Cover of Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos shows Frida Kahlo as a child, painting, surrounded by animalsFrida Kahlo and her Animalitos gives young readers an introduction to the artist’s life and work through the lens of her pets. This is an especially great choice since Kahlo’s animals so often appear in her art. The book opens in a way that will sway any animal lover: “This is the story of a little girl named Frido who grew up to be one of the most famous painters of all time. Frida was special.

“This is also the story of two monkeys, a parrot, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a black cat, and a fawn. They were Frida’s pets, and they were special too.”

The text draws connections between Kahlo’s characteristics and her pets’ characteristics: “Like a cat, Frida was playful.” It would be fun to read this book next to Quick as a Cricket in a unit about similes. The books feel very different in tone, but they use the same literary techniques.

This would also be a great book to pair with Yuyi Morales’ Viva Frida. The dream-like state of Viva Frida is very different from the story-telling here, but the combination of the two books would be a great introduction to an important artist.

John Parra’s illustrations use images and ideas from Kahlo’s paintings but are their own wonderful things. I especially loved the loving way he included details in the art–roller skates under the bed, a paleta man pushing a cart in the background at a city park, books stacked on the floor behind Kahlo’s wheelchair. Every page is a pleasure to explore.

Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra. North South Books: 2017.

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Rhino strides across the savannah. White-haired woman is in the background standing next to her home.Rhino in the House tells the story of an environmentalist I’d never before heard of. Anna Merz found her retirement to Kenya took an unexpected turn when she began to worry about the safety of the rhinoceroses around her. They were being poached and becoming more and more endangered. So she set up a rhinoceros refuge. This book is about her relationship with an orphaned baby rhino. She cared for it and eventually released it onto the refuge, but it always stayed close to Anna, returning to visit with her and walk with her.

The pencil illustrations in this book are charming, soft rounded edges on the cartoon style showing the warmth and heart of the story. In the back matter, Daniel Kirk talks about how he was having difficulty with the illustrations until he and his son flew to Kenya and spent a week on the refuge. He took photographs and sketched and interviewed a woman who would have been there at the time period of the book so he could get the illustrations right. Illustrations are a key component of nonfiction picture book, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that the illustrators research just as much as the writers do to create an accurate, accessible book for kids.

I loved the endpapers in this book. The front pages show the sun rising on the savannah. The back pages show the sun setting.

Animal-loving kids will adore this book and it will pair well with other stories about activists who protect wild animals. Look, for example, for Me, JaneA Boy and a Jaguar; and Shark Lady.

Rhino in the House: The True Story of Saving Samra by Daniel Kirk. Abrams: 2017.

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Cover of book shows a Great Auk on a rocky shore.There are plenty of dinosaur books that explore the natural history of extinct creatures. But The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk explores, in greater detail and with much greater authority than dinosaur books ever achieve, the natural history of a creature tht went extinct in 1844. It explores with heartbreaking specificity why it went extinct and also what the implications of that extinction have been.

I was fascinated to read about the life cycle of the Great Auk. It lived almost its entire life in the ocean–and was very well suited to that environment–but had to come on shore two months a year to mate and hatch chicks. This was a great disadvantage for a creature evolved to life in the sea. When it was trying to escape a predator  its only defense was “pathetically “running” towards the water about as fast as you can walk. There was little it could do to defend an egg or chick except angrily clack its beak.” So the Great Auk nested on the most remote islands it could find–as long as the islands didn’t require climbing or flying since the Great Auk could do neither.

This strategy worked remarkably well until humans became seafarers. The rush to extinction accelerated when humans began hunting the Great Auk for oil, feathers, and finally as trophies.

Since the Great Auk has become extinct other birds, including puffins, have taken over its habitat. Puffins require soil to dig their burrows, and the Great Auk’s habitat used to be solely rock. But so many Great Auk carcasses were abandoned on their rocky islands during the heyday of Great Auk hunting, that they decomposed into the soil, which now provides puffin burrows.

The back matter includes not only references and resources but also a list of names for the Great Auk in various languages and a list of species that have gone extinct since the Great Auk’s extinction.

Obviously, there are no photographs of the Great Auk, but the digital art relies on museum specimens to get the birds, the chicks, and their eggs right.

This book is a fascinating look at how evolution can both suit a creature to a particular niche and also end up trapping it in an intolerable situation. And it’s a sobering look at the impact human action can have on the world.

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk by Jan Thornhill. Groundwood Books: 2016.

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Photo of an animal, the olinguito, in a treetop.The Search for Olinguito: Discovering a New Species is aptly named. Sure, it’s about a big-eyed, cuddly mammal. And the book is full of photos that will make you fall in love with the olinguito. But the emphasis in the book is on the scientific work that went into that discovery.

The book tells the blow-by-blow account of the scientist who first started to suspect that the olinguito might be a separate species and not just a different kind of a mammal the world already knew. Then we watch him assemble a team to test his hypothesis and see how each member of his team plays a specific role. My favorite part of the book was when, after they’d satisfied themselves that they had found a new species, they tried to publish their results:

“They submitted it to a scholarly journal for publication to share the news. A number of experts checked the report, and it was rejected.”

The scientists get back to work and spend another seven years researching and strengthening their argument before their work is finally published.

As I do school visits, I’m always surprised by how fascinated kids are in how long it takes to publish a book. I think this book, with its emphasis on the scientific process, complete with occasional rejection, will fascinate kids, too.

I was fascinated to see that the Source Notes are all from telephone calls the author made to various scientists involved in studying the olinguito.  This book will feel to readers like their own conversation with these scientists.

The Search for Olinguito: Discovering a New Species by Sandra Markle. Millbrook Press: 2017.

Cover of book, showing some bugs in grass.Nonfiction for very, very young readers is tricky. But Angela DiTerlizzi cracks the code in the delightful book Some Bugs. In fewer than 100 words, she gives us a wonderful glimpse of the wide variety of things insects can do.

The wonderful rhymes give the book a feeling of playfulness.

Some bugs sting.

Some bugs bite.

 Some bugs stink.

And some bugs FIGHT!

Simple words and simple predictable rhymes. Yet the scientific concepts conveyed are astonishingly sophisticated: insects have many different shapes and behaviors; insects live all around you; observation is an important scientific skill.

The illustrations match the playfulness of the text. Every insect has big, heart-warming eyes. But they’re also obviously insects. After the main text is over, there is one exuberant spread where every insect shown in the book is labeled by name.

This is a great nonfiction title for preschoolers or for beginning readers.

Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi, illustrated by Brenda Wenzel. Beach Lane Books: 2014.

Children around a globe.

 

 

 

I participate in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at KidLit Frenzy.

Cover of Slickety Quick shows a great white shark swimming in water.Sharks and poetry. What could be better?

In this refreshing book, Skila Brown couples playful, inventive poems with short sidebars about different types of sharks. The poems are in a range of styles. There’s a poem for two voices (about a shark and the remora that cleans it), rhyming poems, shape poems, and poems with a strong rhythmic beat.

The book spotlights thirteen different kinds of sharks. The poetry is the centerpiece. Each poem is in large type and thoughtfully set into the design of the page. The sidebars, each easily digestible at 25 or 30 words, are in small italicized font near the edge of the spread. They’re available if the poetry piques your curiosity, but each poem stands on its own. The digital art is inviting and refreshing.

This would be a great book to share with shark lovers and to lure a reluctant poetry reader. It would pair beautifully with another nonfiction title about sharks like Neighborhood Sharks. With each poem, Brown lures you in and makes you want more, like in this one about the nurse shark:

Two long whiskers–like a frown. Little mustache drips right down.

Vacuums creatures all around,

cleaning up the whole sea town.

Slickety Quick: Poems about Sharks by Skila Brown, illustrated by Bob Kolar. Candlewick: 2016

Children around a globe.

 

I participate in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy. Join us!

Cover of book, with photo of Doyli holding a baby monkey.Babies! Monkeys! Girls!  This true life story of a Peruvian tween who works with her family to save monkeys will win over any kid or adult who picks it up. It’s heart-tugging, inspiring, amazing!

The story opens with a sympathetic portrait of a native Indian hunter who is looking for meat to feed his family. Unfortunately, his hunt leaves a monkey orphaned. He delivers the baby monkey to Doyli’s family. From there, the rest of the story is told from Doyli’s point of view. We follow her from the moment she wakes up in the morning until she goes to bed. We see her helping feed and care for the animals, taking a dangerous canoe ride to school, and doing daily chores without aid of plumbing or electricity. In the exciting climax of the book, she discovers a vendor selling monkeys in a local market and sets in motion the actions that eventually leads to his arrest and the release of the captive monkeys.

Catherine Burnham was a documentary photographer before she became a writer, and the book has fantastic photos that show Doyli in her home and in her community. I loved the back matter essay where Burnham tells the story of how she and her family managed to maneuver things so they could meet Doyli and her family while they were on vacation in Peru.

There is a lot of text in the book, too much for younger or newer readers, but this is a title that will inspire middle grade readers and cause many sighs of longing: “Why can’t we move to the Amazon?”

Burnham’s blogpost about meeting Doyli is here and she offers a teacher’s guide here.

Doyli to the Rescue: Saving Baby Monkeys in the Amazon  by Cathleen Burnham. Crickhollow Books: 2015(Be

(Be sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy today and every Wednesday for more nonfiction picture book recommendations.)

Cover of book Trapped! A Whale's Rescue“The huge humpback whale dips and dives. Her sleek black sides shimmering, she spyhops, lobtails, flashes her flukes.” Robert Burleigh’s vivid language drew me into his book. Quickly, his beautiful descriptions of everyday life in the sea shift into a suspense filled drama. The humpback whale becomes entangled with fishing nets. Can she survive?

We see humans acting humanely but without denying the wildness of the humpback in the dramatic ending to this book.

I eagerly turned page after page of this book. The page breaks come at moments of highest suspense and the language is rich but economical. This book would be a great mentor text for effective picture book page turns, for how to build suspense, and for how to use vivid words in descriptions.

This story is based on news articles of an actual event. The back matter gives more information about that original event, about the limits of whale rescue, and about humpbacks.

This is a great read with beautiful paintings by Wendell Minor. And it’s tragically timely, too. This news report appeared six months after the book was published, but it could have been the source of the book.

Trapped! A Whale’s Rescue, by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor. Charlesbridge: 2015.

rags hero

 

 

 

 

 

This is a surprisingly sad story about a dog whose master is killed in World War I. The story is told mostly from Rags’ point of view in a straightforward, unsentimental way. The dialogue is invented, but the story gives a dog’s-eye-view of the ways one dog helped the war effort a hundred years ago.

The illustrations were probably my favorite part of the book. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Rags?

Rags Hero Dog of WWI: A True Story by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Petra Brown. Sleeping Bear Press: 2014

strongheart

 

 

 

 

 

This is a straight-up biography of the German Shepherd who became the first canine movie star, back in the days of silent moview. Along the way it suggests a bit about the biography of the couple who adopted him and trained him to act in the movies, but the focus remains on Strongheart. The voice is authoritative and documentary, and the book is lots of fun for animal-lovers.

The illustrations are lots of fun, and let us bask in the Roaring Twenties.

Strongheart: The World’s First Movie Star Dog, by Emily Arnold McCully. Henry Holt: 2014