Plants and animals have many different ways to enter dormancy, using minimal energy when weather extremes or seasonal changes require a pause.
Many books for young children address the concept of hibernation, but Atkins develops the concept further, introducing the many different forms dormancy takes. Her simple, second-person text asks readers to imagine being a tree, ladybug, Arctic ground squirrel, chickadee, or alligator in cold weather or an earthworm in a drought. She describes the situation that leads to a timeout, repeating the line, “You would pause,” then tells what happens next: Leaves unfurl, ladybugs “wiggle awake,” ground squirrels’ heartbeats “quicken,” chickadees fly, alligators come out to sun themselves, and earthworms “moisten [their] skin…and squirm.” She makes clear that this resting state may last anywhere from a few hours to a season. Large, close-up photographs from various sources show the trees and animals and the weather conditions that prompt these activities. Helpful backmatter explains the different forms of dormancy, including diapause, hibernation, torpor, brumation, and estivation, for older readers. Here, the author gives further detail about dormancy in volcanoes as well as seeds and deciduous trees, and she mentions that, contrary to popular knowledge, some scientists use the word “torpor” to describe bears in winter. The attractive design uses display type to highlight the action words.
A refreshingly original exploration of a physical process both common and important in the natural world.
(further reading, photo acknowledgments)
(Informational picture book. 4-9)
Argentine scientists involved in the actual dig describe one of modern paleontology’s most titanic discoveries.
“Excuse me,” says a Patagonian gaucho, stopping to view a dinosaur exhibit on a visit to town. “I found a bone just like that one on my ranch. But it’s much bigger than that one.” And so it is, as investigating paleontologist José (lead author Carballido) demonstrates in a memorable, money-shot illustration by Gigena, by lying down beside a 7-foot, 10-inch fossil femur—the largest of over 180 bones to be excavated, carefully preserved, hauled away from their remote site, and copied so that an exact replica of the humongous new species, Patagotitan mayorum, could be assembled. Running sidebar definitions and explanations of, for instance, how scientists can estimate a dinosaur’s body mass by measuring its arm and leg bones and what a single fossil tooth can tell scientists about a dinosaur’s eating habits enhance the third-person account, as does the mix of photos and painted views of women and (mostly unshaven) men at work in the field and lab. The story and pictures culminate in a jaw-dropping double-page–spread portrait of the finished dino model. “It’s the biggest dinosaur ever found,” concludes José’s partner Diego (co-author Pol). “For now,” replies José.
Everyone who reads this case study in paleontology’s methods and awesome rewards will want to grow up to be a dinosaur scientist.
(Informational picture book. 6-9)
This poetic tale chronicles the presence and contributions of African American midwives.
A five-page historical introduction explains a few specific details of the role of the midwife, including noting their contributions dating back to the time of slavery; this is accompanied by archival, black-and-white photographs. Seven poems follow, celebrating midwives through history. First, Greenfield describes the trans-Atlantic slave journey and how, in America, the elder women taught the younger girls the knowledge and skill of assisting in childbirth, or “catching the babies.” The poem “After Emancipation, 1863” speaks to the special exuberance expressed by parents whose children were at last born free from slavery: The midwife “felt the / excitement circling through / the room. / …it was more than / the joy of a new baby coming.” In “The Early 1900s,” the midwife now had more than her hands for the job; she had a stethoscope, scales, and, most likely, her husband, who would transport her via horse and buggy to deliver babies. The poems are accompanied by colorful, symbolic artwork by Minter. One striking image depicts five women connected by sinuous, draping robes, heads bowed in concentration, “gentle, loving” hands at the ends of muscular arms “guid[ing babies] into the world.” Greenfield also includes black-and-white photographs of her childhood self, a nod to “Miss Rovenia Mayo,” the midwife who “caught” her in 1929.
Rites of passage incandescently brought to light.
(Picture book/poetry. 7-12)
Viewers get ringside seats as dinosaurs march past in an evolutionary parade, giving way to their modern avian representatives.
Nolan crafts a rhymed cadence that is itself an achievement—“Ceratosaurus / Allosaurus / Archaeopteryx / Mamenchisaurus / Kentrosaurus / And Caudipteryx”—but pales next to the brightly patterned, hyper-realistically detailed, and, increasingly often, gloriously feathered dinos marching by the dozens in close company across spacious pages. Just over halfway through, a flaming asteroid descending in the background signals a sudden change to an equally magnificent, more-contemporary cast whose feathers likewise “grew, and grew, and grew. / Flamingos, Owls, / Guineafowls, / And the Marabou.” The portraits are all full-body, rendered (at least roughly) to scale, and with a low or level angle of view that sets them off to fine effect. Dino names throughout are matched to phonetic spellings, and a visual index at the back offers additional quick facts for every marcher. Following the image of a sinuous tree of life being studied by a racially diverse group of human offspring, a final rank of sprightly sauropod hatchlings fondly supervised by a humongous parent finishes off the parade on a homey note.
A prehistoric progress that takes flight in more ways than one.
(recommended books and museums)
(Informational picture book. 5-10)
What happens when a new baby is on its way? This touching book describes milestones both inside and outside of a mother’s belly over the course of nine months.
A small family consisting of a mother, a father, and a small girl (all people of color with light skin and black hair) are having a fine winter’s day out. Meanwhile, detailed illustrations of a single egg and its divisions begin the story of what’s happening inside the mother. Each page turn brings spare, poetic text that illuminates another month of the baby’s development on the left side and that also complements the scenes unfolding on the right side: a new “big sister” T-shirt, seeing the ultrasound, putting together a crib. Captions also inform readers about the timeline of fetal development and sizes. As the mother’s belly grows, the verso illustrations begin to expand, and by the eighth and ninth months, an actual-size painting of a fully developed fetus takes up most of the spread, while a grandmother arrives in the squished panel on the right. Then, finally, “Loved ones arrive”: both baby and family. As usual, Chin’s (Pie is for Sharing, 2018, etc.) watercolor-and-gouache paintings are exquisite, conveying both scientific details and a loving extended family. Four pages of backmatter about gestation and babies follow, including a sensitive paragraph on “What if…something goes wrong?”
Children both young and old will be captivated by the details of fetal development and the story of a family preparing for and welcoming a new member.
(Informational picture book. 3-8)
On a beach, in a garden, visiting a museum, sitting in class with the president of the United States (a woman of color, as it happens), and elsewhere, a racially diverse and compulsively inquisitive group of children demonstrate the ins and outs of productive questioning: “Are you the new teacher?” “Is this a veggie burger?” “Do you know if walruses have ears?” “Where do you park Air Force One?” Sayre describes how speakers use words such as “who” or “where” plus intonation to formulate questions in English (with a brief excursion into Spanish: “Where is the gerbil?” “¿Dónde está el jerbo?”). In explaining that questions can express curiosity or care for others as well as simply act as requests for information, she also points out situational subtleties: “Did you burp, Madam President?” can be discomfiting in some contexts, for instance, but appropriate in, say, the course of a medical exam. She also suggests that “How” questions can “ask in a gentle way about feelings, tender topics, and complicated subjects,” and that it’s OK to make mistakes in the course of learning what works and when. Younger audiences, hard-wired to start asking questions from an early age, at last have a toolbox for formulating more and better ones. “So be brave,” the author concludes. “Be bold. Ask questions!”
Funny, thoughtful, and rewarding to read, no question
. (Informational picture book. 6-9)
This expansive, straightforward framing of gender emphasizes curiosity, joy, and positive self-expression.
In Thorn’s uplifting picture-book debut, young readers meet four children: Ruthie, a thin, transgender girl with light brown skin; Xavier, Ruthie’s cisgender brother, who also has brown skin; Alex, a pale-skinned, round-bodied kid who is “both a boy and a girl”; and JJ, a brown-skinned child who uses a wheelchair and who is “neither a boy nor a girl.” Through plain, intentional language, Thorn normalizes each child’s gender identity and skillfully introduces the multifaceted concept of nonbinary gender: “Just like there are many different ways to be a boy or a girl, there are many different ways to be non-binary—too many to fit in a book!” As the main characters move through their vibrant neighborhood, families and children are portrayed with a prismatic array of gender expressions, skin colors, and physical features. Nonbinary illustrator Grigni’s full-bleed images are magical in their jewel-toned palette. Among gender-centered picture books, this one stands out for its dazzling #ownvoices art and its simple yet nuanced phrasing—particularly when Ruthie shares her true gender with her family, and her parents (an interracial couple) respond with a loving group hug. “Oops! Ruthie was a girl all along—they just didn’t know it at first.” Giving kids and adults a hopeful model for discussing (and embracing) one another’s gender is just one of the gifts offered by this valuable narrative.
Morrison’s illustrations set the stage for Weatherford’s rhythmic history in verse, breaking from hip-hop’s early influences to today’s global hip-hop takeover.
This celebration begins, appropriately, with the ancestors. An homage to Afro-descendent “folktales, street rhymes, and spirituals,” along with images of Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar, is juxtaposed with a backpack-toting black male with a crisp fade and T-shirt emblazoned with the signature words of Notorious B.I.G.: “It was all a dream.” This slogan recalling the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. highlights how the art form has served a dual purpose for hip-hop heads to get down at the party as well as to unify on the streets. Weatherford demonstrates how James Brown’s funk matched with Jamaica’s dub was present in DJ Kool Herc’s Bronx block parties, at which hip-hop’s birth is formally credited. But Weatherford and Morrison don’t stop at the music. Graffiti artists on the subway lines of NYC, B-boys and B-girls on the cardboard dance floors, and the unforgettable hip-hop fashion are featured prominently, albeit with a heavy regionalist emphasis on its East Coast–reppin’ legends. Bronx-born superproducer Swizz Beatz provides the foreword, honoring the role models that paved the way to his flourishing artistic career. (There are relatively few artists from outside New York and New Jersey featured, though some come through in thumbnail biographies of both male and female artists in the backmatter.) A glossary of classic hip-hop terminology is included along with an author’s note and an illustrator’s note.
No way around it, this book is supa-dupa fly, with lush illustrations anchored in signature hip-hop iconography for the future of the global hip-hop nation.
(Picture book. 4-14)
An exploration of the workings and gifts of light.
Matter can be solid, liquid, or gas—but what about light? “What is it made of? How does it fit alongside everything else in the world?” Light is energy, and Wick’s photographs—huge, glossy, and crystal clear—glow with it. On the first spread, a shaft of light, a beaker of water, and some rocks appear almost mystical. Next, a close-up of a candle with its wick aflame is downright hypnotic; across from it, a sequence of small photos show a match striking a rock and flaring up. Later, another progression shows three incandescent sources—candle, bulb, sun—each in turn lighting a teacup-saucer-spoon arrangement that never varies in placement, effectively demonstrating how lighting alters color. The text examines incandescence, iridescence, refraction, the relationship between light waves and colors, pigments, magnification, heat, fire, and the sun—always clearly and in concert with spellbinding photographs. The radiant illustrations show color spectrums, light shining through and across various objects, almost-magic tricks of light, and demonstrations of light waves that use water as a visible symbol. Scrupulously, Wick acknowledges that photographs in books “cannot fully capture the purity and intensity of color that’s observed directly by the human eye”—but these will enrapture even readers too young to fully comprehend the science. A meticulous, adult-directed author’s note elaborating on the principles covered will help caregivers answer curious children’s further questions.
A love story to light and color, both educational and visually stunning.
(Informational picture book. 6-12)
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” is one of the most famous ever given, yet with this book, Wittenstein and Pinkney give young readers new insights into both the speech and the man behind it. When Dr. King arrived in Washington, D.C., for the 1963 March on Washington, the speech was not yet finished. He turned to his fellow civil rights leaders for advice, and after hours of listening, he returned to his room to compose, fine-tuning even the day of the march. He went on to deliver a powerful speech, but as he closed, he moved away from the prepared text and into a stirring sermon. “Martin was done circling. / The lecture was over. / He was going to church, / his place to land, / and taking a congregation / of two hundred and fifty thousand / along for the ride.” Although much hard work still lay ahead, the impact of Dr. King’s dramatic words and delivery elevated that important moment in the struggle for equal rights. Wittenstein’s free-verse narrative perfectly captures the tension leading up to the speech as each adviser urged his own ideas while remaining a supportive community. Pinkney’s trademark illustrations dramatize this and the speech, adding power and further illuminating the sense of historical importance.
Gives readers a fresh and thrilling sense of what it took to make history.
(author’s note, lists of advisers and speakers, bibliography, source notes)
(Informational picture book. 7-10)