Nature walks

November in New England is an especially wonderful time to take a nature walk. These recent picture books capture the special feeling of walking around in the great outdoors, with or without a chill in the air. See also 2021: The Year of the Tree? and last week’s Guide/Reviews Database Book Bundle: Birds of a Feather.

Wonder Walkers
by Micha Archer; illus. by the author
Primary    Paulsen/Penguin    32 pp.    g
3/21    978-0-593-10964-9    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-10966-3    $10.99

Two children sit inside a house near a shore, peering out the window. “Wonder walk?” asks one child. “Sure,” the other responds. At the page-turn, the children are outdoors, and the wondering begins. As they explore, they pose a series of questions about what they see in nature, questions invoking metaphors and personification: “Is the sun the world’s light bulb?” “Is fog the river’s blanket?” “Are trees the sky’s legs?” No answers are required; the wonderment alone sustains them. Archer’s (Daniel’s Good Day, rev. 7/19) collage illustrations, using tissue paper and patterned papers, burst forth with vibrant colors, beguiling textures, and boundless energy. The double-page spreads employ little white space (there’s too much of the outdoors to revel in) yet are never too busy; Archer knows just where to direct viewers’ eyes. A sense of movement propels the narrative: clouds float; fog blankets the river; ocean waves lap against the shore; and the wind swirls around the children’s faces. Beautifully rendered — and wonderful in every way. JULIE DANIELSON

Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh / This Is How I Know: Niibing, dgwaagig, bboong, mnookmig dbaadjigaade maanpii mzin’igning / A Book About the Seasons
by Brittany Luby; illus. by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley; trans. from Anishinaabemowin by Alvin Ted Corbiere and Alan Corbiere
Preschool, Primary    Groundwood    40 pp.    g
3/21    978-1-77306-326-3    $18.95
e-book ed.  978-1-77306-327-0    $16.95

A child and their grownup experience the seasons together in this bilingual (Anishinaabemowin and English) picture book. The text follows a question-and-answer pattern. Each query rests on a double-page spread with loads of white space and a visual clue signaling the response to come. In the first spread, for example, a zoomed-in image of three blueberries rests on the verso page, while the following text appears on the recto: “Aaniish ezhi-gkendmaanh niibing? / How do I know summer is here?” The responses to each question include visceral, sensory-rich descriptions of how each season is experienced through the characters’ observations and absorption into the natural world (“Pii pinion gaa-giizhiwaabidegin mgising / gzhaawngideg gewe negwiki.” / “When blueberries drop readily, / and the sand is hot enough to sting”). Throughout, the gray-haired character is shown taking care of the child by preparing food, mending footwear, and more. The digital art, with its jewel tones and thick black outlines, at times resembles stained glass. Other spreads feature shadows and gradients beautifully depicting the aurora borealis, sunsets over water, and calming rays of winter sunshine streaming through a bedroom window. A warmhearted depiction of the seasons and intergenerational closeness. ELISA GALL

Etty Darwin and the Four Pebble Problem
by Lauren Soloy; illus. by the author
Primary    Tundra    48 pp.    g
5/21    978-0-7352-6608-7    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7352-6609-4    $10.99

Fairies, butterflies, foxes; belief, observation, evidence — there’s plenty to ponder and discuss with your father when he happens to be Charles Darwin, “one of the greatest thinkers in the history of the World.” Joining Papa for one of his twice-a-day strolls around the Sandwalk, his “oval thinking path,” young Etty suggests that they do four laps, tracked with four flint pebble markers. As they walk with the family dog, Etty’s questions drive much of their warm and lively chat. She first asks Papa about fairies, and he describes his “trouble believing in anything without proof.” Their discussion shifts to the importance of keen observation, and, in Soloy’s verdant mixed-media illustrations, yellowish-green leaves turn out to be camouflaged butterflies. Flattened grass and a small hole signal that a fox is nearby, and Soloy zooms in for two of the book’s many visual highlights: a dramatic double-page spread dominated by the predator’s face and piercing eyes; and, after the page-turn, a close-up vignette of Etty’s hand clasped tightly in Papa’s. In her author’s note, Soloy explains that the characters, setting, and even Etty’s interest in fairies are factual, but the dialogue is fabricated. Styled with comic/graphic novel conventions (speech bubbles, brief text, panel illustrations), Soloy’s historical-fiction picture book makes room for both science and make-believe. But at its core, it’s all about a special relationship, wonderfully humanizing the father of evolutionary theory who prized his daughter’s thoughts and gave her musings “space to fly.” TANYA D. AUGER

Seaside Stroll
by Charles Trevino; illus. by Maribel Lechuga
Preschool    Charlesbridge    32 pp.    g
1/21    978-1-58089-932-1    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-63289-782-4    $9.99

An ode to the joys of a walk on a winter beach, told entirely in words beginning with the letter s. Pictures in a mix of digital and traditional mediums show a parent and child, doll in tow, bundling up before heading out for their walk and then reveling in the wintry seaside experience, with its sand, snow, seaweed, and surf. The child examines shells, runs after a flock of seagulls, and explores a tide pool, with unlooked-for consequences, as the doll falls in (“Slip…splash…sink…soaked!”) and must be rescued (“Stretch…snatch…squeeze…saved!”). The text is a nice mix of propulsive word chains full of action and description, and moments of welcome pauses (“Standstill”; “Silence”). Scenes inside their seaside cottage after day is done are cozy (“Sweatshirt, slippers, supper…story”) and in thoughtful harmony with the setting, with the tired child being read a book called The Brave Crab and beach-themed pictures hanging on the walls. Finally, the girl is tucked up in bed: “Safe. Snug. Sleep. Shh!” Full of incident and sensory experience, this is a satisfying and rewarding small adventure. A note on the use and arrangement of the words used in the text, and the beginnings of a list of things one might find on a beach in winter, complete the book. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

A Boy Named Isamu: A Story of Isamu Noguchi
by James Yang; illus. by the author
Primary    Viking    40 pp.    g
6/21    978-0-593-20344-6    $17.99

“If you are a boy named Isamu,” begins this invented vignette of the childhood of artist Isamu Noguchi, “at the market with your mother, it can be a crowded and noisy place.” The text continues in second person, inviting readers to imagine themselves in the place of this quiet boy in early-twentieth-century Japan. The story follows him as he wanders away from the market, through a forest, and onto a beach. As he walks, he wonders about the shapes and textures of rocks, leaves, and bamboo. He imagines faces for the rocks, thinks about how wind carries the grass he tosses away, and wonders about paper lanterns, “how light can feel so welcoming.” All these objects will become artistic material for the adult Noguchi as he creates landscape art and paper sculptures. Yang’s text meets child readers on their own level, framing the natural world as a source of curiosity and delight. His digital illustrations feel warm and organic. Edges are softened and shapes are emphasized, as the pictorial lens zooms in and out to focus on a leaf or portray the grand scale of a seaside cliff. The book works as both an introduction to a fascinating artist and a tribute to the quiet joys of the natural world. An appended note provides more information about Noguchi’s career and the author’s inspiration for this picture book: “This story is how I imagine Isamu Noguchi explored nature, because as some children know, alone time can be the most special time of all.” K RACHAEL STEIN

From the November 2021 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
Horn Book

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