The Bear Report

A young girl undertakes a magical journey as she is working on a school report about polar bears.

Picture book, fiction
Interest level: K-3; Reading level: 1.2
YHBA picture book nominee, 2017-2018
5 out of 5 stars


The book opens with a young girl who is hurries through a book report on polar bears so she can watch TV. She writes three things: they are big; they eat things; they are mean.
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Suddenly, a polar bear is crowded onto a chair in her living room. He informs her, “We’re not all mean.” Thus begins a wonderful excursion where Sophie visits Olafur’s environment and begins to learn that there’s a lot more beauty, excitement, and interesting facts about polar bears than she originally thought.
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With sparse text and stunning watercolor and pencil illustrations, Thyra Heder provides a few facts about polar bears, but more importantly she inspires a wonder for more knowledge. The story ends with Sophie actively researching and creating tons of notes and illustrations about polar bears, but I believe that the true magic of this book is that it could be read to young children as an engagement activity to get them interested in their own arctic animal research.

There is a brief Author’s Note in the back that talks about the author’s trip to Iceland and what inspiration she found there. Additionally, many kudos to Abrams for responsibly sourcing the paper for the book!


The Bear Report
by Thyra Heder
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015
ISBN 978-1-4197-0783-4

Tidy

Pete the badger discovers that sometimes you shouldn’t mess with nature!

Picture book, fiction, humorous, rhyming
Interest level: K-3; Reading level: 3.0
4 out of 5 stars


I absolutely love the whimsy of Emily Gravett’s books, and Tidy is no exception! Pete is a badger who likes things neat and tidy. He trims the mis-matched flowers in the flower patch, he brushes the animals, and vacuums up stray leaves from the forrest path.
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And then the seasons change, and along comes….Fall. It takes a lot of work to clean up all those leaves, so Pete hatches a plan.

This book is a funny lesson in thinking through plans very carefully before you jump into full execution!

Gravett’s illustrations are fun and whimsical and her animals are absolutely adorable. I love the cut-out cover.


Tidy
by Emily Gravett
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016
ISBN 9781480192

A Dog Wearing Shoes

Mini learns a valuable lesson when she discovers a lost dog wearing yellow shoes.

Picture book, fiction
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 2.0
4 out of 5 stars


I love this story about a little girl and her mom who find a lost dog who happens to be wearing a yellow pair of shoes. Mini is delighted and wants to keep the dog. During a walk in the park, the dog gets away again, and Mini is extremely distraught. Her mom takes her to the animal shelter where they find the dog, and Mini realizes that as worried and upset as she was when the dog was missing, that must mean that the dog’s original owner feels the same way.

This is a wonderful story that helps children understand that lost dogs are being missed by someone, and as much as you may want to keep one, you should try to reunite them with their owner. The added bonus is that Mini and her mom return to the animal shelter and find a dog that needs a home and is just right for them.

In the back of the book, the author includes information about adopting an animal from an animal shelter, and includes links to some national organizations.
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The pictures are black and white sketches, with splashes of color coming from the dog’s yellow shoes and the red leash Mini and her mom buy. The dog is absolutely adorable with her floppy, fuzzy ears and it’s easy to see why Mini and her mom fall in love. Some of the illustrations are rather small, so this would not be ideal for a large read-aloud group.


A Dog Wearing Shoes
by Sangmi Ko
schwartz & wade books, 2015

Shark lady: The true story of how Eugenie Clark became the ocean’s most fearless scientist

Jess Keating has written another outstanding nonfiction picture book for young readers. This one tells the story of Eugenie Clark, who fell in love with sharks as a young girl and pursued her dream to study them.

Picture book, biography, nonfiction
Dewey: 597.3
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 3.7
4 out of 5 stars


Keating starts the book with young Eugenie Clark visiting an aquarium and seeing her favorite animals, the sharks. Eugenie loves to fantasize that she is swimming with sharks, or that she herself has a fin on her back and is a shark. She reads all the books she can find about sharks, and her mother buys her a fish tank so she can study and understand more about fish.

As she pursues her interest in college by studying zoology, we learn that people tried to discourage her because “some of her professors thought women weren’t smart enough to be scientists or brave enough to explore the oceans. And they said sharks were mindless monsters.” Clark went on to prove all those theories were incorrect — she was smart and brave enough, and through her research and studies she proved that sharks were smart and could be trained the way a dog was trained.

Keating wraps up Clark’s story when she was able to prove that she could train a shark. More details are provided in a timeline at the back of the book. An Author’s Note and Bibliography is also provided to give more interesting details and for further reading.

I read in another review that Keating left out key information about Clark’s mother being of Japanese descent and her father an “American” and how this mixed heritage meant she encountered prejudice. While I was interested in this information when it was presented in the Author’s Note, I did not feel that its absence detracted from the author’s purpose.

The tone of the book is clearly for younger children, I would say from age 4 through 8 primarily. I see this book as being more about encouraging children to pursue their dreams and not to let anyone stand in their way. This is especially true for girls in the field of science. Other books are mentioned in her bibliography that would be more appropriate for older readers who are more able to tackle multiple agendas in a story. For the length of a picture book, Keating has focused on the message that she wanted to share.
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The illustrations by Marta Alvarez Miguens really match the tone of the text. The sharks in the story have round eyes, giving the animals an innocent look that matches Clark’s feelings towards them. I also love how the illustrator shows Clark as a child always surrounded by sharks. The scne where Clark is reading books about sharks i the library, includes sharks floating through the book stacks, showing the reader that they were always on Clark’s mind.

The illustrations, combined with the text make this a good introduction to a little known scientist in the field of sharks. There are some additional shark facts that are presented in the back of the book that children will also find fascinating.


Shark lady: The true story of how Eugenie Clark became the ocean’s most fearless scientist
written by Jess Keating; illustrations by Marta Alvarez Miguens
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2017

BIG CAT, little cat

A deceptively simple book that tackles the short life span of pets.

Picture book
Interest Level: Pre-K through grade 3; Reading Level: 2.0
5 out of 5 stars


Using mostly black and white line illustrations, Elisha Cooper has crafted a beautiful story that perfectly portrays cats and the joy and meaning they bring to our lives. The story begins with a white cat enjoying life as an only pet. One day a black kitten joins the family, and the big cat shows the kitten what to do — “When to eat, when to drink, where to go, how to be, when to rest.”
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Time passes and the reader sees the black kitten grow bigger than the white cat, and then watches as the white cat ages. Cooper does not specifically address that the old cat died, but states that one day he left the house and “didn’t come back.” I think the death of the cat is handled very well. The next page shows the black cat sitting all alone and states, “And that was hard.”

Cooper doesn’t dwell on the death of the pet and friend, but does validate the feelings of sorrow and loss that happen. The story is perfect for young children with pets. They need to understand that our beloved pets do not live as long as humans do and that death and grief are part of life. Cooper provides a book that will not overwhelm young readers, yet he doesn’t whitewash the facts and doesn’t talk down to young children.

The story ends on a happy note as the family gets another kitten and the black cat now assumes the role of “big cat.”
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The illustrations manage to be very simple and expressive at the same time. Like the story itself, they balance the line between providing the reader with enough information and not overwhelming the text.

The entire story is very well-done!


Big Cat, Little Cat
by Elisha Cooper
Roaring Book Press, 2017
ISBN 978-1-62672-371-9

Animal Ark: Celebrating our wild world in poetry and pictures

Animal Ark is a visual treat that combines animal photographs with haiku poetry.

Picture book, nonfiction, poetry
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 4.3
4 out of 5 stars


This is a very interesting picture book collaboration between Joel Sartore, founder of the National Geographic Photo Ark, and Kwame Alexander, the Newbery medal winning poet. While I was first interested in reading this book because of my love for all things Kwame Alexander writes, I must admit that I think the photographs steal the spotlight.
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All of the animals are shown with either a white or black background. This lets the reader really focus on some of the details that can be noticed in the close-up photographs. The other thing the lack of background does is renders each animal at roughly the same size. Frogs, birds, tigers, millipedes all appear the same size. This was intentional on the photographer’s part as he didn’t want any animal to appear larger or more important than the others. It reflects the idea that all creatures are equally important to the world.

In the Note from the Photographer at the back of the book, Sartore states:

By introducing the entire world to thousands of photographs of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and even insects, I hope we can get everyone following, liking, texting, tweeting, and even talking about this wondrous world of ours…I want people around the world to look these animals in the eye, and then fall in love with creatures as dazzling as a pheasant or as odd as an octopus. And once we love something, won’t we do anything to save it?

Alexander has provided the poetry to narrate the story of the different animals. This is not a picture book that is meant to educate about the animals that we see, but is instead meant to make us feel and connect us to them. For most of the book, each animal has a three-line, haiku-style poem that captures the essence of the animal. In the Note from the Writer, Alexander makes a connection between poetry and photographs:

Both have the ability to bypass the skin and enter through the heart, transforming what is often difficult to convey into something universal.

Located roughly in the middle of the book is a longer narrative style poem, surrounded by small photos of more animals. This poem is meant to connect the reader, a human, with the world of the animals and implores us to “take care of our home.”

Animal Ark is a young reader companion book to the larger work, Photo Ark. Children will love to look at the stunning photographs, where they will notice new details about even the most familiar of animals. The short poems that accompany each photograph enhance the mood of the animal image and sound wonderful when read aloud. The longer poem on the full-page gatefold might be over the heads of very young children, but could be used with older children to open conversations about extinct and endangered animals.

A funny, blooper-style outtakes video showing the photographer at work can be found here: https://shop.nationalgeographic.com/product/books/books/animals-and-nature/the-photo-ark. This would be a hit at a read aloud of the story!

More information about the Photo Ark project can be found on the National Geographic website: http://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/photo-ark/


Animal Ark: Celebrating our wild world in poetry and pictures
Photographs by Joel Sartore; Words by Kwame Alexander
National Geographic, 2017
ISBN 978-1-4263-2767-4

One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree

Young children will love this adventure to the inside of a snake. Good read-aloud!

One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree
Story by Daniel Bernstrom; pictures by Brandan Wenzel
Katherine Tegen Books, 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-235485-3
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 24 x 27 cm
Picture book, fiction
Interest level: PreK-grade 1; reading level: 1.4
4 out of 5 stars


This story reads like a combination of a cumulative tale–“There Was an Old Lady”–and a folktale. A boy with a “whirly-twirly toy” is skipping along in the shade of a eucalyptus tree when he is gobbled up by a giant snake. The boy, still holding his toy, is actually unconcerned by this turn of events and uses his cunning to convince the snake to keep eating other animals that can be found in the eucalyptus tree. All the animals that end up in the snakes belly appear to be having a pretty good time, until the snake eats one last apple and ends up burping out the entire menagerie.

Brendan Wenzel’s illustrations are colorful and full of wide-eyed animals. Bernstrom uses fun and descriptive language, and the repetitive use of the word “eucalyptus” makes the text a delight to hear out loud. If you are going to use this book for a read-aloud experience, you will definitely want to practice a couple times first. It is easy to get tongue-tied!