Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out!NONFICTION
Oh, the peril of being a small, small thing in a big, big world!  From the moment the endangered sea turtle is planted in its egg into the damp sand, it takes a combination of good luck and good friends to bring the life cycle full-circle.  Pursued by sharks and caught in nets, the journey is both harrowing and beautiful, with the refrain "Turtle, turtle, watch out!" lending itself to be shared with a group.  Paintings capture the milky moonlit crawl across the sand to the skimming across tides of dappled turquoise seas, and straightforward language underscores and never intrudes upon the exciting real-life story.  Thorough endnotes offer ways in which humans help sea turtles, additional resources, and descriptions of sea-turtle species.  This non-fiction book is a solid example of the best of its genre, creating interest and empathy in the natural world, while telling a compelling tale, and what a pleasure to find non-fiction that reads aloud so smoothly!   This is a superb preface to the novella by the great Roald Dahl, ESIO TROT, or for a springboard into conversation about the current environmental threats to sea life.  (5 and up)

Also of interest: 
A toast!  To life on Earth!  And books about it!
Hip-Pocket PapaHIP POCKET PAPA by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Alan Marks (Charlesbridge)  "A male hip-pocket frog ducks beneath a button-sized mushroom cap.  It's a tiny space, but since he's no bigger than a thumbnail, he fits with room to spare. " Such etailed descriptions and immediate present-tense narrative take us into the rainforest, where we follow the gestation period of this teeny amphibian, carrying the eggs of his young in pouches under his skin.  It's always nice to read about the male role of childcare and protection in the animal world (also check out Martin Jenkins' THE EMPEROR'S EGG for a chillier variation on this theme), and the washy bleeds of the paintings taken from many perspectives really bring to life the drama under the canopy...it's not easy being green, or mottled brown, for that matter!  An animal glossary and many exotic references in context make this book one wild and wonderful read.  (5 and up)

The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birder's Journal
THE ROBIN MAKES A LAUGHING SOUND by Sallie Wolf (Charlesbridge, 2010)  

Not a circle, but round.
Blue, white or green--
Some are speckled brown.
Once they are peck-peck-peckled,
I find two pieces on the ground.

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon (Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 (Awards))Nest, Nook, and CrannyWe enter into this very intimate book with a description of how the author's seventh grade teacher shared her own passion for bird-watching, and how the author brought in a stuffed owl to class with results that reverberated years later into the pages that follow.  This book is a rare bird:  a combination of rhyme and free verse so soundly executed that the reader comes to trust the author for that alone, but no, so much more is conveyed:  a scribbly, collaged journal, full of observations, sketches, corrections, drawings and discovery.  In fact, this is as much a book about process as it is about poetry or birds, and the author takes the reader to her shoulder and in so many words and pictures, says, "look, look!" until, like a bike rider with training wheels, who discovers a new and independent balance, the reader discovers the ability to look at the natural world on his or her own. That seventh grade teacher's passion is paid forward here.  (8 and up) Pair or preface with Susan Blackaby's poetic exploration of animal habitat, NEST, NOOK AND CRANNY (illustrated by Jamie Hogan, Charlesbridge, 2010) and the picture-book biography THE BOY WHO DREW BIRDS:  THE STORY OF JOHN JAMES AUDUBON (by Jacqueline Davies, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Houghton Mifflin, 2004).

by Jim Arnosky (Putnam, 2010)  A gentle "sea cow" is minding its own business when it gets the bad end of a boat's propeller blades.  This sets off a series of well-meaning events to rescue the animal that humans have harmed.  Meanwhile, the manatee has a secret: she is going to be a mama.  Which world awaits her and her child: the aquarium, or the open ocean waters? Jim Arnosky is a master of nature stories for young children with a diverse body of work worthy of exploration.  Here, characteristically, his story line is realistic but not discouraging.  While not overly exacting in visual detail, his illustrations have unusual, sensitive touches: the crane hauling up the manatee while an iguana looks on ponderously, for example; a bat capturing a moth in full flight over the manatee's head raised over the concentric circles of a midnight pool; the peculiar perspective enjoyed by a manatee looking up at a crowd while confined to a tank; the gentle, shadowy first nursing in the moonlight.  In this book, people are present, but peripheral; as supporting characters in nature's plan, we can be of help, or harm, and the newly informed young reader is left to decide his or her own role once the binding closes.  (5 and up)
The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe (Scientists in the Field Series)THE HIVE DETECTIVES:  CHRONICLE OF A HONEY BEE CATASTROPHE (Scientists in the Field Series) by Loree Griffin Burnes,  photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz (Houghton Mifflin, 2010)  Few natural events could have a greater widespread environmental consequences than the mysterious recent onset on colony collapse disorder, a plague that decimated honeybee populations and threatened the pollination of crops.  In this book, young readers with good vocabularies can join the forensic team on their quest to discover the cause, and to try to stop further bee death.  While the cause is never fully determined (it is non-fiction, after all), this book and this series are an invitation to see scientific investigation applied in the real world, in a writing style that never talks down to the audience (in fact, makes readers step up).  The photographs throughout allow the subject to breathe---or buzz--on every page.  An excellent appendix, glossary, links, index and references make this book a good pick for serious science students or projects, or as a source for readable background knowledge for educators. Current, relevant and challenging.  (12 and up)

Here Comes the Garbage Barge!
The Smash! Smash! TruckAnd while we're on the subject of life on our planet, check out HERE COMES THE GARBAGE BARGE by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studios, based on the real-life story of the unfortunate tugboat captain with the charge of unloading 3,168 stinking tons of garbage.  He somehow couldn't find a taker or a port, thus having to return it to sender after lugging the reeking mess for over 160 days. Though there are several wearying uses of stereotypes and spelled-out dialects (could do without the Italian-American "Joey had a little accident" and "dere's dis guy" clichés, and so could the kids...sorry, librarians are generally pretty good at creating characterization as they read without such explicit and contrived directives), the photographs of stop-action scenes give this book an extraordinary cinematic quality (pull off the book's slip-cover for a cool explanation of how the book was made!), and have us looking forward to more illustration work by the studio.  This story is too unfortunate to be true, but it is...and too compelling to miss.  (6 and up)  You really shouldn't read this without Aidan Pott's THE SMASH! SMASH! TRUCK (David Fickling, 2010), a wonderful breakdown of recycling from the atomic level, with a comparison of how the earth naturally recycles within itself and how our own recycling is a natural extension.  How I love Aidan Potts, and his marvelously unique way of looking at things (see his multi-colored dinosaurs in the shamefully out of print UNEVERSAURUS, for example, or listen to real smash-smashing on his website). Great fun for the earth-conscious, or just for kids who like trucks and noise! (6 and up)

How the World Works: A Hands-On Guide to Our Amazing PlanetAlso offbeat is the pop-up for older kids,  HOW THE WORLD WORKS:  A HANDS-ON GUIDE TO OUR AMAZING PLANET by Christian Dorion, illustrated by Beverly Young (Templar, 2010) offering a "spin-the-wheel" for when life began, a recipe for life (primordial soup, anyone?), a fabulous explanation of moving tectonic plates that makes swell use of pull-tabs, nifty explanations of the water cycle, photosynthesis, carbon, the food chain...wow, it's books like these that make me think, why don't we just have a pop-up book instead of a text book?  Wouldn't kids like it and learn from it a whole lot more?   (8 and up)

The Magic School Bus And The Climate ChallengeGlobal WarmingFinally, for those polar bears who believe climate change is real, two classic series have new offerings:  Miss Frizzle is back and donning global warming garb in THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS AND THE CLIMATE CHALLENGE by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Bruce Degen (Scholastic 2010), introducing relevant vocabulary like "greenhouse," "biofuel" and "atmosphere" to second graders with the usual panache and in adventurous context as the bus flies from the Arctic to the equator (think of the permission slips needed!) (7 and up), and the award-winning nonfiction author Seymour Simon in conjunction with The Smithsonian has added GLOBAL WARMING to his catalog (Collins, 2010), and can always be counted on for large, striking photographs (compare a living and dead coral reef) and equally striking expository writing that is a staple for library collections and grade-school research. 

Hope these books help to make every day Earth Day!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.
More Esmé stuff at www.planetesme.com.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reviews on The Garbage Barge and The Smash Smash Truck. Always needing cute and good ideas to deal with recycling and taking care of our planet. I had seen the books on line and just needed a review for them.

I appreciate your other reviews as well, helps in finding the just right book.


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