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Lively Rocks and Resourceful Creatures September 4, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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It’s always nice to come into the store and see a whole bunch of picture books on the New Books shelf! Here are two non-fiction books that have been praised by librarians and booksellers alike. Both are by well-known children’s authors, one a non-fiction writer and the other a poet. They share a couple of traits, namely, beautiful art and poetic writing. Perfect to share with an inquisitive child or classroom of students!

A Rock is Lively by Dianna Hutts Aston

Following her other titles about eggs, seeds and butterflies, Aston now explains rocks in simple sentences, then expands to provide more information in sidebars. “A rock is lively” she begins, explaining about molten rock under the earth’s crust. “A rock is mixed up” is paired with a recipe for lapis lazuli, accompanied by detailed drawings of each mineral element. Aston’s great choice of words makes the book engaging as a read aloud; ‘galactic,’ ‘inventive,’ ‘ingest,’ ‘gizzard,’ and ‘creative’ all make an appearance, along with more standard rock vocabulary such as ‘jewel’ and ‘deposit.’

Teachers or parents looking to communicate basic information about the rock cycle or the three categories of rocks will find what they need here, but Aston also encourages the reader to think about rocks in a broader sense–that they helped humans create tools, to say nothing of cave paintings and architectural wonders. Many kids who start rock collections are the equivalent of magpies–‘shiny’ or ‘pretty’ is the main reason for their choices and interest. This book has plenty of shiny and pretty illustrations by Sylvia Long but hopefully by the end, they will have been entranced by the sentences and facts as well.

A Strange Place to Call Home by Marilyn Singer

Singer brings her signature style of vivid language and precise poetry forms to this collection about animals that live in dangerous habitats. While some kids can tell you everything about the zebra or the tiger, others are committed to learning about far stranger creatures. The anglerfish is always popular, as is the electric eel. Singer has created a book to aid those children who live for the moment when they spout a fact and their friends respond “Whaaat? They do what? They live where?”

Singer uses poetry forms such as the triolet, haiku, sonnet and villanelle to give information about a list of animals just as diverse. From the Humbolt penguin to the ice worm to camel, these creatures live in habitats all over the world, all of them dangerous places where you need special skills to survive. At the back are further notes about each species, as well as a note about the poetry forms. As a teacher, I love using poetry to teach science because all the information is there, but not up front. You have to read carefully and think about the language in order to understand that the flamingos eat shrimp from the salt lakes. Singer’s poems are perfect to read if you want to learn a little about the fascinating species of our planet.

Last note: Ed Young’s collage illustrations are a great match for each poem. Strong lines and varied textures give a sense of both the creature and the habitat, often in close-up or from an unusual viewpoint. When will someone arrange an event where Eric Carle and Ed Young can talk about collage and the children’s book?

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