Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book Nominations

 Star of the sea: A day in the life of a starfish by Janet Halfmann, illustrated by Joan Paley

Janet Halfmann’s simple text introduces children to the life cycle and habitat of the starfish. The text goes beyond simple sentences to create pictures helping children understand the starfish’s movements and habits. For example, “She inches along, twisting her flat body like a pretzel.” “Like a circus acrobat, she folds over two of her rays and grips the rocky shore with her sticky feet.”

Joan Paley’s illustrations are brightly colored and vibrant, using hand painted paper to create collages showing the starfish going about her everyday life. However, I found I wanted more detail in the illustrations than was expressed in this medium. Halfmann’s detailed text would have been better served by photographs or more intricate drawings showing the movements of the starfish in detail. Some of the illustrations were confusing, not matching the action described in the text. The flaming orange and rather lumpy starfish seemed rather static.

Verdict: A strong text redeems this book from the rather blah illustrations. I’m not aware of any other truly outstanding books on starfish, so I’d recommend adding this one. Halfmann’s story makes for a good read-aloud and the illustrations are passable, if not ideal.

ISBN: 978-0805090734; Published May 2011 by Henry Holt; Borrowed from the library

Thunder Birds: Nature's Flying Predators by Jim Arnosky

Arnosky’s gorgeous paintings introduce the reader to a selection of large and amazing birds. A simple table of contents lists the featured birds and marks which ones have a fold out page. The acrylic paint in the illustrations glows with color while the white chalk gives the art a softer edge, making these life-size birds appear larger than life. Arnosky’s illustration explains his interest in “the largest and most powerful” birds and how he and his wife Deanna researched and learned about these amazing creatures. In each section, Arnosky gives a personal anecdote about his experience with the birds, then facts about their diet, habitat, and species. Paintings include full pictures of the birds and smaller insets of their wings or claws. In every spread, Arnosky is careful to give information about size and scale. There are also silhouettes to aid in identifying various birds. The author’s note at the end gives locations for where these birds can be found, and a lengthy list of sources for more information about birds and field guides. A metric chart for converting the various measurements of the birds is also given.

Verdict: Beautifully illustrated, carefully researched, and written to appeal to children and adults, this book is a must have for your collection. Spend a little extra time and money to reinforce the fold-outs, because this book will be seeing a lot of use!

ISBN: 978-1402756610; Published April 2011 by Sterling; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

 Hatch! by Roxie Munro

Roxie Munro’s interactive book about eggs is a fun choice for story times, especially with an older or small group that can take time to pick out all the details in the pictures.

The introduction explains that the book will introduce birds and their eggs in a question and answer format and includes a “did you know?” quiz section, with the answers included in the copyright information on the facing page.

The first spread of each pair shows a clutch of eggs and asks “Can you guess whose eggs these are?” facing a big colored speech bubble that gives clues to the birds’ identity. Both of these are set against a plain cream background. The following spread gives the answer and describes the bird against a detailed illustration of the birds, their habitat, and a variety of animals hidden in the landscape. A list of also included animals is placed below the main text, giving additional seek and find fun. Featured birds include Baltimore orioles, great horned owls, emperor penguins, mallard ducks, cactus wrens, black-legged kittiwakes, ostriches, ruby-throated hummingbirds, and bald eagles.

The final page includes further resources about birds, both print and online, and a list of “fun bird words to learn.”

Verdict: This book is best for an elementary age audience – some of those clues are hard! But I’ve used it successfully with a preschool audience, shortening the chunks of text and inviting the kids to find the animals hidden in the landscapes. A fun book about a variety of birds and their eggs with an intriguing interactive component. Recommended.

ISBN: 978-0761458821; Published February 2011 by Marshall Cavendish; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

The case of the vanishing golden frogs by Sandra Markle

Millbrook press gives Houghton Mifflin’s Scientists in the Field series a run for their money with this fascinating investigation into the ongoing research into an ecological mystery.

The book’s pages are a brilliant yellow with splashy green leaves painted against the brilliant background. Against this colorful background, photographs of researchers, local people, maps, and the golden frogs themselves are strategically placed to blend with the bold text.

The story begins in 1996 when researchers discovered that the golden frogs of the Panama rain forest were rapidly dying. The book discusses the possible reasons for the deaths of the frogs and how the scientists have researched these possibilities. As Markle explains the scientist’s research into the possible reasons for the frogs’ death, she explains facets of the frogs life. For example, when investigating changes in habitat as a reason for the frogs’ death, she also includes spreads on what the frogs need in their habitat. Other reasons include pollution and skin diseases. Other frog researches joined in the search, finding a new kind of fungus that was killing frogs all over the world. The scientists tried to find out how the fungus was spreading and how it could be stopped, but meanwhile they needed to save the few remaining frogs so they created Project Golden Frog to collect and breed the remaining healthy frogs. Scientists are still trying to find a permanent cure, but meanwhile the only known healthy golden frogs live in aquariums. Their removal from the ecosystem of Panama affects the other animals in the food chain, but until scientists find a way to stop the deadly fungus, they cannot be returned to their environment.

An author’s note explains Sandra Markle’s interest in this fascinating story. Additional information discusses the difference between frogs and toads, how to help local frogs and get involved worldwide. A glossary, further resources, index, and photo acknowledgements are also included.

Verdict: This is a fascinating and well-written title. I appreciated that it discusses a scientific research project that was ongoing, reinforcing the idea that science is something that is still happening, not a cut and dried experiment with a definite end and beginning as kids too often see in school. It’s directed at a younger audience than the Scientist in the Field series (yes, I’m a big fan) and is a great introduction for elementary age kids into the world of science, research, and frogs.

ISBN: 978-0761351085; Published October 2011 by Millbrook Press; Borrowed from the library; Added to the library's wishlist

Time to eat by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Steve Jenkins and Robin Page have produced another excellent nonfiction book with their trademark paper collage illustrations. This small book, 8x8, is one of a set of three, Time to Eat, Time to Sleep, and Time for a Bath. Time to Eat has three threads of text; short, bold exclamatory sentences “Not shoots and leaves again!” and a simple sentence or brief paragraph about the animal, “The giant panda chews on bamboo shoots for twelve hours a day.”  The book has a simple introduction about the variety in animal diets and despite its small size features a surprising number of animals, including a chipmunk, toad, anaconda, pelican, blue whale, dung beetle, ostrich, and more. The book ends with a pictorial list of all the animals and further information on each one.

Verdict: Like most of Jenkins and Page’s work, this is a great nonfiction read-aloud for young children and an informative book for older readers. I would especially recommend buying and reading all three books together in this trilogy.

ISBN: 978-0547250328; Published March 2011 by Houghton Mifflin; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

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