Kate, Who Tamed the Wind by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Lee White
A picture book with an environmental message about the importance of trees. A man lives at the top of a steep hill and the wind wreaks havoc on his home. A little girl who lives in town at the bottom of the hill has an idea to help him – she plants a number of trees around the house to serve as a windbreak. Years go by – we see the little girl turn into a teenager and the man’s hair turn gray – but in time, the trees mature and protect the man’s house. The book ends with the girl and man having a picnic in the shade of the trees she planted. Told in alliterative, repetitive text with whimsical illustrations in earth tones.
The end of the book lists other important uses of trees, besides serving as windbreaks, including providing shade, providing food for humans and other animals, providing shelter, absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, and holding soil in place to prevent erosion and flooding. It also suggests how people can make a difference, the way Kate did in the book, including recycling paper and not wasting it, planting a tree in your yard, and learning how to care for trees. Internet resources are also included, including the Arbor Day Foundation.
Nobody’s Duck by Mary Sullivan
This is a sweet and funny picture book about friendship, family, and caring. One day, an alligator looks out his window and finds that a duck has taken up residence on his front lawn. He tries to find out to whom the duck belongs, but the duck insists, “I’m nobody’s duck.” A series of adventures follow when Alligator takes Duck into town to ask the residents, “Is this your duck?” All the animals questioned say no, but in visiting various businesses in town, Alligator listens to story time at the library, watches a movie, goes for a go-kart ride, and goes skydiving! You get the feeling that Alligator’s life has been kind of boring up to this point and that Duck has interjected new life into his existence. In a touching ending about making a family for yourself, Alligator realizes, “You are my duck!” The book has limited text, which is all dialogue, and lots of visual humor in the detailed illustrations.
Ana and the Sea Star by R. Lynne Roelfs and illustrated by Jamie Hogan
With lovely illustrations, this picture book teaches children respect for living creatures and how to use their imaginations. Ana and her father find a sea star while walking on the beach. Ana would like to take the sea star home, but her father explains that the sea star is alive and needs to be in the ocean or it will die. So Ana allows her father to place the sea star back into the ocean, but wishes she could see its home under the sea. Her father tells her to close her eyes, then uses words to paint a mental picture of the sea star and other creatures it encounters under the water. When they get home, Ana uses her imagination to share with her mother how the sea star looked.
The end of the book includes brief scientific information about sea stars and other animals mentioned in the text, including loggerhead sea turtles, stingrays, jellyfish, and piping plovers. I like that Ana, a homo sapiens, is also included in the glossary of animals, as she does interact with and affect the lives of these other creatures. Humans are a part of the natural world (mammals/primates/homo sapiens) even though they hold themselves above it and this book is a good lesson to children to respect all life and be responsible stewards of nature.
My Big Dog by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel
This is a cute and warm-hearted picture book told from the perspective of a grumpy cat when a puppy invades his home and upsets his daily routine. Merl likes things his way and is king in his house. It is HIS dish, HIS sofa, His toy mouse. Until: the family brings home an adorable golden retriever puppy who is intent on making friends with the curmudgeonly Merl, constantly following him and giving him sloppy kisses! Once the growing puppy, named Violet, is bigger than Merl, he decides it is time to leave. He tries out several new homes, but none work out. A nice old lady dresses him up ridiculously, a farmer wants him to stay in the barn, not the house, and two children fight over him. Merl ends up alone out in the rain. Until: Violet shows up, picks Merl up by the scruff, and carries him back home! Merl decides that maybe home is the best place for him after all, even with HIS dog sharing the house. The illustrations are darling and it is fun to see how the puppy slowly wins Merl over. Merl’s experiences outside his home help him to realize what a nice home and family he has and to better appreciate them.
The Digger and the Flower by Jospeh Kuefler
This is a picture book with a serious theme about the conflict between man and nature brought about by industrialization. Digger, Crane, and Dozer work each day constructing roads, bridges, and buildings in the city. One day, Digger sees a beautiful blue flower growing out of the rubble. The flower moves something in Digger and every day, he visits the flower, providing it with water, shielding it from the wind, and even singing it a bedtime song. The flower grows, but soon the space is needed for more building. So Dozer unceremoniously cuts the flower down. Digger, of course, is sad at the loss of the flower. However, the flower has left behind seeds. Dozer gathers these and drives far past the city, into the countryside, where he plants the seeds. As with the flower, he tends to the seeds and they grow into beautiful blue flowers that look just like the one that was cut down.
Through his actions, Digger brings beauty to the world to offset the ugliness of urbanization. It is telling, though, that Digger has to leave the city and go far out in the country to allow the flowers to grow. All the scenes in the city are dominated by black, gray, and white. The beautiful blue flower is the only bit of color. Once Dozer goes to the country, a lovely green is introduced to the story. I think I would have liked the story better if the seeds could have been planted within the city, allowing nature and urban life to co-exist, but still it is a lesson to children that the environment matters, and the last page of the book shows more flowers in bloom, spreading towards the city, offering hope that the two can someday co-exist.
Max and Bird by Ed Vere
This is a cute, warm-hearted, and very funny picture book about friendship. Max is a kitten and Bird is a baby bird. They decide to be friends, but Max says there is a problem: kittens chase and eat birds, “it’s a rule of nature.” “But friends don’t eat each other up!” Bird points out. He says that friends help each other out, so if Max teaches him how to fly, he’ll consider letting Max chase him. Max agrees, but then realizes that he doesn’t know how to fly either. What to do? Go to the library, of course! But even after learning all about flying, neither Bird nor Max is able to fly at first. They even ask a show-off pigeon for help. But then, making another attempt, Bird is able to get off the ground for a few seconds! Bird then asks Max if Max still wants to eat him, since “a deal’s a deal.” Max thinks about it, but decides he would rather have a friend than a snack, and the two go off together, with Max watching Bird do his first loop-the-loop. This is the third book about Max, following Max the Brave and Max at Night. With cartoon illustrations that paint Max and Bird as adorable with huge, expressive eyes.
The Boy and the Whale by Mordicai Gerstein
A fisherman and his son on the shore spot a whale in the distance. They drive out to the whale in their boat to discover that the whale is caught in their net. The father thinks the whale is dead and is only concerned with his net – his only net – while the boy feels for the whale and wants to free him. But the father says no, it would be too difficult and they go back to shore where the father leaves to see if he can borrow a net from a relative. Meanwhile, the boy cannot just stand by and let the whale die, so he goes out on the boat by himself and works to cut the net free from the whale. It takes great effort on the boy’s part as the whale gets closer to death – there is a poignant scene where the boy looks into the whale’s eye and sees only his own reflection as the life ebbs out of the whale – but the boy does free the whale! Once free, the whale performs a magnificent dance in the water, breaching again and again. Was the whale celebrating his freedom or thanking the boy or maybe both? The book has lovely illustrations of the aqua-colored sea sparkling in the sunlight and close-ups of the boy and whale as they boy works to cut the net. The reader feels the sense of urgency and the exhaustion of the boy and the whale. The book is based upon a real-life whale rescue, video of which the author viewed online.
I was struck by how cold-hearted the boy’s father was – you’d think spending so much time on the ocean and making his living from it, he would respect it and want to live in harmony with the creatures of the sea, but all he saw was money, no compassion for life, and he was the one who caused the whale’s predicament because it was his net. It is sad when humans are so callous towards life. Yes, it is how he feeds his family, but a little care and effort would make such a huge difference to the world. Thankfully, there are some people, like the boy, who do care, but too many who don’t. This is why so much non-human life on earth is endangered. The boy showed courage both in helping the whale and in defying his father to help the whale. A good lesson for children to be responsible, and if you cause harm, to mitigate it if you can and to help if you can.