Today, I’ve got a stack of fabulous books that open our eyes, minds, and hearts to the extraordinary wonders gracing Planet Earth.
Out of dozens and dozens of titles I’ve read this summer, these all felt outstanding to me.
The Jungle, written and illustrated by Helen Borten
first published in 1968; reprinted in 2018 by Enchanted Lion Books
Helen Borten’s exquisite prose captivates us as we witness one day in a tropical rain forest.
Her respect for her child audience is immense; her sophisticated, vibrant phrases tantalize us with raucous sounds, dramatic encounters, mysterious sights, unusual flora and fauna, in this exotic, magnificent place.
Even more exceptional are her sublime prints. Powerful shapes, intricate textures, striking compositions greet us on every page. Borten does not play down to children, but delivers artwork that elevates her jungle subjects to their appropriate glory.
I’m so pleased that Enchanted Lion has reprinted this. It’s a true gem for ages 6 through adult.
The Honeybee, written by Kirsten Hall, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
published in 2018 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Anything Isabelle Arsenault touches is visually extraordinary, including this lovely investigation of the amazing honeybee.
Her elegant palette resists childish garishness, yet still gleams with the everywhere-gold of honey, the handsome, yellow-and-black kit of honeybees, the hazy glow of meadows bathed in sunlight, while busyness buzzes vigorously through the pages.
Kirsten Hall’s text invites a delicious curiosity. Her lines skippet with perky rhythms, and her enthusiastic, sparkling rendering of the life of a bee makes us crane our necks to find out more. Practical ways to support the well-being of bees are listed on the closing page. Superb, for ages 4 and up.
Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World, written and illustrated by Christy Hale
published in 2018, a Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press
Brilliant book-making here teaches children almost magically about ten common land and water forms.
Hale accomplishes this via ingenuously die-cut pages that pair one land form and its parallel water form. For example, here’s a bay:
Now flip the page and… it turns into a cape!
So delightfully clever! A huge fold-out at the end briefly defines all 10 forms and shows us where each can be found on a world map. Brilliant for ages 4 and up.
Hawk Rising, written by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Brian Floca
published in 2018 by Roaring Brook Press
A lot of children’s books soften the fierceness of the natural world. This astonishing book showcases the splendor of a red-tailed hawk, gazing without flinching at the power and hunting skill which enable it to survive.
Father Hawk is off at daybreak to find food for his brood of chicks. Gianferrari patiently unreels the slow expanse of time as the chicks wait, wait, wait, all day for his delivery of food. Her brief, lyrical text packs in keen detail of the adult hawk’s behavior — scanning, sunbathing, kiting, perching, and diving with “talons thrashing” towards his prey.
Meanwhile, Brian Floca’s astonishing artwork unfurls that feather-soft, yet mighty wingspan, and carries us along for the ride — floating sky high, careening towards earth, grasping with cruelly-hooked talons, gazing with piercing eye. Transfixing.
The hawk misses his prey, twice. In the end, though, he seizes a squirrel, and here is where some young children will just not be able to handle this book. I say bravo for this amazing display of the skill, majesty, and raw power of a hawk, but be aware that Cute Animals Die in full, double-page, glory and use your judgement with your own kids. I could go on and on about what an outstanding job this author and illustrator have done, and I expect awards for this title. Just check it out for yourself. Ages 5-ish and up.
The Mushroom Fan Club, written and illustrated by Elise Gravel
published in 2018 by Drawn & Quarterly
Elise Gravel adores mushrooms and her enthusiasm sashays out with cheery, quirky, aplomb from this charming book.
Her appealing, contemporary, graphic style, and her laid-back, friendly voice make us feel like we’re traipsing through the woods with her on a mushroom hunt while she regales us with fascinating facts. My favorite page is the one where she lists dozens of “beautiful mushroom names” she’s encountered over the years! Such delicious mouthfuls of words!
You’ll meet all manner of mushrooms and feel strangely drawn to these odd fellows by the time you’re done here. Ages 7 and up.
Bonkers About Beetles, written and illustrated by Owen Davey
published in 2018 by Flying Eye Books
Did you know that “beetles account for a quarter of all the discovered animal species in the world”?! Mind blowing.
This stylish survey of the humble beetle is crammed with fascination as we learn about their crazy bodies, defense mechanisms, eating habits, camouflages, and mighty feats!
Plus, you can learn how to make a bug hotel to help these guys out over the winter. This is yet another entry in Owen Davey’s excellent series so grab this one, then work your way through his other titles. Fantastic choices for ages 7 and up.