Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
The recently-published informational picture books reviewed in this column are good read-aloud choices to introduce STEM units on the extraordinary variety of life on Earth. These engaging books will pique the interest of children to learn more through independent research on different species of animals, plants, and fungi and stimulate lively discussions of the actions needed to help insure the survival of species and ecosystems.
A Is for Australian Reefs. Frané Lessac. (2023). Candlewick.
Author-illustrator Frané Lessac’s information-packed alphabetic exploration of the reefs along the coast of Australia begins with A for Australian reefs, the different kinds of Australian reefs (barrier reefs, patch reefs, fringing reefs, and atolls) and their locations; B for Biodiversity, the variety of plants and animals living together on Australian reefs and their dependence on each other for survival; and C for Coral reefs, the underwater ecosystem of reef-building coral polyps that is home to 25 percent of the world’s sea creatures. The following double-spread pages feature animals that inhabit the Australian reefs from dolphins, eels, and fish to xanthid crabs, yellowtail barracudas, and zebra seahorses. The entry for each letter includes an introductory statement and brief paragraphs of related information set against a background of Lessac’s colorful, detailed gouache artwork. A “Spot the Fish” search-and-find activity on the final page challenges readers to find 12 colorful fish (identified by their common names) pictured in the pages of the book. (PreK Up)
Birds Everywhere (Animals Everywhere #4). Camilla de la Bedoyere. Illus. by Britta Teckentrup. (2023). Big Picture.
Like an all-things-bird encyclopedia for young readers, Birds Everywhere is an introduction to the avian world. Double spreads with Britta Teckentrup’s colorful, digitally-created illustrations and Camilla de la Bedoyere’s brief, accessible narrative cover topics such as what a bird is (including details of its anatomy); where birds live (their habitats); the history of birds (from the first bird that evolved from tiny theropod dinosaurs to the more than 10,000 species of birds alive today); different types of birds, their habitats, and behavior; the relationship of birds and people (culture, mythology, and history); and bird watching tips. Five “Can You Find It?” tasks are interspersed throughout the book. For example, on a double spread with portraits of more than 20 birds (identified by common names), “All birds have wings and feather, but not all of them can fly” is followed by “Can you guess which birds can’t fly?” Mammals Everywhere, the fifth book in the Animals Everywhere series, will be released in October 2023. (PreK Up)
Cool Green: Amazing, Remarkable Trees. Lulu Delacre. (2023). Candlewick.
Cool Green begins with a conversation between a landscaper and his granddaughter. “¿Por que, abuelo? Why? // Why am I in awe of trees? / Trees are astounding! / Let me share with you, mi niña, / some of the reasons why.” With a simple, lyrical text and stunning artwork done in acrylic paint, stamped leaf prints, and collaged specimens with embedded seeds, fronds, and leaves, Lulu Delacre introduces readers to the world’s largest living tree, the General Sherman, a giant sequoia in Sequoia National Park, Tulare County, California; the Wollemi Pine of Australia; the Umbrella Thorn Acacia of the African savanna; and eight others chosen from the three trillion living trees on planet Earth. Extensive back matter includes a note from author-illustrator Delacre; a section on the importance of trees; further information on featured trees (each with its scientific name, location in the world, and characteristics) as well as arboreal relationships (living stumps, mother trees, and the “wood-wide web,” the underground symbiotic association of trees and fungi); websites; and a bibliography. Verde fresco published simultaneously. (PreK Up)
Destiny Finds Her Way: How a Rescued Baby Sloth Learned to Be Wild (Baby Animals Tales). Margarita Engle. Photographs by Sam Trull. (2023). National Geographic Kids.
In this true story of Destiny, a three-fingered sloth living in the Costa Rican tropical rainforest, Margarita Engle elegantly unfolds the journey of rescue, rehabilitation and release by Costa Rica’s Sloth Institute of a baby sloth that has fallen from a tree in the tropical rainforest. At the Sloth Institute, she is nursed back to health and learns how to eat, climb, socialize, toilet, and hide from predators. After one year and with only one functioning eye, Destiny is released in the rainforest with a tracking collar so she can be monitored by scientists. Wildlife conservationist Sam Trull’s extraordinary photographs partner with Engle’s lyrical text to provide an engaging and informative STEM read-aloud experience for young children. Back matter includes notes from the author and the illustrator, a map of the range of the three-fingered sloth in North America and South America, facts about sloths with photographs, and resources. (PreK-Gr 2)
Emperor of the Ice: How a Changing Climate Affects a Penguin Colony. Nicola Davies. Illus. by Catherine Rayner. (2023). Candlewick.
Catherine Rayner’s beautiful illustrations set the scene for Nicola Davies’s engaging story of the emperor penguin’s breeding cycle that begins in April with the return once again of an old empress to Halley Bay, Antarctica, and ends in September when the chicks are mature enough to leave the melting ice along with the adults and begin to find food for themselves in the ocean. Warmer seas and fiercer storms cause the breakup of Halley Bay’s stationary sea ice making the area unsuitable for the penguins to rear their young, so when it is April again, the Halley Bay colony does not return. Emperor of the Ice ends on a hopeful note with a satellite view showing tiny and large colonies of emperor penguins on snow covered Antarctica. “Somewhere down there, the empress has found a new place to raise a chick: a place where the sea ice can be trusted, where there’s ice she can rely on. At least for now.” Back matter includes notes on emperor penguins and climate change. (PreK Up)
Fungi Grow. Maria Gianferrari. Illus. by Diana Sudyka. (2023). Beach Lane.
Fungi Grow is an inviting picture book introduction to the spore-producing organisms that live all over the world that are classified in the Fungi kingdom. Diana Sudyka’s vivid illustrations, rendered in gouache watercolor and finished digitally, complement Maria Gianferrari’s lyrical narrative that explains the life cycle of fungi. For example, a double-page spread with the text “Spores shoot / from gills / or teeth / or pores. / Spores catapult, / sail / wander with wind” is paired with Sudyka’s lively artwork showing five different species of mushrooms (identified by common names) releasing swirls of spores. In smaller print is a related fact—the spurting of plumes of spores by the cotton rat fungus is called “puffing.” Other double spreads cover topics such as where fungi grow (including some unusual places) and how some fungi are harmful while others heal and help. Back matter includes a WARNING! (in red) about never eating mushrooms found outside without verification by a mycologist, a glossary, examples of how fungi heal and help, fun fungi facts, a fungi life cycle infographic, sources, further reading for kids, additional resources, and blogs and websites. (PreK Up)
The Great Giraffe Rescue: Saving the Nubian Giraffe (Sandra Markle’s Science Discoveries). Sandra Markle. (2023). Millbrook.
Over time, small populations of Nubian giraffes that roamed freely in Uganda until humans claimed most of their land dwindled as they were crowded into the northern part of Murchison Falls National Park. When oil was discovered in the area, the survival of the country’s Nubian giraffes was at even greater risk. In 2016, Operation Twiga (“giraffe” in Swahili) was formed between the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to translocate the giraffes to create new satellite population habitats and decrease the danger of extinction by tracking and studying them. This informational picture book about the logistics of moving the Ugandan herd of critically endangered Nubian giraffes that could not swim across the bridge-less Victoria Nile River is supplemented with captioned photos, maps, charts, and sidebars. Back matter includes an author’s note, additional facts about giraffes, a glossary, source notes, resources, an index, and photo acknowledgments). (Gr 3 Up)
How Birds Sleep. Sara Pedry & David Obuchowski. Illus. by Sarah Pedry. (2023). mineditionsUS.
So how do birds sleep anyway?” is addressed by Sara Pedry and David Obuchowski’s inviting narrative about 20 bird species from the United States and other countries from around the world including Chile, Kenya, China, and Australia on single pages and double-page spreads that identify the featured birds by common and scientific names and countries and present facts about their sleep behavior. The book opens at dusk in the United States with a barn owl wide awake while thousands of tree swallows signal bedtime “in an elaborate routine” in the sky before they “funnel down into the reeds” to slumber—and ends with the barn owl nestled in his tree at dawn for a good day’s sleep while tree swallows fly out of the reeds. Pedry’s lush artwork, done by hand in layers using charcoal, ink, and gouache, augments the text with realistic portraits of the birds sleeping in their natural habitats. This soothing read-aloud also makes a perfect goodnight book. Back matter includes information about bird sleep, climate change, the backstory, and resources. (PreK-Gr 2)
How the Sea Came to Be: (And All the Creatures in It). Jennifer Berne. Illus. by Amanda Hall. (2023). Eerdmans.
Jennifer Berne’s expressive rhyming verses and Amanda Hall’s exquisite illustrations, created with watercolor, gouache, pencil crayons, pastels, and digital materials, tell the dramatic story of the birth of the sea “[b]illions and billions of years long ago, / when the Earth was young and new” and the birth of life in the seas after the passing of more millions of years. “Life grew and life spread in this salty sea world / for hundreds of millions of years. / From its surface above to its depth far below / where it’s cold and all light disappears.” The extensive back matter includes an author’s note, an illustrator’s note, a double gatefold “Ocean Creatures Over Time” display of the diverse forms of life (identified by common and scientific name) that have existed in the oceans over time that opens to reveal a time line of the eons and eras of Earth’s history, a glossary of key terms and concepts, and resources. (PreK Up)
Rise to the Sky: How the World’s Tallest Trees Grow Up. Rebecca E. Hirsch. Illus. by Mia Posada. (2023). Millbrook..
Rebecca Hirsch’s lyrical text, accompanied by Mia Posada’s cut paper collage-and-water illustrations, begins with “What is the tallest living thing?” answered by what it is not (an elephant, giraffe, or blue whale) before comparing the heights of eight trees including the world’s tallest trees (the Coast Redwood at 380.3 feet in California, US; the Yellow Meranti at 331 feet in Sabah, Borneo; and the Australian Mountain Ash at 329.7 feet in Tasmania, Australia,) against the heights of Big Ben at 316 feet and the Statue of Liberty at 305.5 feet. Hirsch explores the life cycle of these arboreal giants that “spring from old stumps or from seeds.” Under the right conditions of sunlight, water, and air, the young trees grow up fast. “They rise . . . / up, up, up to the sky!” Back matter includes a section answering questions about tall trees, an infographic on the tallest member of each of the eight tree species from the opening comparison with their locations on a world map; and a page with two activities and recommended reading for readers. (PreK Up)
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children’s Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).