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 The Blue Whale by Jenni DesmondBlue whales are fascinating creatures. Threats have recently thrown them into the news and Robert Burleigh just published a riveting book about the rescue of a blue whale.

This title by Jenni Desmond would pair beautifully with Burleigh’s suspenseful page-turner. This book couldn’t be more different in tone. Its voice is very quiet, almost dry and reportorial, in fact, but the book shimmers in the interplay between serious, factual words and playful, whimsical pictures. It’s a book that could only have been written by a writer-illustrator.

For example, one page of the book reports:

“Baby blue whales don’t eat krill; they drink their mother’s milk….It drinks nearly 50 gallons of its mother’s milk every day and can gain as much as nine pounds an hour.”

This information, fact-based page is accompanied with a funny drawing of fifty jugs of milk, one of them being toted off by a little boy.

The only time that the text flirts with whimsy is when it makes comparison. For example, describing the size of a blue whale, the book says, “A blue whale’s tongue weighs three tons, and its mouth is so big that 50 people can stand inside it.” The illustration is of 50 waving, smiling people, mugging for the camera, inside a blue whale’s mouth.

As a child, I know that my favorite page would have been the first one, where a child is reading a book. THIS  VERY BOOK. I always loved self-referential pictures. This book’s illustrations have lots of tiny gifts for the careful viewer, and you’ll come away from it knowing a lot about that magnificent creature, the blue whale.

The Blue Whale by Jenni Desmond. Enchanted Lion Books: 2015.

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.

muirBiographers face an alluring temptation: to tell an entire life. In this book, Julie Danneberg resists the allure and instead tells the story of one intense night in her John Muir’s life. And in the process, we learn all about who the man was.

John Muir settled in Yosemite early, early. He lived in a cabin and then in a sawmill in Yosemite Valley. He would live anywhere as long as it kept him close to the spectacular scenery he loved. One night he hiked to Yosemite Falls and managed to slip behind the waterfall when wind briefly blew it away from the cliff face. That transcendent  moment, seeing the world through the spray of the waterfall, was immediately followed by near-death when the wind dropped and the water returned to its usual path, pounding down on John Muir. Danneberg describes the scene brilliantly: we feel hushed with awe and then stricken with terror and then, finally, amazed with Muir at the grandeur of nature.

The main text is written in present tense and the words are vivid and muscular. The book is designed to have layered text: nearly every spread has, in addition to the main text, a block of text in smaller font, written in past tense, and with an explanatory tone, that adds lots of interesting details about Muir. I’m very glad they’re not included in the main text–interesting as they are, they would have muddied it and slowed down the pace of the story. I read the book through once, ignoring all of the smaller font passages. Then I flipped back to the front and read it through again, this time reading all the smaller font. It’s a method I highly recommend.

Danneberg excels at finding tiny moments that illuminate a life. Her book Monet Paints a Day gives us a vivid portrait of Claude Monet, through the lens of a single day of painting. Here she does the same for John Muir.

John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall, by Julie Danneberg, illustrated by Jamie Hogan. Charlesbridge: 2015.

woodsHere in Idaho, our air has been choked with smoke from the out-of-control wildfires around us. So this strange and beautiful book is timely.

It is a family story, retold. When the author’s grandfather was a child, he was caught in a forest fire. He and all the other people from the lodging house in the woods fled to the lake, standing in the water to protect themselves from the flames. They were joined there by the animals of the forest–moose and deer, foxes and wolves, rabbits, bobcats, and raccoons.

Bond spends the first part of the book delineating the hierarchy of the lodging house and showing how the boy keenly felt the distinction between inside and outside. Her sentences are full of lists and phrases, multiple clauses, creating a sense of careful order, all of which is overturned by the hours standing together in the lake.

I appreciate the atmosphere that Bond’s language and art so carefully construct. Her story seems real and mythic at the same time. It’s one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event, by Rebecca Bond. Margaret Ferguson Books: 2015.



waterThis poem, a lyrical exploration of different phases of water, is a pleasure to read aloud. Paul uses vivid words and unexpected rhymes to help us think about all the different ways water can appear in our environment–far beyond that simple elementary school worksheet with lake, cloud, and rain.

One of the most fun things about reading this book aloud is the drama that Paul has built into her poetic form. She describes one form in which water appears and then adds, “unless…” Each time “unless” appears, we get the built-in drama and suspense of a page turn, and the new page reveals to us a new form water can take.

Water is Water, by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin. Neal Porter Books: 2015.

daylightDiurnal. Crepuscular. Nocturnal. This book pairs animals who are active at different times of day, implicitly inviting you to see similarities and differences between them (and explaining the technical chronotype terms in the back matter). The paintings are lovely–as one expects with Wendell Minor!–but the language was what most surprised and delighted me. It’s full of vivid words, lots of alliteration, and is fun to wrap your tongue around while reading aloud.

At night, pink-nosed opossum plods through the field and forages for food with her family on her back.

In the back matter, Minor mentions that he has seen all the creatures in this book in his own backyard. What a great challenge, to see how many creatures creep through your yard throughout the day!

Daylight Starlight Wildlife by Wendell Minor. Nancy Paulsen Books: 2015.

starMost nonfiction picture books are aimed at kids who are also reading chapter books and novels. Touch the Brightest Star, though, is a nonfiction picture book written for a picture book audience. This book gently shows what happens as night comes on and invites two to four year olds to participate on each spread–to wave, to press, to blow. A one page back matter gives a little more information about the night-time features highlighted in this book, but the real attraction of this book will be the heady excitement of being asked to act.

This book is a companion to Tap the Magic Tree and will appeal to the same audience.

Touch the Brightest Star by Christie Matheson. Greenwillow: 2015

rothThis inspiring book works at lots of different levels for lots of different readers. First, it’s a simple cumulative story for preschoolers, like “This is the house that Jack Built”:

“This is the tree, a mangrove tree.

These are the trees, mangrove trees, that were planted by the sea.”

And so on, we hear the story of mangrove trees being planted to reclaim marginal land.

This first, simple level, works as a read-aloud. But the authors also include on every page a sidebar that tells in more detail about the initiative to reclaim land in Eritrea to fight against famine. Parents and older kids would gobble up these details.

And finally, the back matter (8 pages of text and photos!) tells the story of the American scientist, Gordon Sato, who dreamt up the idea of relieving hunger by planting these trees and about how his experiences in an internment camp during World War II led to this idea. I felt inspired and uplifted by his vision and his tenacity.

The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families, by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore. Lee & Low: 2011.



oakThe oak tree is the main character in this book. We see it sprouting as an acorn and continuing to grow while the landscape around it transforms dramatically. At the end of the book, a terrific thunderstorm topples the tree, but a tiny sprout pops up next to the stump.

The illustrations are beautiful and carry much of the weight of the story. It’s fun to pore over them, looking for tiny details. The copy I checked out from the library had a pocket inside the back cover with a folded poster in it. The poster featured one of the most innovative timelines I’ve seen: it showed the cross-cut section of the tree’s stump, and with arrows, showed what was happening the year that tree-ring grew.

The book has excited some comment among Native American readers who feel it unfairly characterizes Native Americans and both how the used the land and how they were evicted from their homelands. I think their concerns could prompt an important discussion with young readers.

As an Oak Tree Grows, by B. Brian Karas. Nancy Paulsen Books: 2014