Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book Nominations

 Guardian team: On the job with Rena and Roo by Cat Urbigkit

When I first looked at the description of this book, I though “oh no, not another saccharine animal friends story. UGH.” Then I actually picked up the book, and, well, big furry dogs, they are a weakness of mine. Then I read it and…

I loved this book! And not just because of all the pictures of a delightfully furry little puppy, so, so cute, and her little floppy ears..

Ahem. So. Roo, an orphaned burro, and Rena, the runt puppy of a litter, are moved to a ranch in Wyoming to become sheep herd guardians. They are introduced to the lambs and to each other and slowly bond and become one herd, learning to work together to protect the sheep.

The text is simple, but doesn’t shy away from longer words, explaining them throughout the story. The real genius of this book is in the layout, which pairs a few sentences or a short paragraph with pictures of the burro, puppy, and lambs as they grow together. The story can be followed perfectly through the pictures, with the explanatory text adding a little more dimension and vocabulary.

Verdict: This would be a perfect read-aloud in storytime, great for kids interested in dogs, and incorporates factual information about raising sheep and the (very cute and furry!) animals that guard them. Simply perfect.

ISBN: 978-1590787700; Published September 2011 by Boyds Mills Press; Borrowed from the library; Added to the library's wishlist; Added to my personal wishlist

After the kill by Darrin Lunde, illustrated by Catherine Stock

The author follows a lioness’ kill from tracking to killing, eating, and the other predators that also share the kill; vultures, hyenas, jackals, and maggots. The text is simple but dramatic, not shying away from the violent interactions between prey and predator and the various animals’ fights over the carcass. Additional information about the various animals and their relationships is included in small captions on several pages.

This book is well-written and would have been a great stomach-turning read for school visits or older kids in a storytime, but Catherine Stock's gentle watercolors are NOT suited for this text! Created in pencil, watercolor and gouache, her paintings seem to be trying to soften the harsh life and death drama of the story, but only succeed in confusing it. The animals are blurry, without form or line and it’s difficult to follow the action in the swirling, messy artwork. Besides which, maggots and watercolor simple don’t go together.

Verdict: I’d like to see a similar title with photographs or more detailed, concrete drawings. I don’t recommend this one.

ISBN: 978-1570917431; Published July 2011 by Charlesbridge; Borrowed from the library

 Zeal of zebras by WOOP Studios

This distinctive book introduces an alphabet of collective nouns with gorgeous art prints. Each spread has a collective noun “A pandemonium of parrots” accompanied by a small illustration and a few short paragraphs on the animal “In the Amazon, groups of parrots can be found at “salt licks,” naturally occurring deposits of salts and minerals that they eat to supplement their diets./What a pandemonium it is with all their screeching!” The facing page has a gorgeous art print incorporating the noun and alphabet letter into the art work and illustrating it in a fanciful way – for example, a troubling of goldfish shows a floating school of fish swirling about above their bowl.

Verdict: I was disappointed that no source information was given on where the collective nouns came from, but this is a fun alphabet book with marvelous illustrations that children and adults will enjoy.

ISBN: 978-1452104928; Published August 2011 by Chronicle; Borrowed from the library; Added to the library's wishlist

 Gorillas by Gail Gibbons

The author introduces us to gorillas in simple sentences with more information incorporated into her illustrations, using maps, captions, and additional text. She discusses gorilla behavior, why they are endangered, their habitat and how they interact with the world, and their family groupings. A final note gives more information about gorillas.
While I really enjoyed Gibbons’ recent nonfiction weather books, Tornadoes and Hurricans, I was disappointed in this title. Gibbons’ swirling illustrations (I’m going to go out on a limb and guess watercolors) are not detailed enough to fully delineate the accompanying text – for example, the page that shows gorillas’ emotions has four gorilla faces in panels, supposedly demonstrating “happy, worried, angry, aggressive” but the pictures are confusing; all of the faces and attidues look alike. Again, the illustrations supposedly showing different species of gorillas all look alike, as do the male and females. The map at the beginning bleeds into the other illustrations and inset panels of additional information and pictures make the pages crowded and bewildering.

Verdict: Gibbons’ factual books are generally well-received, but her art falls short in this volume and the confusing layout makes this book a disappointment. Not recommended.

ISBN: 978-0823422364; Published March 2011 by Holiday House; Borrowed from the library

Mystery math: A first book of algebra by David Adler, illustrated by Edward Miller

With cheery cartoon illustrations and a light storyline about Mandy and Billy, who are investigating a haunted house, Adler and Miller introduce basic algebraic concepts in a way that even very young children can understand. The story starts by explaining equations and how they need to be balanced, and how an algebraic equation is an equation with a mystery number. After a few more simple rules, we enter the haunted house of the story and are quickly involved in figuring out how many creepy ravens, spooky bats, skeletons and black kittens are in the story with the mathematical help of Igor. Additional information shows how to make a scale and solve more algebra equations.

Verdict: This book is a fun way to introduce algebra to kids interested in math. Best for an elementary age audience and more of a workbook than a story, so not a good choice for storytime or reading aloud. Try having a spooky math Halloween party with this book and do some creepy calculations!

ISBN: 978-0823422890; Published August 2011 by Holiday House; Borrowed from the library; Added to the library's wishlist

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