It’s summer. Well, not officially—not according to Ms. Mother Nature. We’ll have to wait till June 21st for that.
But my own children are out of school, and we’ve been spending more time outside. Just tonight, as we saw the sun set on a bike ride (something we can never catch from our own home), I listened to the birds chirp. And I was reminded of the following new picture books, which make for lovely summertime reads—when your children are away from school, have more time for reading (I’m going to assume here that they love to read at least a little during the relaxed schedule that summer offers), and are…well, free as a bird.
The last time Helen Frost and photographer Rick Lieder collaborated—on 2012’s Step Gently Out—the results were magnificent. They’re at it again with Sweep Up the Sun, released back in March. In the book, Frost gives readers an evocative poem about flight and the courage it takes to get oneself going, and Lieder pairs it with his sharp and vivid close-up photos of birds sweeping and soaring. The photos are flat-out gorgeous: in one, where a bird shakes off raindrops, the bird seems suspended in the air, his head wet and his wings pulled toward the center of his body. It’s a spectacular moment in time captured on film.
The book includes a closing spread with facts about the birds captured in the photography, and it’s a thrill to read and then page backward to glimpse the photos once again. Did you know that, in the winter, new feathers create small white star shapes (though they almost look like hearts) on European Starlings? I didn’t know this—not until I pored over Lieder’s spread of starlings interacting with other birds. Readers are able to soak up details, thanks to Lieder’s zoom lens and excellent eye. And Frost’s spare and lyrical poem leaves lots of space for both readers (to ponder their own moments of growth) and Lieder (to work his magic).
Another can’t-go-wrong duo of children’s literature is April Pulley Sayre and Steve Jenkins, who have previously been awarded a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor for Vulture View. Woodpecker Wham! is their newest picture book, and it invites readers to meet a whole slew of woodpeckers—from the red-headed to yellow-bellied variety (and many more in between). Sayre’s rhyming text with short, sometimes onomatopoeic sentences (“TAP, TAP, TAP. / Where? Look and see. / CRICK, CRICK, CRACK! / Six chicks break free.”) captures the world of the woodpecker—and the book’s backmatter provides a great deal more detail for those children wanting to learn (and read) even more.
Steve Jenkins is one of our greatest illustrators. What he can accomplish with cut- and torn-paper collages is remarkable. Here, the silver in the wings of the red-bellied woodpecker glint and shine on the page, and he expertly captures the texture of bark and coarseness of nests in these well-designed spreads.
Lastly, in Jean Roussen’s Beautiful Birds, the bright and stylized artwork of Emmanuelle Walker takes center stage. There’s a reason the Kirkus review calls it “a positive feast for the eyes.” This book, an import from the U.K. (from Flying Eye Books, who take such great care with book design) takes readers from A to Z—albatross, that is, all the way to “zos-ter-o-pi-dae.”
Some of the rhyme’s meter—these are rhyming couplets—is occasionally a bit off, but there are moments that really shine: “R is for robin the sweetest of sweet, dashing and diving through snowfall and sleet.” The illustrations pop off the page; the palette is bold (the bright orange endpapers will wake you right up), and the compositions are superb. Walker creates beautiful moments with line and shape, and the book moves seamlessly from one bird to the next. I also fell hook, line and sinker for the book’s front and back covers, which include a wide variety of birds of all sizes—while managing to never crowd the space provided.
These books just might make more frequent bird-watchers of us all. Good books and rare birds, each and every one.
BEAUTIFUL BIRDS © Flying Eye Books, 2015. Text © Jean Roussen, 2015. Illustrations © Emmanuelle Walker, 2015. Image reproduced by permission of Flying Eye Books.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.