Stardust Brings a Big Concept Close to Home


I’ve seen a few picture books over the years try to explain and distill the origins of our universe to young readers. It’s hard to do well. But Jeanne Willis and Briony May Smith do a wonderful job in Stardust (Nosy Crow, 2017). How did they do it? They focused close to home on an emotion many children struggle with, to be noticed, to shine.

In this story a young girl feels constantly in the shadow of her big sister. The main character wants to ‘be a star’ too. One day her grandfather explains the origins of the universe – and here the illustrations transport the child and her grandfather into the process. While overly simplified as is appropriate for this age level and style of delivery – these illustrations are delightful. Stardust shows all readers that they can shine in life; just that we’re all different in how we may shine. However, this book also introduces a difficult concept in a simple, awe-inspiring manner. Curious readers will take it further, so be ready for questions.

Reading Stardust is like getting two books in one, all packaged in a gorgeous design with a sweet story.


The Biggest Thing There Is


When I want to get a sense of the size of a state or country, I always compare it to something I know. Is it bigger than Pennsylvania? Could it fit inside Texas? I do a similar mental comparison about populations of cities. Having lived in Oviedo, Spain and being comfortable with that size city, I use its population as a gauge for others. In Is A Blue Whale The Biggest Thing There Is? (Albert Whitman & Co, 1993) Robert Wells takes this concept to the extremes of the universe in a fun and informative manner.

Both Wells’ comparisons, starting with a blue whale, and his illustrations engage the reader with this difficult concept of imagining just how big some things are in our world and in our universe. I really love the idea of imagining blue whales in jars and just how tiny 20 jars of blue whales would be on the top of Mt. Everest. It gets even zanier! Can you imagine 100 Mt. Everests stacked on top of Earth? Wells makes it possible.

Great for ages 5 and up, Is A Blue Whale The Biggest Thing There Is? can help young readers ponder the scale of the world around them. It’s a delightful journey.


A Hummingbird’s Life is Amazing


I eagerly await my first sighting of the ruby-throated hummingbird every summer. Then I quickly make up a sugar solution for them (sans food coloring) and hang the feeder where they remember from the previous year. It’s right outside my kitchen window, but with enough plants on the window to create a blind, allowing me to be close enough to see the muscles in their head working as they suck up the sugar drink. I spend many frozen moments enchanted by these tiny wonders.

Irene Kelly in It’s a Hummingbird’s Life (Holiday House 2003) has likewise enchanted me with facts about hummingbirds. I knew their nests were tiny, but I didn’t realize how tiny. I knew the babies were tiny, but Kelly uses examples to explain size and weight that any young reader can relate to and marvel with: “The newborns look like raisins with a thin cover of downy feathers on their backs.” I imagined reading to a young child and running to the cupboard to get two raisins to make the comparison visual. And then there were all the facts about their diet, life history and migration that I did not know.

There’s no back matter in this book. It’s not needed. Kelly has written a fact-filled book nonfiction book that reads like narrative nonfiction. Her illustrations are realistic, yet whimsical. The pages are busy, but not distracting. A young child can listen to this book being read and understand, while an older reader (or an adult like me) can read this book and learn about hummingbirds, feeling that awe that often occurs with nature study.

I’m enchanted with It’s a Hummingbird’s Life. I hope you will be too.


Pollinator Passion

Bees and birds and bats, oh my. And don’t forget the butterflies! If you don’t already have a passion for pollinators, I urge you to try and develop one. After all, we’d likely not be here without them, or at least not live in the world as we know it. I guess there’d be lots of wind-pollinated grass to eat, but I sure would miss blueberries. Need help getting to know all about pollinators? Well, I’m writing this blog post about National Pollinator Week happening June 17-23 this year and there are a lot of wonderful resources on their website to get you started. I love how they’ve created fact sheets for different groups in our society: gardeners, farmers and ranchers, food industry and teachers and students. It’s a great way to see how pollinators impact all our lives.

Why should you care about pollinators? From the Pollinator Partnership website: “The 2019 poster, Endangered Pollinators and their Habitats, features beautiful artwork by Carol Schwartz. This poster displays the numerous pollinator species that are at risk and listed as federally endangered or threatened including: 1 fly, 3 bats, 5 birds, 8 bees, and 24 butterflies and moths. Disturbances such as habitat loss, climate change, and application of agricultural pesticides contribute greatly to diminishing populations and disrupting ecological interactions. Extinction can lead to a crippling disaster for ecological resilience and economic interests.”

We are losing our fellow species, right under our noses, usually because of our own actions. We can reverse some of this by writing to our elected officials, educate others about the problems and solutions, plant habitat, stop using pesticides, allow weeds. There are many ways to do something.

My favorite way to start is to know the players. I wrote about this for World Oceans Day. The best way to know and learn about other organisms is to observe them in their habitat. Passions and caring are much deeper when we engage directly. After you read about pollinators, go find some. I wrote recently about visiting my milkweed patch on my nature blog. Sure it takes time out of my busy day, but without such passions, what would my busy days be worth?

The Pollinator Partnership website is well done. I hope you will check it out and then go find some pollinators. Please share this post with others – especially those who like good food! If you are a teacher or know a teacher, you can find a FREE 18-page lesson plan to go with my book Milkweed Matters: A Close Look at the Life Cycles within a Food Chain on my TeachersPayTeachers site. I will leave you with some pictures of pollinators I have met.



World Oceans Day


Today is World Oceans Day. Last year I celebrated by giving away copies of my book Oliver’s Otter Phase since it is about sea otters. This year I got to wondering all the ways one can celebrate something that needs saving. Would we even be having a World Oceans Day if the oceans were healthy and thriving? One would hope humans would cherish something so special, but it seems we often do not until the something is endangered. I’m sure there are many reasons why this conundrum may be, but one reason I think important to consider is how well we really know something, in this case, the oceans.

When we really take time to learn and understand a topic, a person, place or thing, we make connections that are often strong and help us to care deeply, to not take the object of our study for granted. This is why I advocate curriculum that focuses on a student’s immediate environment and communities first, before broadening out into exotic places (unless one’s school is in a rainforest or other such exotic place). It’s hard to ask adults to save something that they did not form deep connections to while young. But once deep connections are made, it is an easier step to extrapolate to other environments or cultures that need our attention.

If you want to celebrate World Oceans Day, by all means you should. It’s a wonderful program with ambitious goals. Perhaps you are already near an ocean or can visit an aquarium. Perhaps you can clean up a beach or tell others about plastic pollution. But if you weren’t aware of World Oceans Day and are not prepared, you can still do something that matters. Go to a library and find a book on a topic that concerns you or is close to you, yet you know little about. Get children interested in an animal in their backyard. Do research and find value in that organism (or culture). You will create connections that have ripple effects beyond what you may predict today. If having a theme to your quest helps with motivation, then get books about the ocean. And next year, you can plan ahead to get involved. We need our oceans and all our ecosystems on Earth to be healthy. They need us to get to know them.



Welcoming Silence in The Silence Slips In

The Silence Slips In

As someone who craves a bit of alone time every day, I found The Silence Slips In by Alison Hughes and illustrated by Ninon Pelletier (Orca Book Publishers, 2019) calming and affirmative.

Silence is personified and looks a lot like Sadness character in When Sadness is at Your Door, which I reviewed last month. Silence though, is white and smiling and has ears; perhaps useful to tell when Noise is getting too loud and a sensitive child needs Silence’s services.

The language is flowing and calming. “Silence loves reading, thinking, long hugs and mugs of hot chocolate by a peaceful fire.” The Silence Slips In gives permission to those children who need to be off on their own for a bit when the world is overwhelming. And the book shows that silence isn’t scary for those children who find silence unnerving. Silence can be found after a party, after a storm or with darkness at bedtime.

True silence, if we mean the absence of sound, is probably not possible or a sign of something terribly wrong with our world. But silence as a reprieve from the incessant clamor of the man-made world is likely an endangered thing, and for others like me, necessary for our mental health. Once when we lost power and I was home alone, it struck me how all I could hear was birdsong. There was no radio, no refrigerator hum, no fans running, just sounds from nature. It was a blissful interlude.

I think children who crave a little silence as well as those who thrive on noise and chaos will enjoy The Silence Slips In. We are all on a spectrum with regards to feeling introverted or extraverted. Understanding the need for silence can help us all.


The Panda Problem


I’ve been following Deborah Underwood’s writing career ever since mine began. I met her when she was an instructor at my first writing workshop at Highlights. Her books are creative, witty and have high re-readability. The Panda Problem, illustrated by Hannah Marks (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019) is no exception.

In The Panda Problem, Panda meets the narrator who is frustrated that it cannot find a problem for Panda. Stories need problems; main characters need problems to solve. So Panda reverses the roles and declares the narrator to be the main character with a Panda problem. Pure silliness ensues until Panda finds himself in a real mess. Finally, he has a problem the narrator can work with.

The Panda Problem is pure fun to read with a twist ending that I love. Young readers will likely be giggling as they read, and learning a little about story elements in the process. Maybe you should have paper and pencil ready, just in case, because after I reread it a few times, I wanted to write a story. And I am already looking forward to Deborah’s next releases. Yes, that’s plural. Not only is Deborah creative and witty, she’s also very productive!