June 10 – It’s National Rivers Month

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About the Holiday

Rivers are beautiful, provide recreation, and are crucial to our water supply. Did you know that in the United States 65% of our drinking water comes from rivers and streams? This month environmentalists and others work to promote awareness of the importance of keeping the nation’s rivers pollution free to protect the fish and animals that call them home and increase enjoyment for all. To help the cause, find out how you can help an environmental organization in your area. This year get to know your local river system and the insects and animals that live in and near these rivers. 

Thanks to Sleeping Bear Press for sending me a copy of Mae the Mayfly for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own.

Mae the Mayfly

Written by Denise Brennan-Nelson | Illustrated by Florence Weiser

 

“Near the bank of the river one warm spring day / a new life began, and her name was Mae.” Before her mama said goodbye, she hugged her daughter and told her that she had her “whole life—a day, perhaps more” to explore her world. As Mae flitted along the river, a large, hungry trout waited for just the right moment to lure her in. It smiled deceitfully and beckoned to her, and, even though her inner voice told her not to, Mae flew down closer to take a look.

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Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

That’s when the trout leapt from the water to snatch Mae from the air. But she darted and dodged and got away. Shaking with fear, Mae found a hole in a hollow tree and flew in. “I’ll stay here forever! I’m not coming out!” she told herself.  But once her heart stopped beating so loud, she heard a happy tweet and peeked out of the tree. She saw a mother robin feeding her chicks and a spider web glittered in the sun. “The mist on the river was a fine, pink cloak. / A bullfrog bellowed his morning croak.” 

Mae remembered what her Mama had said and “launched herself from the dark, hollow place.” She followed the river, where she saw flowers and birds, a deer and a bear and one “stubby toad.” Then, she came to a clearing where she found “a singing, dancing jamboree… a wild mayfly jubilee! / Joining in, Mae danced with glee!”

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Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

As morning turned to afternoon, Mae was floating on the breeze when she heard a call for help. She went in search of who it was and found Trout lying motionless and barely breathing. Fearful that he might leap at her again, she carefully went closer to inspect. “But Trout was weak, no flip or flail. / Tangled line had caught his tail.” Then Mae noticed something else—his shimmering “rainbow stripes in every hue, silver, pink, and shades of blue.” And in his eyes she saw his fear and realized that she and Trout were alike.

Mae went to work to try to free him. The knot was tight, but Mae worked patiently until the line slipped free and Trout swam away with the current. Mae hoped that he would be okay. Just then she saw a flash as Trout returned and with a flip of his tail said, “Thank you.” As nighttime settled over the river and the moon rose high, Mae settled on a cattail leaf. She listened to the bullfrogs and watched the fireflies glow. “The stars came out early for  sweet, little Mae. / She counted each one… then called it a day.”

Back matter includes a message about mindfulness, an exercise to try and facts about mayflies.

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Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Soaring and uplifting, Denise Brennan-Nelson’s unique story reminds children and adults alike to live each day to the fullest and reveals where the treasures that make life so fulfilling can be found. The short lifespan of a mayfly gives Brennan-Nelson a perfect canvas for compressing the lessons of a lifetime into one day, and her superlative storytelling incorporates parental love, fear, appreciation for our surroundings, courage, selflessness, and friendship. Her language is triumphant, carried breezily on rhyming couplets that are a joy to read aloud. The pitch-perfect ending may bring a tear to the eye but spur readers to find the beauty in every day.

Through Florence Weiser’s lovely textured illustrations, readers can almost feel the breeze ruffling the tall grasses, the spray of river water, and the warmth of the sun as they follow Mae on her adventure. Mae is a cutie with lacy wings and a sweet, expressive face. A powerful image of empathy comes in a close-up, two-page spread in which Mae, looking into Trout’s frightened eye, sees her own reflection. Whereas up to now Mae has been an observer of life, she now becomes an active participant by helping a fellow creature. Working in perfect tandem with Brennan-Nelson’s text, Weiser’s pages take readers on a journey of growth and discovery they’ll take to heart. Calming shades of green dotted with subtle pinks, purples blues, and browns reflect Mae’s mindful approach to life, making this a delightful book to share for quiet story times.

Beautiful and resonant, Mae the Mayfly is highly recommended and would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110519

Discover more about Denise Brennan-Nelson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Florence Weiser, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Denise Brennan-Nelson

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Denise Brennan-Nelson has written a number of books for children, including Tallulah: Mermaid of the Great Lakes, Leopold the Lion, Someday Is Not a Day of the Week, My Momma Likes to Say, Santa’s Secret, and the popular Willow series. As a national speaker, Denise encourages adults and children to tap into their imaginations to create richer, fuller lives. She travels the country, sharing her reading and writing enthusiasm with schoolchildren and teachers. Denise lives in Howell, Michigan with her husband, Bob. She strives to spend each day teaching and learning with a creative spirit. Find out more about Denise at www.denisebrennannelson.com.

Today, I’m really thrilled to be talking with Denise Brennan-Nelson about her inspiring story, her journey in writing it, and how we can all appreciate the life around us. My blog partner Jakki’s sons, Jack and Steve, also loves Mae the Mayfly and had a few questions of their own. 

Jack wonders: What inspired you to write about a mayfly? 

The inspiration to write about a mayfly came when I discovered that they live, on an average, only one day. I started digging and discovered that while mayflies have many interesting qualities, it was their life cycle that reeled me in and set the basis for the story: a mayfly begins as an egg, then hatches into a nymph. It then lives as a nymph for one to three years before emerging from the water as an adult. Once they have molted––the only insect known to molt twice!––they only have about a day to live. ONE DAY? How do you live your entire life in ONE day? Where would you go? What would you do? I had so many questions. And so, the journey began!

Steve would like to know: Where is your favorite place to go and enjoy nature?

Our backyard has many trees and a few paths to meander on. One of those paths leads to a playhouse that my husband built years ago for our children, Rebecca and Rachel. I love to sit on the steps and take it all in––especially the forever-changing trees and the way the light filters through them. It’s quiet and I watch the birds and the chipmunks, squirrels, and occasionally deer show up. It’s far enough away from our house that I can forget about my “to-do” list and relax.

There are also a couple of parks nearby that have trails and lakes and offer a beautiful place to enjoy nature.

Jack and Steve asked if you spent a lot of time at a pond while creating the story.

No, I didn’t spend a lot of time at a pond, but I did a lot of research to help me visualize the setting.

In early drafts, I pictured Mae’s life beginning on a pond but as the story emerged it turned into a river. Unlike a pond, a river “flows.” It seemed to fit with the ebb and flow of Mae’s life.

The river became integral to the story; Mae’s life began there, she experiences a harrowing ordeal with Trout, which causes her to flee the river out of fear, but ultimately, Mae returns “home” to the river and completes her life. (This was in keeping with a mayfly’s lifecycle.)  

Hi Denise! I love your answers to Jack and Steve’s questions! What an amazing character a mayfly makes. You’ve published many, many books for kids. What inspired you to become a children’s writer? What’s the best part about your job?

I had been happily writing for myself – journals and poetry mostly – when inspiration came knocking at my door in the form of a documented study about bumblebees. According to scientists, bumblebees are not “equipped” to fly. Aeronautically, their wings are too small for their bodies. Upon hearing that, I was compelled to write what was in my head and my heart. I wanted to answer the questions I had: What would happen if bumblebees found out about their small wings? Would fear and doubt stop them from doing what they love to do? Once it was written, I felt I had written something that I wanted to share with others. Four years and many rejection letters later, my first book, Buzzy the Bumblebee was published.

The best part about my job is creating something – taking an idea and turning it into something new that entertains and inspires children and adults. I also love the freedom to work when and where I want to, often in my pajamas in the wee hours of the morning.

Mae the Mayfly is a gorgeous, poignant reminder for both kids and adults to look around and appreciate the beauty all around us. Not only the mayfly, but all of the sights that Mae sees are ephemeral parts of nature. How did you choose each of these?

I felt they had to be simple, yet remarkable acts of nature that would draw Mae out from the hollow of a tree. You know that awe-inspiring feeling you get when you discover a bird’s nest or a spider’s web? That was the basis for the sights and sounds Mae encountered.

I also drew from a trip to Yellowstone where the vivid images of rivers, flowers, bear cubs, and other magnificent acts of nature are forever embedded in my mind.

The rhymes of Mae the Mayfly are as light as she is, and your rhythm is as jaunty as a mayfly’s flight. Could you describe your journey in writing this story?

After learning of a mayfly’s short lifespan, the mulling-over period ensued. A lot of thinking and dialogue in my head takes place before taking pen to paper. Often, I share my initial thoughts with family and friends which helps the pieces come together.

I did more research, too. I watched a video showing how some mayfly nymphs resist the pull to come to the surface when it is time to shed their outer covering and expose their wings. After spending years at the bottom of the dark river, why would they resist? I wondered. Why would they want to stay at the bottom of the river when they could break through the surface into the light, and fly––if only for a day?

Ah, fear.

It was starting to come together – I would write about a mayfly and how beautiful and meaningful one day could be, if she can overcome her fears.

Initially, the story was written in prose and then I wrote it in verse. At one point, I even wrote a funny version for my kids about Mae being stubborn and not listening to her mama. That version didn’t end well for Mae, because, well, she didn’t listen to her mama! My kids got a kick out of it.

Before she was Mae, she was Martha. From Martha to Marvin. Then I changed it to May. And then May became Mae.

My first submission was declined. So, I gave it a rest. The idea was there but I needed to start over. I believed in this story with my whole being and I wasn’t giving up. In June 2018, I resubmitted it and in August I learned that Sleeping Bear Press wanted to move forward with it. I signed the contract in September and it was released in March of 2020 amid a pandemic. It wasn’t the launch I envisioned, but the story is about appreciating the simple things and living life to the fullest. It is also about empathy, fear, and gratitude. Perhaps the timing was just right.

Florence Weiser’s illustrations are adorable while truly highlighting the beauty of what Mae sees. Do you have a favorite spread? Why do you love it?

I love the cover and the end sheets, and the illustration of Mama saying good-bye to Mae tugs at my heart. But my favorite is the spread where Mae encounters Trout tangled in fishing line and Mae sees herself – literally and figuratively – in Trout’s eyes. Mae is confronted with a difficult decision between fear, or courage and compassion. This was a pivotal part of the story and Florence did a remarkable job capturing the emotion of both Mae and Trout.

You encourage people to be aware of and open to inspiration and those small moments in life that make them the best version of themselves they can be. How can kids and adults practice this kind of mindfulness while at home during this time of self-isolating and social distancing?

In a robust and enthusiastic voice my dad often proclaims, “This is living!” He says it with such conviction that you might think he won the lottery. On the contrary, he says it to express his delight over life’s simple/small pleasures; a sunset, eating a fresh-picked tomato from the vine, watching the birds, the daffodils sprouting, a delectable meal, a rainstorm . . .

I am by no means an expert on mindfulness, but I have learned a few things that help me enjoy life a little bit more:

  • Be aware/pay attention – the list of things to delight over is endless when we notice what is going on around us
  • Make room for quiet time and stillness every day
  • Focus on one thing at a time and do it with intention and purpose
  • Write down 3-5 things daily that you are grateful for. Do it as a family with a “family journal” or get a notebook for every member and make it a nightly ritual

Lately I’ve been asking people, “What do you like most about the shelter-in-place order that we are being asked to follow?” Over and over, I’ve heard, “It feels good to slow down . . . less hectic . . .” I hope we emerge from this unique experience with the realization that life is not a race, it’s a gift.

What inspires you each time you start a new story?

When I have an idea that interests me I feel invigorated and purposeful. What can I do with it? Where will it take me? What can I learn from it?

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes, “If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its only little lighthouse.”

Each time I begin a story I am hopeful that what I write “will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse.”

Thanks so much, Denise! This has been such a wonderful talk! I wish you all the best with Mae, the Mayfly and can’t wait to see more from you in the future.

You can connect with Denise Brennan-Nelson on 

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

National Rivers Month Activity

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World Rivers Word Search Puzzle

 

The world’s rivers provide homes for fish, animals, and birds; offer opportunities for recreation; and supply drinking water for millions. Can you find the names of twenty rivers of the world in this printable puzzle? Then learn where each river runs!

World Rivers Word Search | World Rivers Word Search Solution

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You can find Mae the Mayfly at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Sleeping Bear Press

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound 

Picture Book Review

May 20 – World Bee Day

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About the Holiday

Today is World Bee Day! These top-notch pollinators work hard to transport pollen from one flower to the next, so that plants can make their seeds, grow fruit, and launch the next generation of plants! In a larger sense, they keep the world spinning smoothly, by helping plants grow. World Bee Day was created by Slovenian beekeeper Bostjan Noc, president of the Slovenian Beekeepers Association, who first proposed the idea to the United Nations in 2014. The international holiday is meant to show appreciation for bees and other pollinators, and to acknowledge that some bee species are endangered. Make sure to respect and celebrate our bee friends today by reading books about bees, planting a pollinator garden, or installing a sustainable beekeeper. Visit https://www.worldbeeday.org/en/ and http://pollinator.org to learn about the importance of bees and the holiday. To summarize: bee friendly and keep reading.

Thanks to Millbrook Press for sharing a copy of How to Build an Insect for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Review by Dorothy Levine

How to Build an Insect

Written by Roberta Gibson | Illustrated by Anne Lambelet 

 

Have you ever wondered how to build an insect? Well, wonder no longer! Get ready to discover the world of creepy-crawlies with this hands-on, information-packed, quirky instruction-book! Ready to begin? First, gather your supplies. Got your “HEADS” jar? Great! Nearly every living creature has a head, and each one has a head that’s just right for them. So, pick a head from the jar and let’s get building. Next add a thorax and an abdomen to your creation. “What else should we add?” you may wonder. “What about bones like ours? Should we give it a skeleton? No. There isn’t any room for big bones inside a small insect. An insect has its skeleton on the outside. It is called an exoskeleton. The exoskeleton keeps the inside stuff in and the outside stuff out.” 

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Image copyright Anne Lambelet, 2021, text copyright Roberta Gibson, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

After the correct number of legs and wings go on, the critical (and funky) five senses are added. “How will our insect see? Let’s give it some eyes! How many? Two? Guess again. Five!” The fun facts continue as sensory elements are added. Did you know, “An insect can have its ears anywhere”? This is “music to my knee ears!” a grasshopper chirps in, adding a comedic flare.

Finally, after adorning insects with “hair, or horns, or spikes, or spots” the builder is instructed to finally give their creation “a place to live and a snack.” The completion of the insect and its release into its habitat is followed by an detailed spread of a fly up close that contains further information about different insect body parts. The book also includes a glossary and information on how to create critters out of art materials and recycled parts.  

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Image copyright Anne Lambelet, 2021, text copyright Roberta Gibson, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

The young narrator of How to Build an Insect leads readers on a journey of how to build an anatomically correct insect, with a new body part detailed on each spread. Readers will learn about comparative anatomy, what exactly classifies an insect as an insect, and how insect bodies compare to those of humans and other animals. With intricate illustrations detailing bug bits and parts, leaves, berries, skeletons, exoskeletons and a map of “how to” instructions, the book reads like a super-cool science scavenger hunt. The how-to pages are filled with scientific vocabulary that allows readers of all ages to learn the names of insect body parts, from thorax to mandibles, proboscis, cerci, spiracles, and more. 

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Image copyright Anne Lambelet, 2021, text copyright Roberta Gibson, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Roberta Gibson cleverly constructs a creative non-fiction storyline jam packed with enchanting scientific facts. Gibson pulled from her knowledge working as an entomologist and research specialist in crafting this fantastic premiere nonfiction picture book. Her well-crafted writing puts complex terms into digestible and interesting explanations that are accessible for kids and adults alike. The writing is snappy, humorous, educational and engaging, featuring silly insect dialogue, and questions bolded for readers to ponder. What more could one possibly ask for?

Anne Lambelet’s masterful illustrations not only provide visually entertaining content to accompany the story, but also provide further information and humor for curious, detail-oriented readers. Insects watch as a brown-skinned, unseen narrator assembles their own insect in their very own science learning space. Sometimes the insects pop in with silly dialogue or engage in human activities, all while maintaining their scientifically accurate appearances. The artwork matches the narrator’s curiosity and close attention to detail perfectly, while maintaining a funky, beautiful art style that is consistent throughout. Spreads are backed by beautiful bursts of purples and greens and feature labeled insect and human anatomy charts; intricate bug- and art-making tools are scattered throughout.

How to Build an Insect is a perfect book for science lovers, outdoorsy individuals, bug enthusiasts, and worm savers of all ages! Also, a good read for those who are less insect-lover-inclined to learn more about how these creatures are not all that different from us humans. A worthwhile addition to libraries, classrooms, and home collections. 

Ages 5 – 9

Millbrook Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1541578111

Discover more about Roberta Gibson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Anne Lambelet, her books, and her art, visit her website.

World Bee Day Activities

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Bee an Insect Lover Activities

 

Enjoy these fun and creative How to Build an Insect Activities and Experiments from Millbrook Press!

How to Build an Insect Activities

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Download this Pollinators and Agriculture Poster that artfully teaches about how pollinators work in harmony with agricultural landscapes.

Pollinators Poster

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You can find How to Build an Insect at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

to support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 10 – It’s Garden for Wildlife Month

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About the Holiday

As May’s warm weather and rain creates a perfect environment for growing a garden, today’s month-long holiday, established by the National Wildlife Federation, encourages people to plant a garden that will benefit birds, butterflies, bees, and other insect pollinators. This is easier than it may sound and can be accomplished in a variety of ways and sizes from a single pot or container to a dedicated “meadow” plot. Planting native flowering species makes a positive impact on your local area. To watch a video with five tips to help you garden for wildlife, find plants native to your region, and learn how to have your space recognized as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, visit the National Wildlife Federation website and Garden for Wildlife. Sharing today’s reviewed book is another wonderful way to learn how to make their yards, front gardens, and even whole neighborhoods inviting to wildlife.

A Garden to Save the Birds

Written by Wendy McClure | Illustrated by Beatriz Mayumi

 

One day while Callum and his sister Emmy were eating breakfast, a bird hit their window. They and their mom rushed outside to check on bird. It was okay and flew away, but that’s when Callum noticed that the window glass reflected the sky, and the birds couldn’t tell the difference. Later, Callum, Emmy, and their mom read about birds and learned lots of things they didn’t know – like how there are fewer birds now and how lights at night affect their migration. 

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Image copyright Beatriz Mayumi, 2021, text copyright Wendy McClure. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

They decide to do things around their house to help the birds. They put out feeders and add decals to the windows. “But some of the things we do to help the birds,” Callum says, “are the things we don’t do.” In the fall, they’re mindful of where birds can find food. Even the Halloween Jack-o-lantern plays a part. And they plant bulbs to prepare for spring. It doesn’t take long before they attract a lot of different kinds of birds.

At night they take to turning off the porch lights and lowering the blinds so as not to confuse the birds. Callum looks up at the sky to see dark silhouettes flying by. “I never knew so many birds migrated at night,” he says. “I know now the moon helps them find their way.” He likes that now they and “the moon are working together.”

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Image copyright Beatriz Mayumi, 2021, text copyright Wendy McClure. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

During the winter, Callum and Emmy make sure the birds have shelter and fresh water. They also talk to their neighbors about the birds and some of the changes they could make to help them. At first Callum thinks their next door neighbor isn’t interested in helping, but then they notice that he’s turned off his porch light too. It turns out that everyone on the block is making positive changes.

When spring and summer roll around again and all the flowers and grasses are blooming, Callum discovers that they’re not only helping the birds, but that bees, butterflies, and other pollinators are attracted to the neighborhood too. In fact, the neighborhood has made such an impact that it is recognized with a sign as a certified wildlife habitat. Callum is glad that they have all worked together to make their block a welcoming home for birds and other wildlife.

Backmatter includes a discussion on the decreasing bird population, how kids and their families can create welcoming environments around their homes, and online resources for more information.

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Image copyright Beatriz Mayumi, 2021, text copyright Wendy McClure. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

In her charming and educational story, Wendy McClure strikes just the right tone to engage kids in learning about birds and how they can make changes around their homes to attract and help nurture birds and pollinators. Her storytelling is friendly and kid-centric, and readers will be drawn to Callum’s perspective and concern for wildlife and want to get involved in local environmental activism themselves. Adults will also find helpful and interesting tips on simple ways to make a yard or even a small area bird– and pollinator-friendly. 

Beatriz Mayumi’s lovely and detailed illustrations depict the variety of backyard birds that visit inviting landscapes as well as the beauty of garden plantings. She also clearly and realistically portrays the kinds of feeders, water bowls, nesting boxes, and natural vegetation that attract birds year round. In her images, Mayumi also reminds readers about light pollution and where it comes from in a neighborhood setting. Her beautiful illustrations of the gardens created with such care as well as her depictions of Callum and his family and the whole neighborhood working together will inspire readers to get involved in helping to save the birds.

A charming and inspirational story as well as an excellent guide to turning any area into a sanctuary for birds and pollinators, A Garden to Save the Birds is a book that families and classrooms will turn to again and again. It is highly recommended for all kids and for public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8 

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807527535

Discover more about Wendy McClure and her books on her website.

To learn more about Beatriz Mayumi, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Garden for Wildlife Activity

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Garden for Wildlife Board Game

 

Plant flowers, install a bird feeder and birdbath, build some birdhouses, and leave a layer of leaves then invite the birds, butterflies, and bees to your garden plot to win the game!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print one set of playing cards and garden plot (if using) for each player
  2. Print playing die
  3. Color garden plot, paper, or paper plate (optional)
  4. Choose someone to go first.
  5. Each player gets one roll of the die per turn.
  6. Roll the die and place the face-up object in your garden plot. If the player rolls the bird, butterfly, and bee before they’ve added all the other elements, play passes to the next player 
  7. Players continue rolling the die and adding objects to their garden plots. After a player collects them all, they must roll the bird, butterfly, and bee to win.  

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-garden-for-the-birds-cover

You can find A Garden to Save the Birds at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 26 – National Audubon Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday honors John James Audubon, who was born on this date in 1785. Audubon was a French-American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter who traveled across America, documenting the birds he found in his detailed illustrations of them in their natural habitats. Audubon’s greatest work was The Birds of America, which is considered one of the finest ornithological works ever completed. This book contains more than 700 North American bird species with 435 hand-colored, life-size prints of 497 bird species. The Audubon Society is a far-reaching organization dedicated to conservation and education and is actively involved in issues that threaten bird populations. To learn more about the Audubon Society and its work, visit the organization’s website.

To celebrate today’s holiday, take a walk in your area or even your backyard and take special note of the birds you see. If you’d like to attract more birds to your backyard, consider hanging a bird feeder or making a temporary feeder from a pinecone, peanut butter, and seed as in the activity below. 

Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sending me a copy of Birds: Explore their extraordinary world for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Birds: Explore their extraordinary world

Written by Miranda Krestovnikoff | Illustrated by Angela Harding

 

To love birds is to marvel over everything about them from their smooth gliding flight and beautiful songs to their colorful plumage and intricate nests that protect fragile eggs from the elements and predators. With a stunning number of species, birds are found around the world and living in every kind of climate. In Miranda Krestovnikoff and Angela Harding’s eye-catching compendium, readers learn about seven families of birds – birds of prey, seabirds, freshwater birds, flightless birds, tropical birds, tree dwellers, and passerines. 

Each chapter opens with general facts on the behavior, anatomical features, and habitat that determine the order in which a bird is categorized. Integrated with this information are descriptions of specific birds within the order. In the section on Birds of Prey, for instance, readers learn about sparrowhawks; fish-eating ospreys; and golden eagles, which can “spot a rodent from over a mile away and a rabbit from nearly double that distance.” Children also learn about extreme birds of prey: the fastest, largest, smallest, tallest, and baldest and how their distinctive feature helps them thrive. Kids also discover how they “can tell when each species of owl prefers to hunt by looking at the color of its eyes.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-birds-explore-their-extraordinary-world-owls

Image copyright Angela Harding, 2020, text copyright Miranda Krestovnikoff, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

The next chapter takes readers to coastal areas to learn about the seabirds that scour the water from the sky, searching for food and waders, that are found along the water’s edge and “feed on the variety of high-protein invertebrates that lie hidden in the mud.” Children learn about the birds that populate warmer waters, such as blue-footed boobies, terns, and frigatebirds as well as those who survive in colder waters, such as gulls, and kittiwakes. Readers will also find a fascinating description of the gannet and learn how it can safely “dive into the sea at speeds of 60 miles an hour from an impressive height of up to 100 feet” to feed.

From sea birds, readers move on to freshwater birds like ducks, swans, grebes, and Canada geese. Even the bright flamingo is here with its distinctive scoop-shaped beak that is “uniquely designed to be used upside down and helps them to filter out tiny brine shrimps and blue-green algae from the water, which, when digested, give them their pink color.” The flamingo isn’t the only bird with an unusual way to acquire their prey, and kids will discover the clever ways pelicans, herons, and kingfishers (which use “objects such as sticks, feathers, and even discarded popcorn as lures”) find food.

And then there are the “more than 50 bird species across the world [that] stay firmly on the ground (or on water)” or just “choose not to fly very often.” These flightless birds include kiwis, kākāpōs, southern cassowaries, ostriches, and Penguins. Penguins vary in size, from the “little penguin (also known as the fairy or blue penguin)” which comes to shore to nest only at night and stave off predators with their oversized voices, to the emperor penguin. Occasional fliers include great bustards, domestic chickens, and tinamous.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-birds-explore-their-extraordinary-world-penguin

Image copyright Angela Harding, 2020, text copyright Miranda Krestovnikoff, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

When you hear about extravagant birds, you most likely think of tropical birds. “Rainforests are packed with a range of incredible species with dazzling plumage and bizarre courtship displays.” Readers will learn about the appearance and mating rituals of scarlet macaws, Raggiana birds of paradise, and the Andean cock-of-the-rock. A detailed description of the bowerbird and the male bird’s careful and artistic nest (or bower) building is funny, poignant, and even a little bit human. Then readers are treated to some tropical bird extremes: smallest bird, longest bill, and smelliest as well as a poisonous species and one that makes its own musical instrument.

Of course, woodlands are the home of many bird species, and in the chapter on Tree Dwellers, readers learn about acorn woodpeckers and great hornbills that use trees for food and shelter; tawny frogmouths and potoos that use trees for camouflage; and nuthatches, greater honeyguides, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers, which find all the food they need among the bark, leaves, and branches of trees.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-birds-explore-their-extraordinary-world-chickens

Image copyright Angela Harding, 2020, text copyright Miranda Krestovnikoff, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Next up are passerines, or perching birds, which make up the “largest group of birds, with over half of all known species falling into this category.” Corvids, a group that includes the common raven, crows, magpies, and rooks, are considered to be the most intelligent birds. “These birds have a remarkable ability to solve problems in order to find food, in some cases performing better than young children or chimpanzees!” Readers will be impressed with their tricks and clever use of tools (that even include cars). Children learn about cooperative breeders, which rely on their extended family to help raise the young from year to year. Passerines also include many of the garden birds we find in our backyards and which fill the air with song. Readers discover facts about blue tits, robins, and finches in this section.

The next sections give detailed and interesting information on the features we most associate with birds: their feathers, beaks, eyes, nesting habits, eggs, migration patterns, and birdsong. The book ends with perhaps the most adaptable birds in the world: those that make their homes on glaciers, mountain tops, and in the Arctic snow as well as urban birds, which live among people in crowded cities, nesting on tall cathedrals and skyscrapers and foraging for food in garbage cans and on the street.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-birds-explore-their-extraordinary-world-woodpeckers

Image copyright Angela Harding, 2020, text copyright Miranda Krestovnikoff, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

For young ornithologists, Miranda Krestovnikoff, a wildlife expert, offers a compelling, eye-opening, and accessible introduction to a wide variety of birds, placing them in their natural environments and revealing intriguing facts and tantalizing tidbits that inform and will spark a continued interest in learning more about the world’s feathered creatures. Krestovnikoff’s engaging writing style will captivate readers and keep them turning the pages to discover birds that are both familiar and new to them. The comprehensive nature of the book allows kids in all parts of the world to learn more about their native birds while creating a global connection with these most recognized and widely distributed creatures.

Accompanying Krestovnikoff’s text are Angela Harding’s beautiful linocuts that depict birds in mid-flight, capturing prey on land and water, engaging in mating rituals, and building and protecting their nests and young. Harding’s use of natural colors and exquisitely etched landscapes set off each bird in breathtaking illustrations that invite readers to linger to enjoy their full impact. Each illustration is captioned with the bird’s species.

A gorgeous and educational book that readers of all ages will love dipping into again and again, Birds: Explore their extraordinary world is a must for bird lovers and highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 7 and up

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 78-1408893913

Discover more about Miranda Krestovnikoff and her books on her website.

To learn more about Angela Harding, her books, and her art on her website.

National Audubon Day Activities

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-beautiful-birds-word-search

Beautiful Birds Word Search Puzzle

 

It’s fun to watch for different kinds of birds when you take a walk or in your own backyard. Can you find the names of twenty types of birds in this printable Beautiful Birds Word Search Puzzle? Here’s the Solution!

cpb-bird-feeder-i

Pinecone Bird Feeder

 

Pinecone bird feeders are quick to make and great for your backyard fliers. The combination of peanut butter, lard, or vegetable shortening and a quality seed mixture provide birds with the fat and nutrition they need to stay warm and healthy during the winter.

Supplies

  • Pinecones
  • Peanut butter, vegetable shortening, or lard
  • Birdseed
  • String
  • Knife or wooden spreader
  • Spoon

Directions

  1. Tie a long length of string around the middle of the pinecone
  2. Spread the peanut butter, vegetable shortening, or lard on the pinecone
  3. Sprinkle a thick coating of birdseed on the pinecone, pressing it into the covering so it will stick
  4. Tie the pinecone feeder onto a tree branch or other structure
  5. Watch the birds enjoy their meal!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-birds-explore-their-extraordinary-world-cover

You can find Birds: Explore their extraordinary world at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 27 – Earth Hour

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Lights-Out-cover

About the Holiday

Earth Hour was organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature as a way to engage people in the discussion on climate change. First enacted in Australia in 2007, the observance has grown to include cities, businesses, corporations, and individuals world wide. For one hour – from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. local time – participants will turn off all unnecessary lights in a show of solidarity and commitment to protecting our earth. Among the places going dark this year are the Empire State Building, the Space Needle, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Colosseum in Rome, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Sydney Opera House, and the Eiffel Tower. One action you can take is as easy as turning off a light – as today’s book shows. To read more about the holiday, find virtual events taking place around the world, and learn how you can participate, visit earthhour.org.

Lights Out

Written by Marsha Diane Arnold | Illustrated by Susan Reagan

 

A little fox peeks out of her den. It’s night, but her surroundings are lit up as if it were noon. A Beetle hovers nearby taking in all the “House lights / Car lights / Truck lights / Street lights… / Blinking lights / Flashing lights / Blazing lights / Flickering lights.” There are lights in every color and on every structure. Fox and Beetle wonder where Darkness is—the dark of Night that invites coyotes to sing, owls to hunt, foxes to hunt, and beetles to become “more than beetles.” Perhaps, they think, Night is lost.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Lights-Out-city

Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

Fox and Beetle set out to find Night. They pass a wetlands, where Frog waits in vain for darkness to lend his voice to the nighttime chorus. “Across the wide, wide world, / they search… / for the Dark of Night. / But everywhere – Lights!” Up on the mountain, Bear is waiting for the signal to hibernate, but the brightness keeps him awake. Frog and Bear join in the search for Night.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Lights-Out-wandering

Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

Fox and Beetle travel through forests and fields, over deserts and dunes, and across wide prairies, but don’t find Night. When they come to the seashore, they witness baby turtles hatching. Instead of scuttling toward the ocean, they’re running toward the lights of the boardwalk shops. Frog stops the little turtles then Bear, Fox, and Frog wade out into the waves and shows them the way.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Lights-Out-turtles

Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

The three friends swim “away from shore and lights” while Beetle and Songbird fly above. Out here, where the sky is dark, Beetle at last sparks and glows. At last the friends reach a far-away island that’s cloaked in darkness. Here “they can see…Everything…. / Mushrooms glowing / Fireflies / Moonlit garden / Shining eyes / Nighttime weavers / Webs of stars / Constellations / Venus, Mars….” Here, they find Night.

An Author’s Note discussing light pollution and its effect on animals and humans and including a resource where readers can learn more about light pollution and what we can do to help precedes the story.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Lights-Out-moon

Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

Marsha Diane Arnold’s affecting story about how light pollution changes animal behavior and confuses the natural order of life is a poignant appeal to today’s young environmentally conscious kids, sparking an awareness of the extent of the problem while inviting them to consider ways to restore the darkness of night so important to the health of our planet. Through non-rhyming, yet lyrical language, Arnold takes readers on a journey to find Night. As the friends search place after place, children come to understand that light pollution is a worldwide issue.

Arnold’s capitalization of Night and Darkness makes them characters in the story as well, imbued with living traits and purpose that are just as crucial to wildlife as food and shelter. In one powerful combination of text and illustration, a list of light sources streams from corner to corner in a beam of white light. The number of examples builds to create a glaring realization of all the types of lights that keep the world turned on twenty-four hours a day. After reading Lights Out, children and adults will find themselves paying attention to the lights around them and even in and near their own home.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Lights-Out-lights-on

Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

Susan Reagan’s stunning illustrations of cities, waterways, and even out-of-the-way places bathed in a permanent twilight by street lamps, headlights, lighted windows, neon signs, and more are compelling reminders of just how pervasive light pollution is. As the animals wander from place to place looking for Night, their weary and distressed expressions reflect the loss of their natural nocturnal activities. When Beetle and Fox and their friends reach the distant island, Reagan’s gorgeous spreads of a star-and-moonlit sky and vegetation, in which nocturnal animals hunt, luminescent flowers glow, and spider webs glint will have readers taking a nighttime jaunt to discover what they can see in their surroundings.

A unique and important book that raises awareness not only about light pollution but about natural cycles of sleep and wakefulness, Lights Out would be an excellent addition to lessons in science and the environment and is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 8

Creative Editions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1568463407

Discover more about Marsha Diane Arnold and her books on her website.

To learn more about Susan Reagan, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Earth Hour Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Lights-Out-activity

Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

Lights Out Activity Kit

 

This extensive Activity Kit gives teachers, homeschoolers, and parents many ways to engage with Lights Out in the disciplines of science, language arts, art, and social action. Through the various activities, children will learn about light pollution and its effects as well as about the ways in which darkness benefits wildlife. You can download the kit from Marsha Diane Arnold’s website:

Lights Out Activity Kit

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Lights-Out-cover

You can find Lights Out at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 4 – National Wildlife Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Lights-Out-cover

About the Holiday

National Wildlife Day was established in 2005 by author and pet lifestyle expert Colleen Paige to promote awareness of the importance of conservation of animals, habitats, and the environment worldwide as well as to acknowledge the education and conservation work of zoos and animal sanctuaries. To honor the memory and birthday of Steve Irwin, National Wildlife Day is also celebrated on February 2. To celebrate today’s holiday, take time to learn about what you can do to help protect the environment. One action might be as easy as turning off a light – as today’s book shows.

Lights Out

Written by Marsha Diane Arnold | Illustrated by Susan Reagan

 

A little fox peeks out of her den. It’s night, but her surroundings are lit up as if it were noon. A Beetle hovers nearby taking in all the “House lights / Car lights / Truck lights / Street lights… / Blinking lights / Flashing lights / Blazing lights / Flickering lights.” There are lights in every color and on every structure. Fox and Beetle wonder where Darkness is—the dark of Night that invites coyotes to sing, owls to hunt, foxes to hunt, and beetles to become “more than beetles.” Perhaps, they think, Night is lost.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Lights-Out-city

Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

Fox and Beetle set out to find Night. They pass a wetlands, where Frog waits in vain for darkness to lend his voice to the nighttime chorus. “Across the wide, wide world, / they search… / for the Dark of Night. / But everywhere – Lights!” Up on the mountain, Bear is waiting for the signal to hibernate, but the brightness keeps him awake. Frog and Bear join in the search for Night.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Lights-Out-wandering

Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

Fox and Beetle travel through forests and fields, over deserts and dunes, and across wide prairies, but don’t find Night. When they come to the seashore, they witness baby turtles hatching. Instead of scuttling toward the ocean, they’re running toward the lights of the boardwalk shops. Frog stops the little turtles then Bear, Fox, and Frog wade out into the waves and shows them the way.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Lights-Out-turtles

Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

The three friends swim “away from shore and lights” while Beetle and Songbird fly above. Out here, where the sky is dark, Beetle at last sparks and glows. At last the friends reach a far-away island that’s cloaked in darkness. Here “they can see…Everything…. / Mushrooms glowing / Fireflies / Moonlit garden / Shining eyes / Nighttime weavers / Webs of stars / Constellations / Venus, Mars….” Here, they find Night.

An Author’s Note discussing light pollution and its effect on animals and humans and including a resource where readers can learn more about light pollution and what we can do to help precedes the story.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Lights-Out-moon

Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

Marsha Diane Arnold’s affecting story about how light pollution changes animal behavior and confuses the natural order of life is a poignant appeal to today’s young environmentally conscious kids, sparking an awareness of the extent of the problem while inviting them to consider ways to restore the darkness of night so important to the health of our planet. Through non-rhyming, yet lyrical language, Arnold takes readers on a journey to find Night. As the friends search place after place, children come to understand that light pollution is a worldwide issue.

Arnold’s capitalization of Night and Darkness makes them characters in the story as well, imbued with living traits and purpose that are just as crucial to wildlife as food and shelter. In one powerful combination of text and illustration, a list of light sources streams from corner to corner in a beam of white light. The number of examples builds to create a glaring realization of all the types of lights that keep the world turned on twenty-four hours a day. After reading Lights Out, children and adults will find themselves paying attention to the lights around them and even in and near their own home.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Lights-Out-lights-on

Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

Susan Reagan’s stunning illustrations of cities, waterways, and even out-of-the-way places bathed in a permanent twilight by street lamps, headlights, lighted windows, neon signs, and more are compelling reminders of just how pervasive light pollution is. As the animals wander from place to place looking for Night, their weary and distressed expressions reflect the loss of their natural nocturnal activities. When Beetle and Fox and their friends reach the distant island, Reagan’s gorgeous spreads of a star-and-moonlit sky and vegetation, in which nocturnal animals hunt, luminescent flowers glow, and spider webs glint will have readers taking a nighttime jaunt to discover what they can see in their surroundings.

A unique and important book that raises awareness not only about light pollution but about natural cycles of sleep and wakefulness, Lights Out would be an excellent addition to lessons in science and the environment and is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 8

Creative Editions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1568463407

Discover more about Marsha Diane Arnold and her books on her website.

To learn more about Susan Reagan, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Wildlife Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Lights-Out-activity

Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

Lights Out Activity Kit

 

This extensive Activity Kit gives teachers, homeschoolers, and parents many ways to engage with Lights Out in the disciplines of science, language arts, art, and social action. Through the various activities, children will learn about light pollution and its effects as well as about the ways in which darkness benefits wildlife. You can download the kit from Marsha Diane Arnold’s website:

Lights Out Activity Kit

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Lights-Out-cover

You can find Lights Out at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 30 – International Day of Friendship

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-our-world-cover

About the Holiday

Established in 2011 by the United Nations General Assembly, the International Day of Friendship asserts the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures, and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities. The UN resolution places particular emphasis on involving young people in community activities that include different cultures and promote respect for individual diversity. On this day UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urges everyone, especially young people who will be our future leaders, “to resolve to cherish and cultivate as many warm relationships as possible, enriching our own lives and enhancing the future.” The day is celebrated with special initiatives, events, and activities that promote dialogue, education, understanding, and cooperation. Children are especially receptive to learning about and reaching out to others to achieve common goals. Today’s book can get them started. For more information about the International Day of Friendship and a list of actions we can all take, visit the United Nations website

Our World: A First Book of Geography

Written by Sue Lowell Gallion | Illustrated by Lisk Feng

 

A board book like no other, Our World literally gives kids a well-rounded look at the geography of the countries, oceans, animals, plants, and climate that make up our home planet while engaging them with lyrical verses and information-packed paragraphs. Sue Lowell Gallion invites readers on her journey around the world as the sun, rising over a cool sea where scuba divers swim, brightens the sky with pastel colors: “Many places to explore, / From mountain peaks to ocean floor. / Look around you, step outside… / Find forests tall, / And grasslands wide.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-our-world-open

Image copyright Lisk Feng, 2020, text copyright Sue Lowell Gallion, 2020. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Over the three spreads that contain this verse, children learn how the weather influences the types of trees that inhabit wooded areas and what types of leaves they have. Next, Gallion contrasts forests with open grasslands and reveals that while trees may be scarce on the plains, a diversity of animals is not. While herbivores easily find plenty to satisfy their hunger in grassy environments, carnivores must hunt, and their prey have adapted to survive: “Many animals, like zebras, are fast runners because there are few places to hide.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-our-world-swimming

Image copyright Lisk Feng, 2020, text copyright Sue Lowell Gallion, 2020. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Traveling on to the world’s lush rainforests, Gallion provides little learners with enticing snippets of information about the profusion of plants and animals that live here. What might be the counterpoint to rainforests? If you’d say deserts, you’d be right! While some deserts are hot and others cold, Gallion writes, “all deserts have one thing in common: it almost never rains.” Still, an amazing variety of plants and animals thrive in these formidable conditions. Gallion shares how with her young readers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-our-world-deserts

Image copyright Lisk Feng, 2020, text copyright Sue Lowell Gallion, 2020. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Antarctica and the icy tundra of the Arctic and high mountain peaks are populated with animals specially suited to life in our planet’s coldest regions. But, Gallion reveals, “the ice covering both the North and South poles is melting fast now. This makes temperatures and ocean levels rise around the world.” The book’s journey also spans “rivers, lakes, / Oceans deep. / Valleys, hills, / Mountains steep.” Over these pages, children learn how rivers form and where they flow; they discover what types of creatures live in shallow ocean waters as well as those pockets that are “deeper than the tallest mountains on Earth”; and they learn how the most majestic mountains and their valleys were created. 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-our-world-antarctica

Image copyright Lisk Feng, 2020, text copyright Sue Lowell Gallion, 2020. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

One two-page spread opens to a world map, where the seven continents and major oceans, seas, and gulfs are clearly labeled. Children will love pointing out where they, friends, and family live as well as places they’d like to visit someday. Panning back and back and back again, readers see Earth floating in space as Gallion explains “what makes life on Earth possible for plants, animals, and humans, too.” Then it’s time to zoom in to view a single house under a star-lit sky; a house that will spark in readers an appreciation for the wonder of “our blue planet, / Warmed by sun: / A living home for everyone.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-our-world-from-space

Image copyright Lisk Feng, 2020, text copyright Sue Lowell Gallion, 2020. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Sue Lowell Gallion’s enchanting poem and informational text, which is sure to inspire kids to learn more about all of Earth’s natural wonders, are set off in a unique design which allows the book to open into a 3D, freestanding globe that will wow kids and adults alike. Magnets embedded in the front and back cover hold the spherical shape while the fanned-out pages create a sturdy base. 

Giving this view of the world its vibrant and distinctive look are Lisk Feng’s spectacular illustrations of dawn-streaked hills, forests frosted white in winter and ablaze with color in autumn, and an array of creatures big and small that make each region exceptional. The image of the rainforest is especially rich, with its multi-hued vegetation that hides a snake, a jaguar, a toucan, a crocodile, and more creatures that kids will love searching for. Transitioning from the world map to a view of Earth from outer space to a single home at the end of the book reminds readers of their singularly important place in the world as individuals and as custodians of its resources.

A gorgeous and perfectly designed book to spark learning and research about the world’s natural features, Our World: A First Book of Geography is a must for children who love travel, nature, science, social studies, and learning about the environment. It would be a valuable asset for every classroom and homeschooler as well as a favorite pick for public library collections.

Ages 2 – 6

Phaidon Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1838660819

Discover more about Sue Lowell Gallion and her books on her website.

A Chat with Sue Lowell Gallion

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Sue-Lowell-Gallion-headshot

Sue Lowell Gallion writes for children because she is passionate about children, reading, and any combination of the two! She’s the author of the award-winning Pug Meets Pig and more.

Sue has three books releasing in 2020. Our World, A First Book of Geography, illustrated by Lisk Feng, is a uniquely formatted board book that opens up to form a free standing globe. Her latest picture book is All Except Axle, illustrated by Lisa Manuzak Wiley, is the story of a new car anxious about leaving the assembly plant and learning to drive. Tip and Tucker Paw Painters is the third in her early reader series written with her author pal Ann Ingalls and illustrated by Andre Ceolin. 

Welcome, Sue! As soon as I saw Our World (and, of course, played with it a bit), I knew I had to talk with you about your and Lisk Feng’s eye-popping book. Our World: A First Book of Geography is stunning! Can you take readers on the journey from your original idea for this book to how it became this 3D, free-standing beauty?

I’m a huge fan of the innovative, creative board books on the market now that are such fun for kids and adults to share. Also, I grew up in a family printing company, so I’m intrigued with paper engineering and unique book forms. We did a lot of hand bindery work at home on unusual jobs like pop-up advertising pieces. I was a pro with a tape machine early on.

I went to an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) workshop on board books for authors and illustrators in late 2017. During a brainstorming time, I imagined a board book about the Earth in the shape of a globe with its stand. Afterward, I searched the market to see if something like this already existed. It didn’t! Over the next month, I wrote a rhyming text to match that concept.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Sue-Gallion-interview-apollo08-earthrise

The iconic Earthrise image taken from Apollo 8 in 1968 was part of my initial vision. From space, there are no national borders. I hope this book might inspire people around the world to further value our world, and to act to save and protect our planet and its environment. The melting glaciers, catastrophic weather changes, and other effects of climate change show that immediate action is long overdue.  

When the Phaidon team became interested in the manuscript, we started revising. I can’t tell you how many versions there were over a year and a half! The manuscript went from 56 words to almost 1,000 with the addition of supplementary nonfiction text for older kids. Maya Gartner, the editor, and Meagan Bennett, the art director, are in Phaidon’s London office. The two of them, plus Lisk Feng, the illustrator, were a great team. Many other Phaidon staff were involved in making this idea into a reality, of course. The way the front and back covers connect magnetically to hold the book open is incredible. My 88-year-old printer dad is impressed!

From the cover – which, with its chugging steamer, wheeling seabirds, and diving whale, seems to be in motion – to its lush interior spreads, Lisk Feng’s illustrations are gorgeous representations of each area. What was your first impression of her artwork? How were the final images chosen? Do you have a favorite?

My Phaidon editor told me they had been wanting to do a project with Lisk Feng for some time. I could see why! My first impression of her work was from her website and the middle grade nonfiction book Everest, written by Sangma Francis and illustrated by Lisk (Flying Eye Books, 2018.) It is a fascinating and gorgeous book; do get your hands on a copy! I was thrilled with the opportunity to create a nonfiction book with Lisk.

We worked to make sure each continent and a variety of geographic locations are represented in the illustrations. Each spread representing a biome is based on specific locations that both Lisk and I researched. As the illustrations were in process, I continued to research and revise the text to match the art.

My favorite spread changes all the time. I love the jungle/rainforest spread. The colors and composition are amazing. And I’ve been drawn to the water feature spread, which illustrates rivers, lakes, and oceans, from the very beginning.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Sue-Gallion-interview-Our-World-rainforest

Image copyright Lisk Feng, 2020, text copyright Sue Lowell Gallion, 2020. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

As far as the cover, one of the themes of the book is the connectedness of the world. Early versions of the manuscript included how transportation links the world, and that’s represented on the cover. It’s another conversation point with kids – where would you like to go, and how could you get there? Which oceans would you fly over or sail through?

The text is a combination of lyrical, rhyming verses and explanatory paragraphs that are just right for introducing the youngest readers as well as older kids to geography. How did you choose which details to include? How would you recommend readers, teachers, and homeschoolers use Our World?

I’d love to direct your readers to the two activity guides for the book. One is for babies through kindergarteners, and another guide has games to use with a globe beach ball. Some work with a real globe, too. Globe beach balls are inexpensive and easy to find online. The games can be as simple as playing catch and noticing whether your hand is holding land or water – and a child is learning how much of our earth is covered with ocean. The guides are free to download from my website, suegallion.com, under Resources. Most libraries have globes, so that’s one more reason to go to the library!

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The dual narrative makes the book appeal to a range of ages, I hope. The rhyming text is an introduction, and the supplementary text adds more. We tried to make the text interactive, to encourage conversation and further learning. For example, in the spread about water features (lakes, rivers, and oceans) we mention that places in the ocean are as deep as the tallest mountains on land. Perhaps that will inspire a family to talk about Dr. Kathy Sullivan, the first woman to walk in space, who recently dove in a submersible to Challenger Deep, the deepest known point on Earth, located in the Pacific Ocean.

It was important to me to include the fact that ocean water is too salty to drink. An easy experiment to do with kids is to have them mix their own saltwater and see what it tastes like. This can lead to a conversation about how in many places people don’t have enough safe, clean freshwater to drink, and what happens when people have to drink dirty or polluted water.

I hope as kids and adults turn the pages to reveal different places in our world, they can talk about contrasts and similarities. What would it be like to live in this place? What would you feel or hear if you were there? What else would you like to know?

Why do you think it’s important for children to learn geography from the earliest ages?

A child’s understanding of the world around them begins at birth, then grows as sight, dexterity, and mobility develop. I like the definition of geography as learning place and space. Spatial thinking and mapping skills are important to understanding concepts later on in math, the sciences, history, and more.

Experiencing other places, either in person or through books, can expand a young child’s world tremendously. Books can help kids feel a connection with places they haven’t been, and people they’ve never met. And in our nature-deficit culture, books also encourage kids and families to explore the outdoors and expand curiosity.

Which of the areas described in the book most closely resembles where you live? What do you like best about this area? Have you ever traveled to any of the other regions in the book? What surprised you most about it/them?

I live on the eastern edge of the Great Plains in the U.S., a grassland biome. In the book, grasslands are represented by the African savanna. We wanted the illustrations to feature animals whenever possible, because animals are so interesting to kids. The African savanna, with all its marvelous large mammals, was the natural choice.

I did want to give a shout out to my region in the book, so you’ll find the cold winters and blizzards that cross the Great Plains of North America included in the secondary text. What do I like best about this region? Well, Kansas City is my hometown. It is a beautiful part of the country, as you see in this image of the Konza tallgrass prairie in eastern Kansas.

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My family circled back here after living in several other regions of the U.S. I love to travel, and I can’t wait for it to be safe to start planning my next trips. I have four more continents to go: South America, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica. And I haven’t visited a polar biome yet. It’s on my list.

Thanks, Sue, for sharing the fascinating story of Our World! What an amazing resource for parents, teachers, and homeschoolers! And I hope you get to visit all the places on your list! 

You can connect with Sue on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

Our World: A First Book of Geography Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sue Lowell Gallion in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Our World: A First Book of Geography, written by Sue Lowell Gallion | illustrated by Lisk Feng
  • An Inflatable Globe Beachball

To enter:

  • Follow me @CelebratePicBks on Twitter
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite place for an extra entry. Each reply earns one more entry.

This giveaway is open from July 30 through August 6 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on August 7.

Prizing provided by Sue Lowell Gallion

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only | No Giveaway Accounts 

International Day of Friendship Activity

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Our World Activity Kits

 

You’ll find lots of activities that get kids – from infants to kindergarteners and beyond – interacting with geography through games, movement, songs, a scavenger hunt, and crafts on Sue Lowell Gallion’s website. Learning about our world has never been so much fun!

Our World Activity Kits

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You can find Our World: A First Book of Geography at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review