I'm a big fan of the small, independent publisher Dawn Publications. Home of Cornell's classic Sharing Nature With Children, it is where I often turn when I'm looking for children's titles about animals, nature, or the environment. So far, they have never disappointed me. Here are my reviews of the two newest additions to their catalog.
Noisy Bug Sing-Along by John Himmelman (2013)
This simple, but beautifully illustrated book introduces us to a dozen insects and the sounds that they make. Each one is presented in a two-page spread, which invites close study of every detail. With the coming of spring and soon, summer, birds and bugs are the things I find my toddler most interested in. While this book is geared for those aged 3 to 8, even my two-year-old enjoys it. It has taught him the names of these insects and he greatly enjoys mimicking all of their noises.
Like many titles from Dawn, the final four pages are packed with additional information and suggestions for extension activities. There are facts about the bugs, a list of additional nature awareness titles, a bit about sound and animal adaptation, and an introduction to sound waves and how they work. A trip to the book's website will allow you to listen to actual recordings of these insect noises, which my son found especially delightful.
Overall, this is a wonderful title and a perfect addition to the summer reading basket. My only complaint is that text for the sounds (the "ch-ch-ch" in the cover image above, for example) sometimes overwhelms the illustrations. I would have favored a more subtle hand so that there is less distraction from the images, which are really the star of this book.
by Marianne Berkes, Illustrated by Cris Arbo (2013)
This is the latest offering from the prolific children's nature writer, Berkes and it fits in nicely with the rest of her collection. This is a rhyming riddle book. Each of the twelve fruits and vegetables featured is introduced with an illustration of the young produce "on the vine", which is accompanied by a short riddle about what it is. Turn the page and you have the answer, along with an illustration of the mature produce being enjoyed by a child.
The illustrations here are gorgeous; photo-realistic down to the last detail. The rhymes are fun and are written at a level that is appropriate to challenge the target audience of 3 to 8-year-olds. In a time when so many of us are separate from the work of growing and preparing the food that we eat, this book helps us to see and recapture that critical link. The diversity of children pictured is great, making it easy for your child to see him/herself in these pages. Included are a dozen recipes to go with each food item, a cooking vocabulary list, and more information about the anatomy of plants and how they grow. Of special interest to educators (home or otherwise) are the printable companion activities available on the book's website.
My criticisms of this book are similar to those of Noisy Bug Sing-Along. The content is wonderful, but the layout is less than ideal. Each riddle is on the right-hand page and its answer can be found on the reverse side once that page is turned. This makes sense, but laying it all out this way means that when you have any two-page spread open, the answer to the previous riddle is on the left and the next riddle is on the right. This makes it a bit confusing and hard to separate each fruit or vegetable in one's mind. Perhaps a flap-book set-up would have made more sense and would have allowed the child to see the transformation of veggie in the garden to delicious meal, without the distraction of the previous and upcoming riddles to muddle it up. Also, the recipes are included throughout the text on the "answer" pages. I would have put them all together in the back so that there is less to distract from the illustrations. All considered, though, I would still recommend this book and its wonderful message of joy in gardening.
My review copies were provided courtesy of Dawn Publications.