Thursday, April 14, 2011

Earth Day Books for Poetry Month (FAMILY magazine reviews)

These poetic books are perfect for the month of April when poetry is particularly celebrated, and when we honor our planet for Earth Day and beyond. With the youngest among us hopping, growling, or flapping we can tune along -- while older children might prefer to follow the path of a plastic bag, or join the youngster who’s saving salamander lives.

Big Night for Salamanders

by Sarah Marwil Lamstein

illustrated by Carol Benioff

Boyds Mills Press, $17.95, Ages 7-9

On the first warm rainy night of spring – Big Night – spotted salamanders emerge from the forest tunnels where they’ve spent the winter, to return to the pools where they were born. Many must cross a road, and volunteers with flashlights, like Evan in this story, keep watch to help these small amphibians to safety.

Similar to volunteers who help egg laying turtles on east coast Florida beaches, by putting protective fences around the nests, and turning off street lights so newly hatched turtle babies can find their way to the ocean by moonlight. The salamander volunteers near forests in North America stand watch to warn motorists of the migration.

Using two different fonts to follow the two tracks of this book helps readers understand the path of the migrating salamanders, while simultaneously showing young Evan’s excitement at helping the small creatures to safety. Benioff’s colorful gouache brightens paintings of the rainy night. Flashlights and automobile lights contrast with darker colors showing the forest path, as the rain falls. Evan’s solution to protect the salamanders even after he goes to bed suits the rainy night elements of the story, and demonstrates the passion many feel as they work to protect creatures in our world.

This engaging picture book includes two pages explaining the Life Cycle of the Spotted Salamander, a few paragraphs about Big Night and Vernal Pools, plus a Glossary, Index and Resources at the back.

If You’re Hoppy

by April Pulley Sayre

illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic

Greenwillow, $16.99, Ages 2-5

The award-winning author of numerous books for children about science and natural history, Sayre brings her rollicking brand of humor and creativity to this rhyming picture book, based on the traditional song “If you’re happy and you know it.” Whether you act like a frog, a bunny or a cricket, hopping happiness abounds, as does flappiness as a bird, butterfly or pterodactyl.

The craziness doesn’t stop with pterodactyls, but moves quickly into being sloppy or growly, and starts to include “slimy and scaly and mean,” as illustrator Urbanovic’s watercolors, outlined in ink, leap and growl across the double pages in bright colors. The light green frog with red legs and tongue from the early pages is especially captivating, as are the unexpected bird choices of a large white pelican with widespread wings, and the almost laughing pterodactyl.

The slightly scary purple pages with slimy, scaly and mean descriptors turn out to be the frog making shadows in front of a flashlight, immediately reducing any potential anxiety for young children. The final pages shower readers with movement using both words and pictures, circling back to the dancing frog that wants to be with YOU!

Bag in the Wind

by Ted Kooser

illustrated by Barry Root.

Candlewick Press, $17.99, Ages 5-8

Set during a cold early spring, this windy story begins in a landfill with a yellow onion-colored, two-handled plastic grocery bag, escaping as air fills it, to get caught on a chain link fence with other trash. Showing the bag as it bounces over the fence to catch on a tree branch, where a redwing blackbird finally pecks it free, the story follows the bag, as it rolls along the ground, and snags on a barbed wire, where a girl grabs it for carrying cans to recycle, at a nearby gas station.

After the bag is emptied, it gets wedged under the door to keep out the wind, until a small truck with bags full of leaves for the landfill arrives. Freed once again, the bag tosses in the wind, and when it’s captured this time, it’s by a homeless man’s crutch. Later, it blows away on the nearby stream, and floats into a river, then alongside a dock, where another homeless person grabs it, and loses it again.

The recycling is complete when a man picks up the bag, and with other bags, sells it to a second-hand store for the owner to use. When the first little girl buys a baseball and glove there, her purchases go with her in the same ordinary two-handled bag.

The watercolor and gouache paintings use subdued yellows and oranges, to cast the late winter in colors that supply the requisite overcast chills of the changing season. Accompanying the tonal qualities of re-use, the illustrator captures the essence of earth-care as each aspect of the bag’s journey reflects another phase of the recycling processes that show care for our planet.

A Note About Recycling Plastic Bags is included at the end.

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