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Thank You, Bees by Toni Yuly

A simple picture book for very young readers about appreciating nature’s gifts. On each spread, there is a simple statement, i.e. “Clouds give us rain” and then a reply, “Thank you, clouds.” The illustrations show a child enjoying the gifts of nature – wearing a hat made of wool from a sheep, eating honey produced by a bee, and so on, ending with “Earth gives us our home. Thank you, Earth.”

With global climate change, human expansion, and industrial agriculture endangering plant and animal life on a massive scale, it is more important than ever to educate our children about saving our earth. This simple picture book can help teach gratitude for nature to the youngest child.

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On the Night of the Shooting Star by Amy Hest and illustrated by Jenni Desmond

Two solitary animals, a bunny and a dog, live next door to each other. Both are content in their quiet lives, but occasionally they steal glances at one another. They don’t speak to each other, though. Until a night when they both witness the magic of a shooting star. This event gives them courage to reach out to one another and they become friends.

This is a warm, gentle, reflective book about the value of friendship. The sweet illustrations depict fun details of each animal’s life, showing the reader the interiors of their houses as well as the beautiful lake on whose shore they live and the sky. Bunny and Dog’s expressions are pleasant and show the joy they take in their lives, enriched further by their new-found friendship.

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Remembering Vera by Patricia Polacco

A true story about a remarkable dog who was an honorary member of the U.S. Coast Guard and saved numerous lives. As a homeless puppy, Vera was rescued by a member of the Coast Guard in San Francisco. At first, she was kept hidden from the commander, but when she helped rescue some civilians from a sinking sailboat, the commander took a liking to Vera and she began to spend her days in his office and even go on vacation with his family. She also assisted on more rescue missions. Vera became well-known in the area, with newspaper articles written about her and features on the local news. After a courageous rescue involving a capsized ferry in which she saved several passengers who were trapped, Vera was retired from active service as a result of injuries she suffered during the rescue, including damage to her leg muscles. She was awarded a medal for her actions and made an honorary member of the Coast Guard. She spent the rest of her life on the base and was buried there with a full military honor guard after passing of old age. The author actually met Vera twice – once while touring the base and again at the end of Vera’s life in 1967 when Polacco was a volunteer at an animal hospital and attended Vera’s burial. Years later, Polacco visited the base again and found Vera’s grave – a photo of which appears at the end of the book. A wonderful tribute to a brave dog.

The book has a lot of text, so it is not appropriate for toddlers and pre-schoolers, but older children. It includes charming illustrations in colored pencils and markers. One thing I didn’t like about the book was the fact that Vera had puppies every year most of her life. This is a true story and took place in the 1950s and 60s, but with millions of homeless dogs in this country being killed in shelters, people need to spay and neuter their dogs and should not allow them to have puppies. I would discuss this with children if I were reading the book with them.

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Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Maas

Jeremy lost his father when he was eight to a car accident. Now about to turn 13, he receives a box his father left for him shortly before his death that Jeremy is to open on his 13th birthday. The box professes to contain the meaning of life. However, the intricate box requires four keys to open and the lawyer has lost the keys! So Jeremy and his best friend Lizzy set out on a quest across New York City to find keys that will open the box or to find the meaning of life on their own if they can’t open the box. Along the way, they meet a number of individuals who expand their thinking and help them grow. This book is wonderful – full of warmth, humor, and wisdom. It shows the reader what really matters in life without being preachy in any way, but very engaging and entertaining. Jeremy and Lizzy are fully fleshed out and believable characters and the supporting characters all add to the story.

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The Jelly Bean Tree by Toni Yuly

This is a simple, cute story for toddlers and preschoolers about a blue giraffe named Jelly Bean. After taking a nap among the trees, Jelly Bean awakens to find that a bird has built a nest and laid eggs on top of her head! The generous and kind-hearted giraffe acts as a tree, standing patiently in the same spot until the eggs hatch. In the meantime, her friends tend to Jelly Bean, bringing her food to eat and flowers to brighten her days. Jelly Bean does such a good job being a tree that when the baby birds hatch and are moved to a real tree, they prefer Jelly Bean’s head! A sweet story of friendship and caring.

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On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna

I like this picture book because I hate video games and think they are the bane of childhood. In this book, a child and his mother are at their cabin in the woods and it is raining. The child is bored and playing a hand-held video game. The mother, working at her desk, tells the child to go outside and play. The child goes out, but takes the video game with him. He is angry when he drops the game and it sinks into the pond. But then he slowly begins to notice all the wonder around him: he sees some snails out in the weather and digs his hands in the ground and discovers seeds and roots and all the life nourished by the earth. He then begins to enjoy being outside: he rolls down a hill, climbs a tree, collects rocks, and notices the wildlife, including birds and bugs, and is no longer bored. A celebration of nature and playing outside – something that was a given when I was a child, but nowadays it seems like children can’t put down the video games or smartphones long enough to just be kids and run and play and use their imaginations.

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The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater and illustrated by Eric Fan and Terry Fan

A philosophical fox named Marco has lots of questions about the world, but the other foxes in his forest are practical-minded and don’t understand his questions. So when Marco sees a ship come in at the harbor, he sets out on an adventure to find other foxes who can answer his questions. He joins the ship, with a captain and crew of three deer. A flock of pigeons also join the crew. Their destination is an island with sweet grass and trees to eat. Along the way, the group faces harsh weather and perils such as dangerous rocks and a band of pirates. As discouragement sets in, Marco lifts the group’s spirits by remaining positive and taking concrete steps to achieve success, such as looking at the charts on the ship to plot a course for the island instead of sailing aimlessly and making a meal to fill their hungry bellies from a cookbook he finds. In turn, each member of the crew contributes to the success of their voyage.

When they arrive at the lush island, Marco doesn’t find any other foxes and is disappointed, but then he realizes that he has found friends in the other animals on the voyage with him and they have some of the answers he seeks. Most importantly, they offer friendship and companionship. At the end of the book, the friends set sail for another adventure. A wonderful story of friendship, adventure, curiosity, and determination. The book contains magnificent, detailed illustrations of the sea and sky and various wildlife done in pen-and-pencil illustrations, colored digitally.