Posts Tagged ‘botany’

My stack of books today glows budding-leaf green and robin’s-egg blue. Oh, what is as cheery and hopeful as spring? Soak up some gladness with these books, bursting with life, growth and new beginnings.

What Will Grow? written by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Susie Ghahremani
published in 2017 by Bloomsbury

For the littlest crop of sweet potatoes, don’t miss this sweet ode to seeds. Susie Ghahremani’s lovely artwork sweeps across the pages with luscious hues of springtime, summer, fall, straight through to the blue-cold of winter. Along the way we peek at seeds — round wrinkly peas, stripey sunflower seeds, snug prickly pine seeds packed into a cone — and discover what will grow from them.

Jennifer Ward’s minimal text provides just the right, lilting clues. She cleverly describes each seed with just three or four words, wisely choosing not to weigh down the delight and wonder of the illustrations.

A few gatefolds along the way augment the thrill of discovery –such fun to see that tall sunflower stretching up-up-up! End pages tell how to sow each of the seeds mentioned. This is a beauty of a book to enjoy with ages 18 months and up.

Over and Under the Pond, written by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
published in 2017 by Chronicle Books

Gliding along the quiet waters of a pond, observing the burble of life above the surface and the secret worlds below comes this elegant book.

The third collaboration between Messner and Neal, it’s as visually striking and wonder-filled as their previous titles which I’ve reviewed here and here.

Messner’s text revels in the jeweled glory of this watery world with skittering whirligig beetles, mussy busy beavers, ghostly-quiet herons a-stalking, and all the shimmering, dappled light. Neal’s handsome artwork captures the hush, the aqua-depths, the muck and reeds and secretive small worlds. Ingenuous changes in perspective keep every page fresh.

I’m thrilled that he places an African-American boy and mom in this wild, out-of-doors setting. Far too little diversity in children’s literature occurs outside of urban settings.

Learn more about each one of the species presented in several pages of  Author’s Notes. I have to say, as a boating enthusiast, I was bugged by the paddling faux pas here, but truly, this is another winner from this team for ages 3 and up.

Robins!: How They Grow Up, written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow
published in 2017 by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A couple of robin siblings narrate the story of their lives in this information-soaked, immensely-engaging book from one of the best picture book makers, Eileen Christelow.

From the migration north of their parents, through nest-building, egg-incubating, and all the care and feeding of those scraggly chicks, Christelow’s text brims with intriguing detail, perfect pacing, and the appealing voice of these young robins. This reads like a story — not a mite of dry, merely-factual tone.

Christelow tracks their growth as they leave the nest, learn to feed themselves, and at about five months of age take to the skies to fly south. True to the realities of nature, two of their fellow nestmates don’t make it that far. Those harsh episodes are taken in stride by Christelow. It’s a fabulous presentation.

Colorful, captivating watercolor illustrations dominate the pages, bringing us eye to beak with these awkward chicks, right into the nest as it were. An Author’s Note tells how Christelow became so enamored with these birds, plus there’s a glossary and a couple Q&A pages with more Robin Facts. A gem for ages 4 and up.

Plants Can’t Sit Still, written by Rebecca E. Hirsch, illustrations by Mia Posada
published in 2016 by Millbrook Press

The ravishing colors of Minneapolis-artist (woot!) Mia Posada’s cut paper collages are the first thing you’ll notice when you open this book and oh! they will enchant you!

The fresh-lime burst of green leaves, blushing apricot tulips, twilight-purple morning glories, the seductive red of berries lurking in the bushes — every page surges with color, texture, and beauty.

Rebecca Hirsch’s text is every bit as enticing because although you may think of plants as sitting still, rooted in place, Hirsch leads us on a waltz of discovering otherwise. In fact, plants squirm, creep, climb, snap, nod, tumble, fling, whirl, drift…why, they just can’t sit still!

Back pages tell lots, lots more about plants and the particular species discussed in this book.  Genius concept, brilliantly carried out by this team. Full of the wonder of discovery for ages 2 and up.

Pig & Goose and the First Day of Spring, written and illustrated by Rebecca Bond
published in 2017 by Charlesbridge

This charming early-reader knocked my socks off and warmed my heart. I don’t know if Rebecca Bond plans any more adventures for these too, but I have my fingers crossed!

The freshness of a spring morning has put Pig in a fine mood. A glorious sun and clear blue sky will do that! “Goody gumdrops!” Pig exclaims, and immediately makes plans for a picnic by the pond.

Pig soon meets up with Goose whose magnificent flying and swimming abilities make her wilt a bit with envy. Goose tries to coach Pig in these goose-y skills but…pigs really aren’t built for such things. Poor Pig! What is it she can do well?

Many things, it turns out, as she hosts a superb First-Day-0f-Spring party! Wow! You will want to be Pig’s guest at her next fiesta I’ll bet! Delectable details, spritzes of beauty, good humor, gladness of heart, and a dear friendship — that’s what’s here. Bond’s fetching watercolor work is the cherry on top. Readers who can manage Frog and Toad can read this on their own, or share it with listeners as young as 3. Lovely!

Wake Up! words by Helen Frost, photography by Rick Lieder
published in 2017 by Candlewick

This is the latest collaboration for poet Helen Frost and photographer Rick Lieder. Each one provides a breathtaking pause from the cacophony of noise, the jungles of cement, a step away, a redirect of our gaze towards the glorious spectacle of nature. All done in whisper quiet.

Feast your eyes and soul on the magenta swoosh of a peony, the emerald wetness of a frog, the fuzzy warmth of a newborn lamb. Wake up to manifestations of new life “exploding outside your door!”

I love the work being done by this team, simply bringing children up close to the wonders of nature, quieting them with few words, thoughtful questions, enticing them to wander out of doors. Find my reviews of two of their other titles here and here. Share them all with ages 18 months and older.

Birds Make Nests, written and illustrated by Michael Garland
published in 2017 by Holiday House

Michael Garland’s arresting woodcuts adorn the pages of this book and captivate us with the extraordinary wonder of bird nests.

Minimal text describes some of the vast variety in construction from a hummingbird’s tiny woven cup, to the giant mounds made by flamingos, and one house sparrow’s nest lodged in the pocket of a stop light.

The bulk of what we learn comes via Garland’s handsome prints, flooding the pages with earthy colors and rich texture. I love the minimal interference between the child reader and these wonders of nature. No back pages, even, with more info. Just — soak in the craftsmanship of both bird and artist. A lovely, leisurely wander for ages 3 and up.

First Garden: The White House Garden and How it Grew, written and illustrated by Robbin Gourley
published in 2011 by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Children earnestly digging in the soil. Heirloom seeds passed down from Thomas Jefferson. Beehives and ladybugs, eggplants and blueberries. But no beets!

The story of Michelle Obama’s gardening initiative dances with the joy of the earth’s fruitfulness, the brilliance of children learning by digging, sowing, weeding, harvesting, and cooking delicious food in the White House kitchen!

Add in the history of White House gardening down through the centuries from John Adams’ first vegetable and fruit gardens through Patricia Nixon’s garden tours. Sprinkle atop some delicious recipes to try straight from the White House. Then illustrate with Robbin Gourley’s sunny, vivacious watercolors. Ta da! You’ve concocted this delicious book!

A delight to share with ages 4 and up. Plus, you can discover why there are no beets!

There are lots more spring-y titles listed in my Subject Guide. Look under Science: Seasons. And Happy Springtime to one and all!


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forest of wonders cover imageForest of Wonders (Wing & Claw Book 1), by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by James Madsen
published in 2016 by HarperCollins

Raffa, age 12, is the son of two apothecaries who live in a quiet settlement near the mysterious Forest of Wonders.

Though young, Raffa has already demonstrated an uncanny knack for mixing up effective tinctures, infusions, and poultices purchased by villagers. He has acquired a great store of knowledge about the marvelous botanicals growing in the Forest, and how to make use of their powerful healing properties.

One day, Raffa is startled by the literal dropping-in-to-his-life of a little bat. A grievously injured bat. In the process of mending its shredded wings and broken bones, Raffa collects and uses a scarlet vine, an ancient remedy known to his grandmother as a particularly potent agent of healing. And yes, the bat’s wounds heal nicely. But that vine possesses far stranger powers than anyone would suspect. And now some of that vine has gone AWOL.

forest of wonders map by Mike Schley

To prevent the vine from harming others — human and animal — Raffa ventures off to the capital city, Gilden, an overwhelming and menacing place for a country bumpkin. There he encounters a heap of troubles, meets some unusual compatriots, and learns of a sinister plot underway courtesy of the Chancellor of Obsidia.

I do not pick up a lot of fantasy literature, partially because I am cowed by the length of most of the series — often 3 to 5 thick volumes long. With all the titles on my want-to-read list, I usually cannot bear to begin those formidable sets!

Linda Sue Park

Linda Sue Park

However. This one has Linda Sue Park’s name on it, and when I see her name on a book, I grab it. And I’m never sorry.

I loved this book. As we’ve come to expect from Linda, the plot, pacing, setting, dialogue, are perfect. And the characters! Incredibly engaging. By the end of this volume, you’ll have grown to love smart, tenderhearted, conscientious Raffa and his seriously-intrepid band of friends. You’ll also meet Echo — the most endearing little bat on the planet — and several other animals who will steal your heart.

little fruit bat

See how cute a bat can be?!

If my kids were 10 again, they would absolutely lovelovelove this book.  

One of the charms of the story is its focus on the wild plants in the Forest of Wonders and their extraordinary powers of  healing. I felt like I was back in Pomona Sprout’s laboratory at Hogwarts, chopping and blending roots and shoots to magical effect! The fact is, our forests are filled with plant life imbued with medicinal potential, and the awe we feel reading about the Forest of Wonders would be well-cultivated for the amazing, often-threatened, vegetation around us.


Apart from being a magnificent adventure, the story raises thought-provoking questions about civil disobedience, the wise use of environmental resources, the potential for adverse consequences to scientific advances, the ethics of using the ends to justify the means. It’s a thrilling story in which success hangs on tremendously difficult choices, and on friends who trust one another and do not betray that trust.

Grab this for kids ages 9 and up.  The only problem is the cliff-hanger ending! No idea when Book Two will release. (330 pages)

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The Flower Hunter: William Bartram, America’s First Naturalist, written and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray

William Bartram was born to study nature, I suppose.  His father, John, was a self-taught botanist, who collected seeds of the New World, designed gardens, experimented with crops, and hobnobbed with his friend, Benjamin Franklin, discussing together their scientific observations and ideas.

Growing up in this milieu, William loved being his father’s right-hand man, researching together with him as they tramped through forests and tended an experimental nursery.  His dream of accompanying him on his months-long excursions through the wilderness,  investigating the unknown plants of this continent, finally came true at age 14, when the two of them went by horse and foot into the Catskill Mountains.

All his life, William devoted himself to the study of the natural environment of America, through wilderness wanderings, artistic drawings, bird study, journaling.  Along the way he encountered and learned from a number of Native peoples, becoming an enthnographer of sorts, detailing their intriguing lives and languages.

Deborah Kogan Ray has structured this biography as a series of journal entries, extending from 1747, Bartram’s eighth birthday, to 1777.  She includes lovely details of the sweet camaraderie between father and son, fascinating narrations of their intrepid journeys, glimpses of the nation’s history unfolding during this time period, all undergirded and shot through with the delight and reverence for nature these two men held.  An extensive afterword fills in more detail on both John and William Bartram’s lives, some of the many species of plants identified by them, and a short bibliography for those of us who would love to read more.

Her illustrations, done in watercolor, gouache, and colored pencil, are as usual incredibly warm, inviting, beautiful views.  She’s also given us some nature sketchbook style illustrations, in keeping with Bartram’s journal entries, and a gorgeous map of Bartram’s travels on the endpapers. 

I could go on quite awhile here about the many levels on which I love this book!  As an educator and parent, I was in awe of  the education Bartram received by spending extensive time out-of-doors observing and

William Bartram

interacting with nature; the fact that at age 9 he was capable of tilling two acres of ground, planting medicinal herbs, tending an experimental nursery, identifying many plants by the structure of their seeds; the fortitude he developed as a young boy living for extended periods in the wilderness; the scientific discussions he engaged in with keen thinkers, even as a young boy.  All quite marvelous.

Easily accessible for those ages 6 and up, this is a fabulous and inspiring biography.

Here’s the Amazon link:

The Flower Hunter: William Bartram, America’s First Naturalist (Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12)

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