Grandmother Fish is Brilliant


Grandmother Fish: a child’s first book of evolution by Jonathan Tweet and illustrated by Karen Lewis (2015, Feiwel and Friends) is a brilliant introduction to evolution for young readers. Tweet manages to get this difficult concept across with a mix of illustration and engaging, yet simple text, and in the process shows readers how we are connected to all life. Tweet pulls the reader in with questions asking if we also chomp, wiggle and breathe. However, these questions change from simple animal behaviors, which we do partake in, to behaviors children might more readily associate with humans as the story unveils our evolutionary tree, making the connections stronger.

Readers as young as four or five will be able to grasp this difficult concept, making later lessons in school and life easier to understand. I feel such understanding is crucial to our ability to feel grounded in life, to understand our niche, and to promote kindness toward each other and the conservation of nature and systems that sustain life on our planet.

Grandmother Fish can help any parent who understands the value of explaining evolution, but feels stuck about where to begin. It makes a beautiful foundation for further exploration. The back matter includes ways to talk about the book with children and explains some common misconceptions of humans.

Jonathan Tweet’s Grandmother Fish is an ambitious project and he tackled it brilliantly. Every child should have a chance to read this book.


There’s Always Space for an Anywhere Farm


Summer is the perfect time to plant an Anywhere Farm and Phyllis Root and G. Brian Karas have teamed up to show us how, no matter where you live, in their new picture book Anywhere Farm (2017, Candlewick Press). With delightful rhyme, Root gives instructions on the how, what and where to plant. Kids will love the silly suggestions for plantings, and even if some are dubious (the tuba) from a success standpoint, there’s no doubt that readers will be itching to get their hands in the dirt after reading this story.

I love how Root starts with one child planting a plant and ends with a whole community garden. Then on the last page, we are treated to a second ending, which also makes the story circular; a technique kids love. This story is brilliant in its construction and delightful in its rhyming text. Karas’ mixed media illustrations are full of detail and emotion that invite the reader to linger on the page.

Anywhere Farm is perfect for a quiet reading session as well as perfect inspiration for getting outside and active with a garden…anywhere!


The Birdwatchers

Are you looking for a book that will add a bit of whimsy to your own stories or the stories you and your young reader share? If so, The Birdwatchers by Simon James (Candlewick Press, 2002) is a book you need. I’m an amateur birdwatcher so I was intrigued, however it is much less about bird watching and much more about the fun and silly way we can have a relationship with someone we love and trust.


Many parents or grandparents tease their children in a fun-spirited way and the child is quite capable of understanding truth versus fiction, of knowing when they’re being spun a tall tale. The Birdwatchers captures this kind of relationship brilliantly. As the author and illustrator, I suspect Simon James knew from the start what he wanted the illustrations to show. There are several times in the story where you could stop and talk about tall tales with your child, but I would definitely not do that with the first reading. You would spoil the magic.

Often I am too serious and so I wonder and wish I could write a picture book this quirky and humorous. I am off to reread it and ponder how to develop some eccentricity in my writing.


A Fabulous Frog Book!


Martin Jenkins and Tim Hopgood have created a fabulous frog book. Portraying brief information about many kinds of frogs, Fabulous Frogs (Candlewick Press, 2015) is a delight to read from different sized, informative text to fantastic illustrations; you’ll want to ponder over each page.

Starting with a two-page spread before the title page, Jenkins and Hopgood give the basic life cycle of a frog from egg to tiny frog. Then the reader is thrown (happily) into the amazing and varied world of frogs. I don’t want to describe too much because it is a wonderful journey through kinds of frogs and features of frogs such as speed, size, poison and loudness. The illustrations are fabulous and the way Jenkins presents the text is fabulous. I especially love how Jenkins gives a sweet shout-out to how special it is to have an ordinary back-yard frog too, despite all the amazing variety presented in the book. This book is a keeper.


When Counting Makes you Long to ‘Hit the Road


If you’ve ever loaded up a family and taken a summer trip, you will immediately connect with Counting Our Way to Maine by Maggie Smith (1995, Orchard Books). In this concept book, Smith is able to capture the moods and nuances that accompany a summer vacation trip beautifully and nostalgically (especially as I write on a chilly March morning). You feel like part of the family, and you know just want she means as she evokes, through her illustrations, the multiple expressions of the hope that gets packed into our suitcases.

At its basic level, this is a counting book. But it’s also, wondrously, a kid-friendly memoir of a family’s trip to Maine. Not everything Smith counts on the trip is related to a good experience, yet it’s all wrapped up in one big meaningful memory-making trip. If you take such family trips, you will understand. You and your young reader can write your own counting book based on your personal trip. And if your young reader has never had a beach vacation, this book might make her ask for one. Start counting your pennies. It’ll be worth it, except maybe for those 18 mosquito bites!


Henry Found It!


What is it and who is Henry? It is a word and Henry is the main character in Henry Finds His Word by Lindsay Ward (2015, Dial Books for Young Readers). Henry is a baby who tires of hearing those around him wonder about his first word, especially when he felt he was communicating just fine. So he sets off to find it.

This book is fun, silly and charming. Parents will love it and young readers will delight in Henry’s quest for a milestone they probably don’t remember having, but of which they’ve likely been told. If a reader has a sibling Henry’s age, I can imagine the layered thinking that may occur as they wonder what their sibling thinks when trying to communicate. Or maybe your young reader will ponder if words really do look like anything. Despite its simple theme, Henry Finds His Word is sure to bring up some engaging questions.

If you plan to read this book to your child, you can start with a question of your own. When you come to the page where Henry sets off to find his work, ask, “What do you predict Henry’s first word will be?” You don’t have to of course, but predicting will add a little spice to an already fun reading session.


What a Cool Place to Be


On Earth by G. Brian Karas (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2005) is a wonderful book to show your young reader the vastness of their home, planet earth, in space. I like this book because it could be used for an introductory science lesson on seasons and movements of the earth and sun, but it also makes for a book parents can share with younger readers because of its easy to grasp illustrations and simple text. Starting with, “On earth we go for a giant ride in space, spinning like a merry-go-round,” Karas explains how the earth is tilted, why we have day and night, how the tilt causes our seasons and how months and years go by, all in kid-friendly illustrations. We are meant to pause and dwell over many of the pages in order to fully grasp the science. These pages are balanced with other pages that only need a brief pause to harness a sensory detail such as the warmth and light of the sun, but that promote a caring for this special planet that is our home, and produce a nice pace to the reading experience.

This book lends itself to rereading since the science concepts are new to young readers, and not necessarily easy to grasp quickly. The bold, yet simple illustrations will help; I love the scenes of beds or beaches taking up a quarter to a half of the globe and suspect kids will too. And as your child ponders the pages, you too should stop and share. You might catch a distant memory of your early awareness and awe of living on our special planet. I found myself reflecting on my many journeys around the sun, and hope you will too.