Reviews by Pat Scully

With the coming of summer, opportunities abound for children to observe small creatures in the outdoors.  Birds building nests and raising young, and butterflies, bees, and other insects converging in the flower garden capture children’s interest and strike their curiosity.  The new titles reviewed here will supplement first-hand experiences observing outside and provide answers to children’s questions.  Supplement these new titles with some field guides and a selection from the wealth of nature trade books available for young children.  A particularly good source of information about children’s literature related to various science topics can be found in Science Experiences for the Early Childhood Years: An Integrated Approach (Harlan, J.D., Rivkin. M.S. (2000). Saddle River, NJ:  Prentice-Hall/Merrill).  Happy summer!

birdhouseBirdhouse for Rent

This engaging story of a year in the life of a birdhouse begins in July and chronicles the many creatures, wasps, chipmunks, and a family of chickadees, who make this house their home.   Told with straightforward and lively language in the voice of the birdhouse, the author weaves many facts into the simple narrative.  Children learn how the chickadees build a nest within the house to prepare a nursery for their babies.  Despite the protection of the house, however, a cat snatches three eggs before they can hatch.  Happily, seven baby birds emerge safely and eventually fledge the nest leaving the birdhouse wondering who its next tenants will be.  The childlike paintings that accompany the text are large and colorful and the distinctive plumage of the chickadees is accurately captured in the illustrations.  Since these birds are common throughout much of the United States, even young children may be familiar with them making this a fine choice to accompany a bird study unit.

For ages 4-8, ISBN 0-618-04881-2, written by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Donald Dreifuss, from Walter Lorraine Books, Hougton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York, 10003.

birdsbuildnestsBirds Build Nests

On the cover of this unique book, two ruby-throated hummingbirds have been reproduced on shiny paper.  They offer a striking contrast to the vivid yellow flowers of the plant that supports their delicate nest.  Fifteen other birds are featured in this book.  Representing all parts of the world, the chosen birds reflect the great variety of nests that birds construct.   A simple rhymed text accompanies a full-page painting of each bird.  The illustrations are intricately detailed, with adult birds realistically depicted with their nests.  Many of the pictures also include the eggs or young birds in the nests. Younger children will enjoy studying the pictures and listening to the rhythm of the text; older children and adults will appreciate the nest identification guide at the end of the story.  In this section, each nest is reproduced along with the birdís common and Latin names, its location, and a paragraph that describes its habitat, habits, and unique nest construction techniques.  A brief list of references and Internet resources are another useful feature of this book.

For ages 4-10, ISBN 1-57091-500-8 (Library binding) or 1-57091-501-6 (Softcover), written by Yvonne Winer and illustrated by Tony Oliver, from Charlesbridge Publishing, 85 Main St., Watertown, MA 02472,

butterfliesButterflies Fly

Written by the same author as the previous selection, this book follows the identical format with equal success.  The cover contrasts several common morphos, metallic blue and black butterflies that live in the tropical rainforest, against a leafy brown background.  Fifteen other butterfly species from around the world are featured in the book.  Each butterfly is depicted within a vivid and richly detailed painting of the natural environment in which the butterfly would be found.  The illustrations are accompanied by simple yet lyrical rhymed text that capture the spirit of each butterfly.  Above the text, another picture of a single butterfly is presented.  At the end of the book, information is provided about each butterfly, including its common and Latin name, where it lives, and its wingspan.  A short paragraph offers other information.  References and Internet resources are provided as well.  A third title, Spiders Spin Webs, is also available from this author.

For ages 4-10, ISBN 1-57091-446-X (Library binding) or 1-57091-447-8 (Softcover), written by written by Yvonne Winer and illustrated by Karen Lloyd-Jones, from Charlesbridge Publishing, 85 Main St., Watertown, MA 02472,

becomingButterflyBecoming Butterflies

Beloved author Anne Rockwell tells the story of a class of children who observe the metamorphosis of Monarch caterpillars into butterflies.  While no substitute for the real experience, this book provides accurate information and lots of ideas for helping children observe and record what they see as the caterpillars transform themselves during the month they spend in the classroom.  The lively text works well as a read aloud and the accompanying illustrations effectively capture the children and the caterpillars.  Full-page pictures were crafted from watercolor paintings cut out and pasted against a plain background creating a three-dimensional effect.  Small illustrations of important aspects of the process are featured below the text.  An authorís note at the end of the story offers further information about Monarch butterflies and provides a Web site for readers to learn more.  The endpapers of the book are also noteworthy.  In the front of the book nine different caterpillars are pictured and in the back the resulting butterfly is shown.

For ages 4-8, ISBN 0-8027-8797-5, written by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Megan Halsey, from Walker and Company, 435 Hudson St., New York, New York, 10014,

waitingforwingsWaiting for Wings

Butterflies flying amidst fantastic colored flowers on the cover of this book are instantly recognizable as those of Lois Ehlert.  In this recent (2001) text, she, too, tells the story of metamorphosis but this transformation takes place in the wild, or at least the wild as she recreates it.  Her charming pictures, though unique and inventive, convey basic accuracy in the markings of the butterflies and types of plants they live among.  And with its shifting page sizes, (from horizontal half-pages to full size to vertical half-pages) and its lilting, rhymed text, the book is just plain fun to read and explore.   Useful information is provided within the text and in the pages at the end of the story in which four butterflies are featured with their caterpillars and chrysalis.  Sideviews and full wing spread views of each butterfly are also provided.  All the flowers shown in the illustrations are identified in the back of the book as well, and information is offered on how to grow a butterfly garden.  This is a wonderful introduction to butterflies for even the youngest children.

For ages 3-7, ISBN 0-15-202608-8, written and illustrated by Lois Elhert, from Harcourt, Inc.6277 Sea Harbor Dr., Orlando, FL 32887-6777.

bumblebeeBumblebee at Apple Tree Lane

Since bumblebees are found throughout the world, most young children will have had some first-hand experiences with them.  This book, which chronicles a bumblebeeís life from spring through fall, can build on that experience by offering children additional knowledge about the life cycle of this insect.  The illustrations are particularly effective, spreading over the facing pages with vivid color and accurate detail.  The text, superimposed over the pictures, is very intricate and might need to be simplified for younger listeners.  Older children will appreciate the wealth of information provided and will benefit from the glossary at the end of the book.  Several additional paragraphs about bumblebees and a small reference section make this a useful book for the beginning researcher.

For ages 5-10, ISBN 1-56899-820-1, written by Laura Gates Galvin and illustrated by Kristin Kest from Smithsonian Institution and Soundprints, a division of Trudy Corporation, 353 Main St., Norwalk, CT 06851.