November 30, 2016

Painting with words

Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings
by Matthew Burgess
illustrations by Kris Di Giacomo

"There, as a very little child, I first encountered that mystery who is Nature; here my enormous smallness entered Her illimitable being ..."

E. E. Cummings began creating poetry when he was just a small child. He was often inspired by the natural world he could see outside his bedroom window. The above quote described his feeling after a walk in the woods. 

Birds, trees, even elephants meander through the pages of this cheerful picture book, while a variety of fonts dance across them. Combined, they capture the playful essence of e.e.'s poems. It makes for a very friendly book that serves as a good introduction to a unique and inventive poet.

November 28, 2016

Sensitive poet

Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko
narrative and translation by David Jacobsen, Sally Ito & Michiko Tsuboi
illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri

In the 1900s, Misuzu Kaneko was one of Japan's most beloved poets. Her poems were lost after Tokyo was bombed in World War II, but rediscovered in 1982, when a student managed to track down Kaneko's brother, who had copies of her diaries. A sensitive and empathetic young woman, Misuzu Kaneko believed everything was alive and had its own feelings, even rocks, plants and telephone poles! Here is a poem she wrote about fish:


I feel sorry for the fish in the sea.

Rice is grown by people,
cows are raised on pastures, 
even carp are fed in their ponds.

But the fish in the sea ---
no one looks after them;
they do no harm.
And yet, here I am about to eat one.

I feel so sorry for the fish in the sea.

Lovingly presented and illustrated, Kaneko's poetry speaks especially well to children in its beauty and imagination.

A gentle, compassionate book.

November 25, 2016

Let your kids go outside!

Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside: Creative ways to help children discover nature and enjoy the great outdoors
by Fiona Bird

Using a combination of crafts, games, and short biology lessons, Fiona Bird aims to get families outside and exploring! She begins with a detailed intro that covers what to wear, what to bring, and what to avoid to be safe. Since the accompanying pictures are often small or absent altogether (most likely to produce a book of manageable length), she urges parents to also invest in a good plant identification book. Chapters cover various nature habitats: woods, meadows, seashore, wetlands, and home gardens. So proximity to these areas are key, which is probably easier in England (Bird is British) than urban North America. Kids can try identifying animals by tooth marks, make string out of nettle stems (first remove the prickles), make ink out of berries, play beach hopscotch, or cook up some garden pesto. Along the way, they'll get a few lessons in pollination, tidal zones, and types of seaweed, and meet a few famous naturalists. There's a dearth of night-time and rainy/snowy activities, but hopefully, kids will be inspired to go out anyway.

November 23, 2016

Raise a wild child

How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature
by Scott D. Sampson

Sadly, many children are growing up with no experience with nature. For urban children especially, wild animals only exist in zoos and food is found prepackaged in grocery stores. Yet being outside in natural settings have been found to relieve stress, depression, and attention-deficit disorder. Being out in forests, parks, or ravines can reduce bullying and illness, and even boost academic scores. Furthermore, fostering a love of nature means greater awareness of the interconnected of things and the desire for environmental conservation.

Trying to forge a meaningful connection between children and nature may seem daunting, but in How to Raise a Wild Child, Scott D. Sampson shows that it can be as easy as simply sitting on a porch or balcony and observing or listening to the animals, plants, or birds that are nearby. If city sounds are too intrusive, visit a park or even a schoolyard. And if it's hard to lure your kids away from electronic devices, make good use of them! Take pictures, download nature apps, research nature facts, or go geocaching - anything that'll get kids wondering, wandering, and learning. Sampson provides many more examples of experiences and activities for all ages, from babies to toddlers, and childhood to adolescent. For further encouragement, he also tells stories about his own attempts to encourage a love of nature in his daughter.

An excellent and hopeful book; full of joy and wonder in the world outside.

Highly recommended.

November 21, 2016

Open your eyes

Finding Wild
by Megan Wagner Lloyd
pictures by Abigail Halpin

City children often forget that nature is all around them. In her vibrant picture book, Megan Wagner Lloyd reminds children to take notice of the wild places that exist just around the corner, even right outside a subway station.

Two protagonists, a boy and a girl, explore the wild in a city park. Even though wild can hurt – in a lovely double-page spread filled with cacti, poison ivy, and creatures that sting – it can also soothe, sing, and taste delicious! Abigail Halpin’s luscious illustrations capture nature in all its beauty.  

A good reminder to seek out green places in urban environments.

November 18, 2016

Behind the scenes at Zoo Atlanta

Bridge to the Wild: Behind the Scenes at the Zoo
by Caitlin O'Connell
photographs by Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell

During the five days scientist O'Connell and her husband Tim spent at Zoo Atlanta, they met a bevy of animals and their keepers and found out what goes on behind the scenes before and after visiting hours. Every morning they were greeted with a dawn chorus of bird songs and lion roars much like what you'd hear in the wild. Similarly, at the end of the day, a dusk chorus commences as the animals prepare for sleep. In between, we follow the keepers, curators, and vets as they go about their day. 

As O'Connell accompanies the keepers on their rounds, she asks questions and learns much about animal behaviours and the challenges of keeping them stimulated and healthy. Animal care, often involving tests, training, and simple observation, can be complex but very rewarding. The keepers' joy and dedication, plus O"Connell's love of animals, come through in her clear, informative prose and her and Rodwell's striking photographs. 

Sure to inspire, this book will have kid readers dreaming about a job in the zoo.

Highly recommended.

November 16, 2016

Lunch at the zoo

Lunch at the Zoo: What Zoo Animals Eat and Why
by Joyce Altman

How do zoos know what to feed their animals?  Where does zoo food come from? How do zookeepers feed dangerous animals? How are animal babies raised?

Answers to the above questions can be found in this compact book. Information is presented very matter-of-factly, resulting in a rather dry read. Black-and-white photographs and a few drawings give it an old-fashioned feel even though the book was published in 2001. However, readers will gain an understanding of the challenges involved in providing zoo animals with nutritionally sound diets. A chart at the end lists various animals’ wild diets and the diet substitutes that zoos have devised.

November 14, 2016

Worms for breakfast!

Worms for Breakfast: How to Feed a Zoo
by Helaine Becker
illustrated by Kathy Boake

Ever wonder what zoo animals eat? Then take a gander at this one-of-a-kind cookbook! In it, you’ll find lots of tasty recipes that’ll satisfy the pickiest platypus, gorilla, flamingo, or tiger! But don’t taste! Live crayfish, mealworms, blood, and termites might not go down too well! You’ll also meet the zoo nutritionists who create each meal and find out how caretakers help their charges stay healthy. Plus, you’ll learn a few conservation tips. Kathy Boake’s surreal illustrations add to the fun.

Highly recommended!

November 11, 2016

A child's life in war

Castles Burning
by Magda Denes

Denes looks back at her life during the Second World War when she and her family hid from the Nazis in the city of Budapest, Hungary. Her father had to flee the country in 1939, escaping to New York City. He was to send for them, but never did. Magda, her older brother Ivan, their mother, grandparents, aunt, and cousin were forced to live in increasingly perilous circumstances. They spent much time hiding in attics, safe houses, and basements. Often, Magda was forced to shelter apart from her family. This fueled feelings of anger, fear, and abandonment, which, along with her usual stubbornness and cynicism, made her a formidable child to deal with. 

Oftentimes, the reader may find Magda intensely dislikeable; the rest of the family don’t fare much better as they argue with and berate each other. Their faults are made understandable when considering the danger and uncertainty that they endured. Comfort and empathy can be hard to come by when faced with unimaginable stresses. Denes does describe brief moments of gaiety, which offers hope, but they’re tempered with despair and pessimism when people are lost or go missing. Even after liberation, the family endures poverty in Germany and France before emigrating to Cuba.

A powerful, difficult, and demanding read, the book illuminates the immense toll on those living in war-torn countries and the stigma of displaced persons everywhere.

For adult and teen readers aged 15 and up.

November 9, 2016

Aboriginal war hero

The Scout: Tommy Prince
by David Alexander Robertson
illustrated by Scott B. Henderson

A young aboriginal girl stumbles upon a soldier's memorial in a local park. The veteran standing before it tells her about the exploits of Tommy Prince, a Canadian aboriginal soldier whose actions in World War II won him the Military Medal and the Silver Star.

Prince's story is told in a mere thirty pages, but the graphic novel format makes it exciting and memorable.

A very affective biography.

November 7, 2016

Lost childhood

No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War
by Anita Lobel

Anita Lobel was five years old when World War II began; her brother was three. After Nazis invaded their home in Krakรณw, Poland, their mother sent them, along with their nanny, to the country in hopes of keeping them safe. But eventually, the children were caught and spent most of their childhoods shuttling between a succession of concentration camps. 

Lobel's memoir, written from a child’s point of view, expertly captures the fear and uncertainty that a child experiences when faced with unimaginable circumstances. She also reveals the difficulty of adjusting to life after war. 

Twelve-years-old when the war ended, Anita and her brother, both with tuberculosis, were sent to Sweden to recover. In Sweden, she learned the language and attended school, all while dealing with the pervasive fear of the German language and a deep ambivalence at being Jewish. Reunited with her parents, she also felt impatience at their inability to understand Swedish and the pressure she felt in having to guide them through her new situation.

Hers was a childhood that never was – a tragic consequence for all children growing up with war.

Haunting and unforgettable.

For ages 10 and up.

November 4, 2016

Manga Shakespeare

Manga Shakespeare: Twelfth Night
Amulet Books (

This is Shakespeare presented in comic book form, in this case, Japanese manga. Characters are introduced first, followed by a version of the play told in one continuous story, with no dividing acts, scenes, or stage directions. Complete speeches are also dispensed with; characters speak Shakespearean language in excerpts only. Meaning is provided by the graphics, which does make it easier. However, I sometimes found the panels a bit chaotic and hard to follow, forcing me to stop to examine a page more closely. My confusion extended to some of the characters as well, who tended to look alike. Thank goodness for the plot summary at the end!

In conclusion, I would say that for teens who struggle with Shakespeare, the manga versions may be more to their liking.

November 2, 2016

Shakespeare in plain English

Antony and Cleopatra (No Fear Shakespeare)
Spark Publishing (

Sonnets (No Fear Shakespeare)

The No Fear Shakespeare series, published by Spark, promises to make Shakespeare’s plays less intimidating to read. The books feature texts of the original plays on the left-hand page, with an easy-to-understand translation on the right-hand page, written in plain English. Plenty of helpful commentary is also promised. More accurately, I would say that there is some commentary, which may or may not be helpful, depending on how well-read a person is. For Antony and Cleopatra, the comments served to identify certain gods and mythical creatures, to place geographical locations, point out puns, and explain certain situations. I expect that the commentary in other No Fear titles will be similar. As for the Sonnets, out of 154 of them, only about two dozen have attached commentary. However, since most of the sonnets are obsessed with youth, beauty, and procreation, the plain English translations are enough.

Good for high school and university students.