Tag Archives: Nature

Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons by Jon J. Muth

Hi, Koo!What is it about panda bears that makes them soooo utterly irresistible? Click here to see if you could possibly be immune to those “chubbly-wubbly.” Curmudgeon that I usually am, even I succumbed to “beary love.”

Jon Muth personally knows their inevitably undeniable appeal: his giant panda, Stillwater, and his nephew, Koo, have helped make Muth a mega-bestselling, multi-award winning author/illustrator many times over with Zen Shorts, Zen Ties, and Zen Ghosts, as well dozens of other titles to Muth’s name.

His latest – hitting shelves today – is an ingenious celebration of young Koo’s multifaceted talents: Koo is a prolific poet who can embed all 26 letters of the alphabet (watch for the capitalizations) as he shares his appreciation of the unique sights of the changing seasons in 26 haiku. The wordplay is especially clever and entertaining: a charming challenge for older kiddies, a lyrical delight for the youngest.

Koo opens with autumn, anticipating a change in wardrobe, leaves, and warmth. He’s joined by two friends as they chase melting icicles and a vanishing cat. Crocuses announce the coming of spring, when too much indoor TV time finally turns to outdoor adventures. Birds make nests, and Koo mourns the accidental death of a bug (oh, be still my heart!). Summer arrives with violet petals and butterfly kisses, and Koo takes a moment of quiet, sharing the splendor with two avian companions lovingly perched … on his head, of course!

Spring is in the air (finally!), the perfect reason to share this whimsy and glee: say ‘hi, Koo’ with his heartfelt haiku.

Readers: Children

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific

Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, illustrated by Susan L. Roth

Parrots Over Puerto RicoCo-authors Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, whose last project  à deux was the glorious The Mangrove Tree set in the tiny African country of Eritrea, travel south to the Caribbean to present another memorable story of preservation and conservation.

Welcome to Puerto Rico, home of the Puerto Rican parrot, also called iguacas in imitation of their cry: “They lived on this island for millions of years, and then they nearly vanished from the earth forever.” Roth and Trumbore tell their avian story, intermingled with the island’s past, from the first island settlers that included the Taínos who hunted the parrots as both nourishment and pets, to Christopher Columbus who claimed the island for Spain, to the Spanish settlers who followed, to the stolen Africans enslaved to tame the land. Spain ruled Puerto Rico for centuries until it was lost in war to the United States, which claimed the island a U.S. territory in 1917.

Through all those millenia, the parrots suffered – their tree homes were devastated, they were hunted, killed, trapped, and what was left of their nesting areas were invaded by other birds. “By 1954, there were only two hundred parrots left.” Fourteen years later – why did it take so long? – the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program was established to “save and protect the parrots.” And yet by 1975, a mere 13 parrots flew through the rain forest … how will the bright green flocks be saved?

Part history, part morality tale, part political treatise, part inspiring redemption, Roth and Trumbore’s collaboration is as much a lesson for us old folks as it is a story to share with our youngest. The “Afterword,” with its many photographs, is proof positive of a hopeful future. The timeline that follows of “Important Dates in the History of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican Parrots” demands we learn from the past as we work to ensure that future in the present.

Roth’s richly detailed paper-and-fabric collages dazzle eyeballs of all ages, showcased in Christy Hale‘s brilliantly clever book design. By just (just!) turning the book’s orientation 90° − so that you flip the pages up rather than turn them from right to left – Hale adds soaring height that underscores the parrots’ flight (and plight); she literally sends the story aloft.

Final note: This Roth/Trumbore/Hale accomplishment is a memorable example of why e-readers are just not enough (Luddites unite!); the magic will disappear on the screen. So to fly with the iguaca, you’ll definitely need to choose the page.

Readers: Children

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Nonfiction, Caribbean, Nonethnic-specific, Puerto Rican

Triton of the Sea (vols. 1-2) by Osamu Tezuka, translated by Eugene Woodbury, edited by Eileen Tse

Triton of the Sea 1.2

When I say ‘brought to you by popular demand,’ I have indisputable proof here: 715 supporters put up almost 150% more than the requested funds in answer to Digital Manga‘s 2012 Kickstarter campaign to bring Triton of the Sea (along with two additional Tezuka titles, Unico and Atomcat), to an English-reading audience four decades after its native Japanese publication. How grateful are we for unfaltering groupie devotion for the ‘godfather of manga’?

Mermaids, monsters, and even more mythic creatures, oh my! “Since the dawn of time, legends of the sea have been with us. Tales of beautiful, terrifying, and mysterious oceans have aroused our minds with notions of fantasy, of phantasm,” the double-volume adventure begins. Following his grandmother’s astonishing tales, young Kazuya climbs down the dangerous cliffs surrounding his seaside village and discovers an abandoned baby boy.

Swaddled in “seaweed instead of bedding,” Kazuya takes the wide-eyed, gleefully-grinning bundle home. “If that baby stays in this village, bad fortune is bound to follow,” Kazuya’s grandmother warns. Her words prove prescient when a sudden earthquake hits, followed by a tsunami that kills Kazuya’s father. Resolutely determined to give Triton a family, Kazuya’s mother moves to Tokyo with Kazuya and Triton to begin a new life.

As a naive teenager, Kazuya is easy prey for city slickers. In grave frustration, Kazuya wreaks violent revenge after being cheated yet again and must flee for his life. Triton, meanwhile, grows quickly, maturing many years during a single growth spurt; although Kazuya and his mother realize Triton is not of this world, both remain unconditionally bound to him for life.

Triton is a creature of the sea, the last of a once mighty clan slaughtered to near extinction by order of King Poseidon. With Kazuya on the run, Triton is loath to leave their mother alone but he can no longer ignore his aquatic calling. Guided and protected by a golden dolphin, Triton must hunt and eradicate Poseidon’s monstrous children one by one, until he can confront the ignominious king himself. Alas, the watery despot is not Triton’s only adversary… the human race proves to be a far greater threat to the deep seas.

Part myth, part family drama, part biology lesson, part dire environmental warning decades ahead of its time, Triton is, like many of Tezuka’s beloved titles, ultimately a desperate plea for peace. Far too often, we humans are our own worst enemy, tragically destroying too many others as well: “However strong and powerful the people of the land may be, they are wrong when they try to claim both the ocean and the land as their own. There are many other living things besides humans,” Triton’s young son warns. Out of the mouth of babes, generation after generation, Tezuka masterfully continues to provide timeless lessons to be repeated again and again and again …

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 1969, 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

Splash, Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia

Splash, Anna Hibiscus!As gorgeous as the large snowflakes are where I am, just to be contrary, I’m wishing for sun and surf! I can’t remember the last time I went splish-splashing, so clearly I’m overdue! For now, I’ll just have to join Anna Hibiscus on her beckoning blue beach …

“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa,” introduces British Nigerian storyteller Atinuke. In her latest adventure, Anna is “at the beach with her whole family”; although the “laughing waves” are calling, everyone around her seems too busy to test the waters. Her grandparents are reading, her father and uncle are talking to friends, her mother and aunties are busy braiding their hair, even her cousins – with such fabulous names as Benz, Wonderful, Clarity, and Common Sense! – are doing anything but getting wet.

The waves will wait for no one, so Anna decides to go to “Splash!” and “Jump!” and “Hee-hee!” with such glee that her entire family finally realizes it’s high time to share some wavy delights. Anna’s playful joy brings everyone together, because “Anna Hibiscus is amazing too.”

Atinuke, who describes herself as “a traditional oral Nigerian storyteller,” draws on her own bicultural experience of growing up in Africa and England as the child of a Nigerian father and an English mother. She wrote her Anna Hibiscus series, she explains on her website, because “as a story teller … it was clear from children’s questions how little they still knew about the Africa that I am from.” Working together with illustrator Lauren Tobia – whose winsome art is as adept at capturing landscapes of sea, surf, and city, as she is at imbuing each character with charmingly nuanced expressions – Atinuke’s “Amazing Africa” becomes a vibrant celebration of family and home with “amazing” Anna Hibiscus as an adorable multicultural guide.

Readers: Children

Published: 2013


Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, African, British, Hapa

Tropic of the Sea by Satoshi Kon, translated by Maya Rosewood

Tropic of the SeaThe brilliant Satoshi Kon clearly left us too early – he passed away at age 46 of pancreatic cancer in 2010. Surely, his fertile imagination had many, many more stories left to tell. Thankfully, he did leave quite a visual legacy, including such intriguing anime films as Millennium Actress, PaprikaTokyo Godfathers. But before he became internationally renowned for his anime directing, Kon began his visual career as a manga artist while still a college student.

Serialized in Japan almost a quarter century ago, Kon’s “first long-form manga,” Tropic of the Sea, hits Stateside shelves in English translation next week. In spite of its 23 years, Sea is more relevant than ever as an environmentalist parable – mermaids, 60-year-old eggs, and underwater shrines, notwithstanding! More presciently spooky than not, Sea predates the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami by more than two decades …

Change is coming all too quickly to the small seaside town of Ade. Outsiders are encroaching with their curiosity and cameras, eager to find out more about the mysterious Hiratsu Shrine. The 23rd head priest, Yozo Yashiro, has turned media savvy, ready to expose the family’s traditions and secrets. Hoping to capitalize on the luxury development happening on the once-pristine beach, Yozo is all about luring the tourists up the steep cliffs to view …  a mermaid egg. For generations upon generations, the Yashiro family has nurtured a single egg in which incubates the next mer-person over 60 years; in return, the mer-people have shared the sea’s bounty with the villagers while protecting their home from the sea’s power.

Yozo’s aging father is furious, leaping out of his hospital bed to prevent further encroachment. Yozo’s son, Yosuke, rightfully worries about the family’s future. Priest Yozo has quite the convincing argument in embracing so-called progress: “When young people move to the city, they don’t come back.” What’s the point of protecting tradition when the future looks so diminished? Yosuke and his younger friends need to figure out where they stand … and what they need to do – and fast! Because that magical mer-egg waits for no human …!

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 1990, 2011, 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

My Father’s Arms Are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde, Illustrated by Øyvind Torseter, translated by Kari Dickson

My Father's Arms Are Like a BoatA dear friend lost her mother this week; even if a parent is granted almost a century of life well lived, the surviving child’s loss resonates for always. When a parent dies while the child is still very young, to understand and accept such loss must be an even greater challenge. Stein Erik Lunde’s gentle, caring story, with simple, beckoning art gorgeously created by Øyvind Torseter, provides comfort and understanding without artificial reassurance. Their team effort is a rare gift that belongs on every shelf.

A young boy goes to bed, keeping the door open to his father, “‘[s]o that your dreams can come out to me.'” But the house is “quieter now than it’s ever been,” and sleep eludes the unsettled child. He returns to the living room, and as the father holds him cheek to cheek, the two discuss the trees, birds, and fox outside.

The boy remembers his grandmother “at the old people’s home,” where his father laughed, and listens as his father explains that his mother will “‘never wake up again … not where she is now.'” Still sleepless, they bundle up to watch the night sky, perhaps catch a shooting star: “I wonder if our wish will come true if we wished for the same thing.” Under that vast darkness, the boy knows his “dad’s arms are like a boat,” one in which he will always find protection and warmth.

Artist Torseter uses a uniquely collaged style that combines crisp architectural model-like settings with hand-drawn people, animals, and comforting objects of home inside (a worn stuffed animal, a slightly open book, lined-up dirty dishes), as well as details of activities in motion outside, such as footsteps in the snow, growing piles of firewood in the making, the birds exploring scattered bread. The book’s message is clear: time, change, life continues outside, but home (together with father and grandmother) provides the waiting refuge. Death happens to us all, but the gentleness of this soothing story can help ease the way …

Readers: Children

Published: 2012 (United States)

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Filed under ...Absolute Favorites, ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, .Translation, European

Black Flame by Gerelchimeg Blackcrane, translated by Anna Holmwood

Black FlameWinner of China’s National Children’s Literature Award, Black Flame is an engrossing, often heartstring-pulling adventure told from the point of view of a majestic, lion-like, blue-black Tibetan Mastiff. Two things kept going through my head as the pages turned swiftly: 1. the novel reads like an older child’s version of Helen Manos’ gorgeous picture book, Samsara Dog, except all the incarnations belong to a single pooch with one life to live; and 2. no child should go through life without a special pet (yes, we’re finally welcoming a little hypoallergenic – achoos away! – kitty arriving home this month!).

Kelsang loses his mother as a puppy and grows up the playmate of his Master’s young son as he develops into an expert sheepherder. Two strangers appear one day, ply the Master with alcohol, and Kelsang finds himself taken away in chains to a city far from the grazing grasslands. He’s made to brutally battle other dogs, finds temporary respite with an old painter who feeds him but barely notices him, is sold again to a greedy dealer who keeps him chained waiting for the highest bidder. Kelsang discovers his great strength, unfortunately in horribly violent situations; he watches other dogs die, some even of broken hearts.

When he escapes once more, he happens upon two campers, one of whom is Han Ma, a kind young man who literally frees Kelsang from his chains of bondage. Han Ma proves to be the master Kelsang has been waiting for, but he will have to endure many more complications before the pair can be permanently united.

For those unfamiliar with this part of the world (like me), Black Flame offers ample opportunity to learn about lifestyles unique to nomadic highlands and crowded cities, not to mention the magnificence of mastiffs. That Kelsang must face so many obstacles before he’s finally granted contentment grows somewhat tedious before book’s end, but his utter devotion and unconditional love for Han Ma is impossible to ignore, and unforgettable to behold.

Having never seen a Tibetan Mastiff, I went looking for Google images and learned that the world’s most expensive dog is believed to be … what else, a Tibetan Mastiff (!), who at 11 months old sold for $1.5 million! That’s not a typo! If the three-foot-tall, 180-pound “Big Splash” is anything like loyal Kelsang, he’ll prove to be someone’s priceless treasure indeed.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2005 (China), 2013 (Canada, United States)

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Translation, Chinese, Mongolian, Tibetan

Rainbow Stew by Cathryn Falwell

Rainbow StewThis week has been especially stormy and wet, so I thought I needed to throw in a rainbow in the midst of bursting clouds.

The waking glee of three young children staying with their grandfather quickly turns to “[w]himper, sigh, cloudy sky,” when their plans for outdoor adventures get rained out. But Grandpa isn’t going to let a few drops get in the way and announces “‘Let’s go and find some colors for my Rainbow Stew!'” Amidst the excited “[s]plish, splash, puddle dash,” Grandpa and his grandtrio head to the lush garden where they pick a bounty of green, yellow, purple, red, brown, and orange vegetables. Back inside, the foursome “[p]eel, slice, chop, and dice” their harvest, until soon enough, the Rainbow Stew warms both the kitchen and four hungry, happy bellies.

While her words have no ethnic-specific identifiers, Cathryn Falwell (Butterflies for Kiri) enhances her story with multi-culti hues, choosing to give her story’s family – via her charming illustrations – African American heritage. She then adds small details throughout that wordlessly strengthen her prose: a grocery list that includes “tofu,” a reminder note to “call Lee” – surely a nod to Falwell’s wonderful indie press Lee & Low Books, a framed graduation picture of a young woman who is most likely the children’s mother, a copy of her own book – David’s Drawings (also published by Lee & Low) – pulled from the shelves and left on the floor as if in mid-read, the children’s art displayed throughout the house, and a wall calendar turned to the month of July which means the kids are enjoying their summer vacation. By both showing and telling, Falwell’s latest is a welcome rainbow of vibrant hues, ready and waiting to share.

Readers: Children

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, African American, Nonethnic-specific

The Deep, Deep Puddle by Mary Jessie Parker, illustrated by Deborah Zemke

Deep Deep Puddle“On a busy street in the late afternoon, the rain begins …” Okay, so it’s sunny out at the moment, but it is late afternoon, just the time of day when I’m most likely thinking about total escape. Come join me as I fall head first into The Deep, Deep Puddle.

The first to discover such depths is “One shaggy dog,” who wanders a little too close and “…Glub … Glub … Glub … he sinks out of sight.” But no need for worry, because soon enough, he’s joined by two too-curious stray cats, three thirsty squirrels … six distracted tourists … nine fleeing robbers … until 10 police officers finally appear and “Halt” the in-going, wet traffic.

Eleven tanker trucks with 12 workers manage to “Schlurp! Schlurp! Schlurp!” the puddle away, and a countdown to order allows 10 officers to arrest nine robbers while eight vendors sell the spectators snacks and seven taxis reappear to ferry six tourists elsewhere. Meanwhile, the five children and the rest of the menagerie of once sodden creatures return to terra firma … at least until the next deep, deep puddle appears.

Illustrator Deborah Zemke‘s colorful, whimsical style adds delightful depth to author Mary Jessie Parker’s forwards-and-backwards watery adventures. From the playful feline pair reaching to touch their reflections, to the sinking tourist reaching up and out to save his cell phone, to the half-masked robber trying to gather his spilled bills, to the crowd of sidewalk gawkers witnessing the puddle’s schlurping-up, Zemke imbues her gleeful pictures with energy and motion, perched on the edge of anticipation and discovery, not to mention just plain old-fashioned cheery fun.

Go head … the workday is almost over. Come jump right in!

Readers: Children

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Flight BehaviorOnce upon a time, I loved every book Barbara Kingsolver wrote: The Bean Trees grew into me, then Homeland and Other Stories, Animal Dreams (still my favorite), Pigs in Heaven. Heresy, I know, but Poisonwood Bible was not a favorite, but after surviving Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I had to admit that my devotions diminished. Then came Flight Behavior last fall, and I couldn’t seem to avoid seeing that title bandied about in various literary listserv headlines, best-of compilations, award finalist short and longlists. So, in a fit of nostalgia, I hit ‘play.’

Dellarobia Turnbow is a discontented mother of two young children, trapped in a shot-gun marriage at age 17. Eleven years later, she’s still living in tiny Feathertown, Tennessee, in a house built by her in-laws, beholden to them for what little she and her sweet (but dull) husband have. Hiking up the mountains with intentions to flee her  confining life – by starting an affair with the local telephone repairman – she comes upon a forest of monarch butterflies. The locals think it’s a miracle (Dellarobia’s mother takes groups up there for a fee!), the news goes national, and Dr. Ovid Byron arrives to tell the world that this disruption in the migration pattern of these majestic butterflies is actually an aberration of nature signaling disasters yet to come. Ovid’s passionate erudition is both an intellectual and emotional charge for Dellarobia who, surprise!, turns out to have a brain too big for her small-minded town. She spends three-quarters of the book in self-absorbed angst, and when she finally makes a major decision (spoiler alert!), a sudden deluge inundates her entire life.

Somehow, I managed to survive 17 hours of dogged, misplaced loyalty. Kingsolver herself reads Flight Behavior – and her website shouts, “audiobook wins raves.” A link to a Publisher’s Weekly review touts, “Kingsolver proves an excellent reader of her own work, perfectly conveying both Dellarobia’s gossipy, accented smalltown neighbors and the distinctive Jamaican accent of intellectual Ovid …” That supposed “distinctive Jamaican accent” is most definitely not; what comes forth is some indistinguishable cacophony. But here’s the worst offense (did the reviewer actually listen in full?): the good doctor makes a distinct point to the shut-in Dellarobia who questions his background about being from “‘The United States of America. St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.'” The word “Jamaica” does not appear anywhere in the book. Not all islands are the same. Nor are all island accents interchangeable, either!

Oh, but I digress. If read you will, be sure to choose the page. Just in case you had any doubt that this is a novel with a message, be warned: from deforestation, rising tides, mudslides, global warming, a flood of epic proportions, and more, it’s all in there. As important as environmental awareness, protection, and active restoration are, such sledgehammer reminders of our earth under threat doesn’t necessarily make for effective storytelling.

Tidbit: I’m loathe to leave you without an environmentally protective alternate suggestion … so might I suggest the witty and rollicking Ruth Ozeki? I adored both My Year of Meats and All Over Creation; her latest, A Tale for the Time Being, sits high on my ‘must-read’ piles.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific