a fresh and lovely Springtime jumble of great reads

Today’s collection of books is a-bloom with freshness and wonder, the melody of nature, the beauty of words and cultures, with some lighthearted fiction tucked in for good measure.

Here in Minnesota we’ve had a slow, chilly spring.
I’m celebrating every day of coolness, every inch of snow and rain, as we watch the terrible drought conditions of last year being dispelled.
The lingering cold has meant I’ve not had any glimpses of green yet in my restoration areas
but I’ll certainly let you know what transpires when that new growth begins.

Whether your weather has announced spring’s arrival long ago
or your back yard still has feet of snow in it,
this week offers a great opportunity to honor the integrity, beauty, and generosity of the whole, interconnected realm of nature on Earth Day,
and to make a plan for how you will help care for all of us by caring for the Earth itself.

Picture Books for Celebrating Spring and Earth Day

Begin with a Bee
written by Liza Ketchum, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, and Phyllis Root, illustrated by Claudia McGehee
published in 2021 by University of Minnesota Press

This gorgeous book transfixed me with its enticing, lyrical text, its robust, striking scratchboard art, and its fascinating portrait of the life of a rusty-patched bumble bee, a particular, endangered species of native bee which I am hoping to give a helping hand with my yard restoration.

Beginning with a bee — a queen rusty-patched bumble bee — tucked up in a hole in the ground during the final days of winter, we discover the astonishing way she emerges in springtime, finds a nesting spot, lays in food stores all by herself. She reminds me of the Little Red Hen!

As spring moves along, we watch her eggs turn into larvae while this dedicated queen scours the landscapes for just the kinds of nectar her brood needs to survive. And here is where native plants are critical. The rusty-patch bumble bee, like many other endangered species, relies on very particular plants, some of which are — fingers crossed! — going to be blooming in my yard this spring. Wild lupine, wild geranium, serviceberry.

Now watch those larvae form cocoons and emerge as worker bees; observe the colony of bees expand; witness the important work they do in the world and the curious changes that take place in the autumn that allow these bees to survive despite the harsh cold of winter. Absolutely brilliant work, plus two pages of more information about the rusty-patched bumble bee and ways you can help native bees even if you don’t have acres of land to turn into native prairie. Ages 3 and up.

Wilderness: The Words of John Muir, illustrated by Giovanni Manna, selections by Laura Manresi
published in 2020 by Creative Editions

John Muir’s writings magnificently express the glories of the wilderness, the dignity and personality of every member of it, and the intrinsic connectedness among all things — trees, rocks, insects, eagles, humans. Reading only snippets from among his copious words presents a challenge, I think, for those unacquainted with him. Still, this is a lovely attempt to introduce his wisdom to young children using only a small amount of text amidst Italian artist Giovanni Manna’s genteel, beautiful artwork.

“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.”

It’s a gorgeous enticement into the great outdoors which will hopefully lead to some adventures, great or small, in the months ahead. Ages 5 or 6 and up.

Trees, written by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Tiffany Bozic
published in 2021, A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Among picture books about trees, I have a special spot in my heart for the classic, A Tree is Nice. I’m not sure anything is ever going to come along that’ll bump that one off my pedestal.  However, I have been pleased as punch to see the number of books published in recent years basking in the glories of trees, surely one of the most profoundly wonderful companions on Earth.

This book seems to take inspiration from that earlier classic in its text. Short, declarative sentences packed with wonder and glad appreciation for trees provide plenty of fodder for hearts and minds, and never ramble into over-talking. Bozic’s illustrations, though, are a world apart from Marc Simont’s earlier work, spreading vibrant, realistic, enormous tree-ness from edge to edge, top to bottom.

Having worked on my yard restoration project for a few years now, I have become so much more aware of trees and their talents for upholding the well-being of the planet, of bringing such grace and joy to each of us. Spring is a great time to pay attention to the miracle of trees.  Share this with ages 3 and up.

Hello, Puddle!, written by Anita Sanchez, illustrated by Luisa Uribe
published in 2022 by Clarion Books

Puddles are magnetic for young children.  This book explains that they’re also hugely attractive to a wide variety of wildlife, from wasps to turtles, robins, squirrels and more.

Tracking the ebbing and waning of a puddle through the seasons, we learn a lot about all the little lives that benefit from puddles. Back matter explains ways to make puddles for wildlife and hints for observing them. It’s a perky, friendly, interesting look at an under-appreciated part of nature for ages 3 and up!

Have You Ever Seen a Flower?, written and illustrated by Shawn Harris
published in 2021 by Chronicle Books

Here’s another piece of nature that often only gets a vague glance rather than a careful, absorbing, acquaintance — flowers!

Shawn Harris is here to ask if you’ve ever really, really seen a flower. With an explosion of eye-popping color and a rhythmic, merry text, he ferries us out of the gray, concrete city, out to vast acres of wildflowers, then prompts us to get nose-to-nose with these splendors. To see them with our noses, our imaginations, our whole beings. It’s a show-stopping, exuberant, master class in mindful nature appreciation. Ages 3 and up.

Find lots more springtime beauties in my Spring Stories list here. 

April is a Lovely Time to Cozy up with Some Poetry

April is National Poetry Month.  Here are two charmers I recommend to anyone with young children:

Poems From When We Were Very Young, written by A.A. Milne, illustrated by Rosemary Wells
published in 2021 by Norton Young Readers

I used to share Milne’s poetry with my kids when they were young, reading aloud from some battered paperback copies I have with yellowed pages and the tiny, wonderful, ink drawings by E. Shepard.

Here, beloved illustrator Rosemary Wells has selected a few of the poems from the volume When We Were Very Young, then liberally splashed them across oversize pages with her iconic, cheerful, darling, colorful illustrations. She includes one of our favorites, The King’s Breakfast, among the 14 poems. Hurrah! This is a grand collection, a fabulous choice for dipping into again and again, tickling the fancies and imaginations of young and old. Great choice for a baby shower or a birthday present for someone Very Young. Ages 3 and up.

Honey for You, Honey for Me: A First Book of Nursery Rhymes
collected by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Chris Riddell
first published in the UK; first US edition 2021 by Candlewick

And here’s another smashing gift for any young child. There is so much richness to be had in hearing and memorizing these lilting, old, nursery rhymes. I do hope you are introducing them and their fine, playful language, with your little ones.

Here, Michael Rosen has selected a great grab bag of age-old children’s rhymes, including some gems that are not nearly as well known.  The book is oversized, with beautiful typeface, and Chris Riddell’s brilliant illustrations singing merrily on every page. My goodness, that man can draw!! It’s simply joy in a book. Ages 18 months and up.

Find more wonderful books of poetry in my Poetry List here.

The Time is Always Right for some Brilliant Introductions to Our Neighbors

I love the plethora of books being written by members of other cultures, introducing us to the beauty of their ways of living and seeing.  Here are a few I’ve especially enjoyed this past month:

Jigging for Halibut with Tsinii
written by Sara Florence Davidson and Robert Davidson, illustrated by Janine Gibbons
published in 2021 by Highwater Press

This is the first of two books today which showcase the wisdom of Indigenous elders, both coming to us from small, independent publishers in Canada. I am grateful for the work of all who bring these stories to us.

And it’s a story about fishing! Surely an underrepresented subject in kids’ books.
Based on the author’s experience with his Haida tsinii (grandfather), this story simply tells of one day’s outing to fish for halibut. Muscular, vibrant paintings bring us right into the sunshine and sea breezes, the rocking of the boat and splooshing of the waves. It’s a story any fisherman, big or small, will relate to, an affectionate, appreciative, glimpse of the Pacific Northwest, the Haida people, and the allure of a day on the water. Ages 4 and up.

Harry Okpik, Determined Musher
written by Maren Vsetula and Harry Okpik, illustrated by Ali Hinch
published in 2019 by Inhabit Education Books

This one is from a Nunavut-developed, leveled reading series and it is so nicely done! In it, we meet an Inuk man from Nunavik, in the far north of Quebec. He was a little boy in the 1950s and learned to be a musher from his father before sadly being sent to a residential school. On his return to the community, he set to work, overcoming many challenges in order to become a musher.

Due to an unfortunate hunting accident, though, Harry lost one of his legs. It seemed impossible to participate in the grueling world of sled dog racing as an amputee but with determination, helpful friends and family, and fantastic dogs, Harry has fulfilled his dream. Fascinating story written with clarity at about the most advanced stage of leveled readers. Ages 6 and up.

Olu & Greta, written and illustrated by Diana Ejaita
published in 2022 by Rise

Cool, dramatic, contemporary illustration work wows us from cover to cover in this unusual story of two cousins — Olu from Lagos, Nigeria, and Greta from Milan, Italy.

These cousins live so far apart, they have never met! They find ways to love one another despite the distance, always hoping that one day they will meet up and go on an adventure together.

This story offers only a slim look at the two cultures, but it’s a vibrant portrait and an interesting glimpse of the realities of being from an intercultural family living in such disparate places. Ages 3 and up.

Room for Everyone, written by Naaz Khan, illustrated by Mercè López
published in 2021 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Energy sproings and boings from every inch of this delightful tale set on the Zanzibar archipelago off the coast of East Africa. The daladala — a minibus taxi — is headed to the beach for the every-Friday fish feast at the market there.

All along the route, the daladala stops to pick up passengers, from “one old man and his bike with no seat,” to a young herder with his two goats, three vendors with their towering baskets of fruit… and so on and so on. Young Musa, who has boarded the bus at the outset, is deeply concerned that there is No More Room, but the others aboard merrily proclaim that there is room for everyone, and sure enough, everyone squashes in.

A lively, witty, rhyming text jounces us along quite happily while the gleeful illustration work rivets us to the bustle of people and gorgeous aqua-blue waters of Zanzibar. Thoroughly happy mayhem for ages 3 and up.

There are multiple lists with hundreds more great books showcasing people and cultures
which you can access through the Subject Tab at the top of the page.

A Few Lighthearted Fiction Reads

Framed!, by James Ponti
published in 2016 by Aladdin
292 pages

I’ve really enjoyed James Ponti’s City Spies books (reviewed here and here) so I decided to dip back to the beginning of another of his series, the T.O.A.S.T. mysteries, and found this to be just as cinematic, fast-paced, spy-filled, and witty as I’ve come to expect from him.

Florian Bates, age 12, has recently moved to Washington, D.C. with his art conservator mom and his dad who’s in charge of security systems for the National Gallery of Art. Florian has a unique knack of observing small details in the people and places around him, then piecing them together to make exceptionally spot-on deductions. He calls this his Theory of All Small Things — T.O.A.S.T. Florian’s new friend in D.C., Margaret, becomes an avid student of T.O.A.S.T., and before they know it, the two of them have witnessed critical evidence in an art heist case at the National Gallery which the FBI is working.

Not only that, but Florian has been recruited by the FBI as a covert asset and continues to come up with findings and hypotheses pivotal to the case — sometimes under FBI orders, and sometimes going foolishly rogue. Now the Romanian Mafia appears to be tracking him. Can Florian and Margaret spot the clues, evade thugs, and help the FBI to close the case? Superb fun for ages 10 and up. There are two sequels — Vanished! and Trapped!

Corby Flood, by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
published in 2005 by David Fickling Books
242 pages

There are 3 volumes in the Far-Flung Adventures series and each is a marvelously eccentric tale. I’ve reviewed the two others previously — Hugo Pepper and Fergus Crane. This third adventure stars 8-year-old Corby Flood who, along with her family, is aboard the once-glorious, now-dilapidated S.S. Euphonia, cruising along to their home in Harbor Heights.

Aboard ship, Corby meets quite a jumble of odd characters including a sinister group of five men in green bowler hats who are clearly Up To No Good. She’s also heard a melancholy sort of wailing sound coming from the ship’s hold. What can it be?  It’ll take a lot of moxie, a bit of luck — both bad and good — plus the aid of friends and family to get to the bottom of this mess of strange secrets and dark plottings! Deliciously illustrated with Chris Riddell’s off-kilter flair, it’s a lark of a story, a giddy escape to someplace completely Other. Great read-aloud for ages 8 and up. A stout vocabulary and a slew of the author’s own concocted words demands a confident independent reader.

Garlic & the Vampire, by Bree Paulsen
published in 2021 by Quill Tree Books
153 pages

If I tell you that this graphic novel is about an anxious garlic bulb who has to confront a vampire in the neighborhood, I understand that it will sound way too off-kilter for some.  However! This is quite a delightful story and I hope many of you will give it a chance.

Garlic lives with her vegetable companions and a kindly witch named Agnes. Together, they raise vegetables (non-sentient ones, mind you) to sell at the local farmer’s market. Garlic is a timid soul, prone to oversleeping, easily alarmed at the thought of offending others. She is bullied a bit by cranky ol’ Celery, but has a stalwart friend in Carrot.

When smoke emerges from the chimneys of a long-abandoned castle in the forest, and Agnes’s magical mirror shows there’s a vampire in residence, the vegetables vote for Garlic to go confront him. After all, vampires are repelled by garlic, so she should be safe.  It’s an immensely tall order for anxious little Garlic, but she summons her bravado, heads to the castle, and… is in for quite a surprise!  Friendly, witty, with a radiant “underdog” storyline, this would make a great choice for newly-independent readers as well as those looking for something short and upbeat.

Hope you find some just-right choices for you and the readers in your life.
I’ll be back next month with whatever wows me between now and then.

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