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.
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.
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!
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.
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
International Day of Friendship Review
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
International Day of Friendship Activity
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!
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Picture Book Review