Earth Day is coming at the end of the month, so expect to see lots of books about our big blue dot here over the next few weeks. Today, I’m starting with the earth – the ground itself – and what it gives us.
The latest in the “A World of…” series from Martin Jenkins and James Brown is all about plants. Organized into 30 areas and fully illustrated with 2-color artwork and infographics, this oversized book covers plants from seed to bloom; how they spread, who eats them and who they eat; plants that thrive in different habitats, and more. A Plants in Peril section covers conservation and environmental awareness, with an eye to different plants that are threatened, overharvested, and facing habitat destruction. A section on symbolic plants discusses the link between religion and nature. Fun facts abound: learn your climbing plants, for instance, by identifying which are twiners, which are tendrils and leaf twiners, which are clingers, and which are hook climbers. How do plants defend themselves? A World of Plants goes beyond thorns and looks at the dumb cane, a plant that accumulates needlelike crystals that can pierce an animal’s mouth, or the passionflower, whose leaves mimic dots that look like butterfly eggs, so butterfiles will pass them by. A World of Plants is a nice addition to a beautiful nonfiction series. Sample a chapter at publisher Candlewick’s website.
Another good nonfiction series, Welcome to the Museum, introduces its newest wing, Fungarium. It’s all about the mushrooms here! Organized into four galleries, readers will get the full scoop on Fungal Biology, Fungal Diversity, Fungal Interactions, and Fungi and Humans. Fungi get a pretty bad rap (myself included: not a mushroom fan), but this book seeks to clear up a lot of issues people have: without fungi, there would be no coffee, tea, or chocolate, which is reason enough for me to fully support my local mycologist. Beautiful scientific illustration brings the diversity of these organisms to life on the page, and detailed keys to each plate provide helpful information at a glance. Entries on each section in the galleries give readers plenty of information to get them started on learning about fungi, from what’s growing on that tree we pass on the way to school every morning to what’s in cans at the grocery store. Worried about what not to eat? The section on Poisonous Fungi makes sure you know how to identify a Death cap, False morel, or Destroying angel. If that’s too much of a turn-off, head over to Wonder Drugs and learn how fungi are also the source of many modern medicines, including that wonder drug, penicillin. Fully indexed, with a list of further resources and brief bios on the curators behind the book, Fungarium is a nice addition to the Welcome to the Museum series. Publisher Candlewick has a sample chapter available for viewing.
Fungarium has starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus.
People love their pets. They’re our babies, our muses, our best friends. Pets and Their Famous Humans takes a look at 20 famous pet-human duos throughout history. There are dogs and cats, sure, but there’s also Dorothy Parker’s crocodiles, adopted by the writer when they were left in a New York taxi. There’s Grip, Charles Dickens’ talking raven (who you can also visit, albeit stuffed, in the Free Library of Philadelphia), Granizo, Frida Kahlo’s fawn, and Babou, Salvador Dali’s ocelot. There are pampered pooches and cats, like Archie, Andy Warhol’s dachshund, who had a gold Tiffany & Co. charm on his collar, and Karl Lagerfeld’s cat, Choupette, who sported a diamond-encrusted collar and had her own assistant. Many of the pets were their human companions’ muses, sitting with them and inspiring artwork, or support animals, providing unconditional love and a calming presence.
Each spread offers a biographical spread on the celebrity pet, with a small bio on their companion human. Color paintings of each famous human-pet pairing, which one can easily imagine hanging in one’s salon. This is a fun choice for animal lovers.
Christopher Lloyd‘s latest nonfiction introduces readers to all the ways we’re not that unique: animals are just like we are. Breaking down big areas like Community, Feelings, and Intelligence into finer points like teamwork, showing off, love, grief, self-awareness and invention, Humanimals reminds us not to discount the animals we share the planet with: we have as Lloyd writes in his introduction, “we need a new word, one that helps us understand how much we have in common”.
Christopher Lloyd gives readers a blend of animals and behaviors we know – honeybees work together; termites create vast cities; cats arch their backs and stiffen their tails to show aggression – and introduces behaviors readers may not be aware of: ravens roll down hills for fun; fish and leafcutter ants are farmers; orcas, baboons, and elephants all experience grief and mourning; chickens can communicate with one another. With bold, colorful artwork by Mark Ruffle, and easy-to-read sentences for more confident readers, this is a nice nonfiction add for your animal fans and natural history readers. It builds bridges to understanding animals, and encourages kids (and adults) to pay attention to the world they share.
Humanimal is a good choice for STEM and Discovery Clubs, too; encourage kids to talk about animal behaviors they’ve observed that remind them of human behavior. I love telling kids about seeing lizards that do push-ups to show off when I was in Florida.
Kevin McCloskey is one of my favorite graphic novelists. What does he draw, you ask? Spidey? The Avengers? X-Men?
Nope. He creates science graphic novels for the little ones, examine such subjects as snail goo, pigeon and worm poop, and foot-long goldfish. Sometimes, he paints his pictures on recyclable grocery bags, because he believes in recycling. Most importantly, he creates nonfiction that speaks to young learners in a way that engages their minds and their funny bones, talking about the funny, gross, and awesome parts of nature and making them equally… amazing.
Who here hasn’t been told, “You have ants in your pants!” while growing up? With that phrase, Kevin McCloskey sets readers off on the study of ants: biology and physiology, life cycle, food, kinds of ants, and what they eat. The book is loaded with fun facts and illustrations, like the one of an ant bench pressing an apple, combined with a picture of a child lifting a car, to bring home the fact that an ant can lift up to 50 times its own weight, and what that would mean to us human folk. The front endpapers have hundreds and hundreds of ants, with one magnified under a magnifying glass, greeting readers and inviting them to come and learn. This is the newest in Kevin McCloskey’s Giggle and Learn series of graphic novels for young learners, published by TOON, and I love it. My kiddo’s first McCloskey book was We Dig Worms (2015), which I read to him when he was barely out of the toddler years, and he loved it, because the material is accessible and fun. A lesson plan is coming soon!
Originally published in 2016, The Real Poop on Pigeons! is coming to paperback. When a man sitting on the park bench starts shooing pigeons away, a group of children, dressed as pigeons, show up to school him – and us readers – on pigeon history – they carried the first airmail! – and biology, breeding, and pigeon milk. (Read the book. You can’t buy this in Stop & Shop.) There are some great pigeon family tree revelations here, like the fact that the Dodo was a member of the pigeon family. A three-foot pigeon! Ever wonder why you haven’t seen a baby pigeon? Read the book! The Real Poop on Pigeons is yet another win from Kevin McCloskey, and another win for young readers.
If you have readers who love beautiful illustration, this is a book for them (and you). Anna Wright’s Magnificent Creatures: Animals on the Move is all about beautiful design and illustrating movement and texture. Featuring 12 animals, from sea turtles and springboks, to Monarch butterflies and fireflies, each spread contains a brief explanatory paragraph on each animal, but the real star is the pen and ink illustration, enhanced with textiles to create stunning art. Springboks roam the African plains with striped and floral fabric bodies; checkered, chevroned, and polka dotted zebras spread out in search of food. Southern Carmine bee-eaters have a hint of gold crowning their feathered heads, and fireflies dance with gold leaf wings.
The art is beautiful and begs kids to use their own imagination, plus any scrapbooking paper, fabric, yarn, or ribbon you may have in your craft boxes, to create animals of their own. Could be a fun Summer Reading challenge! The text is easy to read and would be a nice, eye-catching addition to an animal storytime. There are some great, unique facts about each animal, too: every zebra’s stripe pattern is unique, like a human fingerprint; herring can swim in a school of up to 3 billion!
Pair this one with Helen Aphornsiri’s Drawn from Nature to let readers explore nature through artwork – from nature. Pair paper with leaves, flowers, sticks, and fabric to come up with 2-D and 3-D creations. Let your minds run wild! Get some more inspiration from Anna Wright’s website.
There is such great nonfiction being published these days. Nonfiction used to conjure pictures of boring textbooks with walls of words, with a handful of old black and white photos. Today? Nonfiction includes video game guides, crazy stories about our bodies, animals, planets, and the freaky ways famous people died. And that’s just scratching the surface. Kids’ nonfiction sports full-color illustration or photographs, text that understands how kids read and learn, and takes all interests into consideration. Series nonfiction, like the Who Was/What Was series from Penguin makes history compulsive readable, and No Starch Press has full-color STEM and tech books that teach kids everything from coding in Scratch to explaining the sciences using manga comics. I love building a good nonfiction section; these are a few of the books on my current shopping list.
Behind the Legend series, by Erin Peabody/Illustrated by Victor Rivas and Jomike Tejido, little bee books
Good for readers 9-12
This series is so good. I’ve read Werewolves and Zombies, and love the way Erin Peabody weaves history with pop culture to present a paranormal guide that kids will love reading and learn from. There are black and white illustrations throughout; cartoony, bordering on downright freaky. Zombies delves deeply into the history of slavery and its ties to the rise of the zombie legend and the practice of voudou; Peabody also talks about the walking dead being very old news; they were showing up in Mesopotamia long before Robert Kirkman ever thought up Rick Grimes and his band of survivors. Werewolves talks about the history of animal lore and famous “were-beasts” in history, like the Gandillon siblings – a French brother and sister who were convinced they were wolves and acted accordingly. Harry Potter, Scooby-Doo, and Twilight all get a shout-out in this fun look at werewolves. There are further sources for kids who want to read further. Other Behind the Legend books include Dragons, the Loch Ness Monster, and Bigfoot. This is an absolute must-add set for kids who love themselves some pop culture paranormal reading (and half the price of most series nonfiction, library-bound books).
The kids in my library love creepy. Most kids do, right? It’s that safe scare, the adrenaline rush, the squeal of the “eeeeeewwwwwww!” that you can make while safely in your seat, surrounded by family, friends, or your stuffed animals or action figures. It’s being able to turn to your friend and say, “Look at this!” and watching your friend freak out, too. NatGeo knows this, and Don’t Read This Book Before Bed (which is exactly what kids will do) is chock full of freaky stories that will keep them reading and saying, “NO WAY!” Think of it as the Lore podcast, for kids. Haunted castles? Check. Freaky dolls? (Robert the Doll, profiled in here, actually has both a podcast and episode of Lore dedicated to him.) Check. Aliens and fish people? Right this way. Each story has a “fright-o-meter” to let readers know how scary this is going to get, and quizzes help readers figure out their phobias (I love a good flow chart), test whether or he or should would be a good ghostbuster, or take apart the mysteries of science. My library’s copy is rarely on the shelf.
50 Wacky Things Humans Do: Weird & Amazing Facts About the Human Body, by the Walter Foster Jr. Creative Team/Illustrated by Lisa Perrett,
(Dec. 2017, Walter Foster Jr.), $14.95, ISBN: 9781633223967
Good for readers 7-10
Our bodies do some wild stuff. A sneeze moves at about 100 miles per hour. (Think about that, next time someone doesn’t cover their nose and mouth when they sneeze near you.) If someone tickles you and you put your hand on theirs, it’ll send a message to the brain that stops the tickling sensation. Wrinkly bathtub fingers help us grip things better. Readers will learn all of this and more in 50 Wacky Things Humans Do, written in a similar vein to the chunky, digest-sized NatGeo Kids fun fact books. Wacky Things features one fact per spread and one colorful, fun illustrations; good for intermediate-level readers.
Evolution: How Life Adapts to a Changing Environment, by Carla Mooney/Illustrated by Alexis Cornell,
(Nov. 2017, Nomad Press), $17.95, ISBN: 978-1-61930-601-1
Good for readers 9-12
Nomad Press has enjoyed shelf space in my library for a while. They have great science project books and consistently win awards because they blend hands-on projects with text readability. Evolution is a great update to Nomad’s collection and my science projects shelf. First of all, the book is in color; my Nomad books have normally been black and white, and this is as eye-catching on the inside as it is on the cover. The book progresses from a basic overview of evolution and how it works, through natural selection, species and speciation, through to classification and human evolution. Twenty-five projects allow kids to map early human migration; find sidewalk fossils (awesome for my urban library kiddos), and research an endangered species and create a plan to save it. There’s a glossary, lists of resources, and an index. I love this new direction Nomad seems to be taking and want to see more! Great for library shelves.
Recommended for readers 3-7
Night Creepers is both a rhyming tale about night time animals for toddlers and preschoolers and a nonfiction text on nocturnal animals for first and second graders. Each spread introduces a new nocturnal animal: foxes and wolves, bats and flying squirrels, skunks, possums, and more. On the left hand side of the spread, we have short, rhyming text about animals who wake up when the rest of the world starts getting ready for bed. On the right hand side, we have short paragraphs, constructed with simple sentences, containing information about each animal. Shennen Bersani’s realistic illustrations are beautiful, with vibrant and deep colors coming together to give readers an exciting reading experience. As with all Arbordale books, there is a “Creative Minds” section at the end, with activities and resources for further learning; they are free to photocopy and hand out for educational, non-commercial use.
I read Night Creepers in my toddler storytime this past week, and the little ones enjoyed it. One of my QH Kids excited pointed out animals she knew, and we all repeated the names of the animals on each spread. The rhyming, brief text was just the right length for a short story.
I was able to see author Linda Stanek speak at a non-fiction panel at KidLitCon, and look forward to adding more of her books – particularly, award-winner Once Upon an Elephant. Arbordale has a great website, releasing Spanish editions concurrently with English editions of their books, e-book access (and one free read-aloud e-book a month), and free resources for educators. Linda Stanek’s author website has more info about her books, and about school and library visits.
I’m always on the lookout for good nonfiction – my library’s collection needs constant updating, and animal books are big here. Night Creepers‘ appeal to different age groups means I can get this book in front of a larger group of kids, getting more bang for my budget’s buck. A nice add to primary nonfiction/easy nonfiction collections.
Recommended for grownups – kids already know this stuff
Kids are like little Buddhas. I remember taking my then 4 year-old to his karate lesson in the dead of winter, steering his baby brother’s carriage through 2 or 3 inches of snow, internally swearing like a trooper, when he turned to me and asked for ice cream after his lesson. I thought he was nuts, and said so: “Are you kidding? It’s 18 degrees out!” He looked at me like I was the dope and said – slowly, so I’d understand – “Mommy. When it’s cold out, the ice cream doesn’t melt.” His logic was flawless, and he absolutely got his ice cream that day.
Allen Klein respects the wisdom and innate joy that children have, and wants us to feel that way, too. Secrets Kids Know… is a collection of essays, observations, and anecdotes on how we can follow a kid’s lead and embrace simple joys, rediscover our natural curiosity, and not be so darned serious all the time. Black line drawings by Klein’s daughter, Sarah, set off each chapter and bring a cozy feel to reading. He speaks to us as a Jollytologist – it’s his job to be jolly! – and uses his background as a motivational speaker to make you want to be happy. And that alone is pretty darned great.
I’ve got a five year-old whose transition to Kindergarten isn’t going as magically as I’d like it to, so I dug into this book with vigor. I do find that I’m making more of my time home with him; trying to see things through his eyes and laugh more with him, even though there are still some days where I just want to let wolves raise him and call it a day.
I’m going to put a copy of Secrets Kids Know… in my Parenting section and see if I can booktalk it up with some parents. Check out Allen Klein’s webpage, where you can watch his TED Talk, read his blog, and read more about the Jollytologist himself.
Recommended for ages 10+
The latest graphic novel biography from FirstSecond is Eddy Simon and Vincent Brascaglia’s Pelè: The King of Soccer. From his beginnings as a child growing up in poverty in Sao Paulo, Brazil, readers see Pelè – born Edison Arantes do Nascimento, son of a football player whose career ended with an injury – rise from a child using a ball made from rags, to his dominance in youth leagues, and to his first professional soccer contract at the age of 15. He became a sensation at 17, when he led Brazil to victory at the World Cup, and went on to become “O Rei” – The King – a household name, a worldwide sensation. More than just a soccer player, Pelè traveled the world as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. An athlete worth more than face value, the Brazilian government and the military tried to force him to continue playing when he wanted to play for the U.S., and the United States thought that acquiring Pelè would make soccer the next great American sport. He partied with the likes of Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol, and had a turbulent personal life that includes multiple affairs and illegitimate children. Full-color photos of Pelè complete this solid graphic biography of a sports icon.
Great for middle school and up, display and booktalk with other graphic novel biographies, including Box Brown’s biography on Andre the Giant, and 21: The Story of Robert Clemente, by Wilfred Santiago.