winter.

We have had Ms. Muller’s Seasons books in our collection for several years, and they have been solid favorites with our youngest for quite a while. I had a bit of a hard time locating a copy of this compilation, but I am so thankful we found one to add to our Gerda Muller collection.