Elem. – Star the Elephant

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!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – My Poet

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
Juvenile Fiction

Elem. – Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature

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!

610.28 Biomimicry           Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – Orange is an Apricot, Green is a Tree Frog

Estellon, Pascale. Orange is an Apricot, Green is a Tree Frog. Princeton Architectural Press, 2021. 978-1-648-96014-7. Unpaged. $18.95. Gr. PreK-1.

Colors appear throughout nature from fruits and vegetables to birds and sea creatures. Each color is unique and brings about an understanding of the natural world. Combined, the colors enrich everyday items and create associations. Each highlighted color in Orange is an Apricot, Green is a Tree Frog begins with “__________ [the color] looks like”, and then has dots of varying shades of that color along with images of plants, animals, and food that are the highlighted color. Through this setup, children can see the varying degrees of each color while learning the color and a variety of everyday items they may encounter. 

THOUGHTS: Although plain in design, the use of white space helps to highlight each color and those natural things with the color. Words are sparse, but that also is important because they are names of the pictures and colors. This is a great book for teaching students colors and about nature.

Picture Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Stick and Stone Best Friends Forever

Ferry, Beth. Stick and Stone Best Friends Forever. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021. Ill. Tom Lichtenheld. 978-0-358-47302-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-1.

We’ve always heard, “Sticks and stones may break my bones…”, but when Stick and Stone get together, they don’t break bones. They play on a slide; they read books; they hike and canoe; they are best friends. So, when Stick decides he wants to find his family tree, Stone goes with him on his quest. “They wander [and] explore”, but Stick can’t find his family. When pinecone shows up after a scary experience in the forest, Stick realizes he may never find his family tree, but that’s okay because he’ll always have Stone. 

THOUGHTS: This is a beautifully illustrated story of what it means to be a family. Stick doesn’t know what type of tree he is, but Stone says that’s okay because they have one another, and it doesn’t matter “if you’re oak or you’re pine […] you’ll always be mine.” This story shows children that all friends and families come in different shapes and sizes, and it’s love for one another that makes a family. This is a wonderful story of acceptance, and as always, Tom Lichtenheld’s illustrations are vibrant and beautiful.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Stick and Stone are best friends. When Stick decides he wants to find out where he came from, the duo head out in search of Stick’s family tree. Their journey takes them through forests, across valleys and creeks, and into the mountains. Before long, they become lost and frightened. Eventually, they run into Pinecone, who guides them safely home. Although Stick doesn’t find his family tree, he does learn something about what family means and realizes that he had one all along. The rhyming verse and cheerful illustrations will have children devouring this delightful story about friendship.

THOUGHTS: I could see this book resonating especially with students from unconventional or broken homes. It could help them understand and appreciate the value of “found family.” Fans of Mo Willems’s Elephant & Piggy books would also enjoy this amusing tale of friendship.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – Gumboot Kids Nature Mystery

Hogan, Eric, and Tara Hungerford. Gumboot Kids Nature Mystery. Firefly, 2021. $19.95 ea. 32 p. Grades K-2. 

The Case of the Hanging Food Catcher. 978-0-228-10337-0.
The Case of the Shrinking Friend. 978-0-228-103350-5. 

The mice Scout and Daisy (aka the Gumboot Kids) have returned to solve more nature-related mysteries! In The Case of the Hanging Food Catcher, when Scout and Daisy meet to pick pumpkins, Scout mentions nearly walking into a hanging food catcher earlier in the day. They consult Scout’s field notebook, where he recorded clues about his encounter, which lead them to a beautiful spider web. Their findings are confirmed when they consult a book about spiders. In The Case of the Shrinking Friend, while on a winter hike, Daisy notices that the snow mouse she had built the day before had shrunk! Using Daisy’s sketchbook filled with drawings from the day prior, they set off to solve the mystery. The clues, together with knowledge they gain from a book about weather, lead them to conclude that the snow mouse is shrinking because the warmth of the sun has melted the snow. Each title concludes with a mindful moment in which Scout and Daisy pause and reflect on nature and the knowledge they have gained. Back matter includes definitions of the terms in the field notes, a fact page featuring photographs, and a related nature craft that children can complete. 

THOUGHTS: I love how this series encourages readers to solve mysteries by making observations and then consult books in the library to interpret their observations and answer their questions–what a great way to introduce the basics of the scientific research process to young readers. In addition, the series encourages readers to go out into nature, explore and engage with the world around them, and to be curious. Recommended.

500s Natural Sciences          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – The Collectors

Feagan, Alice. The Collectors. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30204-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

Winslow and Rosie, two young, intrepid naturalists, are seeking the pièce de résistance to their impressive collection. They pledge to locate something they never have found before and set off into the forest. They find a spectacular gem, but it is too heavy; the T-Rex skeleton is too big; a rainbow too far. Each marvel they encounter is problematic, and the girls walk farther and farther. When they come to a cave, Winslow and Rosie are certain this is where they will find something unique and extraordinary, but something finds them first, and the girls flee the cave, running all the way back to their cozy treehouse. At first, they claim the day a failure, but slowly they identify all the new experiences they had. Finally, something new and wonderful appears right under their noses. This gorgeous book celebrates treasures wherever we find them, big or small. Feagan’s cut-paper collage illustrations are warm and delightful, imbuing each girl with character. Winslow is portrayed as white, while Rosie has dark skin.

THOUGHTS: Reminiscent of Mac Barnett’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (without the Twilight Zonetwist) The Collectors will make a perfect read-aloud, tie in with art class, or just plain fun. Perfect for all collections serving a primary clientele.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Have You Ever Seen a Flower?

Harris, Shawn.  Have You Ever Seen a Flower?  Chronicle Books, 2021. 978-1-432-18270-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Accompanied by a little terrier, a young child leaves a gray, gloomy city filled with skyscrapers. As the car travels along a windy road, the pair stops to investigate a field filled with row after row of pink tulips. With rainbow colored hair and a multicolored shirt, this youngster of undisclosed gender, runs around the meadow, examining the flowers closely using all five senses. The author discusses the similarities between the growth and blossoming of a flower to that of a child. Harris has used pencil and colored pencil to create his drawings. Following a similar technique used in The Wizard of Oz film, the illustrations shift from grayscale to vibrant color with the movement from city to country. Some pictures are unusual, like the image of the child smelling the flower and the daunting queen bee. When the main character pricks a finger with a rose thorn, the preceding double page spread is entirely red, which the author calls “the brilliant color of your life.” The author’s message is that life is all around us and within us.

THOUGHTS: Some children may have difficulty grasping the meaning of this story. The text ends with confusing questions: “Have you ever been a flower…would you remember…try and see,” which may be too philosophical for young readers. A supplemental purchase.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired PSLA Member

Elem. – Home Is…

Barnaby, Hannah. Home Is… Beach Lane Books. 2021. 978-1-5344-2176-9. $17.99. Gr. PreK-3.

Home is many things to many different people and creatures. Home can be small or big, above or below, cold or warm. Home can be any place one calls its own. With beginning lyrical text, this picture book shows young readers how home is where a person (or animal) loves to be and how that is different for all creatures.

THOUGHTS: This book contains detailed pictures to share how homes are different for all creatures. With simple text, this book can provide instructors with a simple resource to discuss home, nature, environment, or a variety of topics within a curriculum.

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest

Lang, Heather. The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest. Calkins Creek, 2021. 978-1-68437-177-8. Unpaged. $18.99 Grades 2-5.

From childhood Meg was always interested in nature, opting to spend time outside studying plants. As an adult she moved from her Elmira, New York hometown to Australia where she pioneered rainforest studies. In 1979, she invented a slingshot harness allowing her to study trees from the canopy of branches sitting up to one hundred and fifty feet tall. From dizzying heights Meg studied the rainforest in ways scientists had not previously attempted prior to her invention. Nearly a decade later, Meg was instrumental in developing plans for the first canopy walkway making rainforest ecology accessible to more people and fostering an understanding of its importance to Australian citizens. In her quest to learn even more about rainforests,  Meg joined a team in Cameroon who launched a hot air balloon permitting the scientists a view from the top of the canopy. It was here that Meg realized conservation as her next calling. She began traveling the world, pioneering conservation preservation projects in Cameroon, Western Samoa, and Ethiopia. Mesmerizing full color digital illustrations saturate every page with rainforest scenery. Animals, plants, trees, insects and birds emphasize the biodiversity of the rainforest. Leaf-shaped text boxes nearly blend into the scenery, rewarding a close reading with  additional facts about the rainforest.

577.34 Rain Forest Ecology          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD
Biography
Picture Book