Earlier this month I reviewed seven nonfiction picture books, all focused on women who persisted in the face of various obstacles. Here are seven more reviews from my May and June reading that I hope readers will find useful. (In my opinion, the best of this batch is the first one here, Jason Chin’s Grand Canyon.)
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin
Grand Canyon, Jason Chin’s latest picture book, captures the historical, ecological, and geological complexity of the Grand Canyon, as well as its grandeur and beauty. Chin provides depth and detail as he explains the forces that shaped various levels and regions of the canyon, and the animals and plants that inhabit each area. The editorial layout of Grand Canyon holds some surprises for first-time readers, and the interesting images will lure those readers back for rewarding repeat visits.
Penguin Day by Nic Bishop
Nic Bishop’s Penguin Day tells the simple story of a penguin family’s typical day. Mama penguin goes for food. Papa penguin watches over baby penguin. Baby penguin goes exploring and gets in a little trouble. With simple text and a variety of interesting photos, young animal lovers will be able to navigate this book largely on their own. I like how the photos show close-ups, group shots, and action sequences. Taken all together, the daily life of a penguin family becomes clear, and it has a lot of parallels to the daily lives of humans.
If Sharks Disappeared Lily Williams
Something about sharks makes them endlessly fascinating. If Sharks Disappeared acknowledges the scariness of sharks but then makes a sharp turn to focus on the ecological importance of sharks. Author Lily Williams illustrates what would happen if sharks vanished from the food chain. Williams explains that sharks are apex predators, those at the top of the food chain. If sharks go away, species lower on the food chain will proliferate, causing a variety of ripples in the delicate balance affecting creatures in the ocean and on land, including humans.
The cause/effect focus in If Sharks Disappeared will stimulate scientific thinking in readers. In this time when some politicians discredit hard science by calling it a hoax, we need to help young people understand that relationships exist in nature, and we can accurately predict what will happen if a variable is changed. Teachers could easily use this book as an example, and then encourage students to consider other similar situations in nature.
The pictures in this book are colorful and charming, providing a nice counterpoint to the serious concepts under consideration in its pages. The glossary at the end is useful and provides accessible definitions of complex ideas.
Theodore by Frank Keating
Although Mike Wimmer’s paintings are amazingly lifelike, this picture book biography of Theodore Roosevelt is one of the weaker installments in Frank Keating’s series focused on notable presidents. Maybe Roosevelt’s life covered such vast areas of interest that it’s difficult to capture him on such a small scale. The language here is also probably too stilted to engage most young readers. Keating’s text is flat, and the quotes from Roosevelt have flourishes of vocabulary likely to over-challenge most elementary-age readers. I hope Governor Keating continues this series because other entries have been more satisfying. (Frank Keating is the former Governor of Oklahoma and was recently interviewed by President Trump to become Director of the F.B.I.) Theodore is a fine book for when a student is required to read something about a president, but it’s unlikely to become a favorite.
On Duck Pond by Jane Yolen
Although On Duck Pond has a barely noticeable fictional frame around the narrative, it is essentially a work of nonfiction told in verse. As ducks arrive at the pond on a summer morning, their quacking makes quite a disturbance, which sets in motion a variety of responses among the other animals that call the pond home. Eventually things calm down, and the animals return to normal. The animal behaviors in Jane Yolen’s newest book will catch the interest of animal and nature lovers, and Bob Marshall’s pictures will have them lingering over the pages, perhaps providing some appropriate silent space between Yolen’s verses.
As a Midwesterner, I’m very aware of the John Deere brand of farm machinery. In fact, my father-in-law worked in a John Deere factory for many years painting the company’s cotton pickers. I’ve wondered why the company uses its distinctive green color on everything, and why they have a “deer” emblem on the logo with words “John Deere.”
Tracy Nelson Maurer’s John Deere, That’s Who! provides young readers with an excellent understanding of the man behind the brand. John Deere was a blacksmith in the 1830s who used his forging skills and ingenuity to build a new kind of plow that led to faster, easier, plowing, which revolutionized American farming. Maurer’s stylized language—contraption, tuckered out, for example–evoke the frontier with echoes of a tall tale. Tim Zeltner’s pictures are reminiscent of Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood as they convey the lyrical aspects of flat land and plain, hard-working folks.
This is a worthwhile picture book for any collection, although—alas—it does not explain the green paint or deer logo.
Because our most memorable interactions with bees usually end in pain, author Bethany Barton has set herself quite a challenge in making bees interesting and appealing, but Give Bees a Chance is an engaging picture book that will help young readers understand and appreciate bees. The facts here are tantalizingly revealed as a friend tries to convince his pal that bees are more than just conveyors of stings. The large drawings and informal font make Give Bees a Chance seem lighter than it would as a straightforward nonfiction text about bees. Teachers might consider asking readers ahead of time what they hope to learn about bees, then watch as this book anticipates and answers virtually every possible question.
Please check back here next month for another round-up of new nonfiction picture books. Meanwhile, thanks for reading!