Carolyn S. Combs, M.S.

Author - Sharing Nature with Children

Wild Bookshelf - Book Reviews

Page: 2



R1555328088.jpg - Book Cover

When Planet Earth Was New (2017)

Publisher: Owlkids
Author: James Gladstone
Illustrator: Katherine Diemert
Review Date: Jan 15, 2018

Brief overview:  Come meet fiery hot, lifeless, brand new planet Earth and witness the amazing changes, over millions of years, that created the cool green planet we call home today.

What I love about this book:  The simple straightforward text with repetition gives a strong sense of deep time and does a wonderful job of clearly conveying Earth’s complex history – no easy feat.  The text invites the reader into the story of our Earth and keeps the reader’s attention with questions and surprises.  The dynamic illustrations convey the wildness, the other-worldliness of new Earth and show the slow change to a cooler, more hospitable Earth, one populated with creatures strange, then familiar.  A glossary helps with the more challenging words and concepts and a Look Again section encourages further exploration and questioning.  It will be a privilege to share Earth’s incredible story with children, 4-8+, by reading and discussing this title.


You Nest Here With Me (2015)

Publisher: Boyds Mills Press
Authors: Jane Yolen, Heidi E. Y. Stemple
Illustrator: Melissa Sweet
Review Date: Oct 30, 2017

Brief overview: You Nest Here With Me, written by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (2015), is a fresh and unique lullaby, written in enchanting rhyme. While showing the myriad of places and ways birds nest with their young, the story draws an analogy between birds’ nests and human homes. The accurate information in the story, plus the back matter on the birds and an author’s note, carry this lullaby over into the realm of nonfiction.

What I love about this book: I’m in awe of Jane Yolen’s and Heidi Stemple’s informational, rhyme in perfect meter! What a grand feat and treat for the ear. I also love Melissa Sweet’s cool palette splashed with flourishes of warmth, whimsy and collage. There are recognizable details in the birds and their nests, and so much else to see in each illustration. Share this one at bedtime with four-to eight-year olds, and follow up with some time spent watching birds.


On Duck Pond (2017)

Publisher: Cornell Lab Publishing Group
Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Bob Marstall
Review Date: Oct 24, 2017

Brief summary: On Duck Pond written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall (2017). Jane Yolen’s vivid poem and Bob Marstall’s engaging and fun illustrations give the reader a front row seat in nature as a noisy raft of ducks lands and shatters the tranquillity of a pond, sending all manner of creatures away. As the ducks move on, the creatures return and bring a new peace to the pond, one that the reader shares in. Back matter about various species of ducks and other pond life will satisfy curious children ages three to five or six.

What I love about this book: I love the simple evocative language with its wonderful rhythm and rhyme. It begs to be read aloud. I admire Jane Yolen’s ability to show a moment in nature, one that shares a special feeling and a truth. I feel this book reads like nonfiction, though it’s shelved with fiction. It’s perfect for inspiring and informing a lesson on wetlands, and for reading before or after a visit to a pond any time of year.

(Apologies for the 3 month hiatus.  I’ve been extra busy training a standard poodle puppy, but am ready to begin reading and writing again.  I’ll kick off with binge of books from one of my favorite children’s nonfiction authors, Melissa Stewart.)


Can an aardvark Bark (2017)

Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Author: Melissa Stewart
Illustrator: Steve Jenkins
Review Date: Aug 15, 2017

Brief summary: Can an aardvark Bark, written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Steve Jenkins (2017), shares the sounds of wild animals, from bellows and barks to grunts and growls, and decodes their meanings, showing us how animals have thoughts and feelings not so different from our own.

What I love about this book: I love the fun, interactive question and answer format with the twist in the middle of the book. It will have children calling out and laughing. The simple yet lyrical language including rhyme and repetition makes the nonfiction information engaging and memorable. Steve Jenkin’s artwork pops off the page, and you can almost hear the animals talking with open mouths and expressive eyes. This picture book packs in information about thirty-five different animals, and is sure to make children and adults alike squeal and roar with delight! Great for ages 2-8.

five stars


Feathers: Not Just for Flying (2014)

Publisher: Charlesbridge
Author: Melissa Stewart
Illustrator: Sarah S. Brannen
Review Date: Aug 14, 2017

Brief summary: In Feathers: Not Just for Flying, author Melissa Stewart and illustrator Sarah S. Brannen (2014) share the surprising array of jobs performed by bird feathers. Each job is clearly and memorably explained through a simile comparing feathers to familiar objects like umbrellas, blankets, and sunscreen. A second layer of text provides a concrete example accompanied by realistic illustrations of the birds in their natural habitats and close-ups of the feathers and familiar objects. The book showcases birds and their feathers from around the world, including favorites like penguins and peacocks and less well-known species like American bittens and club-winged manakins.

What I love about the book: The use of similes to convey the jobs of feathers is clever and effective and fun. This book might be used for teaching a lesson on similes as well as on how animals are adapted to their environments.  I also love the illustrations and the layout that looks like a nature journal or scrapbook. Inclusion of birds in specific locations can prompt a trip to an atlas to find those places and to a bird book to find out where else the birds live.  Share this one with elementary-age children, especially after finding a feather together.

five stars


No Monkeys, No Chocolate (2013)

Publisher: Charlesbridge
Authors: Melissa Stewart, Allen Young
Illustrator: Nicole Wong
Review Date: Jul 31, 2017

Brief summary: Did you ever wonder where chocolate comes from? Look no further than No Monkeys, No Chocolate, written by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young (2013), illustrated by Nicole Wong, for the answer. This book traces the chocolate in our desserts back to the cocoa trees growing in tropical rain forests where the web of habitat, plants and animals help these trees thrive. Some of the players are quite surprising, like the coffin flies and fungi and monkeys! The cartoon bookworms commenting on the text will keep you laughing as your learn all about where and how the magical beans that make chocolate come from.

What I love about this book: What a fabulous book structure for teaching about how plants and animals and habitats interact and depend on each other, all while connecting this science to a beloved topic – chocolate. I love how this book makes learning fun and accessible to a wide range of ages with its three layers of text, engaging and informative illustrations, and back matter. I also love how the monkeys are saved for last, and that the reader gets to be in on the anticipation along with the book worms. Especially for aspiring writers, the author’s note about the development of this book is inspiring. The cherry on top is the “What You Can Do to Help” section that empowers children everywhere to help preserve tropical rainforests.

five stars


Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water Around the Earth (2017)

Publisher: The Blue Sky Press
Authors: Molly Bang, Penny Chisholm
Review Date: Apr 11, 2017

Brief summary: Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water Around the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm (2017). Our sun –lively, serious, knowledgeable – narrates this detailed account of the Earth’s water cycle, from ocean evaporation and cloud formation to the “great Ocean Conveyor Belt”. The sun paints a complete picture that links the sun and earth and water and life, our life, and inspires appreciation for water. The logical text flows as smoothly as water and is peppered with outstanding facts and graphics. The back matter will satisfy even the most curious children. This book is sure to invoke questions and help children gain a deep understanding and appreciation of the water cycle.

What I love about this book: I love the sense of scale and movement and endless cycling that the text and illustrations work together to create. I like how this book tackles big questions head-on and dives straight to the answers, not shying away from challenging words and ideas.

four stars


Grand Canyon (2017)

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Author: Jason Chin
Illustrator: Jason Chin
Review Date: Mar 23, 2017

Brief summary:  Grand Canyon, by author and illustrator Jason Chin (2017), takes the reader on a discovery hike through the Grand Canyon, showing why and when and how it formed, the life that flourishes there now, as well as the life and conditions of the deep past. This in-depth lesson on the canyon’s geology and ecology is firmly routed in science and brought to life with imagination and artistry that keep the pages turning. The journey concludes with a breathtaking panorama of the canyon and comprehensive back matter.

What I love about this book: I love the depth, length and seriousness of this book. It’s not a light treatment of a beautiful natural wonder, but a detailed look filled with lucid explanations and diagrams, challenging vocabulary and concepts, and stunning artwork. It’s a book to linger over, to go back to again and again with a curious child. Each visit will bring new insight and wonder.

five stars


Does a Fiddler Crab Fiddle? (2016)

Publisher: Persnickety Press
Authors: Corinne Demas, Artemis Roehrig
Illustrator: John Sanford
Review Date: Mar 13, 2017

Brief summary: Does a Fiddler Crab Fiddle?, written by Corinne Demas and Artemis Roehrig with paintings by John Sanford, reveals the life of fiddler crabs “in the most delightful way” – with silliness and relatability.

What I love about this book: Demas, Roehrig and Sanford make learning about fiddler crabs just plain old fun! The silly questions beg page turns and child responses. The questions effectively teach by relating the life of fiddler crabs to things that all children will be familiar with, such as sandcastles, magic and pizza. I love how a little nugget of information about these creatures is tucked into the nonfiction answer pages. I also love the engaging, expressive paintings, which bring the fiddler crabs to life and make one laugh out loud. Read this unforgettable nonfiction work out loud to children ages  4-8 today!

five stars



See What a Seal Can Do (2013)

Publisher: Candlewick
Author: Chris Butterworth
Illustrator: Kate Nelms
Review Date: Feb 27, 2017

Brief description: See What a Seal Can Do, written by Chris Butterworth and illustrated by Kate Nelms (2013), follows a grey seal as it transforms from a seemingly lazy, graceless sunbather into a swift, nimble acrobat of the sea, diving deep, hunting for fish, and evading predators. Come away with surprising new facts and appreciation for these puppy-eyed creatures.

What I love about the book: I like how the story reveals two opposite aspects of grey seals – the lazy sunbather that is a somewhat common site for beachgoers, and the “super-swimming underwater wonder” that is surprising because we don’often have a chance to see it. The voice is fun and celebratory. I loved the definition of flump, “…a flop and a jump both together.” The facts in small font contain wonderful tidbits such as seals breath out rather than in before they dive. Although the seal goes on a hunt and encounters a predator, the level of suspense is light and appropriate for children as young as preschool. I also love the green, blue and beach-beige palette, the light filtering down through the water, and the closeness of the seal in the illustrations. Gorgeous! A few of the illustrations have a sketch-like quality that might inspire some student drawings. Share it with nature-loving children, 4-8, today!

four stars