We have been celebrating Earth Day since 1970. Many things have changed in the past 46 years, but the message remains the same: Take care of the Earth, it’s the only one we have. Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander’s new picture book This Is the Earth is unique because its message is not only how to take care of the Earth, but why it is so important to do so.
This Is the Earth is written in rhythmic, rhyming verse that becomes soothing and engaging as you read. Vibrant, full-page color illustrations by Wendell Minor take the reader through the vast and varying landscapes of Earth — from an African safari to a bustling river to the endless blue sky “speckled with birds.” As the book continues, the reader travels both geographically across Earth and over spans of time. The illustrations smoothly transition from Native Americans harvesting crops to homesteading pioneers, from the Industrial Revolution up to the present day.
At first, the story is positive: We are slowly learning to make the most of our land and resources over time, which helps us raise our standard of living. However, the book quickly takes a darker turn as the illustrations venture beyond shiny cities and productive workers. The once-lush green farmland is now an overflowing landfill, and the bustling river of fish is now a dumping ground for bright orange toxic waste. The book looks at our treatment of the Earth almost as too much of a good thing. Our lives and industrialization may be improving, but at the dire cost of our natural resources and habitat. If we take away from the Earth, we must also give back.
The book gives simple suggestions at the end, such as recycling or using less water. The overall takeaway message, though, is much more resonant and memorable: We share this Earth with other people and living things, and we should keep that in mind with the decisions we make.
April is National Poetry month! Here are some suggestions for the young poets in your life.
Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph is an ambitious project by Roxane Orgill, who decided to commemorate an event in jazz history and wound up telling the story through poems by accident. In 1958, Art Kane orchestrated this historic photograph for Esquire magazine, which documented some of the legendary jazz musicians living in New York at the time. Using poetic forms allows Orgill to shift perspectives, so that she can tell the different thoughts and experiences of the photographic subjects — from Thelonious Monk to the kids on the street — and even fit in a few stories of those noticeably absent from the photograph. Francis Vallejo’s accompanying mixed-media drawings beautifully illustrate the imagery described in the poems. It is obvious that Jazz Day is an ode from a true devotee of the music, but it is also an engaging entry point for those unfamiliar with the genre who might like to explore more.
When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons is a collection of poems by Julie Fogliano that starts with the spring equinox, March 20th, and documents different days through the rest of the year. Filled with sensual imagery, the poems capture brief personal, meditative moments that signify the changing of seasons and belie a close connection with nature. While reading, it is easy to conjure up the smell of lilacs, the taste of strawberries and the sound of the ocean. Acclaimed artist Julie Morstad’s accompanying illustrations are a perfect fit for depicting these lighthearted and intimate moments.
Younger readers who are still figuring out how poetry works will appreciate the picture book Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer. Follow Daniel as he consults the birds, bugs, squirrels and other animals, asking them “What is poetry?” Readers will see how he incorporates their responses in a grand finale, when he unveils his poem at Poetry in the Park on Sunday. The book’s pages are vibrantly illustrated with cut paper drawings and paintings that rival those of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert.
Just in time for Native American Heritage Month are two narratives of famous Indians by famous Indians for children. In response to the misrepresentation in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem “The Song of Hiawatha,” Hiawatha and the Peacemaker sets the record straight on the legend of two Indians who united the warring tribes of the Eastern Great Lakes region to form the Haudenosaunee — what would become of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy and the oldest participatory democracy in the world (formed well before the American Revolution). This epic tale is written by Robbie Robertson of The Band fame (who was immortalized in a biography of his own last year), with page-popping illustrations by Caldecott winner David Shannon. Sitting Bull is the latest biography in a series of Lakota histories written and illustrated by S. D. Nelson, who uses the famous chief's life story to contextualize the conflicts making up the American Indian Wars. The book begins with a first-person account of the major events in Sitting Bull's life, dotted throughout with direct quotations and photographs from the time period, followed up by a detailed timeline and concluding with an author's note discussing Nelson's thoughts as a member of the Sioux.
Despite the fact that they represent different tribes and different time periods of Native American history, both stories tell of how Indians have borne the brunt of adaptation in the face of great adversity and conflict. What is most interesting about this pair of stories is how they have incorporated mediums characteristic of the Indian arts. Hiawatha and the Peacemaker includes a CD, not of an exact reading of the text but of Robertson's musical performance of the legend that parents and kids will both enjoy listening to. Nelson has formatted his work in the form of Ledger Book Art: palimpsests that evolved as interred Indians repurposed the accounting cast offs from the U.S. government, examples of which can be seen at the National Museum of the American Indian.
During that lull between the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and football games, before your home fills up with family and you fill your bellies with food, here are a few new Thanksgiving-themed picture books to share with the kids.
Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller and Jill McElmurry depicts a 19th century family preparing their Thanksgiving feast. Everyone has their own special job — Daddy tends the fire, Grandma bakes her pumpkin pie, the baby sleeps as quietly as a mouse. Short, simple rhymes make for an enjoyable read aloud about the love, hard work and synergy that go into a holiday meal.
In Little Critter: Just a Special Thanksgiving by Mercer Mayer, Little Critter enjoys the Thanksgiving holiday with his family in typical Little Critter fashion — from forgetting his lines during the school play and singing an impromptu song instead, to hitching a ride on a parade float when he’s tired of walking. The illustrations are what make the book so special, adding an additional layer to the narrative by filling in the details that he neglects to mention or showing how his version of events diverges slightly from reality.
If you’re just looking for a quick refresher on the holiday’s roots and customers, Sally Lee delivers A Short History of Thanksgiving. The simple text, illustrated with both drawings and photographs, is perfect for beginning readers and includes details on the tradition of fall festivals, the meaning of thankfulness and also touches on modern ways of celebrating the holiday.
Two new visually stunning picture books capture the essence and energy of the train, a holiday staple and year-round hit with kids of all ages. Celebrated author/illustrators Brian Floca and Elisha Cooper each tackle this transportation wonder and provide entertainment and facts sure to entice readers again and again.
Floca explores America’s early railroads in Locomotive. Illustrations and vibrant text bring the sounds, smells and strength of these mighty vehicles alive on the page. Using the travels of a mother and her two children on the newly constructed Transcontinental Railroad as a framework, Floca masterfully succeeds in presenting the history of the magnificent train and capturing the impact this new mode of travel had on shaping America. Free verse, heavy with alliteration and onomatopoeia, along with frequent changes in font and typeface capture the movement and splendor of the train. The nuanced paintings complement the text and detail the mechanics of the train as well as the beauty of the surrounding landscapes. Endpapers and an author’s note offer enlightening details. Every page offers facts which will delight and educate even the most ardent train aficionado.
Fast forward 150 years and board a variety of trains in Elisha Cooper’s Train. Cooper invites the reader to join him on an adventurous trip as he examines today’s train travel. The action starts with a commuter train heading west and switches to a passenger train rolling through the Midwest. A freight train loads its cargo and rumbles toward its destination past an overnight train climbing the Rocky Mountains. Finally, there’s the dramatic high-speed train, a bullet-shaped beauty. Cooper’s fluid language and dappled watercolors capture nature’s grandeur and the movement, speed and power of these mighty trains. Further reading is provided with a glossary, facts section and brief author’s note. Readers will want to punch multiple tickets and take repeat rides on this journey of discovery.
During the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, hundreds of young people, led by library director Ismail Serageldin, joined hands around the world-famous Alexandria Library to protect it from damage by the marching crowds. Although much property was destroyed and many people died, the Library survived unscathed. Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya invest these dramatic events with emotion and suspense in their book Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt's Treasured Books.
The story is told from the point of view of a fictional librarian - at first caught up in the excitement of the march, then worried about the library, then proud of her countrymen for this act of love and peace. Roth's collage art is, as always, especially appealing to young people. Her naive, frontal compositions are constructed from brightly colored paper in a variety of textures: crinkled, fuzzy, fibrous, corrugated, and even iridescent. Protest signs in Arabic appear throughout the book, and though one page contains images of violence, in general the energy, scale, and potential havoc of the march is skillfully communicated by two-page spreads depicting large crowds.
The back pages of this book are especially informative: including the history of the ancient and the modern Library of Alexandria, a brief discussion of the Egyptian Revolution, translations of words on the protest signs, and, perhaps most importantly, photographs of the events described in the book. These pages use collage representations of quilt squares as a border, suggesting that the immense crowds that marched in Egypt were made of a kaleidoscope of unique individuals.
Three of the most famous naturalists of the past one hundred years get their due in introductory, illustrated biographies for young readers. Each extraordinary life shares a common thread--following a strong interest in the natural world as a child and developing it into a career that changed the way Americans interact with their environment.
In Life in the Ocean: the Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, the sea and all of its hidden plants and animals are brilliantly portrayed by author and illustrator Claire Nivola. From the New Jersey farm she lived on until age twelve, to the seaside in Florida where she spent her adolescence, these surroundings shaped Sylvia Earle’s life and her curiosity about the natural world. Diving into the depths and encountering whales and amazing bioluminescent fishes, her ongoing exploration of the ocean and fight to keep it clean and preserve its treasures has made Earle a pioneer for female marine biologists.
Rachel Carson is well-known worldwide for her seminal critique of pesticides and the chemical industry, Silent Spring, as well as other important works. Rachel Carson and her Book that Changed the World is a good introduction to her life and accomplishments. Showing an early interest in nature throughout her childhood, she found her niche after taking a biology course in college. Laurie Lawlor covers both Carson’s triumphs and difficulties in this tightly-written biography.
Though known in his neighborhood for his unusual habits as a child, Roger Tory Peterson is now noticed for what he noticed--the incredible world of birds. His curiosity and lifelong passion to educate the masses and conserve the habitats our feathered friends is the subject of For the Birds: the Life of Roger Tory Peterson. Peterson, best known for his many field guides to bird identification and behavior, is described vividly by Peggy Thomas, and the illustrations by Laura Jacques are striking. Of particular note is a double-page spread of a flicker just taking flight.
Budding environmentalists can learn about three of the most famous names in natural science with these timely picture book biographies.