Nic Bishop: Big Cats

September 30th, 2019 · Books

BIG CATS by Nic Bishop is a stunning collection of images of tigers, lions, jaguars, and several types of leopards. Aimed at children ages 4-8, the large photo spreads will draw readers in, and the simple captions provide interesting and surprising details that inform the images.

Nic Bishop’s vast experience photographing wildlife comes across in the gorgeous photographs that capture these big cats in various poses as they rest, stalk, pounce, and eat. A few favorite pages are a lion’s huge yawn, a puma in mid-leap, and what could pass as a glamour shot of the rare clouded leopard. There are several photos that include cubs, so children looking for big cat babies will be happy, too.

This is much more than a picture book! The words are both interesting and educational. The text on each page is split into three captions with three different font sizes. The largest font could serve as a heading, as the smaller font captions expand on it. However, caregivers of younger readers could also stick to just reading the text in largest font depending on attention span and interest. The smallest font is a true photo caption that names and elaborates on the big cat in the photo. The vocabulary doesn’t oversimplify, which makes a great opportunity for read-alouds for children who find the language overly challenging.

Before starting the book, readers should know that in several photos the big cats are eating their prey. While this opens up opportunities for discussions about the circle of life and how nature works in the wild, taking a look prior to reading the book with a child will help guide caregivers’ sharing as some children may find it disturbing.

The photographer’s endnote details his experiences capturing the images, highlights the endangerment of some of these big cats, and provides brief tales from his journeys. A short index and glossary at the end is helpful for looking up particular big cats or their actions. Don’t miss the photo of two grown lions rubbing heads in greeting!

 

Review by Kristin Wald

 

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Tree of Dreams by Laura Resau

September 8th, 2019 · Books

TREE OF DREAMS by Laura Resau weaves many important and relevant issues throughout its story. The destruction of trees in The Amazon, the dangers for the people living within it, the broken bonds of friendship, the healing power of chocolate, coming-of-age, seeking redemption, the competition between small business and corporate franchise all appear and develop as the adventures in this magical story rooted in realism unfolds. Aimed at ages 9-12, the novel will be sure to entrance and inspire middle grade readers with its sincere concerns and its passionate descriptions.

Coco Hidden, the main protagonist, is having a tough year. Moving to high school and a falling out with her best friend Leo has left her feeling alone. In addition, a new donut chain has opened down the street from her mother’s chocolate shop, so business has been slow – so slow they may have to close. Threatened with the loss of almost all that fills her heart, there seems to be no bright side. Except that chocolate makes everything better.

Readers will love the infusion of magical influences and seeming coincidences and even mysteries throughout the book. Development of Coco’s character as dreamy, thoughtful, and tentatively optimistic, reveals much of how the story’s voice consistently resonates even as the setting moves from Colorado to The Amazon. In addition, Resau manages to tackle very adult themes in accessible and entertaining, albeit unlikely, ways. The pain of a fractured friendship is palpable throughout much of the story, and Coco’s distress at the prospect of leaving her home and her family’s shop feels authentic and relatable.

Each chapter begins with a Mother Ceiba tree speaking to the characters and the reader. Tied to the dreams that Coco and Leo have, the tree pleads, educates, and guides readers through the dangers and history of life for the flora and fauna of The Amazon. The transition of both Coco and Leo from inwardly to outwardly-focused is skillfully rendered via their interactions with each other, another main character, Isa, and with the natural world of The Amazon. Some magical elements include a mysterious jaguar guide, dreams that connect several characters, a seemingly bottomless pouch that keeps chocolate truffles cool and plentiful, and a series of lucky coincidences that would seem impossible to believe were they not embedded in a dream-like environment.

Young people interested in protecting the environment, both plants and animals, will be inspired by Tree of Dreams and the details about deforestation’s effects. The pages voiced by the Mother Ceiba are both informative and heart-wrenching, and the devastating discoveries and sometimes terrifying situations the main characters experience convey a wide-array of effects, both intentional and unintended on pristine environments. In fact, some of the environmental collateral damage is portrayed with the most vivid detail in the novel.

As with many middle grade and YA novels, the characters in Tree of Dreams embark on wild adventures that seem at once incredible and completely reasonable. The parents allow their 7thGrade children to travel through the jungle alone in a canoe, Coco confronts men with guns (more than once!) who are clearing trees to explore for and move oil, and despite walking and canoeing through the jungle, creatures don’t attack and bugs don’t seem to harass (too much), and families make life-changing decisions with little more than a happy shrug. The young teens go through typical middle grade emotions of courage, regret, anxiety, self-doubt, and intense joy – but it all feels fresh and exciting because of the setting and deeply developed characterizations.

Recommended for ages 8-13.

 

Review by Kristin Wald

 

 

 

 

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Out of My Shell by Jenny Goebel

August 21st, 2019 · Books

12-year-old Olivia (Liv) is starting her family’s annual summer vacation, but this year is very different because her father is staying home. OUT OF MY SHELL, by Jenny Goebel, follows Olivia as she pushes boundaries, mourns the break-up of her family, and tries to help a loggerhead sea turtle lay eggs in a safe spot. Divorce, coming-of-age, human impact on sea-life, and navigating changes in friendship all factor in to the story. Each chapter is headed by a fact about sea turtles that is loosely connected to what Olivia is going through in the story. Out of My Shell will interest middle-grade readers who love sea-life, turtles, and summers at the beach. The focus on protecting the sea turtle’s habitat will encourage conversations about the responsibility humans have to the environment and animal-life.

Olivia’s passion for helping sea turtles is consistent and passionate throughout the novel. Her actions towards the new owner of a neighboring resort and her secret nightly visits to the beach show a true-to-life characterization of a girl balancing grownup independence and the passion of childhood. When she is confronted with seeming apathy and scorn, Olivia’s surprise and righteous indignation may feel familiar to some families. Her trip to an aquarium for information and her contact with a sea turtle rescue will also help readers understand that there are organizations and institutions working to make positive changes to counteract and regulate human impact on natures life cycles. In addition, the chapter headings have interesting facts to spur deeper research and further reading about sea-life.

The overriding emotional story in Out of My Shell centers on the separation and eventual divorce Olivia’s parents have recently discussed with her and her younger sister, Lanie. The need for and benefits of open communication and involving children in decision-making are repeatedly emphasized via Olivia’s inner monologues and emotional pain she tries to coverup. Family dynamics between generations and siblings are also illustrated in a realistic way and to dramatic effect. Olivia’s relationship with Lanie is portrayed well in its sibling frustrations and evolution.

A strength in the narrative is Olivia’s exploration of her independence and her hesitant but open and changing relationship with her summer friend Aiden. The portrayal of awkwardness in young relationships on the path to adulthood is true-to-life and touching. And the family instability Olivia is experiencing is reflected in Aidan’s own experiences, as are their shared desires to hold on to the traditions and comfort of long-time friendships.

At times the impetuous decisions Olivia makes feel out of place. However, when juxtaposed with the adults and their own thoughtless behavior, it all comes together. Again, in all the relationships, the importance of open communication and sharing.

Out of My Shell will appeal to middle-grade and young teen readers interested in nature, activism, family disruptions, and summer adventures. Recommended for ages 8-13.

 

Review by Kristin Wald

 

 

 

 

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The Pepper Party Picks the Perfect Pet

July 24th, 2019 · Books

THE PEPPER PARTY PICKS THE PERFECT PET is an elementary level chapter book that is the first in a series about The Pepper Party, a family that is raucous and loving and wild and fun. The focus for this introduction to the Pepper family is adopting a pet from the local animal shelter. Author and illustrator Jay Cooper keeps the storyline moving with entertaining antics and creative combinations, but there are also issues surrounding the treatment of pets and shelter animals that crop up.

The main Pepper family member in this story is Annie Pepper, and she desperately wants to adopt a shivery Chihuahua from Frida Flamingo’s Animal Adoption Agency. Her plans to convince her family are turned upside down when her father agrees to adopt a pet, BUT it must be done by traditional Pepper Family rules that involve pulling names from a hat. What ensues is a parade of siblings choosing pets (a tarantula, a forlorn lovebird and a snobbish cat, a pig…) and then returning them when things go awry thanks to sabotage by envious family members.

What is problematic is the cavalier adoption and return of the pets. The family thinks nothing of swapping out animals for a new choice. And there is no attempt to match the animal with the lifestyle of the family prior to handing them over and waving goodbye. To his credit, Cooper brings up consequences towards the end of the story with Frida Flamingo’s mild scolding of the family’s lack of training and preparation regarding their chosen pets. At one point, the family is also told that they are banned from adopting any new animals. To that end, the story opens up opportunities for conversations about pet care and responsibility. Redeemably, the character of Annie works hard to “do the right thing” for the animals.

The wacky events that string The Pepper Party Picks the Perfect Pet together will appeal to elementary school readers who love Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. And the illustrations are clever and cute. We suggest being prepared for conversations about responsible pet care and how to choose a pet wisely with your children.

 

Review by Kristin Wald

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