We are into high summer — a time to enjoy hikes, bike rides, trips to a park or playground. And a time to enjoy books that help us to better understand and enjoy what we see on those trips.
“The Things That I Love About Trees” (Candlewick, 2018; $15.99) is a paean to trees, written by Chris Butterworth and illustrated by Charlotte Voake. Both live in England, where trees may vary from our Iowa trees, but all trees have bark, branches, leaves, and roots. And that’s what Butterworth wants us to notice. “ ... the thing/about trees that I love/in the spring is that/ changes begin./ There are buds, like beads,/getting bigger/on the branches ...”
On each spread the main text (in a large type font) is accompanied by an explanatory sidebar printed in a smaller font. Readers can read just the main text or explore the sidebar information — information that is well-suited to a child’s understanding, e.g. “In hot weather, a big tree can drink as much as a bathtubful every day!”
The book follows trees throughout the seasons of the year — spring (buds, new leaves, flowers), summer (growth), fall (color change, ripening fruit, nuts, leaf drop), winter (tree silhouette, strong tree roots). And it focuses on the cycle of a plum tree — flower, pollination, fruit, seed). I would love to sit with a child and read this book along with the classic “A Tree is Nice” by Janice May Udry (HarperCollins paper, 1987; $6.99). And then I would want to make our own book about what we love about trees.
“A House in the Sky” (Charlesbridge, 2018; $16.99), written by Steve Jenkins and illustrated by Robbin Gourley, introduces us to some familiar animal homes — a badger burrow, a red ovenbird’s nest of mud and plants, a beaver dam made from sticks, a turtle in its shell. We also see some uncommon homes — a home gnawed out of stone, made by a rock-boring urchin, a caddis fly home in a cocoon, the book home of a Mexican book beetle.
The charm of this book is in the variety of homes, the variety of ways that animals have found to protect themselves. A secondary charm may be that it will spark our awareness of animal homes in our own lives — birds nests, ant colonies, butterfly cocoons, squirrel nests in the tops of trees.
“Hawk Rising” (Roaring Brook, 2018; $18.99) by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Brian Floca, homes in on a specific bird — the red-tailed hawk. We are with a young girl from sunrise to nightfall as she watches a male hawk search for food for the nestlings. “Father Hawk stretches wide his wings. /You stretch your arms/as Mars rises red/in the sky./High in a backyard cedar they sit./High from the window you watch/ Chicks jostle/screech./Beaks open wide,/waiting for breakfast.” Before he can hunt, the hawk must dry his wings in the sun. And not every try is a success. The chipmunk hides under a porch. A sparrow escapes into the brambles. But the hawk persists and eventually is successful.
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In addition to the honest story of one species, the language in this book is so satisfying: “He rides the wind/like a wave, /twisting and turning, /kiting and floating.”
And the illustrations are just arresting. The first spread (which includes copyright information, discretely printed on one side) is a close-up drawing of the hawk family on their nest. On other pages, shifting perspective shows us hawk in flight or a close up of hawk claws and talons at they might be seen by the terrified chipmunk.
The book does not gloss over the fact that a hawk is a bird of prey. The babies must be fed and they don’t eat lettuce. It is part of nature. The expression on the girl’s face as the hawk flies home with his catch is one of concern, care, but perhaps not total distress.
Extensive information in the back fills out the details of red-tailed hawks: they mate for life; the female is nearly twice as big as the male but they take turns hunting for the young and tending the nestlings; young hawks leave the nest at about 6 weeks of age. His sharp eyes can spot a mouse from a treetop.
When we come in from outside, we might be hungry or thirsty. “Cooking with Kids” by Carolyn Federman is a well-organized cookbook for kids. It also includes brief instructions for parents on teaching kids about knife safety or remembering to turn off the stove.
The chapters start with “Breakfast” go to “Lunch,” “Snacks,” drinks, then dinner and sweets. Each one includes a variety of recipes, some of which like “Fruit and Yogurt Parfaits,” even young children will be able to prepare. Sidebars on many of the pages include useful information such as, “Strawberries absorb more pesticides than nearly any other produce. So, when you choose organic strawberries, which are grown without pesticides, you are doing a good turn for yourself and the planet.”
Federman’s recipes sound delicious and her instructions make them doable. After a day of hiking, biking, observing nature, what could be better than a Mint-Limeade or a juicy watermelon blend. And then a good book.
l Jacqueline Briggs Martin of Mount Vernon writes books for children, including the award winning “Creekfinding” (illustrated by Claudia McGehee) and “Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix” (illustrated by Man One).