In this nonfiction picture book, Jan Reynolds introduces the reader to the culture of the Maasai and their struggles to conserve their land and traditional way of life. Each page is filled with photographs and many also feature a traditional saying or proverb. The book begins with the traditional roles for women, men, and children. It introduces these roles with real people and shows how they all work together to survive. In addition to work, we see some of the games the adults and children play and the rhythm of life in their enkang, or village. Food, and how the Maasai use the bush and protect themselves, follows and then the author moves into the changes in the Maasai’s traditional way of life, especially those caused by droughts, climate change, and loss of territory and how they are changing to deal with these new challenges. The Maasai must find new ways to make a living and survive on the land now that their traditional way of life is no longer feasible. Farming and tourism are two of the ways they are changing to meet these challenges.
The Extras: the story begins with a map, showing where the specific tribe lives which is featured in this book. After the main story, the author discusses int more detail the modern challenges to traditional life not just for the Maasai, but for other cultures and speculates on how things will continue to change. A glossary and source notes are also included.
Verdict: This is an interesting book and would be a good starting point for a student researching other cultures. I would suggest buying it in paperback if possible, as the rapid changes in political and environmental cultures may make this outdated very soon.
Confession time: I wasn’t enthusiastic about House in the Night. I didn’t really see why it won the Caldecott. But this, oh yes, this title I can get behind, text and art! Krommes’ gorgeous scratchboard art is perfect for the poetic sentences of Sidman and together they have created an amazing read-aloud nonfiction picture book. In clear, large type, Sidman presents spirals in nature in lyrical but general terms, “A spiral is a growing shape/It starts small/and gets bigger,/swirl by swirl.”
Her simple, lovely language is gorgeously expanded by Krommes. The art accompanying the quoted text shows a nautilus, both swimming in cross-section, showing how the shell grows from a tiny baby into a large adult. Each page follows this pattern, with the art expanding and explaining the text. Neat captions adorn the various spirals from “breaking ocean waves” to “spiral galaxy.”
Extras: Each page on spirals is expanded into more information about spirals in nature with small illustrations.
Verdict: This is a must-have for your library collection and storytime repertoire. Pair it with Sarah Campbell's Growing Patterns for a science program. Highly recommended.
Bugs by the numbers by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss
It’s impossible to separate the text and art in this intriguing book on insects. 23 different bugs, insects, and other creepy-crawlies are combined with statistics and numbers to create unique art and text. The introduction features a cheery rhyme explaining the ubiquity of bugs and why the authors chose to bunch insects, bugs, arachnids, and others together under the heading “bugs.” Each creature stretches across a full spread, its body composed of numbers. Cut paper flaps conceal and reveal more information and additional facts – all mathematically related of course – abound.
For example, on the spider’s page we learn that spiders have 8 legs and a little about what those legs do. On the left, a blue page divided into six sections tells us that Daddy Longlegs aren’t spiders and have only 1 body segment, Golden Orb Web spiders make the biggest webs, spiders have 6 silk glands, Tarantula is the largest spider, and a Black Widow’s poison is 15 times more venomous than a rattlesnake’s. Lift the blue flap and you will see a web composed of 1s and sentences about spiders and three spiders constructed out of stylistic 8s.
Many children will be thrilled to spend hours finding all the numbers and facts about the different creatures and learning fascinating new facts. However, I was disappointed to see there were no sources listed for the many facts and numbers. Where did they get the numbers from? Also, some of the facts are a little vague, for example, the spider page tells us that Daddy Longlegs are not spiders, but doesn’t tell us what they are. Despite the introduction at the beginning, it’s confusing and disappointing to tell budding scientists that it’s ok to call things by the incorrect name because “most folks” do (although I’ve never met anyone who called an earthworm a bug!)
Verdict: This book is unique and fascinating and would make a fun addition to your library collection, but make sure you have plenty of more solidly grounded factual books on insects, arachnids, and whatever earthworms are (looked it up – invertebrates apparently?)
The Text: Dianna Aston does one of my favorite things with easy nonfiction: she has two parallel texts, one simple sentences perfect for reading aloud, another a longer paragraph for reading alone or with older children. The simple sentences give facts and attributes of butterflies, “A butterfly is patient/a butterfly is creative/a butterfly is helpful” while the longer text explains in further detail. “A butterfly is patient” explains how an egg is hidden and hatches into a caterpillar. “A butterfly is creative” explains how a caterpillar grows and begins metamorphosis. “A butterfly is helpful” discusess butterflies’ role in pollination. The differences between moths and butterflies, butterfly species, migration, feeding habits, and more are also included.
The Illustrations: Sylvia Long’s illustrations glow with brilliant color. Her watercolors are delicately detailed and perfect for identifying butterflies or just basking in their beauty. The book was handlettered by Anne Robin and Sylvia Long and most of the butterflies and caterpillars are neatly labeled. The layout of the illustrations and text is a big part of this book as they are so carefully integrated. Some of the spreads swirl across the entire page with a section of text carefully placed in the middle. Other pages spotlight a few pictures against a white background, alternating with text.
The Extras: The acknowledgements include a long list of professional sources on butterflies. No guide to identification is needed, as the illustrations include captions.
Verdict: This is a beautiful, beautiful book. Perfect for reading aloud or enjoying alone, highly recommended for any library collection.
All the water in the world by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by Katherine Tillotson
Like Swirl by Swirl, This is another beautifully illustrated, lyrically written title about an aspect of nature. This time, it’s the water cycle. George Ella Lyon’s beautiful poem about the amazing beauty of water and the water cycle is perfectly spread out over Katherine Tillotson’s digital illustrations on handmade paper. The poem has a warm, friendly feel, “Everything waits/for an open gate/in a wall of clouds/for rain sweet and loud/to fill the well/and start the stream/Honey/living things dream/of water/for all to drink/use in tub or sink/wash in, splash in.”
Tillotson’s illustrations show the progression of water through the water cycle as well as droughts, but her illustrations also explode with the life that comes from water, with a spray of droplets and waves hiding animals and people in its splashes. The book ends with an exhortation to conserve water and keep earth green for everyone.
Verdict: This is a great way to introduce very young children to the water cycle as well as being a fun and lovely read-aloud. I successfully used it with my pre-kindergarten classes last summer and they loved the exuberant language and details in the pictures. The text is integrated into the illustrations, so you’ll need to practice reading this aloud as it’s not always easy to follow the words. Highly recommended.