Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Earth Day: Loving the Animals!

Earth Day is tomorrow, but I’ve got books and books to talk about! Let’s love the animals we share the planet with, shall we?

Masters of Disguise: Camouflaging Creatures & Magnificent Mimics, by Marc Martin, (March 2021, Candlewick Studio), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536214055

Ages 4-8

Animals love to play hide and seek in the wild: it keeps them safe! Masters of Disguise profiles twelve different animals, from Gaboon Vipers in Africa to the Great Horned Owl in North and South America, to the Panther Chameleon in Madagascar. Gorgeous watercolor, pencil, and digital collage artwork invites readers to look for animals in their habitats, and profiles on each animal spotlights their uniqueness: polar bear paws and colorless coats; African leopard rosettes on their lush coats, the mimic octopus’s list of impersonations. Fun facts and inviting artwork make this a wonderful invitation to learn more about the animals in their habitats; endpapers spotlight a world map with the animals noted across their locations.

Masters of Disguise has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Reptiles Everywhere, by Camilla de la Bedoyere/Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup, (April 2021, Big Picture Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536217070

Ages 6-9

Reptile fans, get ready! Britta Teckentrup – one of my favorite illustrators! – brings her talents to this great primer on reptiles. Zoologist Camilla de la Bedoyere writes a very readable, interactive book for animals fans, inviting readers to pick the dinosaurs out of a reptile lineup; view a reptile timeline; learn about reptiles in different habitats, and watch a group of baby leatherback turtles race for the ocean. Digital artwork is colorful, and fun facts make each page compulsively readable. Readers will be excited to look for more books on new favorite lizards, like the Komodo Dragon or the Gila Monster, when finishing this one.

Orangutan Hats and Other Tools Animals Use, by Richard Haynes/Illustrated by Stephanie Laberis, (April 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536200935
Ages 7-10
Animals: they’re just like us, right? Yes! This light-hearted book is all about the tools animals use: floss like a macaque, apply sunscreen like an elephant, wield a shield like a hermit crab. Organized into six sections, readers can learn what animals do to stay clean, healthy, and safe; how they create tools to hunt and eat, how they seek comfort, and tools to help them have fun! Cartoon illustrations will make readers giggle as they see a capuchin monkey stick a piece of grass up its nose to clean it out, or watch a crow drop a rock on a cat that’s getting too close for comfort. A smart look at animal ingenuity that kids will return to. Endpapers show a forest landscape on a sunny day and a rainy day; back matter includes a glossary, bibliography, and index. Publisher Candlewick offers a Teacher Tip Card to prompt discussion.
Orangutan Hats and Other Tools Animals Use has a starred review from Kirkus.
And, coming soon…
The Elephants Come Home: A True Story of Seven Elephants, Two People, and One Extraordinary Friendship, by Kim Tomsic/Illustrated by Hadley Hooper, (May 2021, Chronicle Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781452127835
Ages 3-5
While it’s not out until May, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this moving story about a man who took a group of frightened, hunted elephants into his home. Conservationist Lawrence Anthony, his wife, Françoise, and their dog, Max, accepted a group of elephant to live at their Thula Thula game preserve in Africa. The elephants were bullied and hunted, and were raging at rangers at their last location. For this group of 7 elephants, Thula Thula was their last chance: if they didn’t go to Thula Thula, they would have been shot. Lawrence accepted the elephants; he and Françoise understood their fear and their anger, and gently, slowly gained their trust. When Lawrence died in 2012, the elephants came from where they’d been living, about 12 hours away, and mourned Lawrence along with Françoise. They return every year. Told simply and with genuine feeling, this beautiful story will pull at your heartstrings; Hadley Hooper’s mixed media artwork has touching moments set against a background of reds and oranges. I can’t say enough about this wonderful book: add this to your storytimes, and talk about empathy, kindness, and being a guardian to our planet and the animals we share it with. Back matter includes an author’s note and list of works cited.
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

February Picture Books: little elephants, fabulous females, and being your own self!

The Smallest Elephant in the World, by Alvin Tresselt/Illustrated by Milton Glaser, (Feb. 2019, Enchanted Lion), $16.95, ISBN: 9781592702619

Ages 4-8

Originally published in 1959, The Smallest Elephant in the World is back in hardcover! A small elephant, no bigger than a housecat, leaves the jungle to get away from the bullies who make fun of him. He ends up in the care of a boy named Arnold, whose mother does NOT want an elephant for a house pet. Arnold tries some creative fudging to convince his mother otherwise, but Mom’s not fooled that easily. Where will the Smallest Elephant find a home?

This adorable story about friendship and finding one’s own place in the world is as relevant and sweet today as it was when it was released 60 years ago. Milton Glaser’s vintage illustration is bold, with bright oranges and greens standing out against the black and white page backgrounds. The elephant’s face is expressive; sweet and friendly, and he’s adorably tiny when shown in scale.

The Smallest Elephant in the World brings a nice touch of our childhoods back to our children’s collections. Gen X kids like me will fondly remember the art and silly-sweet storytelling, and pass that love onto a new generation. Let your kiddos draw their own tiny elephants, and give them things to measure against: a book, a shelf, a ruler, or your foot!

 

A is for Awesome! 23 Iconic Women Who Changed the World, by Eva Chen/Illustrated by Derek Desierto, (Feb. 2019, Feiwel & Friends), $9.99, ISBN: 9781250215994

Ages 2-5

An Instagram star and creator of Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes spotlights outstanding women in this abcedary. Juno Valentine is our guide, introducing readers to some of her favorite “sheroes”. There are standard favorites here: Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, and Malala are all here, side by side with feminist figures like megastar Beyonce, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dorothy Hodgkin, fashion icon Iris Apfel, and author Ursula K. LeGuin. There’s a mirror here for “X, Y, Z: the Extraordinary You, and the Zillions of brilliant, brave adventures you will have”, which makes for big fun during storytime. Collage artwork is bright and textured, with differing fabrics and hairstyles. The addition of Roman goddess Venus feels a little off, but every other featured female is flesh and blood real, and the grouping has a nice diversity. Each woman has a one-line description; some have quotes attributed to them.

I love a good board book, and this one makes my cut. Add this in time for National Women’s in March, and plan your storytimes now.

Over the Rooftops, Under the Moon, by JonArno Lawson/Illustrated by Nahid Kazemi, (Feb. 2019, Enchanted Lion), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702626

Ages 4-8

A long-legged white bird doesn’t feel like he fits in with his flock, but feels a connection when making eye contact with a little girl. The bird ponders his existence and explores the human world, not noticing until the snow falls that his flock has migrated without him. He catches up with his flock and they sit together on a rooftop, “alone and together, over the rooftops, and under the moon”.

I’ll be honest, I had to read this one a few times to really get it. It’s very open to interpretation, and while the gist of the story is about a bird who isn’t sure about his relationship to himself and within his community, I’ve seen other picture books handle this in a more linear fashion. and I’m not sure that little ones will get it. Some of the text gets lost in the mixed media collage artwork, which could impede a readaloud. The collage artwork tells the story in surreal, dreamlike fashion, which may be the best way to get the message of this story across: the bird feels alone, connects with humans, explores, and ultimately, finds peace within himself and within his community. It’s a beautiful message to communicate to younger children who are starting to socialize in groups and may feel out of place; it’s also a strong message to older children, who can break down the introspective message here. I’d love to see this as a school-wide readalong in elementary schools that still have them, so kids from K-5 can each take a turn at deciphering its meaning to them as individuals.

It’s an interesting book that may take a few reads to unpack, but worth it for the discussions that can follow.

 

What If? What Makes You Different Makes You Amazing!, by Sandra Magsamen, (Feb. 2019, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $10.99, ISBN: 9781492637103

Ages 0-4

“What if your hair was big and orange and really bright? What if one eye was green and the other eye was blue as night?” The rhyming text takes readers through all sorts of ways we can stand out from the crowd, with adorable illustrations – a purple lamb, a swaying monkey – and extols the virtues of individuality. The text assures readers that being different is special, and good for you: it can give your spirit a lift; it would be dull if everyone were the same. Sandra Magsamen embraces uniqueness, and makes sure her readers do, too, pointing out how being different can help in certain situations. After all, someone quiet can be a big help when putting a bandage on an injured crocodile. Pair this with Todd Parr’s books, especially It’s Okay to Be Different and Be Who You Are, for a feel-good readaloud. The artwork is colorful, never overpowering, with upbeat, yet calming colors and bold outlines.  What If? is a cute picture book for collections where Todd Parr does well.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Support Noodle Equality with Noodlephant!

Noodlephant, by Jacob Kramer/Illustrated by K-Fai Steele, (Jan. 2019, Enchanted Lion), $18.95, ISBN: 9781592702664

Ages 4-7

Noodlephant is an elephant who loves noodles – and she believes in sharing! Her noodle parties are all the rage, until the bossy kangaroos decide that only kangaroos get to eat noodles. Breaking the law will land offenders in “the zoo”: which isn’t a very fun place to be! Sticks and twigs don’t cut it for Noodelphant and her friends, so they invent the Phantastic Noodler, a machine that makes pasta out of anything put into it: pens turn into penne, cans into cannelloni, pillows into ravioli! The kangaroos are ready to make a bust – will kindness save the day?

Noodlephant is a fun, wacky look at creative civil disobedience and injustice. The kangaroos are oppressive and mean, forbidding other animals from enjoying anything the kangaroos deem exclusive to their little group. The pushback is creative and silly enough to get a laugh out of readers while encouraging them to think about bullying and exclusion. Occasional verse lends a subversive air that kids will understand and appreciate: “When the laws are so unjust, misbehavior is a must!” Sometimes, you just have to break the rules. K-Fai Steele’s cartoony art is bold, bright, and loaded with noodley fun.

Pair this one with Miranda Paul’s The Great Pasta Escape for a pasta-riffic storytime. A nice add to your picture book collections and a fun, discussion-provoking add to social justice storytime.

 

 

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Jenni Desmond talks elephants in her latest nonfiction work

The Elephant, by Jenni Desmond, (Nov. 2018, Enchanted Lion Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781592702640

Ages 5-8

Jenni Desmond’s latest nonfiction book takes a look at one of our world’s largest animals: the elephant. Using a young boy’s exploration as a vehicle, we see him pick a book and be drawn into an elephant’s world through breathtaking, realistic color artwork. Informative facts throughout include the difference species and subspecies of elephants and the fact that they appear light on their feet because they mainly walk on tiptoe; they have sensitive skin and detect a fly landing on a leg or the rumbling of other elephants from as much as six miles away! Elephants can favor a tusk, much like humans have a preferred hand to write with. The author notes factors endangering elephants, including poachers who seek elephants’ ivory tusks.

The collage, paint, and colored pencil artwork is stunning, rendering detailed, realistic elephants on every page, while keeping readers aware that this is a child’s journey; the boy shows up, cartoon-like, in spreads, sporting a red crown and, sometimes, a friend.

This superb volume is a wonderful way to connect reading, imagination, and nonfiction – nonfiction is great for dreamers, too, after all! Jenni Desmond received the 2016 New York Times Best Illustrated award for The Polar Bear. This is her third book on endangered animals, joining The Polar Bear and The Blue Whale (2015). The Elephant has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist, and is a Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of 2018. Add this one to your wildlife nonfiction collections.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Interrupting Chicken discovers The Elephant of Surprise!

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise, by David Ezra Stein, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763688424

Ages 4-8

The current storytime favorite in my home is the newest one from David Ezra Stein! Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise is the follow-up to 2011’s Caldecott Medal winner, Interrupting Chicken, and reunites readers with the dynamic duo of Chicken and his dad. In this outing, Chicken has learned about a valuable literary tool: the elephant of surprise. Papa tries to correct him, telling him that he must be referring to the element of surprise, but Chicken knows what he heard. He and Papa turn to the books for proof, and sure enough, through three classic fairy tales and one of Papa’s own stories – drawn by Chicken, naturally – darned if that elephant doesn’t show up at the most hilarious moments!

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise is laugh-out-loud hilarious. My 6-year-old and I cackle through each reading, especially when the delicious moment of suspense arises. We read the fairy tale excerpt. I give him the side eye as I linger over the page. He giggles uncontrollably, turns the page with me, and…

Just like that.

 

There’s everything to love about this story: the so-familiar feel of the dialogue between caregiver and child (especially when that child is convinced they are right), the fun of playing with language and following a kid’s thought pattern through storytelling, and the vibrant, fun artwork throughout the book, especially the handwriting dialogue fonts and the drawn-in, colorful elephant inserting itself right into those fusty, bland-colored classics.

Add this one to your shelves, right next to its companion book, Interrupting Chicken. It’s essential bedtime, storytime, anytime reading for kids, and would make a fun surprise guest in a creative writing program or ELA class. I think I may have to add this one to my Mock Caldecott list for 2018.

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist.

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

When Elephants Fly digs deeply into trauma and healing

When Elephants Fly, by Nancy Richardson Fischer, (Sept. 2018, Harlequin TEEN), $18.99, ISBN: 9781335012364

Ages 14+

Lily is a high school senior with a plan: she’s going to avoid stress, drugs, booze, and romantic entanglements; anything that can trigger a stressful episode. She’s in a race against time, because the odds are against her: her mother, and women in her family, have all developed schizophrenia. Schizophrenia most commonly manifests between the ages of 18 and 30, so for the next 12 years, Lily’s on guard. She even has her best friend, Sawyer, give her psych quizzes to catch any developing symptoms. Lily’s mother stopped taking her meds when Lily was a child, and during one episode, tried to kill Lily; she later committed suicide in prison, and Lily, who’s still dealing with the trauma, is getting no help from her father, who won’t discuss Lily’s mother or the incident.

Lily’s on a journalism internship when she witnesses the birth of a new elephant calf at the local zoo. When the calf’s mother tries to kill her calf, and a story goes out with Lily’s byline, she’s stuck with the story – and the fallout. A traveling circus enacts a claim on the calf, and the zoo director is furious with Lily’s betrayal. Swifty bonds with Lily, but the calf’s grief puts her health at risk. Lily’s determination to save Swifty is at odds with her resolve to stay away from stressful situations, but she’s committed to the calf.

Nancy Richardson Fischer brings together a fantastic amount of elements to create When Elephants Fly: trauma; mental illness; the animal captivity debate, and journalistic integrity, for starters. Lily is a fascinating and complex character; she may not always be sympathetic, but she is empathetic. She’s not always likable – she’ll admit it – but readers will always feel for her, because she’s facing down a very real monster and fighting it every step of the way. Swifty is as a strong supporting character in the book, too; she brings out the vulnerable, human side of Lily that she tries to push down. Before Swifty, Lily seems determined to barrel through the next 12 years as mildly and quietly as possible: Swifty makes her engage with her surroundings and with people other than Sawyer.

When Elephants Fly is a strong, moving story that allows for big discussions. A must-add to YA collections; a must-read for caregivers and educators that know tweens and teens dealing with trauma.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Sugar and Spice and everything… Candy Pink?

candy-pink-coverCandy Pink, by Adela Turin/Illustrated by Nella Bosnia, (Nov. 2016, NubeOcho), $15.95, ISBN: 978-84-944446-7-8

Recommended for ages 5-8

A classic written 40 years ago with the goal to promote equality between boys and girls arrives in the United States for the first time. Candy Pink is written in the style of a folk tale, explaining how elephant all became gray. You see, male elephants were always gray, but female elephants were candy pink. To get that color, they ate only peonies and anemones, wore bibs and shoes, and stayed together in a little walled garden, while the boy elephants playing in the mud, eating yummy grass, and sleeping beneath trees. When one little elephant named Daisy doesn’t turn pink, her father is harsh and cruel, her mother, sad. They pressure her to eat more pink food and threaten her by telling her no one will want to marry her. When they finally give up, the girl elephant embraces her freedom, sheds her bib and shoes, and enjoys life – something that doesn’t go unnoticed by the other female elephants. And, well… you can’t tell the difference between boy and girl elephants anymore, can you?

I was taken aback the first time I read Candy Pink, because it seems harsh on a young girl: the emphasis on appearance and girlish pursuits, Daisy’s parents’ terrible reaction to her inability to fit their mold for her. A second reading put more in perspective for me – the little elephant embraced her uniqueness and wasn’t ostracized for it – the other female elephants flocked to her, and made a huge change that exists to this day. It’s a powerful little story for school-age kids that lends itself to some pretty big ideas. Originally published in Italian in 1976 with the title Rosaconfetto, Adela Turin tackled gender identity and the pressure society puts on appearances by using a parable that everyone could understand and that young girls could relate to. Forty years later, Candy Pink is just as relevant.

Award-winning illustrator Nella Bosnia’s artwork is beautiful. She uses shades of gray and pink against muted background colors for the world of the story; primarily greens, blues, and yellows for the assorted flora and fauna. The bibs, shoes, and bows on the elephants tails are frilly and exaggerated, even pinker than the pale pink elephants; against Daisy’s natural gray, it’s a true contrast.

An interesting and still-timely look at gender, society, and the expectations parents put on their own children. A good addition to bookshelves. Booktalk and display with self-esteem boosters like Karen Beaumont’s I Like Myself!, Peter Reynolds’ Ish, and Todd Parr’s It’s Okay to Be Different. Want another elephant fairy tale? Emma Dodd’s Cinderelephant is a light-hearted, fun take on the classic fairy tale.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction

This Fall, Natumi Takes the Lead!

natumiNatumi Takes the Lead, by Gerry Ellis with Amy Novesky, (Nov. 2016, National Geographic Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2562-5

Recommended for ages 4-8

I completely dropped the ball on World Elephant Day last week; I was away with Husband and my brain was on vacation. I’m so sorry, because in addition to my loving elephants, I wanted to let you all know about a great book that’s coming out from NatGeo Kids in early November.

Natumi Takes the Lead is the true story of a young elephant who was orphaned, rescued by a farmer and sent to an orphanage. Sounds like a Disney film, right? But it’s so much  more than that, because this story happens too often. Poachers and hunters still slaughter elephants for their ivory tusks or for big game trophies, leaving young elephants, like Natumi, to fend for themselves.

Pages 3-4

Natumi is also a powerful story of a shy elephant who gains the confidence to become the leader of her new little family group. With the love and nurturing she receives from her rescuers at the orphanage, she gains confidence and takes the lead in bringing her new family back to the wild: a protected African preserve.

Pages 20-21

I first discovered Natumi at PLA earlier this year, and fell in love with the beautiful photos and the elephant’s story. NatGeo has a way of making these animals more realistic than any animated movie character. NatGeo, through beautiful, empathetic writing and photography, brings out the personalities of the world’s animals, and their stories motivate readers to take action. The best part is that NatGeo tells kids HOW they can take action: by learning more about their world, and providing resources to help kids do just that.

Resources at the end of the book include a map of Natumi’s home and where the elephant’s live in Africa; lists of organizations, websites, and books; facts about elephants, and an infographic on elephant growth, to give readers a frame of reference about Natumi’s age and size when she was orphaned and where she’ll be as she ages.

Natumi isn’t due out until November, but it’s a great addition to your younger nonfiction sections, and a great book for young animal lovers.