Pretty and enthusiastic—but insubstantial despite its heft.

THE BIG BOOK OF BELONGING

Learn about our many connections to the natural world.

Double-page spreads of colorful natural scenes greet readers with four to six trivia facts grouped loosely within a theme. Some of the information is fairly vague (if lyrical); an autumn fact states that “berries ripen and mushrooms burst from the damp ground,” but that’s species- and location-specific. Other statements are oversimplified to the point of inaccuracy, as when readers are told, “Fava beans can send chemical messages to each other through their roots.” Technically, these plants are communicating via a symbiotic connection that exists among many species (not just fava beans) and a fungus in the soil. The inclusion of some statements is downright baffling, as in one that states, “Some people think the [Coriolis effect] happens in bath tubs!” Since scientists have stated for decades that there are too many variables in bathtub construction for this to be the case, why say that “some people think” so? There are no citations or bibliography, so caregivers and educators hoping to help curious readers learn more will have to scramble for additional information. A glossary of just six words and a seek-and-find game are pretty anemic additions.

Pretty and enthusiastic—but insubstantial despite its heft.   (index) (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-500-65264-0

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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Pretty but insubstantial.

THE BIG BOOK OF BIRDS

Zommer surveys various bird species from around the world in this oversized (almost 14 inches tall tall) volume.

While exuberantly presented, the information is not uniformly expressed from bird to bird, which in the best cases will lead readers to seek out additional information and in the worst cases will lead to frustration. For example, on spreads that feature multiple species, the birds are not labeled. This happens again later when the author presents facts about eggs: Readers learn about camouflaged eggs, but the specific eggs are not identified, making further study extremely difficult. Other facts are misleading: A spread on “city birds” informs readers that “peregrine falcons nest on skyscrapers in New York City”—but they also nest in other large cities. In a sexist note, a peahen is identified as “unlucky” because she “has drab brown feathers” instead of flashy ones like the peacock’s. Illustrations are colorful and mostly identifiable but stylized; Zommer depicts his birds with both eyes visible at all times, even when the bird is in profile. The primary audience for the book appears to be British, as some spreads focus on European birds over their North American counterparts, such as the mute swan versus the trumpeter swan and the European robin versus the American robin. The backmatter, a seven-word glossary and an index, doesn’t provide readers with much support.

Pretty but insubstantial. (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-500-65151-3

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care.

OIL

In 1977, the oil carrier Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into a formerly pristine Alaskan ocean inlet, killing millions of birds, animals, and fish. Despite a cleanup, crude oil is still there.

The Winters foretold the destructive powers of the atomic bomb allusively in The Secret Project (2017), leaving the actuality to the backmatter. They make no such accommodations to young audiences in this disturbing book. From the dark front cover, on which oily blobs conceal a seabird, to the rescuer’s sad face on the back, the mother-son team emphasizes the disaster. A relatively easy-to-read and poetically heightened text introduces the situation. Oil is pumped from the Earth “all day long, all night long, / day after day, year after year” in “what had been unspoiled land, home to Native people // and thousands of caribou.” The scale of extraction is huge: There’s “a giant pipeline” leading to “enormous ships.” Then, crash. Rivers of oil gush out over three full-bleed wordless pages. Subsequent scenes show rocks, seabirds, and sea otters covered with oil. Finally, 30 years later, animals have returned to a cheerful scene. “But if you lift a rock… // oil / seeps / up.” For an adult reader, this is heartbreaking. How much more difficult might this be for an animal-loving child?

Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care. (author’s note, further reading) (Informational picture book. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3077-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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