Book review: Driftwood Days, by William Miniver, illustrated by Charles Vess

Miniver, William. Driftwood Days. Illustrated by Charles Vess. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9780802853707. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7 Q8

Do you know how a branch turns into driftwood? In the autumn, a boy is watching as a branch breaks away from a beaver’s dam and takes an adventure through different seasons floating in the water and landing in the summer on a beach. The boy finds the driftwood and uses it as a pen in the sand, a pirate sword, a sand castle wall, and a souvenir. The illustrations tell the story and the sparse text accents the pages. The illustrations are full of movement and beauty. I live near the beach where we have driftwood, boats and nets. Children in the community I live in can see driftwood every day, however, they may not know the process of how a branch turns into driftwood. I plan on bringing in a branch and a piece of driftwood and reading this story, giving children a visual of the process. This adventure was inspired by the author’s prized piece of driftwood which he found on a beach on Long Island. Vess is a critically acclaimed artist and comic book illustrator who has won many Eisner Awards, Hugo Awards, and World Fantasy Awards. The end of the book includes the Author’s note which explains the importance of driftwood.

Verdict: With the themes of nature, science and discovery, children will enjoy the pictures and be enlightened by the story. While this book is perfect for readers who live along the coast and are exposed to driftwood, it is also a beautiful story that will interest and intrigue all children. I highly recommend it.November 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Tree and Me, by Deborah Zemke

Zemke, Deborah. The Tree and Me. (Bea Garcia series, book 4). Dial Books for Young Readers. 2019 $16.99. ISBN 9780735229419. 154 pages. Ages 6-9. P7Q8

Bea Garcia is on a mission to save the beloved tree, which she has names Emily, that sits right outside her classroom window. Problem is, a particularly annoying classmate has turned the tree into a potential hazard and Bea is determined to show everyone how valuable Emily is. Bea takes on the role of activist and enlists her classmates in the cause, and in the end must find a way to reach out to the obnoxious boy who started the whole mess. Together, they show the reader that you are never to young to make a difference. Each page contains both text and pencil sketch pictures illustrating the story, with lots of bubble dialogue between Bea and her classmates.

Verdict: A perfect beginner chapter book with eleven short chapters and illustrated pages. Young elementary classrooms can benefit from the message that working together, even with kids who get on your nerves, results in great outcomes. A wonderful book for the library too.

September 2019 review by Denyse Marsh.

Book review: Trees, by Pamela Hickman, illustrated by Carolyn Gavin

Hickman, Pamela. Trees. Illustrated by Carolyn Gavin. (Nature All Around series.) Kids Can Press, 2019. 32 pgs. $17.99. ISBN 9781771388047. Ages 7 and up. P9Q8

This is a new addition to the Nature All Around series. It is a factual general introduction on trees. It moves from a wide view on types of trees and narrows through the pages on the scientific parts of various trees, plus processes of photosynthesis and respiration. It then moves into the different seasons and what happens to trees in each period, and even covers beginning tree watching and touches on endangered trees. Contains very complete basic information and a glossary in the back. The illustrations are a bit elementary for identification purposes, although attractive to look at.

VERDICT: This is an excellent basic introduction to trees, and I even learned a couple of interesting tree facts. It is well organized and would be a great learning tool. The one drawback I observed was the illustrations, which seemed too basic for the information provided. It would be difficult to actually ID trees and some parts through the illustrations. But it is a great starting book, and educators could step in and add more detailed photographs or a field trip to continue this discovery of trees.

April 2019 review by Lynne Wright.


Book review: The Shady Tree, by Demi

Demi. The Shady Tree. Henry Holt and Company, 2016. $17.99. ISBN 9781627797696. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. Q7Q8

Spoiled Tan Tan owns a beautiful house that is shaded by a big tree. After asserting that he owned everything associated with the tree- the trunk, branches, leaves, and even the shade it cast. Ping, a poor but intelligent boy, liked to sit in the shade, and offers to buy it from TanTan. Greedy Tan Tan foolishly accepts the offer, and when Ping and his friends go anywhere the shade happens to be, even Tan Tan’s bedroom, Tan Tan gets angry and moves out. Ping never turns away anyone who wants to sit in the shade or experience the beauty of the tree.

VERDICT: This retelling of a Chinese folktale reminds us of the value of generosity. The story is simple, but the lovely illustrations (that remind me of Chinese miniature painting) will capture the attention of young readers.

February 2019 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Raising a Forest, by Thibaud Hérem

Hérem, Thibaud. Raising a Forest. Cicada, 2018. £9.95. 44p. ISBN 978-1-908714-52-7. Ages 9+. P4Q9

The French artist known for his architectural illustrations displays his passion for cultivating trees from seeds in his London apartment through this how-to explanation accompanied by a brief rationale and an annotation of The Man Who Planted Trees that inspired him. He explained that the book began as a diary about his early experiences of growing trees and then evolved into this small volume. Two-page spreads show the tree garden in four different seasons, and eleven types of trees each have two-page spreads.

Verdict: The hand-lettered text is sometimes hard to read, but the delicate detailed illustrations of trees, leaves, tools, and instructions have great charm. The text shows the almost obsessive pride Hérem takes in his work. The specialized title will have appeal to a small group of young readers, but it is memorable.

Fall 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Trees, by Lemniscates

Lemniscates. Trees. Candlewick, 2017. $14.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-7636-9001-4. Ages 3-5. P9Q9

Seasons, the purposes of trees (cleaning air, providing homes, shading, supplying food, etc.), and growth are highlighted with elegant mixed-media double-page illustrations. The environmental message ends with a child planting another tree while a chough (a black bird with a red beak), appearing on all the pages except the last one, watches him. The creator, a Barcelona collective, provides an anthropomorphic approach, and the book ends with the statement, “Trees cannot change their place in the world. So they are patient and learn to live where they are.”

Verdict: The superb graphic design and simple language, combined with basic concepts and environmentalism, make this peaceful, heart-warming book an excellent choice for pre-kindergarten children in their hectic worlds.

April 2017 review by Nel Ward.

[For further information on Lemniscates, see]


Book review: The Last Tree, by Ingrid Chabbert, illustrated by Guridi

Chabbert, Ingrid. The Last Tree. Illus. By Guridi. Kids Can Press, 2017. $17.95. unp. ISBN 978-1-77138-736-6. Ages 6-9. P8Q8

Imagine a world without trees. That’s the life of these two children until they find the last sapling endangered by a developer in their concrete world. The story, which begins with the narrator repeating his father’s story about playing in the grass, is told by an adult remembering his own childhood when he and a friend save the tiny plant. Bold but subdued double spreads in charcoal, ink, gouache, pencil, and digital art present the two friends as small and rounded abstract figures in the overwhelming city shown from a variety of perspectives. The French author and Spanish illustrator collaborated on this book with a small hope—that two children can save a tree even with the encroachment on the green world. The minimalist approach of the book makes this a good introduction to a discussion about the importance of environment and initiative.

March 2017 review by Nel Ward.