Kid's Stuff -- Books About Nature
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"Rabbits And Raindrops"
Written by Jim Arnosky
Illustrated by Jim Arnosky
(Putnam, 1997)

Author/artist Jim Arnosky is a prolific writer of nature-oriented children's book -- he's written nearly a hundred so far. I haven't had much success with his material, despite some promising titles. The realistic, didactic tone of his Crinkleroot series and other "All About" books doesn't seem very engaging, at least to the littlest readers. This book is the big exception so far... It's a standard cutesy animal story, with a more conventional narrative that may appeal to smaller children... A rabbit family huddles under some foliage during a downpour, and comes back out when the sun breaks through, then they marvel at the damp, sparkling world around them. A very nice, simple story... also some of Arnosky's most accomplished artwork. We discovered this one at a library-sponsored storytime, and all the little kids liked it. (B+)


"The Great Blue House"
Written by Kate Banks
Illustrated by Georg Hallensleben
(Farrar Straus Giroux/Frances Foster Books, 2005)

What happens inside a large, comfy summer home when the humans go back to the city in the Fall? The critters come in and take refuge from the wind and snow, and raise families of their own. Writing in a soft, poetic tone, Banks tells the story of a big, old house with lots of little stories. It also turns out to be a circle-of-life story: by the time the humans come back, the cat that snuck in through the cat flaps is about to have kittens and the sparrow in the attic has hatched her brood as well. Plus, the humans have a new baby, too! Like many of the Banks-Hallensleben books, this has a somewhat rarified air -- I wouldn't recommended it for everyone, but for the right readers it will be a real treat. (B)


"The Way To Wyatt's House"
Written by Nancy White Carlstrom
Illustrated by Mary Morgan
(Walker & Company, 2000)

An exploration of sounds. Two siblings tramp through the forest to visit their friend Wyatt at his farmhouse... They hear the crinkle of the leaves, the clicking of beetles and -- at Wyatt's house -- a dog barking, a goat bleating, etc. There's also the squeal of childish laughter and eventually the beep-beep of their parent's car when it's time to go home. I wasn't totally wowed by this book, although there's nothing wrong with it, per se. It's functional, if a bit bland. (C)


"On The Way To The Beach"
Written by Henry Cole
Illustrated by Henry Cole
(Greenwillow, 2003)

A neat nature-appreciation book that shows a walk to the beach from the narrator's point of view, with a three-page wide fold-out spread devoted to each setting -- the woods, a marsh, a stream, a seaside trail, some sand dunes and the beach itself, each with various plants and animals shown and described. Of the many nature books we've tried at the library, this was one of the most successful at engaging my girl's attention... And I liked it, too! Neat layout, and good, unobtrusively educational content. (B+)


"Know What I Saw?"
Written by Aileen Fisher
Illustrated by Deborah Durland DeSaix
(Roaring Brook, 2005)

A groovy counting + nature + girl power book... A young girl (maybe 6 or 7?) climbs a tree, and tromps through forest and field, encountering raccoons and mice, bunnies, skunks and kittens... The artwork is obviously based on photo studies, but nonetheless is warm and appealing (and is the source of the "girl-power" theme -- the text is gender neutral.) The rhyming text, which counts backwards from ten to one, is quite effective, with a nice rhythmic bounce to it... All in all, a fine counting book, good for older kids as well. (A)


"The Whole Green World"
Written by Tony Johnston
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Farrar Straus Giroux, 2005)

A love-of-nature and love-of-the-world-around-us book with a giddy, hippie-ish vibe that is nice, but might not be for everyone. Kleven's detailed, expansive patchwork quilt-ish artwork is ideally suited for the playful, celebratory tone... Great book for the right families. (B)


"Lucky Morning"
Written by Sally Noll
Illustrated by Sally Noll
(Greenwillow, 1994)

A sweet story, but clunky execution. A little girl named Nora goes on a hike with her grandfather, taking in the splendor of rural Montana, where they see horses, deer, and even bear and elk. That's all pretty neat, but if you rely on the written text, the story is a little hard to follow... Details are skipped over and some information is only presented visually, making massive paraphrasing and improvisation necessary, which is fine sometimes, but not always. If the story appeals to you, it may be worth the extra effort to make it work. (C-)


"Hello, Hello!"
Written by Miriam Schlein
Illustrated by Daniel Kirk
(Simon & Schuster, 2002)

A nice nature science picture book, showing how various animals greet one another -- wolves, lions, penguins, elephants, monkeys and more. Although Schlein has a lesson to impart, she does so skillfully, with a light enough touch to keep her littlest readers engaged. The book suggests, subtly, the universality of emotion and gives a solid, if cursory, introduction to animal social behavior. Beautiful, realistically detailed artwork from the often-cartoony Daniel Kirk certainly helps... For the right kids, this could definitely be a read-that-again type book! (B+)


"A Listening Walk"
Written by Paul Showers
Illustrated by Aliki
(Harper Collins, 1991)

A nice book about and girl and her daddy who like to go on "listening walks," where instead of talking, they try to hear as many sounds as they can. Ideal for reading aloud, this gives lots of opportunity for creative special effects, doing jet planes, rattly old cars, bicycle bells and pigeons in the park. A nice touch is that, rather than have the duck at the pond go "quack, quack," they go "gahnk, gahnk," which is truer to life. Neat idea for a book, and possibly more accessible than similar nature-oriented hiking books. This is a revised edition -- the story was first published in 1961, with different artwork. (B)


"Quiet Night"
Written by Marilyn Singer
Illustrated by John Manders
(Clarion Books, 2002)

A fun animal noises/counting book, with some unusual onomonopoeic choices -- the eeeeeeeeeeeee of eight mosquitoes, the splash of goose wings on water and, most satisfying of all, the big baarrrrrr-rumph! of a bullfrog that ends each iteration. The artwork is highly stylized and somewhat chaotic. It may be too busy-looking for many readers to fix on and understand, but even if you can't piece apart all the details in the splashy two-page spreads, the rolling rhythm and wild momentum of the text will probably pull you in, and you'll get enough of the visual information for it to work. I had lots of fun reading this one, but after a couple of weeks and several good reads, my daughter announced that she was done with this book, and told me to take it back to the library. Go figure! Anyway, I'd definitely recommend this one. (A-)


"How Big Is The World?"
Written by Britta Teckentrup
Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup
(Sterling/Boxer Books, 2007)

A beautiful book that evokes natural majesty and a sense of wonder, and encourages readers to look beyond their current horizons. One day a young mole burrows out from its hole and, blinking in the sunlight, wonders aloud how big the world is... The mole's father, a model of the whole if-you-love-something-let-it-go-free ethos, tells Little Mole to go out and explore the world himself, and see if he can find the answer. So he does, meeting new animals and asking each in its turn how big the world is. Each one has a different answer, depending on its own perspective, but the more Little Mole travels, the more worldly his acquaintances become. From a spider who sees only his own web and a mouse that only knows its own field, Little Mole moves on to meet a horse who has been to other fields and a seagull that knows of the ocean. His final guide is a giant, gentle whale that takes him to the North Pole and then to the tropics, and across the globe, eventually coming back home where Father Mole is waiting. So, how big is the world? When this question is posed to the whale, she responds that there is no end to the world, but that, "the more you look, the more you will see." The brilliance of this book is both geographic and philosophical, and the tone of the presentation is absolutely perfect. Lovely visuals, too: this has the look and the feel of the best books by Eric Carle and Leo Lionni, and pays warm homage to their work. I have a kid who is often resistant to this sort of message-heavy, nature-loving didacticism, but she was thoroughly entranced by this one. Me, too. Definitely recommended! (A)


"How Do You Know?"
Written by Deborah W. Trotter
Illustrated by Julie Downing
(Houghton Mifflin/Clarion, 2006)

Waking up on a foggy morning, a little girl asks her mother where the world has gone... Mom takes her out for a walk and shows her that everything is still where it was, even if they can't see it all through the mists. The child asks the mother, But how do you know it's there? A curious book, I suppose, about both faith and tangible reality, about a child's trust in their parent's knowledge of the world, and about a child testing that knowledge. It's also about a mother and child on an adventure, exploring nature together in the misty magic of a foggy day... The text is well-matched by the dreamy pastels of San Francisco-based illustrator Julie Downing -- nobody knows fog quite as well as Bay Area natives! (B)


"The Moon Jumpers"
Written by Janice May Udry
Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
(Harper & Row, 1959)

A semi-mystical evocation of nighttime and the wonders of nature, with early artwork by the much-vaunted Maurice Sendak. In the story, four children slip out after bedtime to dance and sing and play tag in the moonlight, until their pagan revels are interrupted by Dad and Mom telling them it's time for bed. There's some magic here, but the presentation, both the text and the artwork, is a bit stilted. For the right readers, a cherished treasure... It kinda drew a blank with my kid, though. (B-)


"When Winter Comes"
Written by Nancy Van Laan
Illustrated by Susan Gaber
(Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 2000)

One of the loveliest nature-appreciation, changing-of-the-seasons books I know of... Whereas many of this sort of book seem stilted or awkward, this hits every note perfectly. The artwork -- showing two parents ushering their (gender-nonspecific) child through a world of newly fallen snow -- has a feeling of expansiveness and wonder. The color tones are soft and compelling, and the layout captures a sense of nature's openness and vastness, supporting the text beautifully. In simple rhymes, the text asks where the various animals go -- field mice, fish, birds -- when winter arrives, ending, of course with the little human child nestled up snug in bed for naptime after a lovely walk in nature. It's a pretty book, well worth checking out... One of the few "nature books" my daughter has sat still for. (A)




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