Bird Count, by Susan Edwards Richmond, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman, Peachtree Publishers; $17.95, ages 4-8. October 2019.
Fall birdwatching is more challenging now that mating season is over–the bright plumage of some birds gives way to more muted tones–but scouting them out is excellent preparation for the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. In Susan Edward Richmond’s first children’s book, Bird Count, Ava, whose name is Latin for “like a bird,” is tasked with recording and identifying birds for the wintertime roundup.
A bird can only be counted if at least two people confirm hearing or seeing it, so Ava must pay close attention with her eyes and ears. The singsongy text flies with ease from one page to the next, while young readers can keep abreast of Ava’s bird tally in the page margins. Stephanie Coleman’s deft illustrations of mallards, mergansers, and merlins prove the adage that practice makes perfect: last year she challenged herself to paint one bird a day for 100 days. (See the entire flock here.)
A joyous introduction to birdwatching while also fostering a love of the outdoors, Bird Count will delight fledgling ornithologists as well as wise old owls.
Fantastic Flowers, by Susan Stockdale: Peachtree Publishers, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 2-5.
It’s beginning to feel a lot like spring, and a host of new non-fiction books are popping up like a field of crocuses and daffodils. Fantastic Flowers is a charmingly playful presentation of seventeen flowers found across the globe, and Stockdale’s bubbly illustrations are a lively match for the simple, lyrical descriptions–the Mediterranean bumblbee orchid that graces the front cover looks like a pair of magenta smiling honeybees, and other flowers resemble baboons, ballerinas, and pineapples. The book gently introduces young readers to the concept of object identification and encourages close observation skills, while back matter offers further scientific explanation about plants and pollinators.
Fantastic Flowers offers cheerful anticpiation for the forthcoming season.
It’s gift-giving season, and there’s not a moment to lose! We present a rundown of the year’s best gifts for children from 1 to 92.
The Nursery Rhyme Book, by Andrew Lang; The Folio Society, $59.95, 280 pages, all ages.
Acclaimed Scottish folklorist Andrew Lang (1844-1912) scoured the world of children’s literature to compile volumes of stories, and this charming, thematically-organized collection of over 300 nursery rhymes includes well-known ditties like “Hickory, Dickory, Dock” and “Jack and Jill,” as well as lesser-known rhymes like “Ring the Bell” and “Old Betty Blue.” Introduced by award-winning children’s book author Michael Rosen and accompanied by over 100 black and white illustrations by L. Leslie Brooke and six color paintings by Debra McFarlane, The Nursery Rhyme Book is a beautiful gift fit to stand the test of time.
*N.B.:Folio titles are only available through the Folio Society. Order early to ensure on-time holiday delivery.
The birth story of Christ is told in six deceptively simple pop-ups rendered in stark white and gold, and though this book is delicate–the manger scene is a remarkable feat of construction–The Christmas Story would make a magnificent present to those celebrating the holiday. Sabuda gave Hanukah a similar treatment in 2011 when he and poet Michael Rosen explored the 2,000 year-old Festival of Lights.
The Christmas Boot, by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney; Dial Books, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 3-7.
A version of this book was published ten years ago (same author and illustrator) and it’s been updated for 2016. Caldecott Medal winner Jerry Pinkney’s masterful illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to Wheeler’s story about a lonely but warm-hearted woman whose generosity earns the admiration of a certain red-dressed sleigh driver.
At seventy-five, George is still a curious little monkey, and this banana-yellow hardbound volume with thick red spine will quickly settle into nightly bedtime rotation. In addition to the seven original tales, the book comes with a free audiobook code to listen to actor John Krasinski read the stories aloud. A lovely gift for adventurous grandchildren everywhere.
Little One, by Jo Weaver; Peachtree Publishers, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 2-6.
Debut picture book author-illustrator Jo Weaver hits it out of the park with this lovely examination of the pull between a mother’s love and a child’s need to develop independence. Simple, singing text accompanied by Weaver’s soft black and white pencil illustrations highlight the beauty in nature and in family bonds. A perfect read-aloud while snuggling on a cold winter’s night.
Paper engineer Matthew Reinhart takes readers on a tour through the LEGO galaxy in this bright and bold pop-up book. Castles, dinosaurs, and ninjas all leap from the pages accompanied by short bursts of text. A must for LEGO fans of all ages.
So many wonderful titles appear in the fall and winter months that it’s hard to keep up with all of them. To wit, here are four fantastic titles sure to brighten your day, no matter who wins at the ballot box:
Madeline Finn and the Library Dog, by Lisa Papp; Peachtree Publishers, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 4-7 (October 2016).
Reluctant readers, rejoice: Madeline Finn hates to read, too. That is, until she meets Bonnie, a docile, patient library dog whose calm, quiet presence encourages the young girl to keep on trying, despite making mistakes. After all, practice makes progress. Award-winning author-illustrator Lisa Papp makes a warm and furry case for canine companions as literary sidekicks in this fun and uplifting tale.
(Copyright 2016 Lisa Papp. Image courtesy of Peachtree publishers.)
Sweaterweather and Other Short Stories, by Sara Varon; First Second Books, $19.99, 128 pages, ages 8-12 (February 2016).
Sara Varon is something of a cult figure for the pre-teen set: her offbeat cartoons and graphic novels are deceptively clever and engaging. Fans will find much to enjoy in this re-issue from 2003 of seventeen illustrated essays exploring the creative process, short stories, and, of course, comics, in which cats, ducks, and elephants share real estate in Brooklyn alongside their human friends. Updated with Varon’s notes for a new generation.
Dinosaurs in Disguise, by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger; HMH Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 2-5 (October 2016).
Veteran author-illustrator duo Stephen Krensky and Lynn Munsinger have teamed up to explore a tantalizing hypothesis: What if the dinosaurs never actually went instinct? A little boy imagines where the giant lizards may have hidden throughout human history, from ancient Egypt to modern times. Expect much laughter with this lovable read-aloud.
(Text copyright 2016 Stephen Krensky, art copyright 2016 Lynn Munsinger. Reproduced with permission from HMH Books for Young Readers.)
We Found a Hat, by Jon Klassen; Candlewick Press, $17.99, 56 pages, ages 3-7 (October 2016).
Two desert-dwelling turtles come upon a hat in the sand that bears a strange resemblance to the one worn by The Man in the Curious George series. Both creatures take turns wearing the topper, and decide the best thing to do is leave it for its owner. But will they? This is a Klassen book, so the resolution to the great moral conundrum plays out with delightful poker-faced quirkiness. In this finale to the Hat series, don’t be discouraged by the length–fifty-six pages seems long, but the pacing is just right for indecisive turtles.
Seven and a Half Tons of Steel, by Janet Nolan, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez; Peachtree Publishers, $17.95, 36 pages, ages 6-10.
There’s been plenty of debate on the best way to discuss 9/11 with youngsters, and even after fifteen years it’s still difficult for many adults to process it, let alone talk about it with children. Full disclosure: I am not ready to have that conversation with my seven-year-old, and probably won’t be for some time. Still, those looking for a sensitive yet compelling picture book highlighting one way Americans found strength in the face of adversity, Seven and a Half Tons of Steel would be my pick.
Janet Nolan’s narration is simple and driven mostly by Thomas Gonzalez’s (Toad Weather; 14 Crows for America) dramatic artwork. The story starts on the endpapers, where a young schoolboy gazes up at a plane careening through a robin’s-egg-blue sky, headed for the World Trade Center jutting out of horizon. It’s a different perspective than one might expect–the boy is in the foreground, the plane barely painted onto the top of the picture, and the buildings almost an afterthought. It’s a section easily skipped, because at first glance the image is almost serene: a boy holding his baseball glove and books, heading to school. And then we all know what happens next.
After the towers collapse, Nolan traces the retrieval of a steel beam from the wreckage, which is then shipped to a New Orleans shipyard to be turned into the bow of the USS New York. There’s no smooth sailing for this journey; Hurricane Katrina slowed down the work considerably, but eventually the beam becomes a bow, the entire endeavor illustrating how men and women of this country united to heal by turning remnants of a disaster into a symbol of strength.
Toad Weather, by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez; Peachtree Publishers, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 4-7.
Sometimes it rains cats and dogs. In Philadelphia, it rains toads. Actually, the wet weather brings about the annual vernal toad migration, and on one particularly rainy March day little Ally and her family head out into the streets to see something spectacular – for a few weeks each spring, millions of toads across the country head to water in order to find mates and lay eggs, and the Roxborough neighborhood in Philadelphia is the real-life setting for this migration – there are even volunteers who set up ‘Toad Detours’ to ensure that the amphibians make it across the busy roads. (Toads flood the streets en route to nearby the ponds and reservoir.) Award-winning veteran author Sandra Markle has written over two hundred books for children, and each one is a treat – Toad Weather’s text is a lyrical sing-songy ode to a city transformed by rain, and to the everyday magic that takes place right at our feet. Gonzalez’s luminous pastel and watercolor images of wet toads and earthworms evoke the sense of wonder when we find magic in our everyday surroundings. Don’t skip the informative author’s notes that explain how dedicated groups ensure the life cycle continues for these little croakers.
@PeachtreePub It’s spring, and my addition to #TBThursday is this review from March 2015–Toad Weather, by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez.
Gone to the Dogs Two middle-grade readers for kids who know that dogs are loyal to the end.
A Handful of Stars, by Cynthia Lord; Scholastic Press, $16.99, 184 pages, ages 10-13.
Every summer, migrant families travel from as far as Mexico to harvest blueberries in a remote part of Downeast Maine, and local residents generally don’t interact with them. That is, until one afternoon, when Lily’s blind retriever Lucky runs away and into the blueberry fields. Salma Santiago lures the dog back with her peanut butter sandwich, and from that moment on, Lily and Salma become friends. Salma wants to enter the Blueberry Queen pageant, but does she have the courage to do it? Newbery Honor Author Cynthia Lord (Rules) tackles such themes as prejudice, courage, and friendship with compassion and grace, and as a Maine resident herself, descriptions of this wild and wonderful area of New England are wonderfully accurate.
Finder, Coal Mine Dog, by Alison Hart, illustrated by Michael G. Montgomery; Peachtree Publishers, $12.95, 181 pages, ages 7-10.
In 1909, 259 coal miners died in a tunnel fire in Cherry, Illinois, becoming the third most deadly mine disaster in U.S. history. In this fictionalized thriller, readers meet Finder, a dog who pulls a cart in those dangerous mines. His young owner Thomas works too, trying to pay off his deceased parents’ debts. Soon enough, fire breaks out, and the unlikely duo find themselves in a race against time to save fellow miners. Told from the point of view of the dog, Alison Hart’s latest canine thriller in her Dog Chronicles series is action-packed, while also offering children a look at what life was like for children and their pets in America a century ago. Michael G. Montgomery’s pen and ink illustrations capture the fast pace of the tale. A map of the mine, notes about the actual fire, mining, child and animal labor bring this poignant moment in American history to life.