August 2 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Maya and the Beast

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Thanks to Harry N. Abrams for sharing a copy of Maya and the Beast with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Maya and the Beast

Written by Maya Gabeira | Illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki

 

“Once upon a time, in a fishing village called Nazaré, there lived a Beast” begins this compelling fictionalized version of world-record-breaking surfer Maya Gabeira’s life. The Beast is not an animal or a dragon, but a wave that roars upward as tall as a seven-story building and larger than a blue whale. When the Beast crashed upon the shore, it rattle windows and vibrated through the ground.

In Nazaré there lived a shy young girl with asthma that often kept her indoors and made her feel “fragile and scared.” Despite her asthma, Maya relished the strength she felt when doing sports—dancing, gymnastics, and especially swimming. She had grown up hearing stories about the Beast and warnings to stay away from it and the other big waves that rolled ashore.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2022, text copyright Maya Gabeira, 2022. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

But one day, Maya decided to go see the waves for herself. Standing atop a cliff, she watched in awe. The Beast “was the most beautiful thing Maya had ever seen. The other thing she saw was boys   surfing—”gliding across the waves, tiny creatures against the blue.” Maya instantly fell in love with the speed and power of surfing.

She ran home and told her dad, “‘I’ve discovered my dream—it’s surfing!'” The next morning Maya found a surfboard waiting for her. She took it down to the town beach, where the waves were smaller but boys were still surfing. She asked one boy if he would teach her to surf, but he only told her that ‘”surfing is too dangerous for girls.'”

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2022, text copyright Maya Gabeira, 2022. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

The next day, once again watching the Beast from the clifftop, Maya found a conch shell. When she put it to her ear, she heard words of encouragement that spurred her on. She returned to the town beach with her surfboard the next day and every day afterward. She practiced swimming underwater, where she discovered that, because of her asthma she already familiar with the feeling of breathlessness she experienced under a wave.

She began practicing popups and balance on her board in the sand. “Each time she fell, she got up again.” When she felt ready, she took her board into the ocean and practiced on the small waves, ignoring the laughter of the boys. As she became more confident, she grew to love the sport even more. “She felt resilient. She felt powerful. She felt happy.” The boys could only look on in disbelief.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2022, text copyright Maya Gabeira, 2022. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

One day she returned to the cliff and found the conch shell. This time when she put it to her ear, she heard words of pride in her accomplishments and an affirmation of her bravery. As she listened to the waves, she knew she would become a champion surfer and “prove that a girl could ride the biggest wave in the world. And one day… she did.”

In her extensive Author’s Note, Maya Gabeira relates how she came to love surfing and her rise in the sport. She includes her successes and also her setbacks and shows readers that engaging in any endeavor takes persistence, self-confidence, and the freedom to find one’s true self. 

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2022, text copyright Maya Gabeira, 2022. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

Inspired by her own life experiences, legendary surfer Maya Gabeira, encourages children—girls in particular—to find their passion and embrace the dedication and hard work required to achieve their goals. Her story highlights independence, self-reliance, and self-confidence. The words relayed by the conch shell can be seen as that small interior voice of truth we all have and that, when listened to, can spur us to pursue our real aspirations.

Through Ramona Kaulitzki’s stunning illustrations, readers can almost hear the roar of the Beast and feel the salt spray on their skin. Beautiful blue and green waves trimmed in foamy white curl on the page form offshore, framing and dwarfing Maya and the boy surfers. Two-page spreads give readers an idea of the enormity of these waves and the strength and bravery required to ride them. Kaulitzki depicts Maya’s enthusiasm with her chosen sport, showing readers her determination to conquer it despite sometimes falling and having to practice amid the naysaying boys. As Maya’s confidence grows, her smiles and strength are evident, culminating in the awe-inspiring final spread of Maya riding the Beast.

A unique story about a contemporary role model, Maya and the Beast will inspire all children to listen to their own inner voice as they find their passion and reach for their goals. The book also encourages adults to support their children’s choices and provides an opportunity for discussions about what those are. Maya and the Beast would be an excellent addition to home bookshelves and is highly recommended for school and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Harry N. Abrams, 2022 | ISBN 978-1419760006

You can learn more about Maya Gabeira, view pictures and heart-pounding videos of her surfing skills, and more on her website.

Discover more about Ramona Kaulitzki, her books, and her art on her website.

Maya and the Beast Book Birthday Activities

 

The Beast Video

 

Watch Maya Gabeira in her Guinness World Record winning ride.

Surfboard Coloring Page

 

Get out to the beach with this coloring page that lets you design your own surfboard too!

Surfboard Coloring Page

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You can find Maya and the Beast at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 2 – World Firefly Day

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About the Holiday

World Firefly Day was instituted by Fireflyers International Network to raise awareness of these summer-night beauties and the dangers to their survival, including habitat destruction, pesticides, light pollution, and over-collection. More and more, as fields and marshlands are paved over for building and waterways open up to recreation, the fireflies that call these places home are disappearing. This year’s theme is “Let’s stay together in the challenging world” and encourages everyone to learn how to “live in harmony” with fireflies. To learn more about fireflies, how you can make your garden or lawn firefly friendly, and more, visit Firefly Conservation & Research.

Light the Sky, Firefly!

Written by Sheri Mabry Bestor | Illustrated by Jonny Lambert

 

When fireflies begin dotting the summer night sky with light, it may seem like they’ve magically appeared out of nowhere. But as Sheri Mabry Bestor eloquently reveals, these beautiful insects have been lurking and luminescing for a long time. How long? Well, would you believe a full year? As summer rains dampen the earth, a firefly lays her eggs (up to 500!) under brush or fallen leaves. “Under the leaves, the eggs lay still. For the baby fireflies inside the shells, it is time to grow. And begin to glow.”

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2022, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2022. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The larvae hatch after a month, and then they begin to eat, eat, eat. Slugs and snails are on the menu and, as a paragraph of scientific information about the firefly’s nighttime dining discloses, “instead of fighting their prey, the larvae bite and then inject the prey with a liquid that keeps it from moving to get away.” All through the rest of summer and fall, the baby fireflies grow. During the winter, the larvae undergo many transformations, growing and outgrowing a series of casings.

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2022, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2022. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

It isn’t until late spring when the larvae are ready to become an adult. When they are ready, they emerge from their mud nest. Then, while the sun is high, they stay low to the ground. But “when the sun begins to set, they begin to climb higher. And when the sky turns black, fireflies launch!” Then “the sky is filled with flashing fireflies. They twinkle like faraway stars.”

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2022, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2022. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Still, the darkness of night doesn’t protect them from predators, so fireflies always have to be on the alert. If they are caught, fireflies have a bitter surprise for the hungry critter. And what about those “blink, blinks” that we all marvel at? Those signals aren’t random. As Sheri Mabry Bestor explains, “Fireflies blink with specific rhythms called ‘flash patterns,’ and each species has its own. This helps them communicate with each other.” Not only does that luminescent chemical help fireflies, Bestor describes ways in which scientists and doctors are studying it in hopes of helping people.

“In time, the females are ready to lay their eggs. Pitter-patter, drizzle-drip. Summer rain cools the earth. Bees buzz. Birds glide. A firefly finds a place under the leaves that blanket the ground.” The eggs hide, waiting until next summer when it’s their turn to shine.

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2022, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2022. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Sheri Mabry Bestor’s lovely, poetic story of the lifecycle of fireflies is a beautiful read aloud for summer nights or for whenever you and your kids are missing the simple pleasures of summer. While the story plays out from page to page in flowing and sometimes vibrant text, scientific facts about these insects, their transformations, homes, anatomy, protection, and, of course, their bright and glowing communication skills are tucked in the corner waiting to be discovered and explored. Bestor’s rhythmical cadence also highlights the seasonal changes that accompany a fireflies’ growth and the cyclical wonder of nature.

Jonny Lambert’s stunning textured collage-style illustrations portray all the beauty of these unique insects and the landscape they inhabit. Mottled greens and yellows give depth to lush leaves, opaline snail shells catch the light above as the curious snail discovers the glowing eggs below, and delicate spring flowers camouflage the mud nests where the larvae are transforming into adults. The nighttime scenes are breathtaking with deep blue skies, a canvas for the pin pricks of light that create summer’s most spectacular show. Both realistic and dreamlike, these nighttime pages will have kids and adults scurrying outside to watch and be a part of it.

A gorgeous book to celebrate the exquisite charm of fireflies as well as to impart natural science facts, Light the Sky, Firefly is highly recommended for home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2022 | ISBN 978-1534111158

Discover more about Sheri Mabry Bestor and her books on her website.

You can connect with Jonny Lambert on Twitter.

World Firefly Day Activity

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Firefly Flight Maze

 

This little firefly wants to join her friends in the forest. Can you help her through the maze to find them in this printable maze?

Firefly Flight Maze Puzzle | Firefly Flight Mage Solution

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You can find Light the Sky, Firefly! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 21 – International Day of Forests

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About the Holiday

International Day of Forests was instituted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2011 to raise awareness of the importance of trees in vast woodlands or in your neighborhood or yard. Trees contribute to the quality of the air we breathe, improve the local climate, reduce noise pollution, shelter wildlife, and provide food for people and animals. This year’s theme is “Forests and sustainable production and consumption.” So many aspects in our lives – from the materials for building homes, making tools, developing new household items, and more to the medicines we take, the water we drink, and the clothes we wear rely on healthy and sustainable forests. This year’s theme encourages people to think about the ways forests benefit not only human life but the wildlife and the earth as a whole. For more information visit the UN International Day of Forests website and The Geneva Environment Network.

Thanks to Boyds Mills for providing a digital copy of The Leaf Detective for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Reviewed by Dorothy Levine

The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets in the Rainforest

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Jana Christy

 

As a child, Meg was quite shy to make friends. She spent lots of time studying and playing with wildlife: “Meg wrapped herself in nature, like a soft blanket.” As she continued to grow, so did her passion for leaves, trees, and nature. Meg attended Sydney University in Australia. In 1979, she became the first person at her graduate school to study the rainforest. Through her studies Meg learned that people had been all the way to outer space to study, but nobody had ever ventured to the tippity top of a canopy tree. Instead, they studied trees from far away through binoculars. Oftentimes scientists would spray trees with chemicals so that the harmed leaves and animals would drop to the forest floor where people could study them up close. Meg sought to change this.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

“In the dark, damp forest the trees rose up to distant rustling, squawks and screeches, shadows in the treetops. How could she get up there?” Meg Lowman created her own slingshot and harness and inched up a coachwood tree. When she reached the canopy, she knew she’d found the perfect place to study and explore. Meg is quoted saying, “From then on, I never looked back…or down!”

Meg continued to create new strategies to study the canopy, as a scientist does. And in doing so she made so many discoveries, such as: “We now believe the canopy is home to approximately half the plant and animal species on land.” Many people tried to stop Meg along her journey. They told her she couldn’t take science classes, climb trees, or make inventions because she was a woman. But Meg ignored them. She continued to investigate.

She knew that rainforests were (and are) in danger, and that so many creatures rely on the rainforest ecosystem. People all over the world were cutting down large parts of the rainforests for wood, rubber, paper, and farmland. This worried Meg; she wanted to find a way to protect rainforests before they all disappeared. “She wondered, How can one leaf detective make a difference? How can I save the trees?…Then an idea crawled into Meg’s thoughts—a way to speak for the trees.”

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Meg traveled around the world. She spoke to people across many different countries; taught them how to climb trees, build canopy walkways—she showed people the many gifts rainforests have to offer. Meg educated communities on how they could share their rainforest with outsiders, showcase its beauty to create revenue rather than chopping them down for resources. By using her voice and creative mind, Meg helped implement systems that have saved many trees and creatures across the world.

Meg Lowman continues to study trees, save rainforests, and teach people how to shift their economies to center around ecotourism and sustainable crops rather than resource extraction. She has used her voice to save rainforests across the world, and yet she still says, “If only I could have achieved as much as the tree!… But I have not. I have whittled away at relatively small goals in comparison to the grander accomplishments of a tree.”

Backmatter includes an author’s note detailing Heather Lang’s visit to meet Margaret Lowman in the Amazon rainforest in Perú. The note includes more information on Dr. Lowman’s advocacy work and is followed by an illustrated educational spread on the layers of canopies, and species featured throughout the story are labeled in the final spread, for readers to learn more about specific animals that make their homes in the rainforest.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Heather Lang’s lyrical writing matches the carefulness with which Meg studies leaves, trees, and the rainforest canopy. Her compelling storytelling is rich with facts and sensory imagery that immerse readers in the environment and Meg’s determination to understand and, later, save it. Scattered images of leaves drop fun facts and definitions for readers about the rainforest, canopies, transpiration, herbivores, and more. Quotes from Dr. Lowman are thoughtfully placed throughout the story in a manner that neatly flows. The Leaf Detective urges readers to understand that “a tree is not just a tree” but rather “a shelter for animals and people, / a recycler and provider of water, / a creator of food and oxygen, / an inventor of medicine/ a soldier against climate change.”

Jana Christy’s digital drawings contain stunning detail and show an accurate scale of one small person in comparison to the vastness of the rainforest. Her mesmerizing wildlife creatures and immersive watercolor blues and greens transport readers right into the rainforest with “Canopy Meg.” The lush greens of the rainforests contrast strikingly with the spread on deforestation, in which fallen trees lay scattered on the bare, brown ground. Readers will also be interested to see the innovations that have made the trees more accessible to people. One can read the book over and over and notice new details every time. It is a book to treasure, to study, to read and re-read again. 

Come unearth the secrets of the rainforest with Margaret Lowman in this book that’s budding with knowledge, empathy, and magic, and is a tale of how one person can make a difference. The intriguing facts, poignant quotes from Dr. Lowman herself, and beautiful poetic writing will leave readers of this book inspired with wonder and with a hunger for advocacy. The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest is an urgent must-read for all ages.

A portion of Heather Lang’s royalties for this book go to TREE Foundation—an organization that funds field trips for children to get into nature, canopy projects, and science book distribution for children with limited access to STEAM, girls especially. 

Ages 6 – 10

Calkins Creek, 2021 | ISBN 978-1684371778

Discover more about Heather Lang and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jana Christy, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Heather Lang

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Heather Lang loves to write about real women who overcame extraordinary obstacles and never gave up on their dreams. Her research has taken her to the skies, the treetops of the Amazon, and the depths of the ocean. Her award-winning picture book biographies include, QUEEN OF THE TRACK: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion, THE ORIGINAL COWGIRL: The Wild Adventures of Lucille Mulhall, FEARLESS FLYER: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine, SWIMMING WITH SHARKS: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark, and ANYBODY’S GAME: Kathryn Johnston, The First Girl to Play Little League Baseball. When she is not writing, she enjoys going on adventures with her husband and four children. Visit Heather at www.heatherlangbooks.com.

Today I am thrilled to be interviewing author Heather Lang about her new biographical picture book The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest. Heather provides some thoughtful notes for shy readers, riveting stories from the rainforest and insight into the importance of exploring and caring for nature.

Can you tell us a little bit about what made you decide to write The Leaf Detective?  

We’ve caused enormous harm to our planet over the last few centuries, and I’m especially concerned about our rainforests. I knew I wanted to write a biography that was also a science book about the rainforest. When I read about Meg’s pioneering work and deep passion for trees, I was hooked! I couldn’t wait to find out how this quiet, nature-loving child, who didn’t know women could be scientists, became a world-class scientist and conservationist.

In the story you talk about how Meg was shy to make playmates with other kids. Were you also a shy kid growing up? Do you have any advice for readers who may relate to this aspect of Meg’s childhood? 

Like Meg, I was very shy as a child and remember wishing I were more outgoing. But as I grew older, I began to recognize the many advantages to being shy! My shy nature led me to sit back and observe. And that led to deeper thinking and understanding, a strong imagination, and creativity. Shy people often think more before they speak. They make their words count, which coincidentally is an important part of writing picture books. This also makes shy people good listeners and thoughtful friends. 

I’m still shy in many ways, and my recommendation to readers who might identify with this is to embrace your shyness! At the same time, don’t let it stop you from doing things you want to do. Meg Lowman told me she used to get so nervous before presenting in graduate school that she’d get physically sick. But with practice, practice, practice, she’s become a captivating presenter and educator. If you watch a few of her FUN FACTS FROM THE FIELD videos on my website, you’ll see what I mean! 

How would you describe your connection to nature? Would you consider yourself a “detective” in any ways? 

I’m constantly in awe of nature and its countless gifts and surprises. Nothing sparks my curiosity more than our natural world, and my curiosity is probably my most important tool as a writer. Being open-minded and asking questions not only generates ideas, but also leads me to think more deeply about a topic and examine it closely from lots of different angles. And of course that generates more detective work and more learning about my topic and myself. Being a detective is one of my favorite parts of writing books.

Do you have a favorite rainforest tree or creature? If so, tell me about it a bit!

When I arrived in the Amazon rainforest, I couldn’t wait to see a sloth! But during my time there I became fascinated with ants. They are everywhere in the rainforest, even in the canopy. I think it’s amazing how such tiny creatures can be so hardworking and organized. Their teamwork is unbelievable. And they are invaluable to the health of our rainforests. Among other things, they’re in charge of waste management on the rainforest floor, and they disperse seeds and aerate the soil!

What was the most rewarding part of writing The Leaf Detective?

This writing project was filled with rewards every step of the way! I learned so much about our rainforests and trees and gained a true understanding of how interconnected we all are—plants, animals, and humans. Getting to really know Meg Lowman and learning from her firsthand was thrilling and strengthened my writing in many important ways. It was also really rewarding to stretch myself as a writer and find a way to effectively write a book that seemed ambitious at first—a biography and conservation book that wove in quotes and science facts. 

Are there any stories from your trip to meet Meg that you did not get the chance to include in your author’s note that you’d like to share?

While I was on my Amazon adventure with Meg, I had many exciting moments. I loved learning from the Indigenous people how to use a blow gun, make clay, and braid palm leaves to make thatched roofs. The local shaman taught me how he uses different plants in the rainforest to treat and prevent injuries and illnesses—from bronchitis to poisonous snake bites. He also helped me confront my fear of snakes by bringing one over for me to touch. I even let it gently coil around my neck! But my favorite moments were exploring with Meg, especially at night and early in the morning when there’s so much activity in the rainforest.

Thanks so much for chatting with me Heather! I had a lovely time hearing about your inspiration, stories, writing process and tips for shy readers. Looking forward to learning and reading more from you in the months and years to come.

International Day of Forests Activity

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Climb a Tree! Word Search

 

There are so many kinds of trees that make our world beautiful. Can you find the names of twenty threes in this printable puzzle?

Climb a Tree! Word Search Puzzle | Climb a Tree! Word Search Solutio

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You can find The Leaf Detective at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 28 – Endangered Species Act Day

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About the Holiday

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law in by President Richard Nixon on this date in 1973.  The primary law in the United States for protecting imperiled species, the Act protects critically imperiled species from extinction as a result of the consequences of economic growth and development undeterred by concern for conservation. The US Supreme Court called it “the most comprehensive legislation for the preservation of endangered species enacted by any nation”. The purposes of the Endangered Species Act are to prevent extinction and to recover species to the point where the law’s protections are not needed, therefore protecting diverse species as well as the ecosystems in which they live or depend on. Today’s book reveals the story of a National Park that provides a unique refuge for many rare and endangered species. To celebrate the holiday, learn more about how the Endangered Species Act affects your state.

Thanks go to Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of A Voice for the Everglades: Marjory Stoneman Douglas with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

A Voice for the Everglades: Marjory Stoneman Douglas (Part of the She Made History Series)

Written by Vicki Conrad | Illustrated by Ibon Adarne and Rachel Yew

 

“Long ago a trickle of water / spilled from a lake / and formed a tiny stream.” The stream spread until it covered almost half of the state of Florida, creating a shallow lake that moved like a slowly running river – “a river bursting with wildlife, / whispering to the world / to listen, to notice, to discover its wonders.” Mangroves and cypress trees grow from the water, the soil fed by the cycles of growing and dying sawgrass. The water, trees, and grass attract a “rainbow of birds” that wade in the shallows, hunting for food. “These are the Everglades. / The wildest, richest, and most diverse ecosystem in all the world – / every plant and animal needing another to survive.”

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Image copyright Ibon Adarne and Rachel Yew, 2021, text copyright Vicki Conrad. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

But leaders and developers wanted to drain the water to create land to build on, land they could sell, land with which they could make money. They pumped the water out and built dams and drains to make farmland, but the farmland turned dry and burned easily. The animals and birds fled. The ecosystem was “desperate for a voice to protect them.”

When Marjory traveled from Massachusetts to Florida and saw the beautiful scenery, she knew immediately that this was her new home. She made a friend, Ernest, and together they spent time paddling a boat through the Everglades, “watching whirling wheels of white birds dance” and spying panthers, alligators, turtles, manatees, and more of the animals that lived there. Where other people saw a swamp, Marjory and Ernest saw “treasure.”

Marjory and Ernest wanted to do something to preserve the Everglades. They studied the map and the formation of the Everglades. Marjory called it “a river of grass.” Ernest wrote a bill for the United States Congress to consider, and “Marjory wrote a poem, / hopeful it would move Congress.” Although lawmakers did tour the Everglades and see its miraculous sights, the bill did not pass.

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Image copyright Ibon Adarne and Rachel Yew, 2021, text copyright Vicki Conrad. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Marjory decided to write a book about the area she loved, and in 1947 The Everglades: River of Grass was published. Her book helped people see the marvels that lived within the Everglades: “the manatee munching seagrass / protecting her calf from harm”; “the red-bellied turtle, / laying eggs in the abandoned alligator nest, / dry and protected from water.”; the only place in the world where an alligator and a crocodile live together.”

At last people began to take notice – and care. Their voices joined with Marjory’s and Ernest’s and Everglades National Park was established that same year. “Yet only one-fourth of the Everglades was protected.” Marjory understood that “all the ecosystems needed one another.” When plans to build the world’s largest airport on land that was part of the Everglades, Marjory, now eighty years old, established the Friends of the Everglades, and their three-thousand voices convinced President Richard Nixon to stop the building.

Marjory continued to fight for the Everglades, giving speeches and putting hecklers in their place. When she was ninety-nine years old, Marjory could be found chipping away at a concrete drain to restore the land to its former waterway. At 105 years old, Marjory was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Adults and children sent her letters thanking her for saving the Everglades, but Marjory knew there would always be more work to be done to protect this unique ecosystem.

Back matter includes an extensive, illustrated discussion of the Everglades ecosystem, the nine different habitats that make it such a unique area, and many of the plants, animals, birds, and fish that call it home. More on the life of Marjory Stoneman Douglas and her legacy as well as how readers can help the Everglades are also included.

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Image copyright Ibon Adarne and Rachel Yew, 2021, text copyright Vicki Conrad. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

A compelling biography of a woman with vision and grit who took on a nearly impossible task and saved one of the world’s unique environmental treasures, A Voice for the Everglades: Marjory Stoneman Douglas will inspire young environmentalists and would serve as a captivating resource to begin studies about ecosystems, conservation, endangered and rare species, and many other topics revolving around nature science. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, whose perseverance, dedication, and voice still resonate today, continues to be a role model for children and adults alike.

Through Vicki Conrad’s lyrical text and light incorporation of a “This is the House that Jack Built” cadence readers see how people’s actions build on and affect each other – whether detrimentally (as the building plans; pumps, dams, and drains; and disappearing wildlife do) or beneficially (as Marjory’s and Ernest’s appeals to Congress, Marjory’s writings, and her continued advocacy do) and understand that once voice can make a difference. Conrad does an excellent job of portraying the beauty and uniqueness of the Everglades and giving kids a view of the many wonders to be found there.

In their vivid illustrations, Ibon Adarne and Rachel Yew depict the rich colors of the diverse flora and fauna found in the nine cohesive habitats, from the vibrant pink roseate spoonbills to the purple passion flowers to the elusive crocodiles and the breathtaking, fiery sunsets that blanket them all. Adarne and Yew also allow children to navigate the meandering waterways that weave through the mangroves and sawgrass in their slow, steady, and life-giving pace. The breadth of wildlife within the pages offer many opportunities for further learning and research at home and at school.

An enticing and educational look at one of the world’s most valued natural treasures – whose story and resources continues to influence nature studies and advocacy today – A Voice for the Everglades: Marjory Stoneman Douglas is a book that every school and public library will want to add to its collection and would be an inspiring inclusion for home bookshelves for nature lovers and homeschoolers.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807584965

Discover more about Vicki Conrad and her books on her website.

You can connect with Ibon Adarne on Twitter.

You can connect with Rachel Yew on Twitter.

Endangered Species Act Day Activity

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Everglades National Park Coloring Page

 

Travel to the Everglades and see the diverse wildlife that lives there with this printable coloring page!

Everglades National Park Coloring Page 

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You can find A Voice for the Everglades: Marjory Stoneman Douglas at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support our local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 10 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

The month of December is a gift-giver’s delight and looking at the long winter ahead there’s no better gift for everyone on your list than a book (or two or…). With so many new books hitting bookstore shelves, there really is a perfect book to fit everyone’s taste. Young children, especially, benefit from reading a wide range of picture books from laugh-out-loud or touching stories to nonfiction that introduces them to influential people, science, history, and nature. If you’re looking for gifts to give, it’s not too late to head to your local bookstore or their online shop to find books that will make your child’s eyes light up.

A Peek at Beaks: Tools Birds Use

Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by Kate Slater

 

When you “slurp up your milkshake” or cut up your meat or even cool down with an air conditioner, do you ever wonder how birds accomplish these things? They don’t have hands to hold tools, but that’s okay because each type of bird has just the tool they need to survive handily attached right to its face – its beak! How does each bird use its beak to find food? Sara Levine and Kate Slater let you take a peek at how birds’ beaks are uniquely suited for the foods they eat and the places where they find it as well as for grooming and nest-building.

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Image copyright Kate Slater, 2021, text copyright Sara Levine, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Take that straw we people use to sip up every last drop of a delicious milkshake or glass of lemonade, for instance. Which bird “has a beak shaped like a straw? A hummingbird!” And while hummingbirds don’t “suck up nectar from flowers” through their beaks, “they use their beaks to make their way into tight, narrow places where flowers store nectar. Then their long tongues reach in to gather the treat.” 

If you look into the family toolbox, you’ll probably find a hammer and a needle-nosed pliers. Are there birds whose beaks do similar jobs as these? You bet! The rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker searching for grubs or insects in a tree trunk sounds just about the same as the tap-tap-tap or bang-bang-bang of a hammer, and there are shoreline birds that use their long, thin beaks to “probe deep into the mud to find crustaceans, insects, and worms. A special sensory organ at the beak’s tip lets the bird feel when a meal is nearby.” Can you guess which ones they are?

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Image copyright Kate Slater, 2021, text copyright Sara Levine, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Kids who love helping out in the kitchen will be fascinated to learn that there are birds with beaks that act as strainers, nutcrackers, knives, and tongs. And if you think we’re sophisticated with our central air-conditioning one very distinct bird is born with this capability, while a more common bird has one-upped our technological advances by offering it’s chicks a one-touch “take-out” button long before the smartphone was ever developed. 

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Image copyright Kate Slater, 2021, text copyright Sara Levine, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Sure, you might think – birds can find food and build nests with their beaks, but can they show love? The answer is… Yes! The gannet is especially adept at demonstrating their feelings, and they don’t care who hears it. While “many birds show affection with their beaks,… gannets particularly stand out. These birds raise their beaks in the air and clatter them together to show how much they like each other.” After you’ve learned about all of these amazing birds and their beaks, maybe you’d like to raise a ruckus to show your appreciation too! 

Back matter includes a discussion on the evolution of bird beaks and how they change over time and a list of other books for further reading.

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Image copyright Kate Slater, 2021, text copyright Sara Levine, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Bird, nature, and science lovers as well as teachers and homeschoolers will be fascinated with Sara Levine’s clever way to engage kids in learning about birds by comparing their beaks to well-known tools children and adults use every day. Especially interesting are descriptions of the birds whose beaks’ special abilities are hidden, such as water birds that use their beaks as strainers to filter out water, sand and dirt before swallowing the nutritious plants and animals left behind. Along with information on the construction of birds’ beaks and how, exactly, birds use them, readers learn about the diet of various species and where they hunt for food.

Levine is always an insightful and captivating educator who sparks kids’ interest in nature-science learning and spurs them to further research. Her question-and-answer format gets kids thinking, observing, and theorizing in a way that increases understanding and resonates across subject matter. At-home birdwatchers will also enjoy watching out for the birds depicted in this book and their behavior.

Kate Slater’s mixed-media collage illustrations are vibrant and textured, adding lovely depth to each page. Her silhouettes of birds sporting tool where it’s beak should be are intriguing invitations for kids to ponder and guess at the answers to Levine’s questions before turning the page to discover the answer. Slater populates the pages with a wide variety of birds, realistically depicted, that will kindle an interest in readers and adults to delve into further research on these fascinating and charming creatures.

A unique and high-interest way to engage kids in learning about birds and nature, A Peek at Beaks: Tools Birds Use is highly recommended for bird-lovers at home as well as for science, environment, and nature learning collections in schools and public libraries. 

Ages 5 – 9

Millbrook Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1541587342

Discover more about Sara Levine and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kate Slater, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Read a New Book Month Activity

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Busy Birds Coloring Pages

 

These birds are busy looking for and gathering food to eat! Grab your crayons, pencils, or markers, print the pages, and give the birds and their surroundings some color!

Hummingbird at Flower | Robin Grabbing a Worm | Bird on Branch

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You can find A Peek at Beaks: Tools Birds Use at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 2 – I AM TODAY Blog Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

I’m thrilled to be a stop on the blog tour for I Am Today by Matt Forrest Esenwine and Patricia Pessoa. This season of giving is the perfect time to share this gorgeous book that reflects the desire of children to give their thoughts, talents, and actions to causes that are meaningful to them. If you’d like to follow I Am Today’s blog tour, see the graphic below for further dates and blogs.

I Am Today

Written by Matt Forrest Esenwine | Illustrated by Patricia Pessoa

 

A child stands on the edge of the beach, letting the sea foam run over her bare toes. Below, a turtle wrapped in a strand of wire floats nearby, while in the background a factory belches smog into the air, and a pipe snakes over the dunes to the water, where it spills its industrial waste. As the child picks up the turtle and removes the wire, she states, “Grown-ups say I am the Future.” Then while releasing the freed turtle, she finishes her thought: “But I’d rather be the Now.” The child then makes her case, explaining that she’s ready to contribute in positive ways, having learned decency, fairness, and generosity from her family and other role models.

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Image copyright Patricia Pessoa, 2021, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2021. Courtesy of POW! Kids Books.

The memory of the turtle she saved stays with her—her one small act inspiring her to do more. She determines “if I see something isn’t right, / I need to take a stand! / Why wait to offer kindness? / Why wait to lend a hand?” While trying to go to sleep, the little turtle and a whole sea of fish and other creatures swim in her mind. Suddenly, she has an idea and gets out of bed. She writes note after note and folds each paper into origami turtles. She then goes to her window and releases them on the wind.

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Image copyright Patricia Pessoa, 2021, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2021. Courtesy of POW! Kids Books.

The next morning, despite the rain, a crowd of children has gathered at the child’s door—all are holding her note. They and their parents and other adults, many carrying signs urging protection for the sea animals, march down the sidewalk and past the polluting factory to the beach. Living in that moment, they think: “The past is far behind us, / the future, well beyond. / There’s never been / a better time to listen… / …learn… / …respond!”

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Image copyright Patricia Pessoa, 2021, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2021. Courtesy of POW! Kids Books.

At the beach the group fans out across the sand to pick up debris, and a turn of the page reveals a clean beach and a newspaper containing a front-page article on the factory’s waste pipe that has been closed. “Someday I’ll be the Future” the child says, “But right now… / …I am Today.”

Illustrated instructions on how to make an origami turtle follow the story.

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Image copyright Patricia Pessoa, 2021, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2021. Courtesy of POW! Kids Books.

Children, having lived on our planet for only a few years, are all progress, moving forward, not looking back yet as each day they learn something new, develop another skill, break old barriers, and form unique opinions. So it’s no surprise that kids are concerned about what is happening today and how it will affect the future—their future and the world’s. In I Am Today, Matt Forrest Esenwine harnesses that power of wonder, confidence, and ambition that children possess and gives it a lyrical voice. Flowing with a rhythm as stirring as ocean swells, Esenwine’s story will resonate deeply within any child’s heart.

While Patricia Pessoa’s lovely illustrations depict a child concerned with protecting the ocean and its creatures, Esenwine’s text is universal and equally inspiring for any child and any cause. While recognizing the desire and ability of children and young people to bring about change, Esenwine also provides concrete ways that they can do so, from small gestures to larger actions, allowing all readers to feel included and important. I Am Today also presents a meaningful way for kids and adults to talk about causes that are important to them and ways that they can get involved.

With a warm, vivid color palette and fresh perspectives that allow readers to make some of their own deductions, Patricia Pessoa presents a lush landscape of a child’s family life, imagination, and ideas brought to fruition. Her images of the family’s picture wall and dinner time are full of heart and humor, and kids will enjoy lingering over the pages to catch all the action. Pessoa portrays the importance of saving the turtles and other sea creatures with clever imagery as the turtle appears in the bathroom mirror as the child brushes her teeth, swimming in the bathtub, and decorating the cup of water on her nightstand. Pessoa’s illustrations of the fish and other ocean creatures that fill the child’s mind are especially beautiful, as is the spread in which she sends her origami messengers out into the world.

I Am Today is an inspiring, uplifting, and motivational book that children will want to frequently revisit and one that families, classrooms, schools, and public libraries will want to add to their collections. The book’s beauty and message makes it a wonderful gift for any child on your list.

Ages 4 – 8 and up

POW! Kids Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1576879948

Discover more about Matt Forrest Esenwine, his books, and his poetry on his website.

You can connect with Patricia Pessoa on Instagram.

Check out these upcoming dates and discover how other bloggers are celebrating I Am Today

I Am Today Blog Tour Schedule

This year many books have been delayed from their original publishing date to a later time due to shipping and supply issues. The best way to support authors and their wonderful new books is to preorder titles from your favorite bookseller. I Am Today will be available January 23, 2022.

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You can preorder I Am Today at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 3 – It’s Family Literacy Month

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About the Holiday

National Family Literacy Month was designed to encourage parents and other adults to read together with the children in their life. Studies show that children who are read to are better prepared to read on their own and do better in school. Cuddling together before bedtime or during special story times with favorite books instills a love of reading that can last a lifetime. To celebrate, plan some special reading-related activities: take a trip to a local bookstore and let your child pick a book; if your child is old enough, visit the library to sign up for a library card; and schedule extra reading time, especially with grandparents or other family members who may be visiting for the holidays. A fun and educational board book like today’s book is a perfect way to get little ones enthusiastic about reading as they grow older!

Thank you to Abrams Appleseed and Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media for sharing Odd Beasts: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals with me for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Odd Beasts: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals

Written by Laura Gehl | Illustrated by Gareth Lucas

 

From their earliest years, kids are attracted to animals, whether for their fluffy coats, enthusiastic “kisses,” or silly antics. They love visiting the zoo and the aquarium to see – and maybe even touch – animals and sea creatures from around the world. And they’re always excited to meet new animals through the books they read. Through an age-appropriate short, charming poem played out over eight boldly illustrated pages, Laura Gehl does just that, introducing kids to a few of the earth’s most unusual animals. 

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Image copyright Gareth Lucas, 2021, text copyright Laura Gehl, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed.

Gehl begins with an animal from Asia and Africa that at first glance might appear like an unlikely combination of an anteater and a fish – the pangolin! Turning the page, readers do meet a fish – and what a fish! “This sunfish weighs a ton.” Another ocean dweller is introduced two pages later: “This angler sees no sun.” Readers will be equally charmed by a turtle whose “neck is long,” and a clever camouflaged insect whose “jumps are strong.”

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Image copyright Gareth Lucas, 2021, text copyright Laura Gehl, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed.

In addition to these three quirky creatures, kids get to know a glass frog, a long-horned orb-weaver spider, and a bush baby. Then Gehl tickles kids’ funny bone with a surprising perspective about how beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Following her lyrical pages, Gehl presents readers with a factual paragraph about each critter that reveals more about the trait that makes them so unusual and where they live. These descriptions are accompanied by a full-color photograph of the animal so kids can get a close-up view of nature’s amazing adaptations.

For young nature-lovers in the making, Odd Beasts: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals is an engaging way to introduce them to a few creatures from around the world that will whet their appetite for more discovery. The book would be a much-read addition to home, classroom, and school and public library bookshelves.

Ages 2 – 4

Abrams Appleseed, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419742224

Discover more about Laura Gehl and her books on her website.

You can connect with Gareth Lucas on Instagram and Twitter

Family Literacy Day Activity

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Odd Beasts Coloring Pages

 

These odd beasts could use some color! Download and print these three coloring sheets from Laura Gehl’s website!

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You can find Odd Beasts: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review