Awareness of the world around us

Next month, on April 22, we celebrate Earth Day! Here are seven books (some fiction and some nonfiction) about animals, the Earth, and the sky, recommended for primary and intermediate readers. See also the Guide/Reviews Database subject tag Environment--Conservation.

Something About the Sky
by Rachel Carson; illus. by Nikki McClure
Intermediate    Candlewick Studio    56 pp.
3/24    9781536228700    $19.99

This previously unpublished essay from “poet of science” Carson (1907–1964) is paired beautifully with McClure’s cut-paper and swirling ink-wash art. In 1956, a children’s television program asked Carson to respond to a child’s request for “something about the sky.” Her thoughts are as wonderfully ruminative as one might expect from the environmental scientist and nature-writing icon. She chooses the familiar — clouds — and connects them to “the ocean in the air,” detailing natural phenomena with emphasis on the interconnectivity of Earth’s air and water systems. Or, better summarized by Carson: “Clouds are as old as the earth itself — as much a part of our world as land or sea. They are the writing of the wind on the sky. They are the cosmic symbols of a process without which life itself could not exist on earth.” McClure’s illustrations are limited mostly to blue, black, and white, highlighting the space and movement of air, wind, oceans, and sky in background washes. Cut-paper images of people in the foreground connect the science concepts to human experiences. In an endnote, McClure explains the origins of Carson’s essay, how the book project came about, and the thoughtful and resourceful process she used to create the illustrations. DANIELLE J. FORD

by Christine D. U. Chung and Salwa Majoka; illus. by the authors
Primary, Intermediate    Tundra    144 pp.
2/24    9780735268753    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780735268760    $10.99
Chung and Majoka offer a wordless graphic novel for younger readers that presents dystopian science fiction through a gentle, nearly amicable viewpoint. After a brief sepia-tone introduction showcases a classroom of students assembling a time capsule (complete with a retro viewfinder), readers are presented with a time jump by way of a futuristic spacecraft soaring across a cosmic double-page spread of swirling purples and blues. Inside the craft is a young astronaut traveling from planet to planet in search of geological specimens. Lonely, the adventurer sets coordinates for home; however, a detour leads to a very Earth-like planet. There the explorer finds abandoned buildings, crumbling infrastructure, and an abundance of luminescent, mushroom-like growths. Only after the protagonist discovers the aforementioned viewfinder can the history of the planet be puzzled together through photo-flashbacks—and the story culminates in a near-encounter with the viewfinder’s original owner. Drawn by Chung and digitally painted by Majoka, the cinematic cartooning has a polished, animated aesthetic composed of endlessly intriguing and imaginative scenes of an abandoned planet, heightened by moments of mild action and skillful lightning effects. A luminous, thought-provoking adventure. PATRICK GALL

The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow
by Elaine Dimopoulos; illus. by Doug Salati
Primary, Intermediate    Charlesbridge    192 pp.
5/23    9781623543334    $17.99
e-book ed.  9781632893062    $9.99

“Bird affairs are not rabbit affairs,” says Butternut’s mother. But when the young rabbit meets Piper, an outgoing and adventurous fledgling robin, she starts connecting with other animals in Milkweed Meadow and finding the world less frightening. Butternut directly addresses readers, dropping carrots of wisdom about story structure and life. “Life-and-death stakes might enhance a story, but they were terrifying to live through.” The animal characters are anthropomorphized, but they retain core species characteristics and behaviors; some readers may even recognize the dynamics of wildlife interactions around the bird feeder near Butternut’s den. Salati’s (Hot Dog, rev. 11/22) textured black-and-white illustrations mirror this blend of realism and fantasy. The animals’ faces are expressive, but they look like animals, especially in their body language. When Butternut has to decide whether or not to risk her safety to attempt the rescue she’s been foreshadowing since the first sentence of chapter one, no one will be surprised. But how it happens is “a wood-gnawing climax,” as Butternut’s grandmother would say. This chapter book has a relatively rare and welcome level of depth, and the strong narrative voice, ecological awareness, and themes around the value of connection and community will call to many readers. ADRIENNE L. PETTINELLI

Ant Story
by Jay Hosler; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    HarperAlley/HarperCollins    160 pp.
3/24    9780063294004    $24.99
Paper ed.  9780063293991    $15.99
e-book ed.  9780063294011    $10.99

Hosler’s distinct combination of biological science and cartooning is on full display throughout this informative, emotionally compelling, and skillfully illustrated graphic novel. Rubi is a bright red cartoon leafcutter ant living in the real world among other, more realistic ants, where no one can understand any of her dramatically told stories. When she happens upon an ant named Miranda who can both understand and respond to her, the two become fast friends. In a genuinely shocking turn of events, Miranda is revealed to be a parasitic phorid fly growing inside the host ant’s head — and therefore Rubi’s mortal enemy. In a world where every creature (including assassin bugs, armadillos, ocellated antbirds, and yes, even leafcutter ants) must kill something else to survive, Rubi realizes not only that Miranda did nothing wrong by simply existing but also that “there are no good guys or bad guys in nature.” The pair proceeds to survive several harrowing and humorous encounters with fascinating predators of varying shapes and sizes, resulting in a desire to test their luck with adventures abroad. The colorful illustrations are penciled and inked by hand in a fluid black line, complemented by Hosler’s own expressive lettering. For a narrative packed with so much scientific information (usually delivered by the verbose Rubi), the story never bogs down thanks to Hosler’s knack for snappy dialogue, excellent pacing, and adventurous use of panel size, shape, and layout. Thoroughly engrossing. PATRICK GALL

The Monarchs of Winghaven
by Naila Moreira
Intermediate    Walker US/Candlewick    320 pp.
5/24    9781536218305    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781536224689    $18.99

Poised between novel and information book, this story features Samantha, an eleven-year-old wildlife enthusiast who finds joy and excitement in a neglected natural area she christens Winghaven. An anxious new kid in town, she has to cope with a school bully and overly busy parents. Such conventional middle-grade plot elements pale beside crisp, detailed descriptions of the natural world — the particular mating flight of mourning doves, the ingenious sand traps of the antlion, a close-up of a muskrat lodge: “The mother muskrat reached out and pulled a plant to her mouth with one tiny, four-fingered black hand, drawing it to yellowed teeth.” Samantha and her new pal Bram, a photographer, brave the challenges of ticks, poison ivy, the slog of data collection, and adult cynicism to organize a campaign to save Winghaven from property developers, using a data-based argument involving the essential relationship between milkweed and the monarch butterfly. Samantha’s field notebook of observations and sketches provides a parallel narrative and could certainly inspire young citizen scientists and activists. Back matter includes “Notes for Young Naturalists,” with book recommendations and links to such projects as the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project. SARAH ELLIS

Saving H’Non: Chang and the Elephant
by Trang Nguyễn and Jeet Zdũng; illus. by Jeet Zdũng
Intermediate    Dial    128 pp.
10/23    9780593406731    $23.99
Paper ed.  9780593406724    $13.99
e-book ed.  9780593406748    $8.99

Chang, the plucky wildlife conservationist from Saving Sorya (rev. 1/22), returns with a new animal-rescue mission near Yok Ðôn National Park in Vietnam. In this volume, Chang and her colleagues rescue and rehabilitate H’Non, a sixty-year-old Asian elephant — voi in Vietnamese. H’Non was captured when young and made to work in an “elephant-riding” business where the creatures are exploited for profitable interactions with tourists (graphic illustrations portray the violent mistreatment that H’Non and the other voi experience). Chang works for a nonprofit foundation that offers an alternative “elephant-friendly” experience where nature-loving tourists can observe rescued elephants in more natural settings. The emotional story of H’Non’s recovery is conveyed through detail-packed illustrations: dynamic comic panels; delicate, multipage paintings of elephants; and field notebook–style doodles and anecdotes. Chang details her encounters with animals and plants throughout the National Park, the people in her organization and the nearby communities, and the voi, building a complex portrait of the sometimes destructive, sometimes harmonious interactions between humans and nature. Appended notes provide further details. DANIELLE J. FORD

A Horse Named Sky
by Rosanne Parry; illus. by Kirbi Fagan
Intermediate    Greenwillow    272 pp.
8/23    9780062995957    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780062995971    $10.99

Sky is a wild mustang, at home in the Virginia Range of western Nevada. From his earliest days, Sky learns to live as part of a herd. During a time of drought when Sky must leave his band to search for water, he is captured by humans. He is used by the Pony Express and then is captured by silver miners. There, faced with horses and donkeys who are suffering from poisoned air and water, Sky leads a rebellion to free the captured animals. Sky’s first-person narration of his adventures is engrossing and fast-paced. His vocabulary is appropriate to a wild horse; human hands are grabbers, corrals are traps, and mountain lions are claw beasts. Parry weaves historical and environmental information smoothly into the narrative. Sky’s life depends on water and the healthy plants and animals in his surroundings, so readers finish the book with a strong sense of the impact of human choices on animal and plant life. As she did with A Wolf Called Wander and A Whale in the Wild (rev. 1/21), Parry writes a convincing fictionalized life of one wild animal while addressing issues of community, survival, and care for our environment. Fagan’s realistic black-and-white illustrations convey the windswept mountain terrain and the movement of the horses. Extensive back matter includes detailed information about the historical and environmental context of the story. MAEVE VISSER KNOTH

From the March 2024 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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