Summer Books

Ahh, the pile of summer books has started to build. Our summer books, however, aren’t the typical escape to the beach reads that you might expect. We do our most serious reading in the summer.

Why? First of all, in Arizona it is too hot to go outside unless you enjoy dehydration and heat exhaustion. In that way, our summer is like winter in other places. You curl up next to the air conditioner with a cold drink, and a good book. Secondly, in summer we have huge blocks of free time. No reading twenty minutes and then having to run somewhere. I have read to my son for hours, until my voice is hoarse and then we read silently together.

With this strong commitment to reading, we have to be prepared with our private library of books. I usually weed out our current library, hit the used bookstores and trade for as many bargain books as we can afford. We can go to the library and run our errands now while it is relatively cool, no need to get in a hot car and swelter in July. And studies have shown that having books around the house is important, so I don’t mind the investment.

Here’s what is on the bookshelf right now. I’m sure you’ll be seeing reviews as the summer progresses.

Grow by Juanita Havill and Stanislawa Kodman (Illustrator)

I’m really looking forward to trying this one, because we already enjoyed another by Juanita Havill.

I Heard It from Alice Zucchini: Poems About the Garden by Jaunita Havill and Christine Davenier (Illustrator)

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt and David Small (Illustrator) an Ala Notable Children’s Books.

It has animals!

The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean by Trevor Corson

Yes, this is an adult book. I tend to read adult nonfiction aloud with a bit of “filtering,” if the themes are really adult.

A Country Year: Living the Questions by Sue Hubbell

A traditional favorite from years past that we will probably revisit.

If you have any further suggestions for summer books, we would love to hear them.

Pet Science Book Review

Pet Science: 50 Purr-fectly Woof-Worthy Activities for You & Your Pets by Veronika Gunter and Rain Newcomb, Illustrated by Tom LaBaff

What do you think of when you hear the term “animal science?” Do you think of wild animals, like tigers or bears bounding through the brush? Wildlife biologists and ethologists do study wild animals in the natural habitats. Many of us, however, have animals right in our homes that can be studied as well and we tend to overlook them. Authors Veronika Gunter and Rain Newcomb have come up with 50 science-related activities to answer questions about our pets that don’t involve going on a safari or visiting an exotic locale.

This book covers all sorts of pets, not just dogs and cats. Birds, rabbits, rodents, and even snakes and hermit crabs are all included. The authors also bring up and answer some compelling questions, such as why do cats lie on magazines, newspapers or books and do they have a preference? Why do dogs circle around before they lie down? Why do cats like to get into paper bags (or in our case, the cloth bags we use instead of paper bags)? Each question is followed by a list of materials to gather to perform the experiment and then instructions on how to perform it. Once the experiment is finished, the authors then answer the question in depth.

Gunther and Newcomb might have separated the answers to the experimental questions into another section, for a couple of reasons. First, I have found that if the answer is readily available, the child is less likely to perform the activity. Second, if the child sees the expected answer, then they try to match it, regardless of their actual results. Finally, when people find out an answer for themselves, then they tend to remember it longer. That is not to say that the authors shouldn’t have given the answers, because the answers are highly informative.

I think the authors have done a good job in choosing activities that will engage children, but will also be safe and enjoyable for their pets. Many of the activities have potential to be developed further into science fair projects. I don’t usually pay much attention to the glossary, but theirs is extensive, obviously the product of their collaboration with a veterinarian. It covers from pages 76-80. Did you know that the chemical that is attractive to cats in catnip is nepetalactone? That is an example of the type of information that can be found in the glossary.

Overall, I would way this book would appeal to children who are interested in their pets, in science and/or who enjoy hands-on learning activities. Children who have expressed an interest in becoming a veterinarian might also find it useful. The book even suggests that if the child doesn’t have a pet, he or she can still do the activities with a friend’s pet, with the class pet or by observing animals at the zoo. With all those options, a lot of fun and learning are sure to ensue.

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week the celebration is at Tales From the Rushmore Kid.

Women Artists: Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo

Because March is National Women’s History Month, let’s look at two books about famous women artists: Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo. Both are in the “Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists” series by Mike Venezia.

Georgia O’Keeffe starts with a breathtaking portrait of a young Georgia by her husband, the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz. The next few pages show some of her paintings with just a few lines of explanation. Following is a cartoon about how this famous artist ate dirt as a child. What person, young or old, can’t relate to that with a grin? Venezia makes a point to explain early influences in Georgia’s life and how she studied to become an artist. He also emphasizes her interest in nature and use of bright colors.

Frida Kahlo is another vibrant female artist who used bright colors, but her life was very different from Georgia O’Keeffe’s. Frida was ill as a child and then the victim of a severe bus accident. She was in pain and had serious health problems throughout her life. Frida is known for her intense, riveting self-portraits. Like Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida had a famous husband, the artist Diego Rivera.

Although I highly recommend these books, I do have one small note of caution. Because they contain paintings by adult artists, a few of the images may be unsettling. In Georgia O’Keeffe, one of her paintings shows a dead rabbit, and the author chose Paul Cezanne’s “The Large Bathers” as an example of an artwork that influenced O’Keeffe. I never thought much about nudity in art until I found a piece of construction paper taped over a nude in one of Venezia’s other books at the library, which is why I mention it. In Frida Kahlo there is a graphic painting of her illness where food is pouring out of her mouth that could be disturbing. The artwork by other Mexican artists consists of scenes of war.

On the other hand, the art can be exquisitely beautiful as well, and shouldn’t be missed. Georgia O’Keeffe’s giant flowers are soft and entrancing. Frida Kahlo is a petite woman with a huge presence in her paintings.

As an art masterpiece volunteer for five years, I learned to treasure Mike Venezia’s books. He gives clear and informative discussions of the artist’s life illustrated with a good number of well-chosen examples of their work. The format is always similar in a comfortable way, with humorous cartoons to add instant kid appeal. The books are slim 8 x 9 ½-inch paperbacks that are easy to hold and carry. The best part is the books can be used with children of a wide range of ages and levels of art experience.

If you want to expose children to artists and art history, you should consider these books.


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week join the action at Lori Calabrese Writes!

Georgia O’Keeffe (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists) by Mike Venezia

Frida Kahlo (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists) by Mike Venezia

Storytellers

In the “What Picture Books Tell Us About Writing” post, I mentioned how it seems like people are often categorized as writers or illustrators, at least for children’s picture books. Later I realized there is probably at least one other group, those that use oral language. Storytellers, poets and songwriters would fit in this group.

I once went to a wonderful presentation by the children’s book author, Jim Arnosky. Mr. Arnosky is both a writer and an illustrator of many nonfiction books about animals and the natural world. He sang a few songs during the presentation, and then shared that the words to his books often came to him in the form of songs and/or rhymes. I remember being fascinated at the time, because although I tell bedtime stories every night and have sung hundreds of made up silly songs, I don’t think any of them have been book material. What a wonderful ability to have.

Have you ever turned a song into a book?

Books by Jim Arnosky
All About Turkeys (All About) by Jim Arnosky

Drawing from Nature by Jim Arnosky