June 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Explore the Natural World | Big Books for Browsing

Go big and go home—to planet Earth, that is—with four fact-packed, boldly illustrated, oversize books that delve into the many and multifaceted wonders of nature. Perfect for classroom browsing or family sharing, these attention-grabbing volumes will spark interest in a variety of topics and encourage kids to explore their world.

Jonathan Litton and Thomas Hegbrook’s The Earth Book (360 Degrees/Tiger Tales, Apr. 2017; Gr 3 Up) blends fascinating fact bits, elegant illustrations, and an inviting large-size format to offer a “grand pictorial tour of our humble home.” Broad concepts are introduced on spreads containing brief text paragraphs and neatly laid-out earth-toned illustrations. Four sections cover “Physical Earth” (the planet’s origins, composition, and powerful processes ranging from volcanoes and earthquakes to hurricanes and tsunamis); “Life on Earth” (the diverse flora and fauna featured here include extremophile species that have adapted to tough living conditions, “undersized and often overlooked” species such as soil-churning ants that help shape the planet, and prehistoric and post-Ice Age behemoths); “Earth Regions” (an overview of ecosystems); and “Human Planet” (human migration, cultures, cities, structures, accomplishments, and impact). Written in a conversational tone, this book takes a huge topic and breaks it into easy-to-digest pieces, encouraging readers to identify subjects of interest and investigate them further. Kids can sample the wonders that surround us, while also perceiving threats to the planet and the role of humans in the future of “our fragile little world.”

Written by Amanda Wood and Mike Jolley and illustrated by Owen Davey, Natural World (Wide Eyed Editions/Quatro, 2016; Gr 3 Up) offers 67 information graphics that explore life on Earth. Covering single or double pages, these charts combine succinct text paragraphs, artwork, captions, diagrams, charts, cut-away images, and other visual elements to delve into a particular subject. Topics cover a wide span and range from the specifically targeted (“Micro-Creatures,” “Life in the Honeybee Hive,” or “The Curious Aye-Aye”) to the more broad and open-ended (“How to Hide,” “Living in the Dark,” or “All Kids of Nests”), making for plenty of variety. Each chart has a color-coded tab identifying subject matter: yellow describes habitats or environments; orange focuses on a particular species or groups of plants or animals; and blue examines special behaviors or adaptations that help living things survive. There is no over-arching structure to the arrangement of the subject matter, allowing for a delightfully meandering browsing experience and an exciting sense of discovery. Kids can peruse the book from cover to cover (using the attached colored ribbons as book marks), or open the volume anywhere and follow the color arrows in the right and left margin to navigate to charts containing information that relates in some way to what they have just read. This format allows readers to chart their own course through the well-presented information, follow their own curiosities, and begin to comprehend how species, behaviors, and environments are all interconnected.

Written by Rachel Williams and illustrated by Italian design-duo Carnovsky, Illuminature (Wide Eyed, 2016; Gr 3 Up) is sure to elicit oohs and aahs from mesmerized readers. Utilizing a multi-layered RGB (red, green, blue) process, the densely detailed artwork looks like a hodgepodge of lines and colors until observed through a “magic viewing lens” (a cardboard rectangle with red, green, and blue see-through windows) that reveals a single layer of illustration—and a fascinating aspect of the natural world. The book visits 10 unique natural habitats: the Congolese rain forest, Australia’s Simpson Desert, Scotland’s Lock Lomond, the Andes mountains, the Weddell and Ross Seas, California’s Redwood Forest, the taiga of East Siberia, the Serengeti plains, the Ganges river basin, and the Apo Reef in the Philippines. Each locale is allotted three spreads: “Destination” (key facts about the habitat); “Observation Deck” (a wordless double-page illustration bursting with mostly indecipherable flora and fauna); and “Species Guide” (black-and-white renderings, names, and brief descriptions of the featured critters, divided into “Nighttime and Twilight” and “Daytime” pages). The fun happens when kids look through the viewing lens and the environment transforms before their eyes. The red window reveals creatures that are active during the daytime, the green highlights plant life, and the blue exposes animals that venture out at twilight or nighttime (appropriately, the dark blue makes the backdrops shadowy and the critters hard to spot, giving the visual hunt a you-are-there flavor). Readers can flip to the species guide to identify the animals they see, think about how each creature’s way of life helps it to survive in a particular habitat, and explore the various chapters to compare and contrast these very different ecosystems.

Written by Kathy Willis and illustrated by Katie Scott, Botanicum (Big Picture Pr./Candlewick, Mar. 2017; Gr 3 Up) invites youngsters to wander through the halls of this museum-in-book-form and discover the “biggest, smallest, weirdest, rarest, ugliest, and smelliest plants on Earth.” Seven “galleries” introduce “The First Plants” (millennia-old algae, bryophytes, ferns, etc.), trees, palms and cycads, herbaceous plants, grasses and grains, orchids, and species that have adapted to particular environments (e.g., aquatic, parasitic, and carnivorous plants, and more). Well-written introductory paragraphs are paired with gorgeous, precisely detailed illustrations of featured species, each identified with captions that include common and scientific names, size, and brief descriptions. Cutaways and closeups show the sturdy interior of a giant sequoia bark, the beauty nestled within a southern magnolia tree flower, the mysteries hidden inside a saffron crocus seed case, or the pith revealed by peeling away the outer part of a papyrus stem (used for making paper-like material by the ancient Egyptians). Interspersed throughout are spreads that introduce four unique environments—Carboniferous forests (Earth’s earliest forests now found in fossil remains), rain forests, alpine plants, and mangrove forests. While browsing these pages and viewing the visual spectacular marvels of particular species, readers also learn about the evolution, biodiversity, structure, reproduction, and uses of plants. Steer kids toward Jenny Broom’s Animalium (2014), also illustrated by Scott, for an equally eye-catching and museum-like look at the animal kingdom.

Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.