Two New Picture Books Stroll NYC’s Central Park

Cindy: A Green Place to Be: the Creation of Central Park (Candlewick, 2019), a debut picture book by Ashley Benham Yazdani, is not just for New Yorkers. Many readers will enjoy the stroll through the pages of watercolor scenes highlighting the history and the building and the enjoyment of New York City’s famous park. As the city grew, green space was quickly disappearing. A design contest was held and the winners, architect Calvert Vaux and landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted submitted a design built to scale on a scroll two feet three inches wide and ten feet two inches long! Then the hard work of clearing and shaping the land began. Ice skating on the lake began in the winter of 1858 and slowly other sections were completed and open to the public after careful attention to details, future vision, and the philosophy that the park should be for everyone, no matter their social class or status. One double-page spread shows and names the thirty-four unique bridges and archways in the park that will have park visitors looking at the structures in a new way. More details and some interactive elements are included in the backmatter. Can you find all twenty-two gray squirrels in the pages of this book?

Lynn: Frederick Olmstead and Calvert Vaux’s extensive planning, hard work, and attention to every detail resulted in a spectacular garden. But Madelyn Rosenberg imagines a denizen of the park that never showed up in those original plans in a delightful picture book titled, Cyclops of Central Park (Penguin/Putnam, 2020). Did any of you New Yorkers realize there is a Cyclops nestled into a cave in the midst of Central Park and of course he takes care of a flock of sheep? Cyclops is content to stay safely in his cave in Central Park, protecting his sheep and he worries about the dangers of venturing out of the park. But Eugene (it would be Eugene!) goes missing out in the dangerous world and Cyclops has to be brave and go looking. But no luck! Cyclops has to call in the troops—I mean flock—to join the search.

What a fresh, imaginative, funny, gorgeous, and downright adorable book this is! As Cyclops searches New York and its attractions, he and sheep discover a whole city full of fun. He visits an art museum, the Statue of Liberty, and best of all, Coney Island! Victoria Tentler-Krylov’s brightly detailed illustrations are packed with funny details that made me laugh out loud. Bright splashes of color make each page a joy. I’d love some of these originals for my house! With the lost Eugene safely in tow, they all retire back home. “There’s no place like cave,” Cyclops says but it is clear he is now ready to have more adventures.

Celebrating Pluto in Out-of-This World Picture Books

Lynn: Who doesn’t love an underdog or in this case an underplanet? Lots of us have been rooting for Pluto ever since it got reclassified as an ice dwarf a while ago. Adam Rex tops my planetary chart though with his hilarious AND informative new picture book on Pluto, Pluto Gets the Call (S&S/Beach Lane, 2019). Cindy and I were lucky enough to get to see illustrator Laurie Keller’s artwork for the book at a preview luncheon at ALA and we fell in love with the book way back then. The finished copy is now out and the wait has been worth it!

Pluto is all set to take us on a tour of the solar system when he gets a call. Yes, THE call from scientists on Earth with the distressing news that our googly-eyed tour guide has been demoted. Sadly but gamely, Pluto goes on with the tour, introducing us to the “real” planets and providing solid information on each one along the way. Skipping Earth because he “doesn’t want to talk about humans right now,” Pluto finally makes it to the Sun who cheers him up and reminds him that scientists are still arguing about him. Solar System facts are incorporated throughout the story in a way that kids will delight in and remember. A two-page spread as back matter also provides a wealth of additional information from the number of moons each planet has, the distance from the sun and what the planets were named after and more. Adam Rex’s bubble-speech dialog is snappy and packed with great one-liners kids will love. Laurie Keller’s terrific comic-style illustrations are colorful and funny and a perfect extension of Rex’s text.

This is a must-have addition to collections everywhere needing updated information on Pluto and the Solar System! This one is truly out-of-this-world.

 

Cindy: Pair Rex and Keller’s book with The Girl Who Named Pluto: The story of Venetia Burney (Schwartz & Wade, 2019) for a little history about Pluto. Author Alice B. McGinty tells the story of Venetia, a young British girl, who was fascinated when she learned in 1930 that a new planet had been discovered. The granddaughter of the Oxford head librarian and great-niece of a science master who named the two moons that orbit Mars, she came by her curiosity and love of science quite naturally. The book opens with a classroom walking/measuring demonstration of the distance between planets that many elementary teachers still use today. When Venetia learned about the new planet from her grandfather, she thought of how “frozen, dark, and lifeless” Pluto must be and she was reminded of the Roman myth underworld, ruled by Neptune’s brother, Pluto. Her grandfather likes the name and writes a letter to put it forward as a suggestion. Elizabeth Haidle’s illustrations provide the right atmosphere and an author’s note provides more history about Venetia, including a great connection to a recent student-built instrument aboard the New Horizons robotic spacecraft that has several connections to the young girl who named the Pluto.

New Picture Books about Birds Take Flight

Cindy and Lynn: We love the fun coincidences that enliven our days as reviewers! Ever since Lynn infected Cindy with her birding obsession this spring, everywhere we turn we find gorgeous new picture books about birds! Here is a round-up of this flock of wonderful books taking flight. All of them will make lovely additions sitting next to your Stokes and Sibley guidebooks to help encourage the next generation of birders.

Birds of Every Color, by Sneed B. Collard III (Bucking Horse, 2019)

An excellent explanation of the science behind bird coloration and the current theories on the whys behind all that beauty. Full page stunning color photographs on every page make this a real stand-out. Perfect for young readers, the writing is clear and simple yet includes scientific terms in an approachable way. Renown science author Collard and his teenage son took the breath-taking photographs and the outstanding book design and enticing cover make this simply irresistible.

Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends, by Heidi E.Y. Stemple (Seagrass, 2019)

Stemple introduces the little known ornithologist Frank Chapman and his development of the Christmas Day Bird Count. She also talks about that count, how it works, why it is so important and how kids can be involved.

Conversational in tone but with a wonderfully conveyed enthusiasm for birds and bird conservation, this book is perfect to use with kids in a classroom or storytime to introduce birding and spark interest in understanding and supporting conservation. Practical ideas and examples of how kids can be involved in the count are especially important as Stemple assures kids they can participate at their own bird feeders for a specific (and short) amount of time that is very practical. Cover Robin’s collage illustrations are as gorgeous as they are inviting. Back matter includes additional information about Chapman, how kids can be involved in Count Day and in helping to save birds.


Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me
, by Susan B. Roth (Holiday House/Neil Porter, 2019)

Roth focusses on a single species, the Bowerbird from Australia and New Guinea. She and the bird have a lot in common as they are both collage artists. The Bowerbird builds structures from a variety of materials and decorates it with bits of color and other found items to attract a mate. Roth uses a variety of colorful materials to build her attractive art to tell a story. The double-page spreads showing their similar work habits, materials, and resulting efforts are genius and make for an interesting way for children to understand both human and bird artists.

Hummingbird, by Nicola Davies (Candlewick, 2019)

Davies also takes on a single species while explaining bird migration. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are visiting my nectar feeders and flowers while they get ready for their long flight back to Mexico, Central America and the southern part of Florida to spend their winters. Even adults are amazed by the endurance of these tiny birds so children are sure to be enchanted with this book. It’s the story of a young girl who learns about the migration from her Granny and from her own observations after flying on an airplane to New York City where she sees her favorite bird during the summer. Hummingbird migration and breeding facts are included to supplement the story, beautifully illustrated by Jane Ray.

Hello, I’m Here!: A Sandhill Crane Family

Cindy: Author Helen Frost and photographer Rick Lieder have teamed up again to create another gorgeous and informative nature book, this time about a Sandhill Crane family. Hello, I’m Here! (2019) is told in Frost’s rhyming verse from the view of the chick, starting with his imminent hatching:

It’s getting crowded
inside this egg.
I can’t flap a wing
or stretch out a leg.

The young chick has much to learn before it becomes a colt but mama and papa and a sibling are there to help in the journey. Habitat, food, and dangers like the threat of snapping turtles are presented in the verse and Lieder’s intimate photography.  The journey of the crane chick mirrors the growth and learning of a young child with all of its new adventures and challenges making this a great choice to read aloud in large groups, or within the comforting nest of a caregiver’s lap. Sandhill Cranes are frequent fliers over the bayou behind my house. Listening to their prehistoric sounding call as the mist rises from the water in the early hours is a favorite treat, while a friend down the way usually has a nesting pair in her yard each spring. Frost and Lieder provide an even closer look for those of us who aren’t so lucky to see them in the wild.

Lynn: Frost’s first-person text uses simple vocabulary that is immediate and engaging and yet manages to pack in all sorts of interesting information about cranes including what they eat and what poses a danger to the chicks. A full page of additional information is provided in the back matter as well.

Rick Lieder’s remarkable photographs give young children an on-the-nest look at this enchanting family. Close-up views of the chicks fill the pages, making this one a joy to use with a group or as a lap book. Few children, or adults for that matter, have ever seen a nesting crane family and Lieder’s skill and patience provide this gift to everyone. Be prepared for demands for multiple readings!

On a personal note, Cindy and I belong to the Michigan Bird Watching group on Facebook where other gifted photographers have been posting pictures of a Sandhill Crane family at the Kensington Metro Park that includes an adopted Canada Goose gosling that is being lovingly raised along with their own chick. Here is what some are calling the “Abbey Road” photo of the family, by photographer, Jocelyn Anderson. She has more looks at this incredible family on her website. Thank you, Jocelyn, for allowing us to share your photo with our readers. Heart melting!

Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Anderson Photography, all rights reserved.

“Dem Bones Gonna Rise Again” – Paleontology Picture Books

Lynn: Kids are fascinated by dinosaurs as librarians can attest just by pointing to the decimated shelves of 567.9s. Today we have two new books that are not only about dinosaurs, they are also about the discovery and excavation of two HUGE and important sets of bones.

The first is Titanosaur: Discovering the World’s Largest Dinosaur (Scholastic/Orchard, 2019) by the two paleontologists, Dr. Jose Luis Carballido and Dr. Diego Pol. It all began on a hot summer day in Patagonia, Argentina, when a gaucho looking for a missing sheep found a large mound with what seemed to be a huge bone. A few months later while in town, the gaucho passed the museum with a dinosaur skeleton on display. He went in and told the two paleontologists that he had found a bone that looked just like those on display. Rushing to the site, Dr. Carallido took one look at the bone and site and knew they had something special.

Using clear accessible language, the authors explain the exciting but difficult task that followed including the careful excavation, examination, preservation, transport, and reconstruction of the enormous bones. The skeleton turned out to be the largest dinosaur bones found so far, a Titanosaur, a dinosaur that weighed over 70 tons in life. The remote site and the size of the bones provided huge hurdles for the team of scientists to overcome.

The illustrations by Florencia Gigena are as stunning as the discovery. Taking full advantage of the oversize format, Gigena’s watercolors fill the pages, providing a wonderful immediacy that also further extends the text. Color photographs are inset on sidebars that provide additional explanations of the events or scientific terms. A jaw-dropping 2-page photograph of the re-assembled skeleton is a splendid finish to this fascinating book. This riveting book is sure to inspire a new generation of paleontologists!

Cindy: Our second book is the nonfiction picture book When Sue Found Sue (Abrams, May 14, 2019), by Toni Buzzeo that unearths the story of Sue Hendrickson’s discovery of the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton found to this date. Sue’s fascination with finding things began in childhood and she became a collector of curiosities while she fueled her curiosity for learning. This led her on adventures diving in oceans, searching mines, fossil hunting in Peru and finally searching for dinosaur fossils in North Dakota where, after several years, a hunch led her to a cliff where she discovered three backbones. The bones would eventually be excavated and named Sue the T. rex, on display now at The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. I visited the museum years ago when the bones were being prepared for the exhibit and it was fascinating to learn about that process. 

An author’s note details some of Henderson’s other scientific areas of expertise as a “self-educated woman of science,” and mentions the dispute over ownership after the T. rex discovery. Diana Sudyka‘s gouache and watercolor illustrations use many natural colors (and even some earth pigments) to bring Sue’s discoveries and adventures to life. This story should inspire other young children to observe carefully and follow their own curiosity wherever it may lead.

 

The Roots of Rap–Say Holler if You Hear

Cindy: What I know about Rap music I mostly learned by listening in the car as I drove my teen daughters to high school each morning a decade ago. I let them pick the music every day—”I Do It for Hip Hop.” Last year I listened to a delightful debate between my middle schoolers and visiting author Jason Reynolds as they quizzed him for his opinion on their favorites. I have some catching up to do! Meanwhile, I can’t wait to add this new picture book, The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop ( Little Bee, 2019) by Carole Boston Weatherford to my middle school libraries.

“Folktales, street rhymes, spirituals—rooted in spoken word.
Props to poets Hughes and Dunbar; published. Ain’t you heard?”

So begins Weatherford’s rapping text on a spread that features images of the poets in the clouds and a skeptical black teen staring at the reader. On to James Brown, duel turntables, breakdancing on cardboard sheets, and female rappers like Queen Latifah, while “keepin’ the lyrics real.”

“A generation voicing stories, hopes, and fears
founds a hip-hop nation. Say holler if you hear.”

I’ll be adding this book as a choice in our 7th-grade nonfiction picture book research multimedia project and it makes a great pairing with When the Beat Was Born: D.J. Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop (Roaring Brook, 2013), which we wrote about here. The Roots of Rap is a much-needed picture book to balance against the many featuring jazz and blues artists. It will be a huge hit with its intended early elementary school audience, but all ages will enjoy it as well.

Lynn: I know even less about rap and hip hop than Cindy! My kids were into They Might Be Giants and Barenaked Ladies. So this terrific book was a very welcome introduction/history. Not only is it a real joy to read but I feel like I have a much better understanding of this important musical form. I love Weatherford’s text but I’m blown away by Frank Morrison’s illustrations. (Now that we’re independent again, I’m adding “blown away” as a literary criticism term.)

Frank Morrison, Simon & Schuster, 2019

Morrison’s bold dramatic illustrations use every inch of the pages and practically pulse with energy. Strong colors and unusual perspectives make every page-turn a new treat while expanding the text and evoking the time. DJ Kool leans over the turntable out toward the reader on one 2-page spread while on another page, readers look down from high above at a break dancer surrounded by his audience.

Don’t miss the back matter either. There’s a helpful glossary of terms, a Hip-Hop Who’s Who, and personal notes from both the author and illustrator. This book is keepin’ it real!