Archive for Nature


Written and illustrated by Lori Nichols

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Even before Maple was born, her parents planted a namesake tree for her. How very beautiful, and yet simply, this book begins. Starting out this way, in the book and in the little girl’s life proves without a doubt how much she is wanted and loved.

Her backyard tree is her best friend. The whimsical watercolors give this book a welcoming feeling. And Maple is welcomed by her tree, even when she is too loud to stay in the house.

The story continues on with surprising twists on an old theme. There will be a new baby in the house, but first there is a new tree in the yard.

Young readers and listeners will enjoy knowing what comes next without anyone needing to tell them.

Maple is a wonderful big sister. She shares her tree with her sister when she needs cheering up as well as her favorite stuffed toys.

This lovely picture book shows the passing of the seasons and the changes in the tree.

It will be a welcome book to first grade readers and will be an asset to the core curriculum in its depiction of nature and the child’s interaction with the environment. The literacy skills enhanced include sequencing, foreshadowing and picture clues.

  • MapleTitle: Maple
  • Author/ Illustrator: Lori Nichols
  • Publisher: Penguin, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, unpaged
  • ISBN:  978-0-399-16085-1
  • Genre: Fiction, nature, environment
  • Level: Beginning readers

Fly, Butterfly

Written by Bonnie Bader

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Beautiful real-life photography illustrates this well written non-fiction narrative book for first grade readers. It begins by explaining in lyrical language how a butterfly chooses a damp milkweed leaf on which to lay an egg.

The various stages of a butterfly’s life are described and shown clearly. This book designed with the core curriculum in mind shows the migratory habits and path of the monarch butterfly.

Differences between winter in the mid-continental United States and Mexico is used to explain the reason for the migration of the butterflies. Photographs showing them flying in huge cloud-like formations and covering ponds in search of a drink during their travels will amaze even the adults using the book.

This book makes an excellent read aloud for a preschool teacher or any librarian. The glossy finish on the paper makes the fantastic photography stand out.

  • Fly ButterflyTitle: Fly, Butterfly
  • Author: Bonnie Bader
  • Illustrator: photography
  • Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap, January 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: paperback
  • ISBN:  978-0-448-47919-4
  • Genre: nonfiction, nature

The Swamp Where Gator Hides

Written by Marianne Berkes
Illustrated by Roberta Baird

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In the Florida Everglades, an alligator lurks in the swamp beneath a thick layer of algae. He’s hungry and looking for his next meal. Who will it be? The duck that paddles in ooze? The turtle taking a snooze? Written as a cumulative rhyming story, in the same vein as “The House that Jack Built,” Berkes’ expressive language brings the still swamp to life: This is the egret / nesting up high / who watches the deer / grazing nearby / the bullfrog with / a rumbling sound / eyeing the snake who slithers around…

On every page, kids can search for half-submerged Gator, camouflaged in layered shades of green. As the poem builds, you can almost hear first graders shouting their guesses during a classroom read-aloud. The story concludes when Gator finally surfaces from the water. Out in the open and with a great big SNAP, he lurches at a hapless sunfish (cleverly designed so that the fish’s fate depends on the reader’s interpretation).

This book introduces young readers to swamp ecosystems and the critters that inhabit them, the role of camouflage, and predator-prey relationships. Back pages offer teachers and parents additional information on each animal featured, which can be used to foster discussion and/or lesson plans. “Tips from the Author” includes curriculum-related literary activities on rhyming, sequencing, and poetry, while “Tips from the Illustrator” provides a peek at Baird’s process into creating beautiful digital illustrations. More classroom resources can be found on the publishers website:

  • Swamp where the gator hidesTitle: The Swamp Where Gator Hides
  • Author: Marianne Berkes
  • Illustrator: Roberta Baird
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications, March 2014
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-470-0
  • Genre: Picture Book / Wildlife

Where Is Baby?

Written by Kathryn O. Galbraith
Illustrated by John Butler

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Where is baby hiding? Under a blanket? Behind a chair? While baby plays a game of hide-and-seek with Mama, other babies in the animal kingdom are hiding as well.

Baby deer disappear in dappled spring sunlight.
Baby polar bears vanish in the snow.
Baby wolves dash into their dens.

Gailbraith’s simple, lyrical language used in a repetitive fashion will not only assist first graders with their reading skills, but the descriptive verbs will also enhance their vocabulary and comprehension. The payoff at the end of the story is a tri-fold picture reveal, which conveys the message that no matter where babies hide, Mama is always nearby. Back pages offer “More About Babies” information, where readers can learn a couple of fun facts about each featured animal (e.g., a baby otter is called a pup, a baby elephant drinks 48 cups of mother’s milk each day, a robin chick weighs less than a quarter coin at birth, etc.).

Butler’s adorable full-spread illustrations capture the fine details of these sweet baby faces, and no doubt will win over the pre-K through first grade audience (even my 5th grader could not contain her squeals of delight!). Drawn with acrylic and color pencils, the soft lines and soothing pastel palettes are instantly calming, just right for any kind of downtime: a classroom story circle or a bedtime read-aloud.
More titles from the author and illustrator can be found on the publisher’s website:


  • BabyTitle: Where Is Baby?
  • Author: Kathryn O. Galbraith
  • Illustrator: John Butler
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2013
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-707-6
  • Genre: Picture Book

And the Winner Is… Amazing Animal Athletes

Written by Etta Kaner

Illustrated by David Anderson

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Get ready for the World Animal Games hosted by Walrus and Cockatoo! And the Winner Is… gives first grade readers a fun and fantastic opportunity to learn about the super power of animals. And it turns out that animals really are amazing athletes – especially in comparison to humans!

The events are high jump, sprinting, weight lifting, swimming, long jump, aerobatics, and the marathon. In each category there are four competitors.  Readers are asked to predict who will win and the results are often surprising!

The layout of each spread invites readers to pick and choose between small pieces of text according to their reading level. With commentary at the top by Walrus and Cockatoo, game cards for each competitor that give stats on the creature’s class, home, habitat, and food preferences, and witty banter between the athletes and the crowd, there really is something of interest to every reader.

One spread introduces the competitor and the next spread declares the winner.  This is followed by a comparison of how the winning result compares to the average human.  The flea, for example, wins the high jump contest by leaping 150 times its own height.  The human high jump record, in comparison, is less than two times the jumper’s height.  And the delightful and humbling fact is that the human doesn’t come close to winning in any of these categories.

Author Etta Kaner makes use of every opportunity to provide additional information about the animals and their amazing abilities without ever making it feel forced. As an illustrated guide, And the Winner Is… is perfectly suited to the first grade level but will also find appeal among younger and older students (and even adults!)

  • Winner IsTitle: AND THE WINNER IS… Amazing Animal Athletes
  • Author: Etta Kaner
  • Illustrator: David Anderson
  • Publisher: Kids Can Press, 2013
  • Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge
  • Format: Hardcover, 36 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-55453-904-8
  • Genre: Science, Nature
  • Lexile Score: IG550

Picture a Tree

Written and Illustrated by Barbara Reid

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Not since The Giving Tree has an author explored so many ways we commune with trees. Reid approaches trees from a purely artistic direction and ends up imparting much more information about the subject than seems possible at first. Each illustration begins with plasticine and paint and focuses on some aspect of the tree’s physical appearance. The pictures nearly jump off the page. Another device the author uses is to progress the tree through an entire calendar year.

First grade readers will see that bare winter limbs make a sort of etching on the sky. The first hints of spring colors will remind the reader of tentative attempts to draw, then an explosion of color. Tree leaves can create a tunnel of green when driving down a street or an entire ocean when viewed from above. A tree next to an apartment building is home to a multitude of animals and a storage space for a kite. They often become pirate ships, caves, clubhouses, or friends. In the hot summer sun, trees can be umbrellas. Trees of different ages correspond to the ages of people. Playing in the falling leaves feels like a good-bye party. Trees can be spooky around Halloween. Later, trees put on snowsuits, just like kids. Then they sleep like a baby until spring.

This unique approach will hold the reader’s attention and increase comprehension for beginning readers. The author’s excellent website ( provides more information about her methods and makes many suggestions for reading activities. This book has won numerous awards, won several starred reviews, and appeared on reading lists, including The Canadian Children’s Book Centre Best Books for Kids and Teens.


  • Picture a TreeTITLE: Picture a Tree
  • PUBLISHER: Albert Whitman & Company
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • EDITION: 2013
  • ISBN: 978-0-8075-6526-1
  • GENRE: Picture book, Trees
  • LEXILE: 390

Peep Leap

Written by Elizabeth Verdick
Illustrated by John Bendall-Brunello

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A delightful, adorable counting book for preschoolers, Peep Leap is the adventure of ten newly-hatched wood ducks taking the plunge from their nest in a tree to the ground far, far below. When all ten eggs have hatched, the Mama wood duck glides from the nest in the hollow of the tree to the ground below and begins to call for the baby ducks. One by one, the ducklings join her in the water below, until only one duckling is left in the nest.

Afraid to take that first “step,” the duckling hesitates. Mama duck gently encourages the baby, until, hooray, number ten duckling finally leaps! And then the family of ducklings, Mama duck, and Daddy drake duck swim ‘round and ‘round in the pond.

Peep Leap teaches the early math skill of counting from one to ten, counting backwards from ten to one, and numeral recognition. The illustrations are large and vibrant – just what a preschooler needs to enjoy the words of the story.

Parents will enjoy reading this sing-song, rhyming picture book to an older toddler or preschooler again and again. The rhythm is soothing, and one can just picture a small child tucked in the lap of mom or dad, listening intently to the story just before bedtime. Adults will also enjoy the lessons of courage and bravery, as well as the positive outcome resulting from the parent’s gentle encouragement of the slightly-less-than-brave duckling. And, parents or preschool teachers will want to use this book as an introduction to nonfiction literature. An explanation of the nesting and fledging of wood ducks is included on the very last page of the book.

Though this book would be best read aloud to a preschooler, late first grade students should be able to read the book with very little help and would most likely enjoy reading to a younger sibling or to a younger student in a peer-mentoring relationship.

Use this National Geographic site to look at photographs of other kinds of duck mamas and babies and other animals.

As follow-up, preschool activities, choose various items of different tactile materials in collections of ten to practice counting.

You might also try this fun game: use yellow cotton balls if available and play the game on a tabletop. Tape a circular piece of blue paper on one end of the table with masking tape. Place more than ten cotton balls on the other end of the table. Have the preschooler blow gently on the cotton balls until only ten are in the “pond.” He or she will need to stop often to count the number of cotton balls on the blue paper pond.

  • Peep LeapTITLE: Peep Leap
  • AUTHOR: Elizabeth Verdick
  • ILLUSTRATOR: John Bendall-Brunello
  • PUBLISHER: Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Julie Lavender
  • EDITION: Hard Cover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1477816400
  • GENRE: Picture Book
  • LEXILE: 410
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