Yolen and Karas’ gorgeous midnight-blue volume of bedtime poetry includes a counting-sheep rhyme murmured by a sleepless shepherd: One ewe/One ram,/Two sheep,/One lamb,/Three sheep,/One flock,/ Four gates,/One lock,/Five folds,/One light,/Good dog,/Good night. Like Goodnight Moon, this is a comforting world with a wash of mystery.Preschool–kindergarten.
Yezerski’s newest book is the pictorial history of an intertidal zone that has been in use for thousands of years: by the plants and animals that first lived in it; by the Lenape tribe who lived with it; by the European settlers who cut down, filled in, and planted upon it; by the 20th-century inhabitants who built highways, airports, and factories, and dumped trash and industrial wastes into it; and now by a new generation of activists and schoolchildren who work to turn the area from the noxious dump it was into a place that can once again support life. Yezerski tells this story through frank text and panoramic pen-and-ink spreads with watercolor wash, framed by cleverly chosen thumbnail sketches that relate to each landscape (such as swamp mosquitoes, candy wrappers, cordgrass, dioxins, muskets, and muskrats). This is the story of a New Jersey estuary, but could as easily have been about the Watsonville wetlands. Grades 1–4. —Gā & Holly
I’ve always been drawn to nature journaling—the sort of doodling/sketching you do that allows you to see an object more clearly than you would if you weren’t drawing it. This picture book biography is a nature journal of sorts. Certainly its clarity is almost sublime. Jane, a small girl in England, studies nature and records her increasingly complex impressions in sepia ink on cream-colored paper. By contrast, McDonnell’s ink and watercolor drawings are sweet and a little goofy. In a sly reference to Burroughs’ Tarzan, we see the small child swinging through her jungle of yard in a cardigan and plaid skirt. “One day,” McDonnell writes, “curious Jane wondered where eggs came from. So she… snuck into Grandma Nutt’s chicken coop…hid beneath some straw, stayed very still…and observed the miracle.” Both hen and child have expressions of surprise. Jane dreams of traveling to Africa, and in a wonderful sequence, goes to sleep in her bed with her toy chimpanzee (page turn), wakes as an adult in her tent in Africa (page turn), and realizes her dream, illustrated by a stunning use of the iconic photograph of young primatologist Jane Goodall and a very young primate reaching across species to take one another’s hand. I’ve never seen better use of mixed media in a picture book. Only Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Keats’ Snowy Day, and Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon come this close to perfection. Ages 5 and up.
Willems has made a new generation of genuinely easy-to-read Easy Readers. Writing a great book using a very limited, repetitive vocabulary, of mostly one-syllable, consonant-vowel-consonant words, is very hard to do. Unfortunately, this does not keep a lot of writers from trying. Mo Willems succeeds. His Cat the Cat, Who Is That? is lovely, but my utter favorite is We Are in a Book!. Here two friends, a pig and an elephant, discuss several existential dilemmas in simple, clean, easy, and very funny (meta)text. Ages 5 through adult.
Briony believes she is a witch. In her backwater English village, a place that is reluctantly experiencing the Industrial Revolution and all of its change, this is an offense punished by hanging. Briony also believes that she is responsible for the death of her stepmother and the disabling of her sister, and as penance she forbids herself from visiting her beloved bog, where she once communicated with the Old Ones. The Old Ones, various witches, spirits, brownies, and other creatures, are none to happy about the dawning of the 20th century or the railroad that comes with it. When they place a curse on the town that sickens her sister, Briony knows that she is the only one who can intervene, but to do so would risk exposing her many secrets. With a viscerally earthy setting and a wry, passionate, and intelligent protagonist, Chime has the dark allure of an old English ballad, and the language is oddly new and beautiful. Ages 13 and up. —Kat & Ga