Welcome to the mind-blowing world of Earth’s creatures! There are curiosities enough to satisfy ages 2 to 100 here. I learn a great deal from picture books, besides being captivated by their artwork, so don’t make the mistake of dismissing them if you are not five years old!
Many: The Diversity of Life on Earth, written by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton
first U.S. edition published in 2017 by Candlewick Press
Biodiversity, that glorious spectacle of variety in Earth’s creatures, is both a key marker and critical component of a healthy planet. Here, in an effusive parade of rich scenes, Davies and Sutton showcase that diversity. Nature flaunts its colors and shapes, its teeming, teensy microbes and one hundred thousand mushrooms, its mind-boggling habitats from feathers to volcanic lakes, its lavishness, its vibrant fullness, and — here’s the kicker — its complex interdependency.
All of which leads us to the plainspoken conclusion: we cannot afford to keep counting downwards in habitats and species.
For cultivating an appreciation of the natural world, a sense of awestruck wonder, and a burgeoning understanding of why we must regulate our behavior to protect this glorious Earth, you can’t do better. Ages 2 to 100.
How to Be an Elephant: Growing up in the African Wild, written and illustrated by Katherine Roy
published in 2017 by David Macaulay Studio, Roaring Brook Press
From the multitudes down to just one — this book brings us right smack into the fascinating, surprising life of an African elephant, the largest of our land animals.
Roy writes brilliant prose which manages to roll out an enormous amount of information about these gentle giants — how their families are structured, how their bodies impressively work enabling them to see the world through scent, use their trunks as multi-tools, trumpet out enormous sound, keep cool, and in general survive life on the African savanna — while completely avoiding dry factual text. This is engaging, rich nonfiction!
Meanwhile, her captivating, dappled, graceful artwork carries such a lightness even as it balloons with these mammoth creatures and bursts with the vigor of their African life. Roy impressed me with her earlier book about sharks, reviewed here. This is another winner for ages 6 or 7 and up.
For a fanciful take on elephants that’ll tickle the imaginations of younger children, try:
How to Find an Elephant, written by Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov
published in 2017, Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux
When you’ve got a dull day on your hands, what better to do than go looking for elephants. This imaginative how-to book tells you what to pack and where to search, as well as offering fine tips for spotting your first elephant!
The brilliance of this book lies in the ingenuous illustrations accompanying the poker-faced text. Kulikov has hidden elephants in plain view on every page, but it’ll actually take all the clever searching recommended by our guidebook to spy them. His use of negative space, reflection, shadow, and other delightful compositional tricks require clever looking by enthusiastic readers ages 2 and up. Great fun!
If your appetite has been whetted for searching and finding, try:
Animal Camouflage: Search and Find, by Sarah Dennis and Sam Hutchinson
published in 2017 by Princeton Architectural Press
Stunning paper cut illustrations by Sarah Dennis camouflage dozens of creatures in habitats located in seven regions of the world in this search and find book.
Journey through Africa, Asia, Europe, the Polar Regions, North America, South America, and Australasia, read a tidbit of information about a number of different animals who live there, then search for them in a fabulously complex scenes. It’ll take awhile for you to notice just how many animals are strewn about these lacy images.
Amazing. Great book to while away some waiting time for ages 4 and up.
Finally, you can dig a bit deeper into the animal kingdom via this absorbing biography of a woman who combined her love of science and proficiency in art:
The Girl who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science, by Joyce Sidman
published in 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
120 pages + backmatter
On shelves: February 20, 2018
Minnesotan Joyce Sidman is most known to us for her excellent nature poetry. Here she ventures into lengthier non-fiction, using her talent with words to engage us in an extraordinary slice of history.
Maria Merian lived from 1647-1717, a time when women were not encouraged to be either scientists or artists and a time when investigating insects was thought to be an inquiry into abominations. Thus, for a woman to study and paint the life cycle of a butterfly was a surprisingly hazardous occupation, one which may even have seen her condemned as a witch!
Yet Maria’s curiosity was insatiable and her painstaking studies would eventually help unveil the stunning mysteries of metamorphosis. How did Maria come by her artistic skills? By what means did she pursue her scientific inquiries? Read this fascinating account, beautifully illustrated with Merian’s own drawings and paintings, to learn about this groundbreaking person. Ages 10 to adult.
For younger siblings, check out:
Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian, written by Margarita Engle and gorgeously illustrated by Julie Paschkis
published in 2010 by Henry Holt
Engle allows Maria to narrate her own story of observation and discovery. Lovely, poetic language pares down to picture-book length this extraordinary woman’s story.
As always, Julie Paschkis’s gorgeous art welcomes us with striking color and joyous line. Ages 4 and up.