What’s So Special About Planet Earth? by Robert E. Wells
Sometimes Earth can be uncomfortable with weather that’s either too hot or too cold, and huge storms seem to come out of nowhere. In this introductory book about the planets, author Wells invites kids to pretend they’re visiting each of the planets in our solar system to find a new place to live. (As he says, “If you’re thinking about moving, you’d want to visit first, to see if the planet was right for you.”) The journey brings us to all eight planets in our solar system, Earth included, and at each we learn about distance from the sun, planet diameter, orbit time, number of moons, temperatures, and more. Each planet is interesting, but none seem to quite fit the bill for what humans, plants, and animals need in a home. When we finally travel back home to “our” planet, Wells explains why Earth is just right for us and the animals and plants we live with. He also tells us that we haven’t always taken good care of our home (pollution, etc.) and there are ways to make it better. He talks about recycling, reducing use of resources, and reusable energy. After all, planet Earth is pretty special–we’d better take care of it!
Bright, cartoon-like illustrations make the book fun, and some pages are written and drawn at different angles so readers have to rotate the book, which makes it interesting. In some ways, What’s So Special reminds me of The Magic School Bus series Continue reading Planet Earth Is Home
Even an Octopus Needs a Home by Irene Kelly
In this charming picture book, Irene Kelly offers diverse coverage of the habitats of animals and insects world-wide. How do bees build the honeycombs they live in? What does a parakeet nest look like? How many paper wasps can live in one hive? Where does a polar bear raise its cubs? Kelly’s colorful and detailed picture book will answer these questions and more. Describing the homes and their rationale for everything from termites and badgers to coral reefs and chimpanzees, Kelly covers a lot of ground.
Even an Octopus Needs a Home is loosely organized into house types to offer clear transitions between very different animals. (Categories include tree houses, towers, lodges, burrows, floating homes, mobile homes, and bubbles.) At times the paragraphs themselves aren’t visually linear, which might confuse some kids, but the integration of the text in the illustrations—including some close-up pictures with labels—will help to keep the books’ subject matter interesting for most. The illustrations are a mix of ink and watercolor, and best of all, they’re accurate depictions of the animals she describes. Continue reading A Home for Every Creature on Earth
The Kid with the Red Juice Mustache and other nostalgic companions by Erik Korhel
In this book, his second volume of poetry for children, Korhel continues with his earlier themes of childhood memories and growing up. His poems, each a true story about himself and his family’s experiences, are vibrant, funny, and engaging, something that kids can both connect to and enjoy. Each poem is a vignette of sorts, a moment in time captured by his youthful verse. Ranging from the silly to the contemplative, Korhel covers adventures on the playground (surrounded by imaginary lava), thoughts before bedtime (homework or dinosaurs?), and mistaking a large man for pregnant (oops!). The levels of humor make The Kid with the Red Juice Mustache great for multiple age levels, whether as a read-aloud bedtime book or a solo-reading excursion for older kids.
The illustrations by Celia Marie Baker are sweet and full of child-like wonder, each character colorful and expressive. It probably helps that she drew inspiration directly from real life: Korhel had her illustrate his true-story poems with paintings of actual photographs from his childhood–everything from the t-shirts to the nightlight and toys are authentic. Continue reading Childhood Comes to Life as Poetry
Underground: Find the Light to Freedom written and illustrated by Shane W. Evans
In this unique picture book, Evans explores the emotional and physical journey of fugitive slaves running to freedom in pre-emancipation America. Evans pairs short, direct sentences (nineteen in all) with bold pictures in contrasting colors: dark blue with white and yellow, orange with brown and green. The portrayals of the trials of escaped slaves as well as a gratefulness for the help of others is achieved in absolute minimalism with phrases like “The darkness,” “the fear,” “Some don’t make it,” “the sun.” His beautiful illustrations pair well with the brief narration, and overall the book is successful and triumphant.
So here’s the problem: while other reviewers recommended Underground for ages through grade 3, I had a really hard time determining intended age range. The language is so simple it might be annoying to older readers, while the emotional and historical concepts behind the narration would be too old for younger kids. That said, it’s definitely worth using if an appropriate unit can be found, whether used as an Continue reading Bold, Beautiful Picture Book on the Underground Railroad
How Did Slaves Find a Route to Freedom? And Other Questions About the Underground Railroad (Six Questions of American History) by Laura Hamilton Waxton
Whether you’re a kid curious about American history or an educator looking for some good classroom books, How Did the Slaves Find a Route to Freedom? is a good choice. Waxton’s non-fiction book covers major questions about the Underground Railroad, fugitive slaves, and the abolitionist movement, an important and difficult time in history. The book is based on six questions, one leading clearly into the next, and mixed media illustrations keep the information interesting through the use of photographs, maps, quotes, and newspaper clippings. Designed for student research, it’s full of interesting and well-organized information; I learned a lot, both specific facts and general history, and–nerd that I am–I enjoyed it.
Though mainly intended as a history source, Waxton’s book is also takes care to define a primary source of research and includes a follow-up activity that lets readers attempt to piece together their own narrative of what might have happened to an individual of the time. The back of the book contains a timeline that reiterates much of the book’s content as well as source notes, a selected bibliography, further reading recommendations, and a concise index. The publisher, Lerner Publications, also offers additional study materials online. Continue reading Accesible American History
Van Gogh and the Post-Impressionists for Kids: Their Lives and Ideas, 21 Activities by Carol Sabbeth (For Kids series)
Vincent van Gogh has been my favorite artist for as long as I can remember, so when I saw Carol Sabbeth’s book, I jumped at the chance to review it.
Van Gogh and the Post-Impressionists for Kids follows the path of Vincent van Gogh and his artist peers Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Signac, and Emile Bernard, all post-Impressionistists who appreciated Impressionism before them but wanted to take their art one step further. The book begins with a timeline of the Post-Impressionist era, and from there author Carol Sabbeth dives right in. In this 161-page book, Sabbeth thoroughly details van Gogh’s life from serious, sometimes melancholy boy to ambitious, stubborn artist, portraying everything from his temper to the origin of his sunflower paintings to his long list of relationships and family tribulations. In other words, it depicts him as a man and an artist together, a complex vision that shows faith in the reader’s ability to understand the difference and how van Gogh developed as both. Continue reading A Vivid Biography of Van Gogh
What to Expect When You’re Expecting Joeys: A Guide for Marsupial Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos; illustrated by Stephane Jorisch
(Reviewed via digital ARC.)
Congratulations, marsupial parents-to-be! You’re about to meet your tiny bundles of joy. They’re called joeys.”
And so begins the miracle of life… for kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, and koalas. In this fun, tongue-in-cheek introduction to the birth and life cycles of marsupials, kids will learn what a marsupial is and the different ways one can be born and cared for. Whether you’re an expectant Red Kangaroo or an Antechinus with a newborn, you can expect to care for your joey–your baby–and provide it milk and protection during its infant months. Some marsupials have pockets–some have pockets that seal against water or dirt when burrowing, and some have pockets that are upside down or that open in the middle–while others merely tighten their stomach muscles to hold their young. Some marsupials will have as many as twenty babies while others will have one at a time. Did you know that a kangaroo can temporarily stop the growth of an unborn baby inside if the current joey isn’t big enough to leave the pouch? (I sure didn’t!) Continue reading Where Do Baby Kangaroos Come From?
I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat: History’s Strangest Cures written and illustrated by Carlyn Beccia
Which of these helped to heal wounds: spider webs, moldy bread, or a dead man’s skull? (Trick answer: all three!)
In this fun look at ancient “cures” for physical ailments, author and illustrator Carlyn Beccia has cleverly combined ancient history and modern medicine to create an interesting picture book for kids of varying ages. Beccia’s illustrations are colorful, and the start of each section (Colds, Wounds, Fevers, etc.) gives at least three potential cures, asking the reader which they think will prove beneficial, before continuing on with the answer(s) (along with origins of the “cure” all the way from pre-historic man to modern-day research). Some ailments or treatments include an expanded note on history. (Have you ever noticed, for example, how the modern-day symbol for Rx looks similar to–and may have originated from–the hieroglyph for the Eye of Horus?) Continue reading History’s Strangest Cures
But and For, Yet and Nor: What Is a Conjunction? by Brian P. Cleary; illustrated by Brian Gable
When I think conjunctions, I think School House Rock—to me, they are synonymous. It’s what I grew up with, and I still have the song Conjunction Junction on my iPod.
Written in rhyme with wacky, colorful characters, Cleary’s concept is almost as catching and fun as that classic hit. The descriptions are clear and introduced in a fairly straightforward manner, and they are described by their different uses (time, compare/contrast, etc.). Conjunctions used as examples are printed in color to distinguish them, though the author offers a challenge at the beginning of the book: find all the conjunctions not highlighted too! The rhymes used are comical, often achieving extra meaning when paired with the illustrations.
Silly illustrations will have younger kids laughing, while the information will be useful and informative to older grades as well.
And really, with lines like “Both and and can work that way as in this next example: both my parrot and my friend would sure like one free sample” (p.20-21), how can you not crack a smile?
Additional books in the series cover nouns and adverbs, to name a few.
Copyright March 2010
Image from www.librarybooks.com
The Wonders Inside the Earth by Jan Stradling
A short while back I absolutely ripped apart an introductory geology book because, well, I didn’t like it. That is not the case this time around.
The Wonders Inside the Earth explores everything from the external forces of weather and planetary rotation to the geology and hydrology that has shaped the world. Each page spread covers a single concept, breaking it down through images and specific examples and diagrams, almost like a large, expanded glossary. See-through page layers give this book an interactive feel and help to expand the understanding of some terms. The illustrations are large and colorful, utilizing images as well as diagrams of processes to engage the reader. Images of animal life and human interaction—penguins, antelope, clams plus surfers on the waves, sunken ships on the sea floor—give some depictions a fun touch, allowing kids to relate to what they’re seeing. A series of chapters on human relationships with the earth, such as oil and coal usage, is straight forward and non-judgmental—issues such as pollution and global warming are clearly not the intended focus of this book. Continue reading Geology Rocks!