Eliza’s Cherry Trees: Japan’s gift to America by Andrea Zimmerman, illustrated by Ju Hong Chen
The Text: In short, brisk sentences, Zimmerman tells the story of the life of Eliza Scidmore, traveler and journalist, and of her long quest to plant cherry trees in Washington D.C. Eliza was the first woman “to have an important job” at the National Geographic Society and she traveled to many places most people had never seen, certainly not the average American woman – Alaska, Russia, Japan, and more. Her interest in Japan and its culture encouraged her to take on the task of convincing Washington park keepers to plant cherry trees. It took over twenty years for her to convince them it was a good idea, but although Eliza is mostly forgotten, her cherry trees are a symbol of Washington D. C.
The Illustrations: Ju Hong Chen’s illustrations are mixtures of brilliant color, like Eliza’s first meeting with the parks keeper in a blaze of orange, and surrealistic landscapes as in Eliza’s introduction to cherry trees, where cherry blossoms float in giant cotton candy blobs above a flat green and blue background.
The Extras: A timeline of Eliza Scidmore’s life is included
The Verdict: This is not one of Andrea Zimmerman’s better efforts. The language sounds bland and choppy “She worked hard and made good money.” “Eliza was very happy” and is often vague, as when we are told Eliza has “an important job” with the National Geographic Society…doing what, exactly? The illustrations were uninspired and often had a flat, lifeless quality. Eliza’s life is interesting, but the text is too long for the average picture book – or preschooler - and the illustrations will not hold the attention of older children. I would have liked to have seen a chapter book of her life with more discussion of her travels and life in general and more original documents.
ISBN: 978-1589809543; Published March 2011 by Pelican; Borrowed from the library
Olivia's Birds: Saving the Gulf by Olivia Bouler
11-year-old Olivia Bouler was very upset when she heard about the Gulf oil spill. She'd always loved birds and wanted to help, so she started an online fundraiser with her bird art. In this book, she combines her pictures of birds around the world with facts and information about the amazing world of birds. The book ends with Olivia's story of her efforts to aid conservation, the plight of birds in the Gulf oil spill and in other areas, what she would do if she were president, and how kids can help.
Verdict: Kids will be interested to see a real book written by one of their peers. There's nothing particularly outstanding about the art or text, but if you're looking for books to inspire kids to get involved and make a difference, this is a good choice.
Stewart follows the formula of her other "place" books, mixing a few simple sentences about the various threats to fishes' well-being with a sidebar of facts about a specific species of fish and how they are in danger. The simple sentences give environmental information including the danger of over-fishing, pollution, capturing rare fish for pets, and invasive species, among other threats. The sidebar information includes species such as hammerhead sharks, smallmouth bass, lined seahorses, Atlantic salmon, and more.
Bond's acrylic illustrations are photographic with intense detail in the landscapes and fish.
Extras: There is a list of simple things kids can do in the last sidebar, as well as additional fish facts, bibliography, suggested websites, and the endpapers contain maps showing the location of the various species highlighted throughout the book
Verdict: This series seems to be popular among librarians, but I've never quite gotten the point of it (although I love Melissa Stewart's Under the Snow and similar books). In this particular volume, the simple sentences seem aimed at a younger audience, but what purpose does telling kids "When people find other ways to make electricity, fish can live and grow" serve? The suggestions for kids to get involved are ok, but these books are basically a list of all the things that are killing fish; very few of them are things kids can affect, and the "solutions" are so vague and general they don't offer much hope. I would rather have practical books about ways kids can recycle and help the environment, concrete examples of how scientists and activists are making changes, and books about fish that are just...books about fish. Feel free to try to change my mind and explain how you use these books!
ISBN: 978-1561455621; Published March 2011 by Peachtree; Borrowed from the library
About hummingbirds: A guide for children by Cathryn and John Sill
Sill's "About" series pairs simple facts with exquisite watercolors detailing species, habitats, and details of the featured animals.
This title focuses on hummingbirds and Sill talks about their feeding habits, different species of hummingbird, reproduction, and more. The illustrations are, as always, beautifully detailed and perfectly illustrate the simple sentences.
Extras: The afterword includes extensive details on each color plate and the hummingbird or aspect of hummingbirds it features. There is also a glossary, further reading, sources, and information about the authors and their other titles.
Verdict: This is a popular series which I use frequently in story time as it works well with young children. The text in this particularly title felt a little bland in comparison with some of their other titles, but this is still an excellent addition and one I recommend for any library.
ISBN: 978-1561455881; Published July 2011 by Peachtree; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library
Bring on the Birds by Susan Stockdale
The Text: Susan Stockdale’s simple rhymes introduce young children to a variety of birds and their special attributes. “Swooping birds/ whooping birds/birds with puffy chests/dancing birds/diving birds/birds with fluffy crests.” The rhythm of the text is perfect for chanting aloud. A guide at the end of the story identifies each bird and explains a little more about their special ability from the rhyme.
The Illustrations: Stockdale’s colorful acrylic illustrations are simple enough to be easily seen by a large group of children, but detailed enough to identify the birds. Each picture is set within a simple red border and the colors are carefully harmonized to make the birds show up brilliantly against their surroundings.
The Extras: In addition to the identification guide and information about the birds mentioned above, further resources/sources on birds are also included.
Verdict: This title, like Stockdale’s Fabulous Fishes, is a perfect nonfiction read aloud for story time. You can read it straight through, have the kids echo the lines to chant along, or read it with the kids identifying the birds (with help from the guide as needed) or all three! Highly recommended, especially for preschool and kindergarten.