March 3 – World Wildlife Day and Interview with Author Heather Lang

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About the Holiday

A vast number of plant and animal species are facing endangerment or extinction due to human caused climate change. World Wildlife Day was created in 1973 as an effort to protect the many endangered species of the world. It is an international holiday with a new theme each year to celebrate the biodiversity of our earth while also promoting awareness and advocacy. The theme for this year’s observance is “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet.” There are many wonderful ways to celebrate this holiday; spend some time in nature, pick up litter around your block, find out about activities going on in your hometown, and read books to educate yourself and others on the livelihood of forests, wildlife and the environment.  To learn more about World Wildlife Day, and the virtual events happening today, visit this webpage: https://www.wildlifeday.org/. If you are searching for books to celebrate, The Leaf Detective is a perfect fit!

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 of 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.

What are you working on next?

I’m having a blast working on a new informational picture book series about extraordinary animals for Candlewick Press with my co-author/illustrator and close friend Jamie Harper. The first book, Supermoms!, features cool nonfiction facts about 18 amazing animal moms in a graphic format with humorous callouts. 

I’m also working on a collective biography for readers in grades 3 – 7. More to come on that soon!

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.

World Wildlife Day Activity

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You can create your own rainforest with this coloring page. Use the blank space around the picture to label the layers as shown on the last page of The Leaf Detective!

Rainforest Coloring Page

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Three different beautiful World Wildlife Day 2021 posters in six languages are available for download here.

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

February 4 – Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket Blog Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

I always love celebrating kids’ creativity, imagination, and smarts and today’s book has all three! If you never want to say goodbye to January’s “Creativity Month” and am looking forward to Expanding Girls’ Horizons in Science and Engineering Month and National Ideas Month in March, then you’ll want to add Sadie Sprocket to your reading list.

Thank you goes to Two Lions and Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. I’m also excited to be teaming with them for a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket

Written by Sue Fliess | Illustrated by Annabel Tempest

 

Sadie Sprocket wanted to travel. Not your regular vacation kind of travel but the kind that would take her across the galaxy. “So one day Sadie drew a map / to navigate the stars. / ‘It’s time to leave the Earth,’ she said, ‘and travel straight to Mars!’” She chose her crew—a bunny, bear, and owl—and began building her rocket ship with parts she got from the junkyard.

When the rocket was finished, Sadie and her crew were ready to blast off. Her family, friends, and even reporters gathered to see “this space-bound girl with smarts and skill / would soon make history.” They basted off on their journey that would take one hundred days. To pass the time the crew of four tried playing cards, and checkers and chess, but the pieces just floated away, so they read and cooked instead.

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Image copyright Annabel Tempest, 2021, text copyright, Sue Fliess, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Soon, when Sadie looked out the window, Earth was no more than a dot while Mars came into view. When it was time to land, Sadie directed her crew to land on level ground. On the surface of the red planet, they gathered samples and put them into bags and then when they were done, they planted yellow flags. After a few selfies, Sadie knew it was time to go, but a storm blew up and “the rocket wouldn’t budge.”

Sadie, Bear, Bunny, and Owl got out and dug the landing gear free, but when they tried to leave Mars again, the sand swirling in the air was so thick, they couldn’t see. When the storm abated, they thought flying would be a snap, but the rocket didn’t work. Sadie grabbed her tools and they went to work sweeping sand from the circuit board and repairing the wires. Finally, Sadie said, it is “‘time to Blast!’” / They zoomed by stars and asteroids / and made it home at last.” When she landed back on Earth, Sadie learned she “had rocketed to fame,” but one trip was not enough. She now had Neptune in her sights, but clever Sadie Sprocket new she’d “need a bigger rocket.”

Following the text is “Sadie’s Notebook,” which contains facts about Mars and short bios on seven pioneering women in space.

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Image copyright Annabel Tempest, 2021, text copyright, Sue Fliess, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Sue Fliess’s jaunty story about Sadie Sprocket, a young go-getter who doesn’t let things like gravity or obstacles get in the way of her dreams of discovery offers inspirational motivation for children who have big (or smaller) aspirations. Sadie’s confidence in herself and in science jumps off the page as she talks to the press and her supporters at her launch, gathers samples from the surface of Mars, and documents her finds. When the sand storm disrupts her return to Earth, she doesn’t give up the mission, but rallies her crew and fixes the problem. And does Sadie rest on her laurels? Nope! Like any inventive kid, she has her sights set on the next big adventure. Fliess’s pitch-perfect rhymes and quickly paced rhythm make the story an entertaining read aloud.

In her bright, active-packed illustrations, Annabel Tempest gives Sadie a cheery, self-assured look as she studies, makes plans, and builds her rocket. Kids will eagerly follow her steps as she gathers her supplies and gets to work. As Sadie, schematic in hand, directs her crew, kids will have fun seeing how she makes clever use of a wheelbarrow and appreciate the spacesuits and fitted helmets for each crew member. Images of the circuit board will appeal to tech-loving kids, and pictures of the rocket shooting across the galaxy will thrill readers. Any kids looking for inspiration to decorate their rooms will find plenty of ideas here too.

A lively story to encourage creative and science-loving kids, Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket is a terrific book for exciting story times and to enhance STEM lessons in school and at home. It is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 7

Two Lions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542018036

Sue Fliess is the author of more than thirty children’s books, including Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins, illustrated by Mark Chambers; Shoes for Me!, A Dress for Me!, and Books for Me!, all illustrated by Mike Laughead; and Let’s Build, illustrated by Miki Sakamoto. She lives with her family and their two dogs in northern Virginia, where they admire the moon, stars, and sometimes even planets from their backyard. You can connect with Sue on www.suefliess.com | Twitter | FacebookPinterest

Annabel Tempest is the illustrator of a number of picture books and board books. She holds a degree in fashion and textiles and has worked as a freelance illustrator on everything from maps and packaging to greeting cards and children’s books. She lives in the beautiful Somerset countryside in the UK with her husband and a houseful of muddy boys and dogs. You can connect with Annabel on annabeltempest.comInstagram | Twitter

Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket Giveaway

I’m happy to be teaming with Two Lions and Blue Slip Media in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket by Sue Fliess | illustrated by Annabel Tempest

To enter:

This giveaway is open from February 4 to January 10 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on January 11. 

Prizing provided by Two Lions and Blue Slip Media

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

Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket Book Tour Activity

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Blast off to Mars! Maze

 

Can you help the rocket navigate its way to Mars in this printable puzzle?

Blast off to Mars! Maze | Blast off to Mars! Solution

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You can find Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 30 – Draw a Dinosaur Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday is pretty self-explanatory – and pretty awesome! Kids LOVE drawing dinosaurs, and who can blame them? With so many dinos to choose from, the kinds of pictures to draw are endless. Celebrate today by getting out all your art supplies and… draw your favorite dinosaur!

Everything Awesome about Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts!

By Mike Lowery

 

If there’s one thing kids can’t get enough of, it’s dinosaurs. And if there’s one thing Mike Lowery knows, it’s how to wow kids. The mash-up of the two has resulted in a wild and wacky book “that’s totally loaded with info, weird facts, and jokes that you will dig!” There are even dinos at the ready to point out these awesome puns. And these facts aren’t just presented like some old, dried-up report, the whole book—every page—is full of eye-popping illustrations and cool typography that will keep kids reading and reading and learning (and, oh yeah, having T-rex size fun).

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Copyright Mike Lowery, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books.

What kinds of things will kids learn? First, there’s a completely captivating prehistoric timeline that lays out the different eras and depicts some of the creatures and vegetation that existed in each. Like jellyfish during the Paleozoic Era, horsetails plants and dicynodonts during the Triassic, stegosaurus and cycads in the Jurassic; bees, birds, and flowering plants along with velociraptors in the Cretaceous; and finally, woolly mammoths and us during the Age of Mammals. Along the way there were also several extinction events. And this all comes even before the Table of Contents!

While kids chew on the fact that “some giant dinos ate up to 12,000 pounds a day,” they can dip into Part One—What Is a Dinosaur? Here, they’ll learn stuff like where the word “dinosaur” came, who coined it, what “prehistoric” means, and who “were some of the first people to keep written records.” They’ll also get to know some animals that weren’t dinosaurs and how dinosaurs are defined. Of course, there are some dino jokes to keep kids chuckling while they read.

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Copyright Mike Lowery, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books.

Part Two reveals a short history of the earth as well as lots and lots about each era and representative creatures. After learning just how old Earth is, kids will be interested in a Quick Fact about one Jeremy Harper who counted to one million live on the internet. How long did it take him? Longer than you might think. Have you ever tried smooshing the whole history of the earth into just 24 hours? Mike Lowery did and it’s fascinating! Kids will also discover how Earth formed and about early signs of life.

What was going on in the Paleozoic Era? The haikouichthys (one of the first animals to have a skull), tiktaalik (a land and sea creature), and the meganeura (a giant dragonfly) can tell them. It was also the time of the Permian Period, when some pretty weird reptiles roamed the earth and some way-unusual marine life swam the seas. Then came “the Great Permian Extinction” that led into the Mesozoic Era, “aka the age of reptiles.”

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Copyright Mike Lowery, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books.

Here, kids learn about the development of dinosaurs, non-dino animals, and bugs. If you think a few stormy days are bad, imagine living during the Triassic Period, when “it once rained for two million years.” What do you wear in weather like that? A “Jurassic parka,” of course. Next up is the Jurassic and then the Cretaceous periods and their gigantic creatures of the land, ocean, and sky.

In Part Three readers get to meet the dinosaurs up close and personal (well, not too close). They’ll learn what dinos really ate, how they really sounded, and this delectable fact: “More time passed between stegosaurus and T. rex than the time between velociraptor and microwavable pizza!” And while kids are digesting that, they’ll want to watch out for the gigantic sauropods (who grew that big partly because “they didn’t chew their food…. Mammals don’t get as big as the sauropods, in part, because chewing requires a lot of energy.” Kids will see who won the “smartest dino award” and who was unfortunate enough to win “the, um, not-so-smartest dinosaur award.” They’ll also learn about horned dinos, armored dinos, fast dinos, and “the weirdest lookin’ dino.”

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Copyright Mike Lowery, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books.

Part Four talks about the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event and various theories that have been floated throughout the years. Part Five takes kids on a hunt for bones and other fossils and reveals how paleontologists study them. Part Six offers a tour of post-dinosaur beasts, and Part Seven invites kids to learn how to draw dinosaurs. That’s followed up by a Dino Field Guide, an illustrated list of dinos organized by time periods, and to round it all up, Lowery includes a few more irresistible dinosaur jokes.

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Copyright Mike Lowery, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books.

Mike Lowery’s free-wheeling sense of humor, on exhibit in both his text and illustrations, will have kids laughing and learning billions of years’ worth of scientific facts. Funny asides by dinosaurs who just want in on the action put a spotlight on major events and conditions on Earth. Boxed and highlighted facts reveal the science of paleontology and provide explanations of dinosaur and prehistoric animal behavior and comparisons on size that will resonate with kids. Lowery imbues each of his creatures with personality while staying true to their nature and body type. Simply said, if there’s something you want to know about prehistoric creatures, dinosaurs, and the times they lived in, it’s in this book.

A must for home, classroom, and public library collections, you’ll want to put Everything Awesome about Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts! on your shopping list for kids, teachers, and anyone who loves science, dinosaurs, and entertaining ways to learn or teach.

Ages 7 – 10 and up

Orchard Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1338359725

Discover more about Mike Lowery, his books, and his art on his website.

Draw a Dinosaur Day Activity

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Dinosaur Dot-to-Dot

 

If you’d like to draw a dinosaur but need some help getting started, you’ll have fun doing these printable dot-to-dot puzzles. Which dinosaurs will you discover?

Dinosaur 1 | Dinosaur 2

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You can find Everything Awesome about Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 19 – National Popcorn Day Cover Reveal of Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!

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Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!

Written by Cynthia Schumerth | Illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles

 

Have you ever wondered what happens to your popcorn before it lands in the bowl? Kernel-by-kernel, step-by-step, this story takes readers through the process of growing, harvesting, and finally popping delicious popcorn! However you take it – salted, buttered, or caramelized, every variation of America’s favorite snack begins in the same place. 

Backmatter includes STEM-related discussions about corn kernels and why these kinds of kernels pop when heated, a science activity, and an art project.

With Cynthia Schumerth’s exuberant and educational rhymes that bounce like bursting popcorn and Mary Reaves Uhles’s vibrant, action-packed illustrations of a group of kids planting, harvesting, shucking, cooking (KABOOM!), and eating this favorite snack, Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! makes the perfect reading treat for any movie night or story time! 

I’m excited to be talking with Cynthia Schumerth and Mary Reaves Uhles to discover how they turned America’s favorite snack into a book so deliciously fun!

Meet Cynthia Schumerth

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Cindy grew up in a small town in Wisconsin where kids played outside from sun-up to sun-down. Much of her writing reflects her love of nature, animals, and family. Cindy believes the power of words is magical and if even one child can find something they can relate to in a story, then that story just might change their world. Cindy lives with her husband and their rescue dog Chance in the same small town she grew up in. Together they raised two amazing children. You can connect with Cynthia on Twitter.

I’m really looking forward to learning more about popcorn when your book’s released! What inspired you to write Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!?
 

My love of popcorn! Growing up, popcorn was a special treat. It was something that got our entire family sitting together, sharing stories, and having a lot of laughs. This is something I’ve shared with my own children as they grew up. The truth is that I’d been having a bit of writer’s block before I came up with the idea for Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! I knew I needed something new, something fresh, but I was drawing a blank.

Then I got to thinking… at writing conferences and workshops there is one comment that you hear over and over—write what you love. Well, I love popcorn, so I thought why not write about that? Thoughts about popcorn floated around my head for a few days (maybe weeks).  I considered different ideas about how to use popcorn in a book before I came up with the idea of a farm-to-table story. I grew up in a gardening family and it seemed like a great idea to share the entire process—from seed to the end product of a fluffy, tasty treat—with young readers in a fun way.  

From planting to popping, so much goes into creating the popcorn we love to munch. Can you talk a little about how you decided on the structure of your book—which combines nonfiction with lyrical storytelling?

Initially, I wrote it as a basic farm-to-table story. I wanted it to be fun while still having an interesting takeaway for kids. During a critique, it was suggested that I bring more of the specific popcorn terms into the story instead of having them only in the backmatter. I really liked that idea, but I had worked very hard to get the rhyme and rhythm just right. I had a tough decision to make—keep the story written in rhyme and somehow figure out how to incorporate words like: germ, endosperm, and pericarp into it, or rewrite the story an entirely different way.

I don’t usually write in rhyme. Rhyme is hard because it has to be perfect, but I decided to stick with it because I really liked the flow of the story. I knew I had to make sure the rhyme worked perfectly while still keeping the story factually accurate, and that was a bit of a hurdle. However, I think it’s true that if you write what you love, things work out. When the final manuscript was accepted, my editor surprised me by saying, “Don’t change a thing. I think it’s perfect just the way it is!  In the end, we did change three words, but having to change only three words in the entire manuscript is something I am very proud of!

Did you learn anything surprising about popcorn while writing this book?
 

I was surprised by how simple the process of going from popcorn seed to popped popcorn actually is. It’s both fascinating and something that kids (and adults) can easily understand. How cool is it that after reading Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!, the reader will be able to impress their friends with scientific knowledge about popcorn and how it pops?! It’s surprising how many people don’t know how the hard, little popcorn seeds turn into puffs of white yumminess.

Another thing that I found surprising is that some folks will pour milk over a bowl of popcorn with a little sugar and have popcorn as a breakfast cereal. I haven’t tried that myself, and to be honest, I’m not sure I will.

Mary’s cover is so enticing. What were your first thoughts when you saw the art for the cover and the interior illustrations.

When our editor told me Mary had been chosen as the illustrator, of course I searched out her work. I was so excited because I think she does great work and she was already an accomplished picture book illustrator! I had to wait over two years before I got to see the cover art, and then longer to see the inside pages, but it was well worth the wait. I think her drawings and her choice of color palette for Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! are vibrant and inviting. And those kids in the story—I want to be friends with all of them!

I feel very lucky to share this book with Mary. I think this cover will stand out on the shelvesI know it would catch my own eye and I’d pick it up. I think kids will really like it, too.

Have you ever tried to grow popcorn?
 

Actually, one summer my kids and I did try growing popcorn!  Not all the plants made it and the ones that did, didn’t produce as much as we had hoped. After we harvested, dried, and shucked the ears, we were able to get enough kernels to make one pot of popcorn. You know what? It was the best popcorn we ever had! Growing something with your own hands is so satisfying. I hope after reading Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!, kids will want to give growing their own popcorn a try.

Of course, I can’t let you go without asking—what is your favorite type or flavor of popcorn?
 

I like caramel corn, kettle corn, and I’ve sprinkled parmesan cheese on my popcorn, but if I have to choose a favorite, I’m a salt-only popcorn girl. There are yellow and white types of popping corn, and I prefer white. I think it has more crunch to it. I like my popcorn cooked the good old-fashioned way, in a pot on top of the stove. I have my grandmothers popcorn pan from when I was growing up—it’s over 75 years old! That pan has probably popped thousands of bowls of popcorn. Recently, I’ve started using coconut oil when I pop my corn, and I really like the flavor you get. If you’re worried about the taste, don’t be! It doesn’t taste like coconut; it’s just healthier than using other oils.

Meet Mary Reaves Uhles

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Mary Reaves Uhles has illustrated several children’s books, including The Little Kids’ Table, by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle; The Twelve Days of Christmas in Tennessee, by Alice Faye Duncan; and the poetry collection Kooky Crumbs, by Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis. Before illustrating books for children, Mary worked as an animator on projects for Warner Brothers and Fisher-Price Interactive. A graduate of Ringling College of Art and Design, Mary lives with her family in Nashville, Tennessee. Find her online at maryuhles.com.

What were your first thoughts when you received the manuscript for Let’s Pop Pop Popcorn!?

My first thoughts werewell this is great, I LOVE popcorn! I truly don’t think I could have done as good a job with the book if I didn’t love EATING popcorn and even tried growing it myself when I was about 9 or 10. I was excited about the concept of the cutaway pages where we see the seeds in the dirt, I always loved that kind of thing in illustrations when I was a kid.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

And finally, I wanted to have a page or two to draw an environment that looked like where I grew uphuge fields dotted with trailers or houses. Kids and animals of all kinds would spill across the fields as if we owned them! While I didn’t have that many interiors to show in the book, the details of the inside of the blue trailer, such as the green fern curtains, are taken directly from memories of my friends’ houses.

Your cover illustration is so much fun! Did you go through many iterations and revisions before deciding on this final image? Could you take readers through the cover’s journey?

Thank you! I’m really happy with how it turned out. I knew I wanted the cover to have a lot of energy, with popcorn popping everywhere but how to get there? I went through several different thumbnails, some with characters on the cover, some with just popcorn.

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Image copyright Mary Uhles, 2021

Finally I decided on having just one of the child characters. I picked the little girl with glasses because, well, I liked her glasses! Then it was a matter of getting her close to the pot but not so close it might feel a bit dangerous to have all that popcorn (and the lid) flying at her face.

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Image copyright Mary Uhles, 2021

I did popcorn kernels on lots of different Photoshop layers so that, in the final design, the art director could move them to work around the final type. Since there was a lot of action with the popcorn I wanted the background behind the character to be a fairly flat color. I liked the idea of using the blue from the kitchen juxtaposed with the copper pot.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Now, I’m sure readers would love a little sneak peek into the interior. I’ve been lucky enough to see that they can certainly look forward to lots of action and different perspectives! Can you talk a little about how you translated Cynthia’s story into such dynamic illustrations?

Well I used to be an animator so when I begin laying out a book I do it like a film storyboard, with each page turn being a new camera angle. I really think so much of our emotional journey in a book (or movie or TV show) happens with how the camera makes us feel in proximity to the subject. As the plants start to grow I wanted to bring readers close to the tiny stalks and then move them farther and farther back as the plants get bigger and bigger.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

 I did the same thing with the kernels in the pot.. I wanted to actually bring the camera down inside the pot so the readers were right next to the POP when it happened.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In some of the illustrationslike the image of the kernels being pluckedI wanted the reader to feel like they were doing it… so the perspective is from over the bowl. Art director Felicia Macheske and I discussed having lots of different kids doing different tasks throughout the book but waiting until the very end to show all the kids together on a spread. I really liked that idea as it feels very celebratory but it was also a lot to keep track ofwhich kids were appearing on which pages so it stayed balanced. I actually had a visual spreadsheet at one point so I could keep track. I had to laugh that this is now my third book to have a big crowd at the end! In The Little Kids’ Table a huge family gathers around the table and in A Tuba Christmas we see the whole tuba orchestra.

Did you learn anything new about popcorn while working on this book?

Well I actually did not know there were only two kinds of popcorn! Also I looked at lots of different pictures of popcorn to get the details correct and I found it interesting how much smaller popcorn kernels are than ‘corn on the cob’ kernels. A friend of mine gave me a couple of popcorn cobs with the kernels still on when I started sketches and I kept them in my studio the whole time for reference.

In your dedication, I noticed that you give a shout out to Jackson (Team Popcorn) and Grace (Team Chex Mix). Is there a competition for favorite snack in your family?

Ha ha! I don’t know that there is a competition, but I knew from the beginning that this book’s dedication would have to say something about my son’s love of popcorn. Any time there’s family movie night he’s so excited because I’ll make popcorn. For the record I make it the stovetop way, just like in the book. But my daughter is not a fan of popcorn! So I always have to come up with alternate snacks. Her favorite is Chex Mix.

Now that we know Cynthia’s favorite popcorn, I know readers would love to hear what your type or flavor of popcorn is.

I do love just good, old-fashioned stovetop popcorn with a dash of butter and a few more dashes of salt. But I also love kettle corn! It’s my favorite ‘fair food’ as in, getting it at the state fair in giant greasy bags.

Thanks so much! You two have made me hungry! While readers check out where they can preorder Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!, I’m going to go cook up some nice buttery, salty popcorn for myself! But first, I’d like to invite everyone to enter my giveaway of the book! You’ll find the details right here!

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You can preorder Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 14 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

For kids who love nonfiction, this year has brought a bumper crop of creative, fascinating, and informative books on all topics from biographies to history to science and beyond. Innovative, interactive, and humorous, these books for all ages – even babies – open up the world for children in ways that resonate and make learning exciting and fun. Today’s book will have kids looking at the animals around them in a whole new way.

Eye by Eye: Comparing How Animals See

Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by T.S Spookytooth

 

“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see the world through someone else’s eyes?” Let’s make that musing even more intriguing—How would the world look if you gazed out at it through the eyes of an animal, insect, or bird (you know… a bird’s eye view)? Say, for instance, you had eight eyes dotting your face. “What kind of animal would you be, then?” Hmmm… With “four big eyes on the front of its face…” and “four smaller eyes on the top of its head,” the jumping spider can see what’s above and in front of it.

What if your eyes weren’t on your face at all, but on your arms instead? who would that be? Or how would you like it if your eyes were on “long stalks sticking out of the top of your head?” That might come in handy in a crowded movie theater or museum, but the animal with these eyes doesn’t really frequent those kinds of places. It’s more of an outdoorsman. Can you guess? While you’re contemplating that, you’re also going to want to learn about the animals whose eyes move to other parts of their face and the animals whose eyes are fixed in place.

Now, look deeeep into your eyes. What do you see? A pupil! What shape is it? Would it surprise you to learn that there are animals whose pupils are oval or even rectangular? Cat lovers know that their fav animals have oval pupils, but so do other “predators that hide and then ambush their prey.” Their unique eyes help them “judge distance and plan its attack without making any movements that might scare away its meal.” Animals with rectangular eyes use their peepers to stay safe. Which animals do you think those would be?

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Image copyright T.S Spookytooth, 2020, text copyright Sara Levine, 2020. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Some animals, including some humans, can’t see the colors red and green. You know this as color-blindness, but have you ever wondered exactly how color-blind people or animals view the world? Side-by-side pages show you! And that bird’s-eye-view? Because of the way birds’ eyes are constructed, their world is even more colorful than ours! How much more? “We have no idea… since our eyes can’t give us this information. But it’s pretty cool to know that there are things that exist out there that humans can’t see at all.”

One last question: What kind of animal could read the words in this book? If you know the answer, “you are a human who is using your eyes to read.” While other animals can’t read words, they can read the signs other animals and even plants provide. What are some of these? The answers plus even more fascinating information can be yours in the blink of an eye.

Back matter includes hands-on activities kids can do to “see” the way two animals do, a close-up examination of a human’s pupil, and a glossary as well as a list of books and websites for further research.

Sara Levine’s eye-opening guide to how a wide variety of creatures in the animal kingdom see will enthrall kids. In the fourth book of her Animal by Animal series, Levine continues her kid-enticing combination of humor and science to teach children about the specialized eyes that help animals navigate their particular environments. Her conversational storytelling, sprinkled with questions, will have kids engaged in the kind of predicting that reinforces learning. Levine’s detailed answers to the questions, including benefits of particular eye shapes or placement, physiological characteristics and adaptations, and the names of additional animals that share the same types of eyes, are enlightening will inspire young scientists to discover more about their world. 

A highlight of the Animal by Animal series is the artwork by T.S Spookytooth, who excels at translating Levine’s vision into illustrations that get kids giggling and learning. The first page starts off in familiar territory: a glasses-wearing girl stares eye-to-eye with the little wiener dog she’s holding in her hands. But turn the page and this same girl now sports eight eyes and two cleverly constructed pairs of glasses while other kids—and clues for discussions to come—stand by. On the next pages, eyeballs jut from the ends of six arms, peer out from long, wiggly stalks, and migrate across a girl’s face. These images will have kids laughing and riveted to the pages, while Spookytooth’s realistic depictions of the animals these eyes belong to will long remain in their memory. Insets of enlarged eyes allow kids to see the particular formation of eyes and pupils up close. The side-by-side page spread showing full-color human vision and the vision of someone who is color-blind is enlightening. Kids will enjoy following the pet crocodile from page to page and discussing all the reasons for its distinctive eyes. The diverse group of kids are charming companions on this educational journey.

An exciting and fascinating way to spur children to explore and learn about animals, nature, and themselves, Eye by Eye: Comparing How Animals See is a top pick for home, school and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 10

Millbrook Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1541538382

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

To learn more about T.S Spookytooth, his books, and his art, visit his website.

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You can find Eye by Eye: Comparing How Animals See 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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

November 8 – Parents as Teachers Day

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About the Holiday

The idea for Parents as Teachers goes back to the 1970s when Missouri educators noticed that not all kindergarteners were beginning school with the same skill set. Research demonstrated the benefits of parental involvement in reading, writing, and math before children began school as well as early detection and intervention for children with delayed development and health issues. Support services and parental education aided an awareness of the importance of children’s earliest years. Parents as Teachers Day was officially instituted in 2001 by the Parents as Teachers National Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Community events and outreach to parents mark the day’s activities.

Baby on Board: How Animals Carry Their Young

Written by Marianne Berkes | Illustrated by Cathy Morrison

 

You may not remember, but when you were little your parents, grandparents, and others carried you – a lot! But what do animals do with their babies? “There are no baby backpacks, / no wraps or straps or slings, / no seats to buckle kids in, / or many other things.” Let’s take a look at some very different animals and see how they take care of their young.

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Image copyright Cathy Morrison, 2017, text copyright Marianne Berkes, 2017. Courtesy of Dawn Publications.

A sea otter pup rides on her mother’s belly as she floats along on her back. But what does the mother sea otter do when she needs to hunt for food? She “wraps her baby in long strands of kelp seaweed to keep her pup from floating away.” Hanging upside down high in a tree seems pretty dangerous for a baby, but a little sloth clings on tight to his mother’s fur and stays there “for almost a year.”

While mother animals do much of the rearing of their little ones, both moms and dads in common loon families are involved. They both give their chicks rides on their backs to keep them “safe from fish and turtle predators.” No person wants to get close to an alligator’s sharp teeth, but inside her wide jaws is just where baby alligators feel safest. When they want to leave their nest, the hatchlings call to their mother, who returns and “gently lifts them out, a few at a time, and carries them to the water for safety.”

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Image copyright Cathy Morrison, 2017, text copyright Marianne Berkes, 2017. Courtesy of Dawn Publications.

Do you see the baby anteater? She’s cleverly concealed! “Blending in with mama’s fur, you hardly see this pup. It rides upon her hairy back while she digs insects up.” What about kangaroos, opossums, manatees, chimpanzees, wolf spiders, emperor penguins, and lions? How do they carry their babies and protect them while they grow? You’ll find out all about what these animals do. Then it’s time for you to learn “how did someone carry you?”

Backmatter presents an illustrated matching game for kids as well as extensive resources, including more information about each animal, language arts, math, science, engineering, and movement lesson extentions, and suggestions for further reading for teachers and parents.

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Image copyright Cathy Morrison, 2017, text copyright Marianne Berkes, 2017. Courtesy of Dawn Publications.

Marianne Berkes engages young readers in learning about twelve familiar and more unusual animals in two ways. First, a sweet rhyming couplet—which can be used as a fun guessing game—introduces each animal. Berkes then expands on the information with a brief and fascinating fact or two about how the animal’s method of holding her or his young protects them, feeds them, or moves them from place to place.

Little environmentalist in the making will be awed by Cathy Morrison’s realistic illustrations of each adult animal and baby in their natural habitat. Morrison’s images are so lifelike that readers can count individual hairs on the mother sloth’s arms and marvel at the sharpness of her claws as they wrap around a tree branch and almost feel the softness of the baby otter’s curly fur as she and her mother float in a bed of kelp. The animal’s facial expressions are likewise realistic while showing concern on the part of the adult and complete trust on the part of the babies.

There will be plenty of ewwws and ahhhs for the wolf spider and alligator, and as they watch the lion cup nearly bound off the page, kids will want to start all over and see these majestic wonders again. Morrison’s detailed backgrounds are no less fascinating as they contain clear images of the landscapes each animal calls home, complete with plants, trees, insects, waterways, and more.

Baby on Board: How Animals Carry Their Young provides nature and animal lovers much to learn and talk about. The extra resources also make this a valuable book to add to classroom, homeschool, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 6

Dawn Publications, 2017 | ISBN 978-1584695936

Discover more about Marianne Berkes and her books on her website. 

To learn more about Cathy Morrison, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Parents as Teachers Day Activity

cute animal coloring pages Best of rhino and her baby free animal coloring pages kleurplaat

Animal Family Coloring Pages

 

Here are three animal families for you to enjoy coloring. Grab your crayons or pencils and have fun!

Lion and Baby | Zebra and Baby | Hippo and Baby

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You can find Baby on Board: How Animals Carry Their Young at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Dawn Publications | IndieBound

Picture Book Review