Archive for Nature

Over in the Grasslands: On an African Savanna

Written by Marianne Berkes
Illustrated by Jill Dubin

The latest installment of the Marianne Berkes series has a lot going on. It is a counting book, reinforced by both the numbers of baby animals and the lineup of African gourd rattles. It is poetry, set to the rhythm of the traditional song “Over in the Meadow.” It is for learning about the African savanna and the animals that inhabit that area. It is hunting for nearly hidden animals in the pictures. It teaches about the song itself and about the techniques used by the illustrator.

Over in the grasslands
Where the acacia trees grew
Lived a tall mother giraffe
And her little calves two.

Altogether, first or second graders get to learn about twenty animals. Some of them may seem familiar from the zoo, – zebra, giraffe, elephant – but many are probably animals the readers have never seen – redbilled oxpeckers, naked mole rats, leopard tortoises. And none of them live your backyard. In the last pages, Berkes writes about the many themes used, including the ten different adjectives and the different baby names used. She also mentions many places to learn more, and she was careful to expalin that the numbers of babies each animal can have is fictional. Dubin writes about her collage technique, how important the different papers are, and what inspired the details.

A great addition to the counting library.

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  • over-in-the-grasslandsTitle: Over in the Grasslands: On an African Savanna
  • Author: Marianne Berkes
  • Illustrator: Jill Dubin
  • Publisher: Dawn Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Nature, Geography, Counting, Poetry, Music
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-568-4
  • Extras: Fact or Fiction?, Life on the African Savanna, Who Are the “Hidden” Animals in the Grasslands?, About the Animals, Tips from the Author, Tips from the Illustrator, Over in the Grasslands [music]

A Moon of My Own

Written by Jennifer Rustgi
Illustrated by Ashley White

Inspired by the notion that the moon follows us wherever we go, this new book would work well as a read alone or as a part of a unit on the Moon or the seven continents. Each two-page spread shows a child near a famous landmark, shown in silhouette, with the moon in the sky. This gives the book a mysterious quality kids will love. The landmarks are scattered across all seven continents: the Eiffel Tower in Europe; the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal in Asia; Serengeti National Park in Africa; Sequoia National Park in North America; the Amazon Rainforest in South America; the Great Barrier Reef in Australia; a penguin colony in Antarctica; and the Aurora Borealis above the Arctic Circle. The Moon is shown in progressive phases. The gorgeous illustrations are accompanied by simple questions and observations, such as “And when I’m tired, you’re there to guide me home.”

The end material suggests many ways to learn more about the Moon and its phases. It includes facts and activities, such as creating a Moon journal and demonstrating how Moon phases happen.  The resources included are both websites and books. Great for learning about the world around you.

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  • a-moon-of-my-ownTitle: A Moon of My Own
  • Author: Jennifer Rustgi
  • Illustrator: Ashley White
  • Publisher: Dawn Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Nature, Geography
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-572-1
  • Extras: Wonderful Places Around the World, Seven Continents of the World, Explore More – For Teachers and Parents, Recommended Resources

About Marine Mammals: A Guide for Children

Written by Cathryn Sill
Illustrated by John Sill

After reading this book, the reader will have a good handle on the variety of mammals that live in the oceans, as well as what makes an animal a mammal. All mammals need to come to the surface to breathe. They all give birth to live young, whether in the ocean or on shore. They all nurse their young. All are warm blooded. Some live in warm water, while some live in arctic zones. Some are predators, while some eat plants. Some are small, while some are huge.

John Sill’s vibrant yet subtle watercolors let the reader know exactly how these animals look in their natural environments. Especially instructive is the plate with the blue whale. He includes short-beaked common dolphins for scale.

The afterword and resources give second graders a great place to begin further learning. This and all the books in the “A Guide for Children” are valuable tools for elementary school classrooms.

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 About Marine Mammals

  • About Marine Mammals: A Guide for Children
  • Author: Cathryn Sill
  • Illustrator: John Sill
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, August 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Animals, Nature
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-906-3
  • Extras: Afterword, Glossary, Suggestions for Further Reading, Resources

Fabulous Frogs

Written by Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by Tim Hopgood

Who knew there are over 5,000 kinds of frogs or that they were so fun to learn about? Each page of this great, beautifully-illustrated book introduces a new and unique species. The goliath frog of western Africa is the largest frog in the world. The smallest lives in Papua New Guinea. The Darwin grog of South America has the pointiest nose. The striped rocket from Australia can jump up to sixteen feet. There are flying frogs and hairy frogs – though both are misnomers. And poisonous frogs in bright colors. Some make nests for their eggs. Some hold the eggs in their mouths. Some frogs never leave the water. Some rarely leave their holes beneath the earth. Many other species are illustrated.

This text is great for use among second graders in a unit about the environment or amphibians. The author lists several excellent websites for learning more about frogs.

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  • Fabulous FrogsTitle: Fabulous Frogs
  • Author: Martin Jenkins
  • Illustrator: Tim Hopgood
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Animals, Nature, Environment
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8100-5

Green Bean! Green Bean!

Written Patricia Thomas
Illustrated by Trina L. Hunner

Poetic and rhyming, this new book highlights the life cycle of the lowly bean.

A hoe to help grow.

      And a curlicue catching dew.

   Curlicue catching dew.

      Oh no! Wind roars. Rain pours.

A young girl plants beans, with the help of her dog. As the garden grows, the girl discovers all the aids and perils for her burgeoning plants. Beetles and snails chew on the leaves. Moisture, hoeing, and stakes help the plants grow. A rabbit comes for a snack, but is thwarted by netting. Patience and sharing with birds and bees bring forth a bountiful harvest. And rejected beans make sure the cycle begin again. Wonderful, lively illustrations accompany this sweet story.

This is a great companion for a first or second grade unit about the life cycle and could easily include kids sprouting their own beans, potatoes, or avocadoes. Some of the activities even encourage eating the beans and other fruits and vegetables!

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  • Green BeanTitle: Green Bean! Green Bean!
  • Author: Patricia Thomas
  • Illustrator: Trina L. Hunner
  • Published: Dawn Publications, March 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Science, Agriculture
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-544-8
  • Extras: Many, including “Life Cycle,” “Words to Know,” and “Fun Things to Do”

Wild Ones: Observing City Critters

Written by Carol L. Malnor
Illustrated by Cathy Morrison

Nature and its variety of animals are everywhere, even in the city. The author follows a dog as he explores many of the scenes present in every city. A squirrel and an opossum lurk near a shed. Ducklings are in danger on a ledge. A beaver and a gull are busy near the water. Starlings raid a trash bin. A rabbit snacks in a garden. Geese gather near a pond. Foxes, owls, and bats fascinate the dog. This approach is both captivating and enlightening.

As always, Morrison’s illustrations are lively, accurate, and fun to look at. With each illustration, more details are revealed about the natural world of the city.

Second graders will learn a lot about the critters they pass every day. In addition to learning more about the creatures, many reading activities are suggested by the text, including looking for squirrels and their activities on every page. Kids can make observations and maps in their own backyard. Many facts and resources for further learning are listed after the story ends.

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  • Wild OnesTitle: Wild Ones: Observing City Critters
  • Author: Carol L. Malnor
  • Illustrator: Cathy Morrison
  • Published: Dawn Publications, March 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Fiction, science, environment
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-553-0

My Leaf Book

Written and Illustrated by Monica Wellington

Leaves change color and fall breezily to the ground every year. Children love to catch them, collect them and figure them out.

Monica Wellington’s new book helps them identify leaves and put them in a book of their own making. While this book is fiction because the little girl is not real, Wellington has included a great deal of authentic science. Her depiction of various leaf types is well done and the leaves are matched with the names of the trees from which they come.

Grade one, grade two, and even grade three readers will be able to use the book for basic leaf identification. However, the scientific notes placed in text boxes on the pages illustrating true leaves are done in tiny print that will require adult help for some children to read and decipher.

Librarians and teachers can use this book successfully as a read aloud for pre-school through first grades. While the book meets core curriculum standards for literacy in the areas of picture clues, comparing and contrasting, separating fact from fiction, it also fulfills standards for natural science in the elementary grades. This book deserves a second look as first glance will sell it short of its educational value.

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  • My Leaf BookTitle: My Leaf Book
  • Author/Illustrator: Monica Wellington
  • Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers/ Penguin, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8037-4141-6
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: PreK to 3
  • Extras: End pages contain a list of leaf projects for readers to do

The Stranded Whale

Written by Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Melanie Cataldo


In this beautiful, short tale of a beached whale and how three children tried to save it, Yolen relates a timeless struggle against the harshness of nature. As the children walk home from school, they discover a whale stranded on the beach as the tide goes out. They immediately start trying to wet the whale’s skin with their sweaters and call for help from the beach’s emergency phone. Many people come to help, but it’s not enough. Eventually, the whale dies and the kids go home to their frantic parents. The Coast Guard gives the children each a medal for making the attempt to help, but what they really want is for the whale to be alive and well.

Cataldo’s lovely illustrations evoke the feel of the ocean and are dark enough to convey the seriousness of the situation. In the Author’s Note, Yolen explains her road to this story and the history of beached whales. She notes that this phenomenon doesn’t affect the overall whale population. Animals die.

Second graders will enjoy reading this story independently and should find hope in the circle of life. Nature may be harsh at times, but it is what it is. And people can always help.

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  • Stranded WhaleTitle: The Stranded Whale
  • Author: Jane Yolen
  • Illustrator: Melanie Cataldo
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 4
  • Genre: Fiction, Picture Book, Nature, Environment
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6953-9
  • Extra: Author’s Note

Mighty Mole and Super Soil

Written by Mary Quattlebaum
Illustrated by Chad Wallace

In an underground world unknown to most people, moles thrive. With long, sharp claws, they move heavy objects out of the way and dig quickly through the soil. They encounter rivals for their food – earthworms, insects, snails, slugs, centipedes, and larvae – and many creatures helped by the healthy soil. Predators, such as snakes, are close but rarely a big threat to moles. The soil moles live in is alive with nutrients and microscopic creatures. Moles are even born underground, where they have everything they need. The story is compelling and well-researched, and contains many relevant facts.

Vivid illustrations give a genuine sense of living in the underground. Kids will feel like they’re with the moles – in a comfortable way.

In the “Explore More – For Kids” section, second graders are challenge to think about the world they just learned about. “I’m a reptile that can grow up to six feet long.” A list of super powers demonstrates why the star of the book is called Mighty Mole and is a superhero. In “Explore More – For Teachers and Parents,” learning activities are outlined and encouraged. Online resources are cited for more learning and activities.

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  • Mighty MoleTitle: Mighty Mole and Super Soil
  • Author: Mary Quattlebaum
  • Illustrator: Chad Wallace
  • Published: Dawn Publications, September, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, nature
  • ISBN: 978-1584695387
  • Extras: Explore More – For Kids, Explore More – For Teachers and Parents

If You Love Honey: Nature’s Connections

Written by Martha Sullivan
Illustrated by Cathy Morrison


Rather than approaching one concept in isolation, this new book shows the reader how everything affects or is affected by other things and demonstrates the delicate balance of our planet. Honey is made by honey bees, who gather nectar from dandelions. Dandelions are protected by ladybugs, who also love goldenrod. Goldenrod attracts butterflies, who also love clover. Clover needs rich soil, provided in part by earthworms. Mushrooms help speed up the earthworm’s work. Mushrooms work in tandem with oak trees, whose leaves hide many creatures and whose acorns feed are planted by birds. Birds also eat berries, which are pollinated by the honey bees, bringing the story full circle.

Throughout the story, master illustrator Morrison sets the scene and shows that the items discussed in the text are even less isolated than imagined. Bears examine the honey repository. A farm and other flowers are near the dandelions. Sheep, protected by a dog, graze near the goldenrod. Rabbits much on the clover. Tree roots, baby bunnies, a lizard, and a toad appear in the rich soil. People work and play.

Second graders can learn so much about the nature in their backyards from this book. Literacy skills will be enhanced by the wonderful visuals and scientific concepts. Read aloud in a classroom, students can spot the details and discuss the connections.

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  • Honey_Paperback.inddTitle: If You Love Honey: Nature’s Connections
  • Author: Martha Sullivan
  • Illustrator: Cathy Morrison
  • Published: Dawn Publications, September 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Nature
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-533-2
  • Extras: Sweet Connections; From Nectar to Honey; Author and Illustrator Biographies; Other Books, E-books, and Interactive Book Apps
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