Archive for the ‘Children’s Nonfiction Review’ Category

Review of The World Is Not a Rectangle, by Jeanette Winter

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

The World Is Not a Rectangle

A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid

by Jeanette Winter

Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), 2017. 56 pages.
Starred Review

This is a simple but brilliant picture book biography about Zaha Hadid, an architect I’d never heard of, who was an Arab and a woman and who designed buildings located all over the world.

Zaha was born in Iraq in 1950. The book simply shows how she got inspiration from nature.

When she grew up, she ventured away from her country and studied in London. She submitted designs in many competitions. When she was finally selected, the city commission refused to build it.

But Zaha continued, and the pictures show buildings she designed located all over the world – the pictures place them alongside the landscapes and natural objects that inspired them.

Zaha died in 2016, but her designs are still being built. End notes tell where each featured building is located.

Jeanette Winter doesn’t waste words, but she tells the story of a woman who added beauty to the world. And she tells it in a way I won’t soon forget.

simonandschuster.com/kids

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Dazzle Ships, by Chris Barton, illustrated by Victo Ngai

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

Dazzle Ships

World War I and the Art of Confusion

by Chris Barton
illustrated by Victo Ngai

Millbrook Press, 2017. 40 pages.
Starred Review

Raise your hand if you knew that thousands of ships got painted with bold, stripy, dazzling designs during World War I.

What’s that? No one?

I certainly didn’t know it. But after Germans began using submarines to attack ships, lieutenant-commander Norman Wilkinson suggested that the Royal Navy try camouflaging their ships.

I suddenly got the idea that since it was impossible to paint a ship so that she could not be seen by a submarine, the extreme opposite was the answer – to paint her, not for low visibility, but in such a way as to break up her form and thus confuse a submarine officer as to the course on which she was heading.

They put the idea into action. There was even a Women’s Reserve Camouflage Corps in America to do the painting.

By the time the fighting stopped, 1,256 American ships had been painted in dazzle designs along with close to 3,000 British ships.

And that’s most of the story. The book includes background about World War I and why they tried this, as well as speculation as to whether it worked or not. There are lots of pictures of dazzle ships, no two alike. The illustrations in this book are wonderful, done in the style of the time. They make the book all the more fascinating, and dazzling.

I like the way the book ends (before the five pages of notes):

Times change. Technology changes. Torpedoes get faster, submarine targeting systems get computerized, challenges of all kinds get replaced by new ones. But a willingness to tackle problems by trying the unlikely, the improbable, the seemingly bonkers will always be needed.

After all, as those of us inspired by Norman Wilkinson’s paint job know, sometimes desperate times call for DAZZLING measures.

chrisbarton.info
lernerbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Stormy Seas, by Mary Beth Leatherdale

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Stormy Seas

Stories of Young Boat Refugees

by Mary Beth Leatherdale
illustrated and designed by Eleanor Shakespeare

Annick Press, 2017. 64 pages.

Stormy Seas is in large picture book format – but the large amount of text on each page presents information for upper elementary age children. There are striking illustrations on each page, usually incorporating photographs – getting the information across with charts and maps as well as text.

This book tells the individual true stories of five young people who were refugees and traveled by boat: Ruth, 18 years old in 1939, leaving Germany; Phu, 14 years old in 1979, leaving Vietnam; José , 13 years old in 1980, leaving Cuba; Najeeba, 11 years old in 2000, leaving Afghanistan; and Mohamed, 13 years old in 2006, leaving Ivory Coast.

For each young person, the book describes their journey, explaining why they were desperate enough to leave, the frightful conditions of their boat journey, and each story ends up with what happened to them after their journey. All of the journeys were much longer than I ever would have realized – the narrative includes the time they had to spend to get on the boat in the first place.

Most of the journeys didn’t have a happy result when they landed, either. Ruth’s ship of German Jewish refugees got turned away from Cuba and had to sail back to Europe. Phu and his family got put in a refugee camp. José and his family were shocked by the neighborhood in New York City with its poverty and drugs. Najeeba was held in a detention center in Australia for 45 days. Mohamed ended up homeless in a train station in Rome for awhile.

There’s nothing like stories and faces to give you empathy. This book does provide numbers of refugees and gives statistics. But the individual stories put faces to those numbers in a way that will stick with the reader.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of This Land Is Our Land, by Linda Barrett Osborne

Monday, August 28th, 2017

This Land Is Our Land

A History of American Immigration

by Linda Barrett Osborne

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016. 124 pages.
2017 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award Finalist
Starred Review

I heard Linda Barrett Osborne speak at the awards ceremony for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Awards. She commented that her book wasn’t as timely when she began writing it in 2013. The facts in the book go up to 2015, but I do hope that her publisher comes out with an updated version before long. Though we may need to see how the next few years go.

The history of immigration in America is fascinating. In her talk, the author surprised us with facts such as that Benjamin Franklin didn’t want too many Germans to immigrate, and immigrants from Asia were not allowed to become citizens until 1952.

This book covers more than 400 years of immigration in America – and it’s surprising how similar attitudes have been over the years. In the introduction, we read what George Washington wrote about discouraging immigration, and then the author says this:

Both of these ways of looking at immigration – openness to all or restrictions for some – are part of our heritage. In the early twenty-first century, we still debate who and how many people should be allowed into our country, and if and when they should be allowed to become citizens. Some Americans think of the United States as multicultural, made stronger by the diversity of different ethnic groups. Others think that there should be one American culture and that it is up to the immigrant to adapt to it. Still others have believed that some immigrant groups are incapable of adapting and should not be permitted to stay.

Americans whose families have lived here for some time – whether centuries, decades, or just a few years – often discount their own immigrant heritage. They look down on newcomers from other countries. Indeed, far from inviting Lazarus’s “huddled masses,” our laws, policies, and prejudices have often made it difficult for many immigrants to enter the United States or to find themselves welcome when they are here.

This Land Is Our Land explores this country’s attitudes about immigrants, starting from when we were a group of thirteen English colonies. Until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which kept Chinese workers from immigrating to the United States, there were no major national restrictions on immigration – therefore, there were no illegal immigrants, or what we now call “undocumented aliens”: people from foreign (alien) countries who have no official papers to enter the United States.

The author quotes from a letter by Benjamin Franklin about the many Germans settling in Pennsylvania in 1751. (Some of those were my ancestors!)

Now imagine the same words today, with “Mexican” substituted for “German.”

As they came, settled, and endured, each immigrant group went through a remarkably similar experience. They left their countries to escape poverty, war, starvation, or religious and political persecution – or for economic opportunity. As foreigners who came from different cultures and often spoke languages other than English, they faced prejudice from groups that were already here. They seemed to threaten American customs and values established as early as the 1600s. Often, they were denied jobs and housing. They did the hardest and least well paid work. Yet they saved money and made homes here. Immigrant men brought over their wives and children; immigrant children brought their siblings and parents. Families reunited. Whole communities left their country of birth and regrouped in America. The children and grandchildren of immigrants, born here, spoke English. They absorbed American attitudes and ways of living. They grew in numbers and gained political power.

They often acted toward immigrant groups that came after them with the same kind of prejudice and discrimination that their families had encountered when they first moved here.

This Land Is Our Land does not attempt to answer all the questions and solve all the problems associated with immigration. Rather, it looks at our history to provide a context for discussion. If we examine the way Americans have responded to immigrants over time – and the responses have been startlingly similar and consistent – we gain an insight into immigration issues today. Why do we sometimes invite immigration and sometimes fear it? How much does race play a part in whether we accept new immigrants? Does the legacy of our country’s origin as a group of English colonies still shape our attitudes?

This book also presents the experiences of immigrants who left their home countries to start a new life here. How did their expectations and aspirations match the realities of living in the United States? How was the experience of different groups affected by racial prejudice? How did they eventually succeed, if they did, in becoming Americans?

You can see that the author has big ambitions for this book – but I believe she succeeds.

Now, you may guess that she does have an agenda in presenting this background, and I think that agenda shows when she talks about how we all have immigrant ancestors – except for Native Americans. But her point is well taken. As she says in the Epilogue:

Do we treat them as fellow human beings, with respect and compassion – the way we wish our immigrant ancestors had been treated, no matter who they were, no matter which country they left to pursue the American Dream?

This book got an award from the Young Adult Library Services Association, and my library has it in the Juvenile Nonfiction section. The target audience seems to be upper elementary and middle school students, perhaps through high school. There are plenty of historical photographs included as well as copies of old documents. The large, wide pages make it seem a little younger – but there is enough information packed onto those pages, even with largish print, that older readers won’t feel talked down to – if they pick the book up.

It does seem like a good time to know about the history of immigration in America – this book is a good way to bring yourself up to speed. Our country’s attitudes haven’t changed a whole lot over the years – but it’s good to know that those immigrants we did welcome to our shores over the years are the very people who have helped to make our country great.

abramsyoungreaders.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Moto and Me, by Suzi Eszterhas

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

Moto and Me

My Year as a Wildcat’s Foster Mom

by Suzi Eszterhas

Owlkids Books, 2017. 40 pages.
Starred Review

This simple nonfiction book for kids was a big hit when I booktalked it to early elementary school grades.

The story is this: Author Suzi Eszterhas was living in Africa as a wildlife photographer. A baby serval was separated from his mother by some tourists who thought he was in distress during a fire. They took him to a ranger station. The baby needed a foster mother to take care of him and teach him how to live in the wild. Suzi stepped up for the job.

The story is illustrated with abundant photographs – and Moto is adorably cute! The author explains clearly how she fed and tended him. He learned on his own to hunt, practicing with the stuffed toy she gave him, Mr. Ducky. The pictures of him learning to hunt, climb trees, and puff himself up in defense (to look bigger) are also adorable.

The book isn’t long, but it’s packed with information and photos. I was fascinated by Moto’s story, and kids will be, too. And now I know much, much more about servals (African wildcats) than I ever did before.

suzieszterhas.com
owlkidsbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Lesser Spotted Animals, by Martin Brown

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

Lesser Spotted Animals

The Coolest Creatures You’ve Never Heard of

by Martin Brown

Scholastic, 2017. First published in the United Kingdom in 2016. 53 pages.
Starred Review

Martin Brown is the illustrator of the Horrible Histories books that my son loved when he was younger. And this book has the same wit and wisecracks.

The Introduction explains the philosophy of the book:

Fed up with the same old animals? Had enough of hippos? Bored with bears? Tired of tigers? Do you want animals that are fresh, new, and exciting? Try Lesser Spotted Animals, a book about the wonderfully wow wildlife we never get to see. There are thousands of different animals in the world – big and small, common and rare – but most books show you just a slender selection of those thousands. And it’s the same slender selection over and over again. It’s time for a book that’s different – without the same ho-hum, run-of-the-mill creatures we’re served day in, day out. No pandas, elephants, or zebras here – this is a book about the world’s other animals.

Everyone’s heard of the koala – so cute and gray and fluffy – a nature superstar. And if it ever became extinct we would cry and weep and wail. But what about the pika? Hmm? It’s cute and gray and fluffy, too. Would we cry and weep and wail if it vanished forever? How could we? No one’s ever heard of it. Why? Because all the books are full of koalas – and lions and tigers and all the other usual, regular celebrity creatures we always see….

Discover all the amazing beasts you never knew you needed to know about, because it’s good-bye to the gnu and cheerio to the cheetah, say hi to the hirola and nice to meet you to the numbat . . .

After that, there are descriptions of twenty-three animals you probably never heard of, including a box with information about their size, what they eat, where they live, and their endangered status, plus some bonus facts.

Most of the illustrations have humorous speech bubbles somewhere, and the whole tone is light-hearted. I think my favorite page was the “Crabeater Seal: The world’s not-rarest seal,” coming as it did after the “Hirola: The world’s rarest antelope.”

In the first paragraph, we’re told that crabeater seals don’t eat crabs, because there are none in the Antarctic where they live. (They eat krill.) Then we’re told this:

However, the really important thing about crabeater seals is that they are probably the most numerous large animal you’ve never heard of. There are something like 200,000 brown bears in the world, 600,000 bottle-nosed dolphins, and roughly 700,000 common zebras. But sitting on the ice and swimming in the cold southern sea there’s somewhere between ten and fifteen million crabeater seals. So why don’t we know about them? Because bears go RAAAH and zebras look dashing and dolphins do backflips. The poor crabeater is a dull, pale browny-gray color. It can’t jump and it doesn’t chase its prey in thrilling, TV-friendly fashion. It doesn’t even eat crabs! But there are, by far, more crabeater seals on Earth than any other large wild mammal. SO THERE.

You get the idea! If you have children who enjoy knowing obscure facts, this book is sure to win them over. Learn about such creatures as the Cuban Solenodon, the Zorilla, Speke’s Pectinator (“Little Gray Ratty Thing Is: THE PECTINATOR”), the Gaur, and the Onager.

Lots of fun, and informative, too.

scholastic.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Your Presidential Fantasy Dream Team, by Daniel O’Brien

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

Your Presidential Fantasy Dream Team

by Daniel O’Brien
illustrations by Winston Rowntree

Crown Books for Young Readers, 2016. 264 pages.
Starred Review

I had a whole lot of fun booktalking this book in the local elementary schools this year. I never realized a book about the presidents could be so much fun.

Here’s how the author explains the premise:

I can’t predict the future. So I’m not saying that several years from now, robots will rise up and attempt to overthrow humanity and it’ll be up to you to travel through time and assemble a Presidential Attack Squad to defend America. But I am saying that we’d all feel really stupid if at least one of us wasn’t prepared for such an event. If you’re ever tasked with organizing the Dream Team of Presidents, this chapter will probably be more helpful than any other chapter in any book, ever.

Whether you’re forming an action team to defend the planet or just putting together a group of presidents to pull off some kind of grand scheme, every good team needs Brains, Brawn, a Loose Cannon, a Moral Compass, and a Roosevelt. I’ve included my best recommendations for all these positions, but you should feel free to pick your own.

He proceeds to tell about the presidents, rating them in terms of brains, brawn, loose cannon, moral compass and whether they’re a Roosevelt(!). But the fun in reading this book is his irreverent tone and over-the-top descriptions. I’m afraid this book was far more entertaining than Ken Burns’ worthy and lovely picture book of presidents, though that one would probably make a better resource for reports.

He includes scandalous and surprising facts such as Ulysses Grant was a drunk, and Andrew Jackson had so many bullets in his body, contemporaries said he rattled like a bag of marbles when he walked.

Kids liked hearing this description of President Woodrow Wilson:

During this time, Wilson grew suspicious of even his closest friends (something historians later attributed to undiagnosed brain damage). He went days without sleeping and his brain slowly started deteriorating, which, like everything at this point, only made Wilson angrier and more stubborn. Determined to win public support for the League of Nations, Wilson decided to go against the orders of his wife, doctors, and basic common sense, and toured the country to give speeches that would rally people to his side. He rode all over America, coughing and sneezing and being fed predigested foods (the only foods he could eat) by day, and giving rousing speeches by night (sometimes five in one day). He delivered his speeches with closed eyes, shaking hands, and a weakened voice. With his wheezing, sleeplessness, strained mumbling, rapidly failing body, and singular, obsessed focus, it’s not completely uncalled for to label Woodrow Wilson our first zombie president.

The book only includes past presidents who have already died, so we don’t have the gift of finding out how this irreverent historian would approach our first president. (I’m thinking “Loose Cannon” is his strongest field.)

In conclusion, Daniel tells kids that the reason he wrote this book is “to teach you that history is much cooler than they tell you it is in school.”

It’s safe to say this is one of the most entertaining history books I’ve ever read.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Real Friends, by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

Real Friends

A True Story About Cool Kids and Crybabies

by Shannon Hale
illustrated by LeUyen Pham

First Second (Roaring Brook Press), May 2017. 218 pages.
Starred Review

Shannon Hale, one of my favorite authors, has written a graphic novel memoir! And the illustrator is LeUyen Pham, who illustrates The Princess in Black books! I’m afraid there’s no way I wouldn’t like this book.

As if that weren’t enough, I heard LeUyen Pham speak about the book at ALA Midwinter Meeting — and when she signed my Advance Reader Copy, she sketched a cartoon of me!

But even if all those things weren’t true, this book is brilliant, and I feel sure it will be popular. It’s a true story of navigating friendships, being part of “The Group,” being bullied by an older sibling and others, and just wanting to have friends who actually like you.

Shannon grew up in a Mormon family; I grew up in an evangelical family. I’m afraid the panel I liked the most is from Shannon’s imagination, with her sitting, sad and alone, in the foreground, with “The Group” rejoicing in the background that she’s gone. Sitting next to Shannon is Jesus, and he says, “Well, I like you.” “Thanks, Jesus,” says Shannon. A kid tries to take comfort in the love of Jesus. But friends are important.

Shannon was already destined to be a writer, as evidenced by all the scenes where she’s imagining. She’d write stories with her friends — but really it was Shannon doing the writing.

The way things resolve is done well. In 5th grade, Shannon’s in a mixed 5th and 6th grade class, which doesn’t include most of “The Group” she’s been with for years. She makes some new friends who appreciate her for who she is — and it gives her a good perspective for dealing with The Group.

I don’t think I need to say any more. A graphic memoir about friendship and sisters. This will be every bit as popular as Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Sisters. And it’s marvelously done! Anyone who’s ever had friends — or ever felt left out — will relate.

squeetus.com
leuyenpham.com
firstsecondbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on an advance reader copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting – and had signed by the illustrator with a caricature of me.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of March, Book Two, by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

Saturday, April 29th, 2017

March, Book Two

written by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin
art by Nate Powell

Top Shelf Productions, 2015. 187 pages.
Starred Review

I’m embarrassed I hadn’t read this book yet. I meant to, but graphic novel isn’t my preferred format, so I didn’t get around to it. But I loved March, Book One. So when March, Book Three, swept the 2017 Youth Media Awards with four wins, and I got a copy signed by John Lewis, I knew I needed to catch up.

This volume continues John Lewis’s story, still framing it against the background of Barack Obama’s inauguration.

In this book, John Lewis joins the Freedom Riders. They face tremendous violence and are arrested many times. Throughout, he remains committed to nonviolence – even in the face of violence. They wouldn’t post bail and give money to a segregationist state, but took the consequences of their actions.

I misspoke in my review of the first book. The “March” of the title is not the March on Washington, but an intended march from Selma to Montgomery to protest for voting rights. They were met at the Edmund Pettus Bridge by Alabama state troopers in a bloody confrontation.

In this second volume, they did cover the March on Washington, where John Lewis was one of the keynote speakers – and the only keynote speaker of that march who is still alive.

The book ends with the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The violence was escalating.

I like the way Barack Obama’s speech is quoted before the bombing is shown. “Mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.” Some of the sacrifices weren’t so long ago.

This isn’t ancient history, but so far, these events happened before my birth. I appreciate having the story laid out for me. It’s moving to see what peaceful, nonviolent protest can accomplish.

A timely message.

topshelfcomix.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh? by Alison Limentani

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh?

by Alison Limentani

Boxer Books, 2016. 28 pages.
Starred Review

The more I look at this book, the more I like it. Right now, I’m planning to use it for my next Toddler and Preschool Storytimes, and even bring it to Kindergarten and first grade classes for booktalking. The idea is simple, but it’s got so much depth.

Here is the text of the first several pages:

10 ants weigh the same as 1 ladybug.

9 ladybugs weigh the same as 1 grasshopper.

8 grasshoppers weigh the same as 1 stickleback fish.

7 stickleback fish weigh the same as 1 garden snail.

You get the idea! The book progresses, counting down, through starlings, gray squirrels, rabbits, and fox cubs to 1 swan. Then, of course, to finish off, we learn:

1 swan weighs the same as 362,880 ladybugs.

The illustrations are simple and clear. This whole book could almost be thought of as an infographic, except that the animals are not icons, but detailed illustrations.

I love that the animals chosen are not your typical animal-book animals. But most of them (except maybe the stickleback fish) are ones a child is quite likely to see in their own yard or neighborhood.

The back end papers list average weights of all the animals (in a colorful diagram) with the note, “Different animals of the same species can vary in weight, just as different people do. All the weights in this book are based on animals within the average healthy weight range.”

I love the way this is a counting book, a math book (about relative weight and even multiplication), a beginning reader, and a science book (about these different species).

It’s also a beautiful picture book. The note at the front says, “The illustrations were prepared using lino cuts and litho printing with digital color.” They are set against lovely solid color backgrounds, so the animals show up nice and clear.

I have a feeling that reading this book frequently with a child will get that child noticing small animals and insects in the neighborhood and thinking about weights and differences and good things like that.

A truly brilliant choice for early math and science thinking.

boxerbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?