Picture Books About Nature

Now that June is almost here and the weather is perfect for nature hikes, I thought it was worth a profile of some of the nature books on the shelves at our house. I selected non-fiction picture books about nature, with my children piping in to make sure I included their favorites. This list is by no means comprehensive – just a snapshot of what’s at our house. Maybe there are a few on here that you can add to your “Must Read” list.

General Nature/Weather

The Magic School Bus: Inside a Hurricane (Joanna Cole, ill. Bruce Degen)

Inside a Hurricane

Cactus Hotel (Brenda Z. Guiberson, ill. Megan Lloyd)

Cactus Hotel

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain (Verna Aardema, ill. Beatriz Vidal)

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain

Here is the African Savanna (Madeline Dunphy, ill. Tom Leonard)

Here is the African Savanna

Are Mountains Growing Taller? Questions About the Changing Earth (Melvin and Gilda Berger, ill. Robin Carter)

Are Mountains Growing Taller?

Animals/Insects

Big Sharks! (Toru Kosara)

Big Sharks!

Birds (K.M. Kostyal- National Geographic Nature Library)

Birds

Where Butterflies Grow (Joanne Ryder, ill. Lynne Cherry)

Where Butterflies Grow

Gray Wolf Pup’s Adventure (Stephanie Smith, ill. Robert Hynes)

Grey Wolf Pup's Adventure

Predators of the Sea (Mary Jo Rhodes, ill. David Hall)

Predators of the Sea

Whales (Kevin Boon)

Whales

Insects (Robin Bernard)

Insects

Gorillas: Gentle Giants of the Forest (Joyce Milton, ill. Bryn Barnard)

Gorillas

Penguins (Jane P. Reznick)

Penguins

Ants (Christine Young, ill. Andrea Jaretzki)

Ants

Additionally, we have 2 fiction favorites that should be mentioned: Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer.

I’m sure you have other good nature books that you enjoy – please share them in the comments. We’ve love to discover some new nature books!

Review: Hermelin the Detective Mouse/ Max’s Review

Hermelin cover

Max is back! See what Max thinks of this month’s book.

Email subscribers: Please click over to this post on the website to see Max’s complete video.

Hermelin the Detective Mouse

Written and Illustrated by: Mini Grey

Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Mystery, Finding what you’re good at

How We Discovered This Book: We found this one in the new books bin at our library.

Summary: Hermelin is a mouse living in a little girl’s attic on Offley Street. Things go missing, and Hermelin decides to play detective and find their things. As he solves the mysteries, he leaves notes for the owners to tell them where to find their belongings. What would people think if they knew that Hermelin was a mouse?

What I Liked: Hermelin is cute, and the author/illustrator gives him a lot of personality. The illustrations are so rich, you can linger on each page just looking for all of the hidden details. I love that he names himself after a brand of cheese, rather than something like Bob or Squeaky.

What Did My Kids Think? My kids loved trying to solve the mysteries, and felt very smart when they figured them out. As soon as we were done reading, they immediately wanted to go back and read it again.

Resources:

Type secret notes for a friend or family member. Hermelin uses a typewriter, but a computer and printer will do. You could find something they’ve been missing, or do an act of kindness.

Imagine you are a mouse. Get down on the floor and discover what you might find if you are at Hermelin’s level.

Using Character to Move Your Story Forward

I belong to a women’s book club, and this month we read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. I enjoyed the book, but how the author develops her main character made me reflect on how I structure my own stories.

In The Language of Flowers the main character is Victoria, a damaged young girl on the cusp of aging out of the foster care system. She loves flowers, and uses their inherent meanings to communicate to others what she cannot.

The author lets us learn about Victoria through her actions, not exposition- we learn why Victoria is the way she is through her experiences. But the focus is not on what happens TO Victoria, but instead it is on the choices that she makes.

Somewhere in my ongoing education as a writer, I read that you should figure out what is the worst thing that you could do to your character at that point in the story. And then you should do that exact thing to them, which will propel the story forward. I understood the concept, but was always hesitant to torture my characters. After reading this book, I realize there is an alternate approach. Rather than think of what could happen to my character, I can think of what the choices are that the character might make and which one will move the story forward the most. I suspect it will be the choice that is the hardest, and the one that will require the most significant consequences.

For those of you organized thinkers like me, think of it as a decision tree. As you write your character and they reach a decision point, what are the different choices they could possibly make? And then for each choice, what would be the consequences? And if you later don’t like where the story headed, you hopefully have multiple decision points with which to go back and start a new path.

I’m looking forward to trying this on my novel in progress. Maybe this will help me to get some energy behind more novel writing!

Spring Has Finally Sprung

Here in the Northeast, we finally had a weekend worthy of being called Spring. The temperature was in the mid-70’s, it was mostly sunny, and the flowering trees decided it was time to bloom.

Magnolias

We spent as much time outside as possible- riding bikes and scooters, climbing trees, and even sneaking in a book while laying on a blanket. A visit from Grandma and Pa made it even more special.

Bike Riding

These are the weekends that lift my spirits and inspire me. Each spring I realize how much the winter weather has weighed on my mood, and how much I enjoy the fresh air and the warm sun on my skin.

Each Spring, nature begins again. Maybe last year the daffodils didn’t put on their best show, but this year could be different. Each Spring the Earth is given a new start and a fresh approach. So how can we not be inspired? This may be the 5th time we’ve worked on that first chapter. We may feel like there is no way to get that picture book right. But we must begin again. Maybe we need to let a story hibernate for a while, but then it’s time to start again with fresh new eyes and bold determination. And maybe, just maybe, this will be the revision that makes that chapter feel just right.

Photo by Katie Cullinan

Review: Ninja Red Riding Hood/ Max’s Review

Ninja Red Riding Hood Cover
Ninja Red Riding Hood

Written by: Corey Rosen Schwartz

Illustrated by: Dan Santat

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2014, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Independence, Creative Problem Solving

How We Discovered This Book: We found this one in the new books bin at our library.

Summary: Red is on her way to Grandma’s house as you would expect, but how would the story be different if Red and the Wolf had taken ninja lessons? (And Grandma had taken tai chi).

What I Liked: This is a fun twist on a traditional fairytale. Each time you think you know what to expect the author throws you something unexpected.

What Did My Kids Think? I have a son who thinks ninjas are cool, and a daughter currently taking karate lessons. What’s not to love?

Resources:

There is a Pinterest Board with all kinds of ideas for companion activities, including stick puppets, worksheets, story mapping, story element activities, and even a template for writing a letter to the wolf. My favorite is a blank wanted poster where you can add in a picture of the wolf and all his “crimes.”

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Last month we introduced you to Max, a new contributor to our blog. He has his own YouTube Channel called Puppets Love Children’s Books. We’ve asked him to stop by every so often to give us his own unique perspective on picture books. Check out what Max has to say about Ninja Red Riding Hood.

Email subscribers: Please click over to this post on the website to see Max’s complete video.

The Value of Honest Feedback

I’m a big believer in honesty. Not painful, hurtful honesty, but the idea that being upfront with people (especially friends and family) avoids much drama, misunderstandings, and unnecessary conflict.

However, for honesty to work fully we must be open to feedback. Sure, honest feedback might still sting a little, or initially rub us the wrong way, but if we can ultimately incorporate the information it can be a gift.

Take the writer’s submission process for example. Joanna and I were discussing how we hope for open feedback when we submit our work to agents and editors. Even a little open feedback instead of a standard rejection would help us to know which direction to go. Such as:

“Not really the kind of book I represent.” – Try another agent.

“Strong concept, but the prose needs tightening.” – Now you know where to focus your revisions.

“Good idea, but I wasn’t hooked at the beginning.” – Time to rework the first few chapters.

“I like the characters, but the stakes for them aren’t high enough to keep me interested.” – More work needed on the plot and character development.

Knowing how to proceed in this highly subjective art of writing is invaluable. And why I need my critique group so much. We encourage each other, make suggestions, and give balanced feedback that helps us each be better writers.

So if someone asks you for your honest feedback, consider giving it. It could make all the difference.

Choosing the Right Books for Your Advanced Reader

I have an advanced reader in my house, who devours new books. My son has read and enjoyed many of the classics, such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Indian in the Cupboard; James and the Giant Peach; Charlotte’s Web; and The Borrowers. Aidan likes the newer books too, like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Holes, and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He is eager to discover new series and new books, preferring fantasy and adventure topics.

He is, however, only in 3rd grade. I do not yet want him exposed to the world of middle school, nor do I want him worrying about the kinds of topics kids that age face. I do not want him to be exposed to excessive violence or death.

It is an ongoing challenge that I have in finding new quality books to read, and it is a topic I have discussed frequently with his 3rd grade teacher, Irene Drake. I’m sure many of you parents and teachers have faced the same issue.

So far, my approach has been to dig deep into the lists of “must read” books for his age, and sought recommendations from librarians, teachers, writers, and other parents. I also discovered the Scholastic Book Wizard, which with a little tweaking comes up with a list of appropriate books by Lexile Level or DRA along with age range. However, for Aidan, his reading level with a grade 3-5 filter only comes up with non-fiction books. Those are certainly helpful books for when he is in a non-fiction mood, but not always.

Joanna shared a list that her library prepared for accelerated readers. Some that caught my eye for Aidan were: The Moffat’s, The View from Saturday, The Enchanted Castle, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Whittington, and Extra Credit.

What suggestions do you have for accelerated readers? Please share in the comments.

Happy Easter and Welcome to Spring!

I find Easter and the beginning of Spring as a time of reflection, much more so than on New Year’s. In January, it is still cold and gray (and often we are knee-deep in snow), so it is hard to see the potential for the new year. For those of you who celebrate Easter (as I do), it is symbolic of rebirth, renewal, and joy. And if you’re lucky, the sun is peeking out more often and the temperates are gradually rising.

Photo by Katie Cullinan

There is promise in each day – a promise that what has incubated all winter under the snow and within ourselves is ready to blossom. You just need to look – are you ready to be brave? Take on that new challenge? Try something new? Take a bold step towards a new direction?

Best wishes for a restorative and peaceful Easter and Spring to all of you. Get out there and shake things up. What are you waiting for?

Review: Not Your Typical Dragon/ Introducing Max!

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 12.07.16 PMNot Your Typical Dragon

Written by: Dan Bar-el

Illustrated by: Tim Bowers

Viking Books for Young Readers, 2013, Imagination Library Paperback Edition

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Differences, Uniqueness, Humor

How We Discovered This Book: This book was an Imagination Library selection. The Imagination Library is such a wonderful program, and I am sad that just this month my daughter received her last book from the program (it ends at age 5).

Summary: A small dragon names Crispin turns 7, and is expected to breathe fire. But things work a little differently for Crispin – he breathes other things like beach balls and marshmallows. His parents are aghast, but Crispin eventually finds his way with the help of a friendly knight. Crispin’s unique talents come in handy when a problem threatens his family home.

What I Liked: Both the text and illustrations are so whimsical, and you are rewarded with something new to notice each time you read it. The author has provided some good thoughts about embracing your differences, but he does it with subtlety and humor.

What Did My Kids Think? My kids loved the illustrations – especially when Crispin breathes funny things. They couldn’t wait to turn the page to see what Crispin did next. They were very happy for him at the end of the story. This book is on frequent rotation at my house.

Resources:

ReadWriteThink has some companion activities for young children, working with each of the items Crispin breathes.

Activity Village has dragon-themed crafts, activities, and printables… even a video for making a dragon’s head from origami. I’ll have to try the dragon made from egg cartons.

Haven’t seen the movie How to Train Your Dragon or its sequel? Now might be the time!

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Today we’d like to introduce you to a new contributor to the blog. His name is Max, and he has his own YouTube Channel called Puppets Love Children’s Books. We’ve asked him to stop by every so often to give us his own unique perspective on picture books. Max loves reading children’s books, watching movies, and hanging out with his friends. His favorite books make him laugh, or surprise him.

Gather up your kids, grandkids, or the young at heart, and see what Max has to say!

Author Review: Steve Jenkins

Recently, my son “adopted” a book for his school library. He chose Eye to Eye: How Animals See The World, by Caldecott Award winning Steve Jenkins. As part of the adoption, my son was the first one to check the book out. Not only was it filled with amazing facts about how animals see, but the artwork was stunning!

You see, Jenkins isn’t just an author–he’s an illustrator, too. His amazing paper collage illustrations first drew me to his work a few years ago, and I’ve enjoyed every title of his that I’ve read. His books, often collaborations with his wife, Robin Page, are all non-fiction books exploring animal biology with intriguing titles such as What Do Yo Do When Something Wants To Eat You? and What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? The topics range from prehistoric animals to skeletons, from beetles to Mount Everest. He’s also illustrated a number of books for other authors as well.

Jenkins’s newest book, also with Page, is Egg. It comes out this spring. His webpage shows an interesting slideshow of how they created the book, if you’re interested.

If you or whomever you’re reading to enjoys non-fiction about animals, then you simply must check out Jenkins’s beautiful and informative books. Learn more about Jenkins here.