Eszterhas, Suzi. A Leopard Diary: My Journey into the Hidden World of a Mother and Her Cubs. OwlkidsBooks, 2022. 978-1-771-47491-7. 40 p. $18.95. Grades 2-6.
Wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas, author of Moto and Me, returns with A Leopard Diary! Eszterhas specializes in photographing baby animals, and she jumped at the chance to photograph a female leopard and her two cubs in Botswana’s Jao Reserve, located in the Okavango Delta. In A Leopard Diary she has compiled her diary of the adventure, from the day she arrived at the Tubu Tree Camp through various return trips over the next two years. Her diary entries conversationally document the female cubs’ development, accompanied by full-color photos and lively page spreads that showcase their journey from cubs to sub-adults. The narrative culminates in the arrival of the Camp Female’s new baby, a male cub. As in all of Eszterhas’s books, the photographs are the star of the show. Many include captions that further explain the scenes so skillfully captured by her camera. The closing pages include an interview with Kambango (a guide and tracker who works in the reserve), information on Children in the Wilderness, and a useful list of Words to Know.
THOUGHTS: The author’s love of both her profession and the wildlife she photographs shines through on every page. Readers will come away from A Leopard Diary with a new understanding of these big cats and their “hidden” lives in the bush.
Varnai, Elizabeth S. Illustrated by Kate Hartley. Hiking to the Top: What’s Happening on the Mountain. Vista Court Books, 2022. 978-0-962-84224-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PK-3.
Young readers explore and discover with a mother and son as they hike to the top of Lookout Mountain in Hiking to the Top: What’s Happening on the Mountain? by the author of Good Morning, Loon. Hiking challenges, such as climbing rocks and balancing on fallen trees, and common animal discoveries such as water striders and fawns are detailed in the text and illustrations. Camouflaged animals also are highlighted on many pages with names and thought bubbles. Throughout, the author and illustrator depict a sense of joy and discovery in being outdoors and spending time together while also sharing basic hiking information and nature facts. Back matter expands on the text for older readers, including information on hiking safety as well as natural history information on each of the animals in the book and additional sources of information.
THOUGHTS: This book will appeal to both animal lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike and provides a strong introduction to outdoor adventures for classrooms embarking or expanding on an outdoor or nature center field trip. Kate Hartley’s realistic watercolor illustrations immerse readers in the book’s setting and entice readers to step beyond the page into their own adventure. In addition, the detailed back matter provides a launch point for research. A strong option for populations with access to outdoor adventure.
Stead, Philip. I’d Like to be the Window for a Wise Old Dog. Doubleday Books for Young Readers. 2022. 978-0-593-37509-9. $18.99. Grades K-3.
I wonder if I’ll ever be, I wonder if I’ll ever see are all common questions in this book. I wonder if I will be the dawdle of a penguin or the tumble of a honeybee. Throughout all of this, the reader knows that I would like to be the window for a wise old dog. The questions and wondering of things that are possible or things that are not possible are filled in this book, making the reader wonder about these impossibilities, too.
THOUGHTS: This is a book filled with the thoughts of things we can never be and wondering what it would be like to be those impossible things. It is gentle book, with colorful illustrations decorating these questions, presenting the reader with imaginary thoughts.
DiLorenzo, Barbara. One Thursday Afternoon. Flyaway Books, 2022. 978-1-974-88837-1. $18.00. 40 p. Grades K-3.
When Granddad picks Ava up after school on Thursday, she just wants to go home. She is having a bad day and would just like to be alone. Granddad suggests the two go for a picnic and to the woods to paint together. He promises not to talk so that the two can be alone together. Granddad drives to a nature trail, where he and Ava have a quick snack and then set up to paint. Granddad encourages Ava to use all of her senses before she uses her paintbrush. Ava takes time to be aware of the smells, sights, and sounds of the woods, and she finds herself suddenly overcome with emotion. She explains to Granddad that she is upset because her school practiced a lockdown drill today. Granddad listens patiently, gently acknowledges Ava’s feelings, and admits that he too was scared of emergency drills when he was in school. As the two continue to paint and talk, Ava begins to feel better. Talking helped, as did being in nature, concentrating on her senses, and creating art. Throughout, Granddad provides an excellent example of how to be a good listener and how to approach discussing difficult and scary topics with young children.
THOUGHTS: Simple and straightforward, this is a beautiful picture book that will be an excellent addition for school library Social-Emotional Learning collections. DiLorenzo is careful never to detail the specifics of the lockdown drill or the reasons schools have to practice them. Granddad only promises to listen and be present for Ava. A well-crafted story that models active listening and provides an excellent example of how to handle tough conversations with children who are anxious.
Koch, Falynn. The National Parks: Preserving America’s Wild Places. First Second, 2022. 978-1-250-26587-6. 120 p. $19.99. Grades 7-10.
A friendly Sasquatch is our guide through The National Parks, a recent entry in First Second’s History Comics series of graphic nonfiction for middle grade and teen readers. Today, our parks and national monuments successfully blend tourism with conservation of unique ecosystems (as well as history), but getting here was a circuitous path. When Congress established the National Park Service in 1916, it was in charge of thirteen national parks. Today the National Park System encompasses over 60 national parks and hundreds of additional federal park sites. In this conversational history of “America’s best idea” to preserve our wild places, author and illustrator Falynn Koch colorfully portrays the visionaries, politicians, Native Americans, wildlife, and occasional scoundrels who contributed to the evolution of our park system. She also addresses the forced removal of indigenous people from land that would eventually be parks: “If we don’t reexamine the past and face these grim truths, we can’t learn from them and make a better future” (92).
THOUGHTS: Rich with historical anecdotes and images of our varied parks, this one will have readers thinking, “The mountains are calling & I must go” (~ John Muir).
Hale, Bruce. Super Troop. Scholastic, 2022. 978-1-338-64599-6. 276 p. $17.99. Grades 3-5.
Cooper and Nacho are best friends – and partners in mischief – which, naturally, continually gets them into trouble. Big Trouble. Particularly after the stunt they pull on the pirate ride at their local theme park. The end result!? The boys’ families enroll them in Boy Rangers as punishment and to teach them discipline. A whole summer of dorky Boy Rangers. And if Cooper quits? The graphic novel camp he’s been dreaming of all summer becomes just that: a dream. The boys reluctantly join the Boy Rangers and soon encounter a new scoutmaster, Mr. Pierce, whose goal is to make their ragtag troop into the best in the area after the old scoutmaster quits rather than have girls join the troop. Their troop has a lot to learn if they are to qualify for and win the Ranger Jamboree. A disastrous camping trip and the resulting review of the scout master gives the troop members an opportunity to find their voices with the adults in their lives. In the midst his trials and tribulations with Boy Rangers, Cooper decides that this should be the summer he brings his divorced parents back together. The problem is their lives have moved on, and his efforts result in a series of stumbles that will be relatable to many children living in divorced families who just can’t quite let go of the dream of the family they once knew. In the course of the book, Cooper discovers himself and realizes that the family he once felt was broken has simply grown larger and different.
THOUGHTS: I selected this book because I was looking for realistic fiction with primarily male main characters. Between the covers, I found an adventure that integrates nature, friendship, and the main character’s evolving thinking about his parents’ divorce. Super Troop is told through Cooper’s voice and contains a diverse cast of characters–without an obvious focus on their diversity. Occasional illustrations by the author break up the text as do a few texted conversations between Cooper and his friends. I can think of many readers who will enjoy the adventures in the pages, particularly my students involved in Scouts and struggling with divorce. A solid addition to any collection looking to develop its offerings to boys, reluctant readers, and those seeking insight on divorce.
Realistic Fiction Hannah J. Thomas, Central Bucks SD
Novgorodoff, Danica. Alexander von Humboldt: Explorer, Naturalist & Environmental Pioneer. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-524-77308-3. 39 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.
As a young boy growing up in eighteenth century Germany, Alexander von Humboldt was very curious about the natural world. He was full of questions and wanted to be an explorer like Captain James Cook. Alexander spent many hours outdoors and his observations led him to understand that animals, plants, and the weather are all connected to each other. So he studied science and prepared himself to travel to faraway lands. Von Humboldt’s first voyage was to South America, where he found towering mountains, lush vegetation and unfamiliar animals and people. He soon realized that this New World was not all that different from his home and that he shared a lot in common with the indigenous people. The German explorer recognized that the volcanoes here were situated in a chain and he developed theories about why they erupt. He later wrote and lectured on his findings, thus earning the title of “Father of Ecology.” The author-illustrator includes a detailed author’s note, maps, and a timeline in the back matter. Novgorodoff uses pencil and watercolor to create engaging illustrations and the text placement creates added interest.
THOUGHTS: This picture book biography is a great choice for ecology units or Earth Day storytimes. It may inspire young explorers to pursue a career in ecology. A must have for elementary collections.
921 Biography Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member 509.2 Natural Science-Biography
Lai, Remy. Star the Elephant. Henry Holt and Co., 2022. 978-1-250-78499-5. 112 p. $13.99. Grades 2-5.
Author/illustrator Remy Lai opens a new series, Surviving the Wild, with the tale of Star the Elephant. Five-year old Star is growing up under the watchful eyes of his mother, aunt (the matriarch), and extended herd. When food becomes scarce, Star’s mom and auntie decide to search for a new home. After a long swim they reach an island with plenty to eat but also the troubling presence of humans. While attempting to escape from two men, Star becomes separated from his family. Fortunately for Star, these humans are working diligently to make the world safer for elephants, and the story ends on a hopeful note. “The True Story Behind Star’s Adventure,” which closes out this early reader graphic novel, includes tips to help protect elephants’ habitat from deforestation. Remy Lai fills every page with colored pencil lines depicting equatorial foliage, a handful of people, and (of course) the incredible elephants!
THOUGHTS: The Surviving the Wild series continues with Rainbow the Koala and Sunny the Shark (both 2022). Between the adorable animals and their sometimes fraught adventures, readers will tear through these!
MacLachlan, Patricia. My Poet. Illustrated by Jen Hill. Harper Collins, 2022. 978-0-062-97114-2. $17.99. 32 p. Grades K-5.
The recently deceased master of subtle writing, Patricia MacLachlan, bears tribute to the late poet, Mary Oliver in My Poet. Though Oliver remains unnamed throughout the picture book, the comparison to her is undeniable. For most of her adult life, Oliver resided in Cape Cod; MacLachlan, too, was a citizen of Massachusetts and reports that she had a passing acquaintance with the poet. Covering a span of one day, a young girl, Lily, meets the poet she dubs “my poet” at a farmer’s market, and the two explore the woods and seashore and enjoy different animals together. As Lily searches to develop her writing style, the mentor poet guides her to inspirational scenes of nature. Jen Hill’s loosely drawn illustrations evoke the spray of saltwater, the busyness of the farmer’s market, the secrecy of the woods. “My poet” encourages Lily in her pursuit of the “just right” words to compose her poem and Hill’s illustrations are in perfect concert with MacLachlan’s lyrical prose. Used as a mentor text to encourage creative writing or as a calming read aloud, this nuanced book speaks to the sensitive child. Lily’s use of a notebook walking through the woods imitates Mary Oliver’s favorite pastime as a child growing up in Ohio: to escape a tumultuous home life, she would spend as much time as possible outdoors, jotting down poetry in her own notebook, even hiding pencils in tree trunks.
THOUGHTS: I don’t know if I am enraptured by this book because I appreciate the understated prose of Patricia MacLachlan or because I am in awe of the paradoxically gentle yet powerful poetry of Mary Oliver. Either way, the prose offers many openings into discussion of Oliver’s poems (she wrote of fish playing with her toes and a whole volume devoted to her beloved dogs). Even without the mention of Oliver, the book pursues the work of writing for young children or as a mentor text for older ones. The illustrations remind me of Allan Drummond (Green City) are a refreshing fit for the words.
Poetry Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia
Nordstrom, Kristen. Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature. Charlesbridge, 2021. 978-1-580-89947-5. 44 p. $17.99. Grades 2-5.
This book describes eight inventions that were inspired by natural phenomena. From solar cells that absorb sunlight like leaves to trains that move silently and efficiently through the landscape like kingfishers, this book explains how ten scientists incorporated ideas from nature to solve various real-world problems. With end matter that includes brief biographies of each inventor, suggestions for becoming a mimic maker, and a bibliography and additional resources, this intriguing book is a solid addition to any elementary collection.
THOUGHTS: I was really impressed by the curricular connections between the natural sciences and the applied sciences presented in this book. I also think the book presents a wonderful opportunity to spark creative thinking in students. It would be interesting to have students research a plant or animal of their choice and see if they can identify any unique structures that perform specific functions for the plant or animal. Then, they could brainstorm inventions of their own using this newfound knowledge. The book is definitely thought-provoking and full of potential for classroom applications!