Tokuda, Yukihisha, illus. by Kiyoshi Takahashi. I’m a Pill Bug. Kane/Miller, 2006. ISBN: 978-1929132959 28 pp. $
Part of the Nature: A Child’s Eye View series, this unique book about the habits, life cycle and behavior of pill bugs is informational but also a bit … odd. Told in the voice of the pill bug, the tone attempts to be cheery and childlike, but it sounds a bit condescending to this reviewer. This is a translated title, and it could be this is a style we are simply unused to seeing.
The creature is shown actual size, as are the leaves pill bugs eat. The place of pill bugs in the food chain is inferred. It takes nearly twenty pages for the author to reveal that actually, pill bugs are not insects, but are related to crustaceans.
The nature theme and cut paper collage style illustrations are reminiscent of Lois Ehlert, incorporating not just torn colored paper but textures and prints as well. The pages are beautifully composed, and the predators of the pill bug– ants, frogs, lizards and birds–are intricate and lovely.
While a nice introduction to this particular species and the concept of scavengers, this non-fiction picture book is not useful for reports, lacking a bibliography, sources, index, glossary, or map. The theme and subject matter do make a nice fit for the MA 2006 Statewide Summer Reading Program, what’s buzzin’ at your library.
Fujiwara, Yumiko, illus. by Hideko Ise. Honey: A Gift from Nature. Kane/Miller 2006. ISBN 978-1929132942 28 pp. $5.99
A young girl follows her father to their beehives in the mountains to observe where honey comes from in this picture book in the Nature: A Child’s Eye View series. The text begins on the title page, a bit unconventional. The present tense lends some immediacy to the child’s viewpoint, but the voice lacks some personality.
Using the cycle of the seasons gives the book structure: in the spring, bees awaken from hibernation and gather pollen from blossoms in spring, summer and fall. The process of gathering honey form the hives, creation of honey from nectar, and threats to the bees and the honey are detailed in simple, clear language.
A page where the father speaks in a dialogue bubble with an inked diagram of how nectar turns into honey is a bit incongruous with the style of the book, but it does impart the information. The images in the book are luminous: a breakfast table on a bright sunny morning; fat, butter-colored honeybees; a shimmering veil of rain; richly hued autumn leaves; and honey in tones of yellow, amber, gold and brown. A honey tasting is a natural tie-in for this one-on-one read; lack of bibliography, sources, index, glossary, or maps make this a secondary choice for school reports.
The theme and subject matter do make a nice fit for the MA 2006 Statewide Summer Reading Program, what’s buzzin’ at your library.
Bardhan-Quallen, Sudipta, illus. by Sarah Dillard. Tightrope Poppy The High-Wire Pig. Union Square Kids, 2006. ISBN 978-1402724114 32 pp. $
Poppy is a persevering pig that dreams about a life beyond wallowing in the mud. She joins the circus to walk the tightrope, convinced her days of walking on fence rails insure her success, and when she falls, a heartfelt email from Mom inspires her to dust off her wounded pride and try, try again. Poppy is all heart and sunny personality. Told in rhyming text grouped in limericks with couplets interspersed, the story gathers a rollicking pace.
The illustrations are painstaking – finely patterned dresses, individual blades of grass, a unique face on every audience member in the big top. The palette of farm brown and greens transcends to soft red, blue, and gold as Poppy’s life changes; the final spread’s all yellow background indicates the achievement of goals. Perspective and the amount of space each illustration takes up on the page varies. This positive book about believing in your dreams is a winner.
Kaufman, Karen. illus. by Pete Whitehead. If Mom Had Three Arms. Union Square Kids, 2006. ISBN 978-1402723568. 32 pp. $
In this whimsical picture book, a little boy imagines that his mom has more than two arms after she refuses to carry his backpack for him. Nine rhyming couplets follow, beginning with “If mom had three arms, she could put on a show/If mom has four arms, she’d make cars stop and go.” The meter varies (11, 12, or once, 13 syllables) both from couplet to couplet and even within some pairings, making for a perceptible imbalance when reading aloud. The text is ambiguous enough for the pictures and words to tell the story together, and for the artist to have had plenty of creative license with the images. “With seventeen arms, Mom could color the sky” is a particularly poetic line, illustrated with seventeen kites spread over two pages. A warm and fuzzy happy ending wraps up the daydream.
The images are brightly colored, cartoony and full of motion – nearly 3-D, and no static straight-on views. Occasionally the illustrator uses additional lines to indicate motion, and these are for the most part unnecessary. Crowd scenes are multicultural and the boy’s dog is a fun and often humorous addition. Bubbles and wavy wriggling limbs make underwater motion clear when eight-armed Mom befriends an octopus; dripping paint, flying marble chips and squishy clay show her dexterity when six arms turn her into an artist.
Instead of color or line to move the reader from page to page, Whitehead incorporates numbers into each page, reinforcing the counting, propelling the book, and creating a find the figure game for readers, most cleverly when the number is disguised as a piece of coral or sculpture. Children will also turn pages to see what the dog is up to next; as the child observes the action, the dog is an eager participant.
Stewart, Melissa. A Place for Butterflies. Peachtree, 2014 (reprint). ISBN 978-1561457847 32 pp. $7.99
This environmental book about the threat of extinction to numerous butterfly species in North and South America focuses on things humans can do to foster the growth of local butterfly populations. Each two page spread narrows in on one specific species, such as the Karner Blue or Schaus Swallowtail.
The primary text is a generality, such as “some butterflies are harmed by X. When people stop X, butterflies can live and grow.” A sidebar gives more information on the particular species. No book about these winged creatures would be complete without a depiction of the life stages of a butterfly, and Stewart and Higgins don’t disappoint, providing a clean description illustrated with clear images. The conservationist message isn’t subtle, but it is effective and accessible to young audiences. A bibliography of resources for young explorers includes books and a government website. A teaching guide is available on the publisher’s website at http://www.peachtree-online.com/Kids/PDF/placeforbutterflies.pdf.
Lushly decorated pages capture the climate and topography of southern Florida, the Pacific Northwest, the eastern woodlands, and nine other locations. Plants and animals indigenous to each area are carefully detailed. The endpapers are decorated with maps showing the habitat of each of the 12 species covered in the book. MA librarians will especially appreciate some of the localities in the book (Worcester MA’s butterfly friendly fields are featured) and that the title fits nicely with the 2006 statewide summer reading program theme, what’s buzzin’ at your library.
Marsden, Carolyn. The Quail Club. Candlewick, 2006. ISBN 9780763626358 138 pp. $
The announcement of a talent show becomes cause for concern for Thai-American Oy. Torn between pleasing her parents by doing a traditional dance of her culture, or by keeping the friendship of her clique (specifically, Liliandra) by performing a raucous American dance, Oy spends most of the book making herself miserable trying to please everyone. Should her loyalties lie with her family, or her friends? Thai words and customs add depth and authenticity to the story.
The story is a quick read; like it’s prequel The Gold Dress the themes of peer pressure, fitting in and adapting are strong. Although Liliandra’s bad behavior seems to stem from underlying issues, Oy comes off passively — not a strong message for readers dealing with bullies or mean girls in their own lives.
Holm, Jennifer L. & Matthew Holm. Our Hero (Babymouse #2). Random House, 2005. ISBN 978-0375832307 96 pp. $6.99
Brother & sister Jennifer & Matthew Holm team up to present this tale of a sassy little mouse with a bully problem. Babymouse drags her feet getting out of bed in the morning because she dreads gym, algebra and Felicia Furrypaws, a mean kitty who looks down on her. Faced with the threat that if she forgets her sneakers one more time, her poor marks in gym will go on her permanent record, she enlists the help of her best buddy, a weasel named Wilson, to give her a refresher course in dodgeball. She dreams of being a superhero, but can’t sleep the night before the Big Day.
The humor comes from the hyperbole: a walk to school that takes on the ordeal of traversing the Oregon Trail, and a jailbreak escape fantasy in the middle of math class. Dream sequences are recognizable by the pink shaded panels that begin with one item in pink as a transition.
Babymouse’s fears are universal as her charm. For libraries seeking graphic novels for children, this one contains nothing more controversial than a scary locker that eats homework and a little dodgeball violence.