Depressed by another rainy weekend in the country cabin, a shaggy-haired, bespectacled, white child wallows on the sofa, numbing malaise with a hand-held video game.
Mom finally turns the kid out-of-doors, but the gaming device is stealthily pocketed on the way. The narrator (whose gender remains ambiguous) holds the game “tightly,” hoping “it would protect me from this boring, wet place.” A stumble launches it into icy waters and the child into the forest without technological armor. Marvelously murky illustrations transmit the myriad textures, shapes, and density of the natural world under a mist of rain. Linear and circular forms abut one another, edging and overlapping, placing readers amid smooth stones, coned mushroom caps, button-y buds, and round leaves as well as driving rain, spiky branches, and prickly pine needles. The child’s phosphorescent blaze orange coat glows amid the mossy greens of the forest. Alemagna’s captivating artwork magnifies the forest’s magic, while her language, via Davis’ translation, offers an authentic pre-adolescent voice (“This COULD NOT be happening to me!”) that’s eventually left almost breathless by nature: “I felt a sense there was something special close by. That I was surrounded.” The child’s ultimate decision to keep her outdoor awakening private once home will resonate with young people just making their own discoveries and finding them precious.
An effective argument for unplugged exploration, submitted through startlingly beautiful words and pictures.
(Picture book. 6-12)
Can-never-sit-still Rodney really wants to be outside, but it seems the world conspires against his urges—but now, Rodney finally makes it outside, “more outside than [he’s] ever been before.”
This book neatly nestles itself among recent trends of growing engagement with African-American populations within our national parks, as well as offering a measured response to the ways black boys may struggle with school cultures that enforce seated obedience over genuine curiosity. We all know Rodney. He’s a smart kid who follows his innate impulses, well enough to further his interest in the wonders of the world. The text allows readers to decide the thorny question of whether Rodney is worthy of an ADHD diagnosis. Because what happens when Rodney finally makes it outside on a class field trip to a park that puts him directly in contact with nature? He’s high, he’s low, and he’s everywhere in between as his natural impulses to explore and discover lead to a calm, “majestic” conclusion. Cooper’s signature style captures Rodney’s fidgetiness indoors and his growing excitement as the school bus rumbles out of town. In the park, a sequence of spectacular double-page sequences places Rodney within the park’s many wonders, and readers can see clearly how this immersion in nature allows the boy to be exactly himself.
Combining the amazement offered by the natural world with an unconventional and poignant dose of social commentary, this story gives more to its readers than what meets the eye.
(Picture book. 5-9)
A pale-skinned child crosses a blank, white page into a screen of trees, where “wonders await.”
Readers entering this book’s varied landscape encounter similarly wondrous pictures and words. They stand in the child’s shoes, enveloped by forest under a lush canopy of green leaves, looking skyward at brilliant birds darting from limb to limb. Verdant watercolor illustrations describe both the density and individuality of the myriad botanicals entwined in woods: fronds, leaves, branches, twigs, stems, grasses, and blossoms. Gentle imperative urgings pull readers into a lush, wooded embrace (“Run wild in the jungle!”; “Follow footprints. / See where they lead you”). Dek’s evocative woodland pictures, earnest phrases, and unhurried pacing evoke the quiet pauses and exhilarating discoveries experienced during a walk in the forest. Inventive compositional choices and surprising, shifting perspectives keep readers alert, expectant, and fully engaged. They look from above in all-encompassing aerial illustrations; they burble underwater, examine nests, seeds, blossoms, and wild strawberries, gaze eye to eye with a fox, and survey upper branches from a bough. Deer and birds come and go across the page. Vines creep. Footprints meander. A breathless quiet falls on wordless spreads, conjuring that feeling of clearheadedness offered by nature.
A startling, successful evocation of the natural world and an urgent entreaty for young people to immerse themselves in the outdoors.
(Picture book. 4-8)
Following their eponymous opening adventure (2016), unflappable Japanese twins Chirri and Chirra return for another serene, sylvan outing.
It begins when they ride their bikes into a patch of tall grass, shrinking to the size of insects as they do. When they emerge, they find themselves dwarfed by sprigs of white clover, from which a bumblebee collects honey in two large baggies. They follow it to its nest in a hillside, peeking in through a hexagonal window to a charming kitchen in which the bee and her companion make honey sponge cake that they share with the girls. They then follow a flower chafer to its house, where the beetle gives them “freshly squeezed mixed-leaf juice with yumberry fruit and raspberry pulp.” Off they go again, bells ringing “dring-dring,” after a friendly lizard, who invites them in to make candy. The idyll, depicted in soft, smudgy colors that have the look of lithographs, plays out in cozy, single-page illustrations in a slightly smaller-than-typical trim. There is no sense of danger or even discontent, just a warm, green world that opens itself up to the twins—and when they re-emerge by their house in the firefly-lit twilight to find their candy suddenly gone, there are no tears. Whether readers decide it’s all imaginary or not is irrelevant; they will love every moment, regardless.
A people-watching yellow warbler finds a friend who shares his passion for noticing things.
Maclear chronicles Warble’s increasing frustration as fog blankets his ice-covered island, a “special place” once full of tourists. He can no longer watch the humans who visit his territory, and worse, his neighbors don’t seem to notice or care about the changes. Sadly, he almost forgets the passion of his earlier life until he spots No. 673, a juvenile “Red-Hooded Spectacled Female,” and she becomes a friend. Together they make origami boats and send them out to sea with messages to others beyond his island. Gradually the fog lifts. Pak’s digitally worked pencil-and-watercolor illustrations support and enhance this simple parable, especially in a wordless center spread showing Warble and the girl, who appears to be Asian, staring at each other through binoculars. Humor is to be found in the extensive human identifications that grace the endpapers and early pages of Warble’s story, a nod to the habits of bird-watchers like the author. Pastel wash represents the fog that “turned everything ghostly.” Their surroundings are gray. But as the fog begins to lift, “Big things. / And tiny things / Shiny red things. / And soft feathery things” reappear. Reaching out lifts both fog and spirits; it brightens days and nights.
A song about sharing that’s sure to lift readers’ spirits as well.
(Picture book. 4-8)
The author-illustrator team that brought readers into the garden and under the snow (Over and Under the Snow, 2011, etc.) now takes them on a breathtaking journey beneath the calm waters of a pond.
Though the surface of the water seems calm, it is teeming with life, as a small black boy and his mother discover during an afternoon row. This book is another artistic triumph for Messner and Neal, whose perfect marriage of prose and pictures creates a lush, watery world filled with color and brimming with activity. Each double-page spread, done in a soothing palette of greens and blues, reveals the pond to be a vibrant and rich habitat where fish, amphibians, animals, and birds lay eggs, build nests, store food, and otherwise engage in the cycle of life. Each illustration focuses on a creature that lives either above or below the pond’s surface, and the child protagonist’s sense of wonder is mirrored by the author’s evocative prose. The events of the book occur within the space of one day, and as afternoon fades into evening, the yellows of the flowers and pink of the sky give way to night-blue in an arresting symphony of color. Well-researched backmatter provides inquisitive readers with additional information about the creatures they see.
A magical artistic and informational world that readers will delight in visiting again and again.
(Informational picture book. 4-8)
Free-verse poetry full of sensory details, evocative language, and repetition pair with scratchy illustrations in the greens, browns, and blues of the natural world to capture a morning of fishing from a red canoe.
The first-person narrator and “you,” an unidentified child-adult pair, crawl out of the tent to a purple morning and mist on the water. The paddle dips “in and out, / in and out, / in and out.” They spy a moose, a beaver with a stick, and an eagle and its nest, and they hear the chittering of a squirrel. The sun comes up. All the while, the child has a line in the water: “You paddled. / We waited.” Though the text builds up to the landing of a trout, it doesn’t feel any more or less magical than the rest of the book, though the pace does increase to match the fight: “Then silver leapt from / water to sky, / soared from / sky to water / and landed with a splash / beside the red canoe.” The fish, fried in butter over the fire, is the “best breakfast / ever.” Pendziwol incorporates details for all five senses, inviting readers along. The verses and pictures are on facing pages, the former against a textured, painted-wood background, sometimes with a tiny supporting illustration. Illustrator Phil’s red canoe stands out against the nature scenes, though readers never spy its occupants up-close. Facial expression may be absent, but the emotion and wonder of this morning are marvelously clear.