With Earth Day (April 22) soon upon us, Eliot Schrefer looks at four new children’s picture books exploring the beauty — and adventure — to be found in the natural world.
Robins! How They Grow Up
Written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow
Clarion Books, 48 pp., ages 6-9
With wit and exuberance, Eileen Christelow narrates the lives of a family of robins, from their trip up north to roost in a shed through the laying of their eggs and the molting of their young. Robins! is stuffed with information, much of it fascinating and likely to be a surprise even to adult readers. (In two weeks, a baby robin will eat 14 feet worth of worms!) Christelow made the inspired choice to have this potentially dense non-fiction described by two chatty robin teenagers looking back over their childhood (“First, let’s tell about Dad’s long trip. / You mean before we were born?”), allowing this book to manage the rare trick of being both approachable and rigorous. Robins! doesn’t shy away from harsh realities — the clutch of four eggs leads to only two surviving fledglings — but that honesty will appeal to the young naturalist who prefers nature unvarnished.
Written by Tim McCanna, illustrated by Richard Smythe
Simon & Schuster / Paula Wiseman Books, 32 pp., ages 4-8
A solitary fox makes its way through a rainy day, at first just enjoying the musical sounds of falling water and then racing for cover when the storm turns severe. Tim McCanna’s language is both melodious and spare, with only a few evocative words on each page (“squish squelch glop”) that capture both the diversity of water sounds and the music of language. Richard Smythe’s ravishing illustrations mine the depths of grays and blues, zooming in to watch a mouse duck for shelter and then whirling to the sky to show the fox tracking an inundated stream. The narrative is slight, but the beauty of each page is great enough that the story is incidental, making Watersong the rare book that can satisfy toddlers and bigger kids at the same time.
The Lonely Giant
Written and illustrated by Sophie Ambrose
Candlewick Press, 32 pp., ages 4-8
A giant living in a bustling forest goes about doing what giants are unfortunately prone to do — ripping up trees. The woodland creatures start to disappear, until the giant finds himself all alone in a wasteland. When he finds one last yellow bird, he cages her, but she grows too sad to sing. After he releases his pet, the giant resolves to replant the forest, and sure enough the animals return. Though adults might roll their eyes at the transparent environmental allegory, its overtness will only increase its appeal to…