Weird, Wild, Amazing! Exploring the Incredible World of Animals

June 25th, 2020 · Books

Tim Flannery’s WEIRD, WILD, AMAZING! is a must-have for any child who loves fauna of any kind. And who doesn’t? If the Star-Nosed Moles don’t convince you, perhaps the Hoatzins will. And if animals you are unfamiliar with aren’t what you prefer, weird and gross facts about whales, giraffes, and lions may be what convince you to return to this delightful collection of details, figures, and silly (but true!) anecdotes about animals from every type of environment. The bright illustrations by Sam Caldwell ensure that both children and adults will find reasons to flip the pages back and forth for hours on end.

This busy and vibrant picture book is filled with strange eating habits and astounding talents of various animals. However, what makes it especially impressive is the sheer volume of bizarre and funny highlights that show us how very different and surprisingly similar various animals around our Earth are. Children of a certain age will appreciate the various references to poop, and others will be grossed out with curiosity by the meals preferred by various birds and furry critters. The illustrations are age appropriate in that they hint at nature’s gore without being overly realistic.

Which sea dweller is born with a baby mustache that falls off within a week? Which mammal has venomous “spurs” that can be used as a deadly defense? And which desert animal emits a piercing shriek when threatened? Kids and adults will have a lot of fun – and learn even more – as they travel through this fantastic book together.

Highly recommended.

 

review by Kristin Wald

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What’s The Matter, Marlo?

June 14th, 2020 · Books

WHAT’S THE MATTER, MARLO? by Andrew Arnold addresses how children can tackle difficult emotions and recognize the strength between friends. The narrator and her best friend Marlo do everything together, including their favorite game hide-and-seek. Marlo’s dog Hooper is often with them, wagging and chasing and fetching. When conflict occurs, their friendship is tested and eventually strengthened.

One day, Coco (who is named in the book flap but not in the story) asks Marlo to play and is told to Go Away; Marlo looks angry. Instead, she tries to cheer him up with jokes about dogs. Marlo gets angrier and angrier, depicted with thick, black lines above his head. And finally he screams (AHHHHHHH!) and disappears into a page full of black, squiggly lines.

The beauty and reassurance in this children’s book comes from Coco’s resolve and perseverance in making sure she “finds” Marlo despite all the hardship and hurt feelings. In addition, it emphasizes the reality that when children (or all of us…) are having BIG feelings, sometimes they don’t look like what we expect. When Coco discovers the source of Marlo’s seeming anger, the death of his dog Hooper, she cries with him because “that’s what best friends do, too.”

Families should know that the death of the dog is implied with an image of Hooper’s collar hanging on a branch by a plot of dirt. And the anger “squiggles” may be scary to younger, more sensitive children. Overall, however, this picture book will spur parents to have difficult and loving conversations about loss and grief and how to support a loved one working through it. Highly recommended.

 

Review by Kristin Wald

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Already a Butterfly: A Meditation Story

May 25th, 2020 · Books

ALREADY A BUTTERFLY by Julia Alvarez and Illustrated by Raúl Colón is a poignant reminder to (almost literally) stop and smell the roses. Mari is a beautiful butterfly who is always busy, anxious, and productive, but she can’t say she’s happy. Told by her parents, also busy butterflies with good intentions, to “trust her instincts” to find happiness, she continues keeping herself so busy that each flower is a blur.

It is only when Mari meets Bud, a flower bud still waiting to blossom, that she is reminded of a time in her chrysalis that her whole existence focused on becoming who she was meant to be. Bud reminds her that she was “following her instincts” and not thinking about what she “ought” to do or “must complete.”

Bud guides Mari through a meditation that reminds her of where she came from and what she’s already accomplished and who she is and was meant to be. “Breathing in, you are a butterfly. Breathing out, you feel happy.” Mari’s senses allow her to notice the sounds, sights, and smells around her, and she finally feels like the beautiful butterfly she’s always been. Bud, as you can imagine, becomes a beautiful flower and Mari takes a piece of him – in the form of pollen – with her as thanks.

What works in this story is its matter-of-fact and simple treatment of meditation, or mindfulness, as well as the non-judgmental description of Mari’s self-imposed pressure to be busy. Bud is friendly but not pushy, and Mari’s relief at being “in the moment” is palpable. The beautiful, softly elegant illustrations help convey a sense of calm and comfort throughout.

The author’s note, “Growing Your Own Wings,” explains the origins of the picture book and relates the challenges facing the girls in the Dominican Republic involved in the Mariposa DR Foundation to Alvarez’s granddaughters and their packed schedules surrounded by social media and concerns about global issues like the environment. The note continues with encouragement to take the time to meditate when thoughts and worries crowd your thoughts to “make room inside yourself for your wings to grow.”

A lovely picture book and meditation guide.

 

review by Kristin Wald

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Llama Unleashes the Alpacalypse

May 13th, 2020 · Books

For a riotous romp through destruction and ambitious ideas gone wrong, Jonathan Stutzman’s LLAMA UNLEASHES THE ALPACALYPSE, the second installment in his Llama Book series, is just what kids and families will want. Full of fun messes and outrageous plans, Llama takes readers through his Big Idea to clone Alapaca, who loves to clean, never thinking that too much cleaning could create just as many problems as not enough cleaning.

Heather Fox’s adorable illustrations convey both the enthusiasm and chaos created by Alpaca and Llama without overwhelming the pages. Each page is colorful and silly, which matches the creative, rich vocabulary of the text. Children will have fun identifying all the different ways Alpaca “cleans up” around town, and adults will appreciate the frightening results of energetic completion of chores.

A delightful adventure that combines STEM and SILLY in perfect proportions.

 

review by Kristin Wald

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