April 26, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Digging In: Underground with Nature Books

Once Winter has seen its final days, kids will be itching to get outside and explore. Classic works such as Denise Fleming’s underGROUND (S. & S./Beach Lane, Sept. 2012; PreS-K) are perfect for discussing the “highways and byways” and “squirm-ways and worm-ways” of the creatures that reside in the earth. Fleming’s masterly pacing, economical use of language, and bold art will pull readers into this subterranean world and have them asking for more. Line your shelves with the titles recommended below to satiate children’s curiosity when the warm weather returns. The selections below all examine the physical ups and downs of nature.

Moira Butterfield’s How Animals Build (Lonely Planet, Sept. 2017; Gr 3-5) takes a lift-the-flap approach to the myriad ways mammals, birds, reptiles, crustaceans, and other groups construct their homes. The author writes in a welcoming, friendly tone, often first walking readers through the illustrations and asking questions along the way before diving into more complex content.

Tim Hutchinson’s comic book–like illustrations maintain a good balance of adorable animal faces with finer details. In addition to the flaps and foldouts, the book also includes vertical spreads when appropriate—in particular, the staggering height of a termitarium is well communicated. Kids are encouraged to think about how some critters, such as the Australian Saunders’ case moth, use DIY techniques to spruce up their living quarters while others construct intricate fortresses out of raw materials. Promote this title as a book to browse independently or with a friend.

“Creeping, hopping, zipping/Throughout the redwoods green/Are many different creatures/Who are very seldom seen,” begins this intriguing mix of math and nature. Anthony D. Fredericks’s Tall Tall Tree (Dawn, Sept. 2017; PreS-K) employs a rhyming, counting book format to explore the myriad critters that “sleep and eat and roam/Up in this tall, tall tree—/Their elevated home.” Chad Wallace’s illustrations are rich and painterly—the spread on bumblebees is almost a touch surreal. An ending “Explore More” section provides a wealth of additional information as well as STEAM-related activities for adults to organize with children; there’s one for each letter. Fredericks’s timely emphasis on mindfulness and rethinking assumptions will resonate strongly with budding conservationists.

Charlotte Guillain’s The Street Beneath My Feet (words & pictures, Mar. 2017; Gr 2-4) is an accordion-style, earth science adventure, featuring Yuval Zommer’s signature illustrations. Beginning with a child looking down at the street under him, the author includes familiar markers (water pipes, the subway) as she journeys through the various layers of the earth (bedrock, sedimentary rock, and so forth) before reaching the outer core, moving through the inner core, and rising back up to the street, where readers will have returned to that now amazed child.

The book, when entirely unfolded, is truly a spectacle and will make a great accompaniment to earth science lessons and programming. Zommer’s artwork captures the textures and actions of the ground below us—tree roots, underground rivers, and more—and communicates that indeed the earth is a living thing.

For the youngest students, Cindy Jenson-Elliott’s Dig In! (S. & S./Beach Lane, Mar. 2016; PreS-Gr 1), illustrated by Mary Peterson, hits all the right notes, marrying the concept of cause and effect with a beloved childhood pastime—digging! Readers follow along as a pair of curious hands sift through dirt causing a bit of good-spirited mayhem for a worm, a pill bug, a spider, and a seed. (When the worm is touched, it wiggles away; when the pill bug is disturbed, it curls up.) Careful observers will note that the protagonist was gardening the whole time. Peterson’s artwork is exceedingly child-friendly, . This is an top pick for a read-aloud and a solid accompaniment to gardening programs.

Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski’s Under Earth, Under Water (Big Picture, Oct. 2016; Gr 3-6) is a physically impressive book. Its large format makes it an ideal volume to recommend to kids looking for something they can spend an afternoon poring over. Readers begin at either end (“Earth” or “Water”) and flip through until the two books meet in the middle—at the earth’s core, of course.

The illustrations are part comic book, part infographic, and all information. A handy index on both sides will point browsers to such subjects as microorganisms, edible roots, the Kola Superdeep Borehole, the Mariana Trench, the history of submarines, and more. Much like Guillain’s The Street Beneath My Feet, this book takes a measured but endlessly fascinating approach to earth science.

Sue Redding’s Up Above & Down Below (Chronicle, Feb. 2006; PreS-K) is a cartoon wonderland of opposites. “Early in the morning families buzz around the house. While down in the cellar sleeps one tiny mouse.” With irreverent humor, Redding depicts familiar scenes; while a picnic aboveground explodes into pandemonium, the ants below play cards, watch TV, and more. There’s certainty a lot of mischief to be had here.

Two penguin friends long to be reunited in Britta Teckentrup’s Up & Down (Candlewick/Templar, Oct. 2014; PreS-Gr 1). This lift-the-flap book joins Little Penguin as he dives low and jumps high and swims above jellyfish and below “a tickly octopus” until he arrives at his companion’s iceberg.

Teckentrup’s focus on movement is simple but well done. Students follow the Little Penguin’s journey at their pace—lifting and lowering the flaps as he moves above and below, in front and behind. Likewise, the exploration of scale is subtly effective. The animals’s place in his ecosystem, and his relationship to other creatures, is adeptly portrayed. This quiet hero’s journey is an artful take on directions for a young audience.

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Della Farrell About Della Farrell

Della Farrell is an Assistant Editor at School Library Journal and Editor of Series Made Simple



  1. What about Groundhog books for grades 2-5??? Like Groundhog Wilie!s Shadow and Groundhogs Across America – both award winning books by Peartree of Ckearwater, Fl.

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