Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner

3.5 stars Children’s

I’m on the fence on this one.  This is a sweet, slow story which might not capture the attention of some children (like my young grandchildren) but I liked that it actually shows how animals live in winter.  This might be a good picture book for older readers who are looking for information on animals or a good bedtime story but my little readers didn’t care for it when I read it to them.

The story is told from the point of view of a young boy who is snow-skiing with his father out on the fresh-fallen snow.  Quietly they are alone, using hand-poles and navigating around trees and up and down hillsides throughout the story.  The story begins when the boy notices a squirrel scamper by and then, it vanishes.  The boy asks his father, “Where did it go?”  The story takes off as the father explains all the different wildlife that is hiding under and around the snowy area.

There are lots of animals included in this story: from the owls on the branches which the boy can see, to the hidden tiny shrews and voles in the chilly tunnels under his feet, and the fat bullfrogs sleeping under the snow, the duo continues on their journey through the snow.  They’re thinking about all the creatures that are around them in this white landscape.  You’ll need to stop and look at the illustrations in this book as many of the pages, the illustrator has layered the landscape so the reader can see the chipmunk under the snow with his nuts and leaves, the queen bee safely sleeping under the roots of an tree, and the mice cuddling up together to stay warm (just a few of the examples).  While not a bright and colorful book, the book hues take on the warmth of the story and the quietness of the snowy day.  3.5 stars

Wildoak by C.C. Harrington

5 stars YA/ Middle School

Twelve-year old Maggie has been to over three different schools and she has come to the conclusion that one wants her.  Her parents argue over her and she has no friends.   She finds comfort in the tiny world that she has created at home, surrounded by the little critters that welcome her just as she is.   School Nurse Nora knows Maggie all too well, for Maggie finds refuge in her office when the time is right.  See, Maggie stutters and her disability is not accepted.

I cringed, oh……. did I cringe!!  Maggie would do anything and I mean anything to get out of reading.   The author got my attention as these words fell across the page:

“ she drove the keenly sharpened

point deep










“Shock. Pain. Tears. The pencil protruded from her hand. The blood dripped.  Those sweet words.  Relief. Her Escape.  It had worked. Again.” 

As Maggie was dismissed from class, excitement and relief filled her head as again, she had dodged the bullet.  She had found her way out of the classroom when it was close to her turn to read out-loud in the classroom.  Maggie didn’t register the pain or discomfort that ran through her body for she was used to it, anything was easier than reading out loud. 

Her parents feel there are two options for Maggie now:  an institute for treatment or her grandfather who she hasn’t seen for years.  All I knew was that Maggie would be leaving her tiny world at home.  The only place where she felt comfortable, with her little critters, were staying home with her mom.   Her grandfather was a doctor who lived in the country so I hoped that Maggie would find some new animal friends in her new surroundings.    

We also meet Rumpus in this book.  Rumpus was a birthday gift and what a surprise this was to both Rumpus and Anabella.  Unprepared for her new snow leopard, Anabella orders Rumpus removed from her home when she returns home to find her home in disarray.  Finding himself in another new surroundings, Rumpus is now in Wildoak Forest and he must learn how to survive on his own.

Even though she didn’t know her grandfather very well, I felt that Maggie was relieved and comfortable around him.  She seemed to fit right into his world and he accepted her without trying to “fix her.”   Maggie and her grandfather create a special bond based on acceptance and love.

Maggie discovers Rumpus inside Wildoak Forest and I loved their relationship.  “Something was wrong.  He stared at her and they were quiet, saying lots of things without saying anything at all.”  It was supposed to be two weeks spent with her grandfather learning to overcome her stuttering yet during these two weeks, I felt Maggie was empowered and she totally forgot about her disability.

This was a fabulous story filled with struggles, emotions, and journeys.  I highly recommend this book.

Odder by Katherine Applegate

4 stars Middle School/Children’s Chapter

He was warned yet the temptation was too great.  He heard his mother’s words, for she had said it to him many times yet he thought he’d be safe. He wanted to go to the open sea and now, Odder finds himself at a rescue, facing the consequences for not listening to his mother’s warning.  This new world that Odder finds himself in, is so different from the bay, will he ever make it back home? 

Written in prose, I think this writing style helps convey the author’s message while making the book more approachable to more readers.  Readers don’t give so overwhelmed with words and they can read the prose in sections.   I feel that prose can create more emotion and response from its readers and I was glad to see that the author chooses this method to write this book.   

This was an entertaining story about one otter yet I learned a great deal about his species in the process.  Learning about rescue operations with these marine mammals was educational and enlightening also. I liked how this book was based on true events and how the events in the book came full circle. The last chapter of this book was my favorite.  This would make a great read aloud, bedtime story or just a book to read on your own.  

Snack, Snooze, Skedaddle: How Animals Get Ready For Winter by Paula Salas

5 stars Nonfiction Children’s

This is a very informative book and I liked that it covered more than just hibernate.    Normally when we think of animals in winter, we think of hibernate but this book talks about what other animals do beside hibernate and this is greatly appreciated.  I also liked that it covered some nontraditional animals which is always good to learn about.   The illustrations are bright and colorful and the pages weren’t too busy and disturbing.   Told in verse, this is a fun informative book.  5 stars

Bob Ross: My First Book of Nature By Robb Pearlman

5 stars Children’s Board Book

I had to check out this board book when I saw that Bob Russ illustrated it.  If you’re wondering if the illustrations are beautiful, the answer is yes!  The illustrations are just like his pictures with different layers of colors, where you feel like you are standing directly in front of the scene that he created.  The reflection in the rippling water,  the haziness of the clouds, and the gradual rise of the sun all help create the mood of picture.  Such precision and detail, they truly are amazing.

The text in this is board is great too.  I love the big, bold print and the tone that the author uses as he asks his readers to enjoy the great outdoors.  Robb wants his readers to appreciate nature and he does that by having them see and experience life outside in the different seasons.  Using a variety of methods: looking at the clouds, listening to the water, talking to trees, looking at animals, and even resting, the author tries to get the reader to fully see nature.

It’s a cute and quiet book for little ones. I like the different seasons and it gives little ones things to think about when they go outside. I think the illustrations could be used for additional “talk time” with your little ones.  Depending on the age, for each illustrations your conversations could involve: what sounds do they think they would hear there, what animals might live there, would it be a good place to visit, and what would they do there?  5 stars.

“Each one of us sees nature differently.  And that’s the way you should paint it – just the way you see it.” 

National Geographic Birding Basics: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Great Bird-watching by Noah Strycker

5 stars Nonfiction

This is a good basic book.  It provides a good starting point to bird watching as it doesn’t give you too much information but gives a lot of different information to get someone started.  There was a lot of different topics, some topics that I haven’t even thought about or cared about but I read through them and I can see why they were included in here.  This book is very thorough which is too be expected from National Geographic.

As I have said before, there are a lot of topics covered in this book.  Every two-page spread covers a topic and with 239 pages, you have many subjects to read about.  On these two-page spreads, you might find some Fun Facts, ID Tips (how to identity tricky birds), or some Try This ideas (ideas for you to try to actually put that two-page spreads topic into reality). There is also an Introduction, Glossary, an Index, some acknowledgements and some information about the author in the back.  Throughout the book, you’ll find some two-page spreads scattered about that are titled “In the Field with Noah.” These pages feature Noah’s own pictures with captions of actual footage he has captured out in the field. 

I did find some interesting topics while reading this book and I did find myself frustrated, as I wanted more information on a topic but the book was just the basics.  I realize I will have to research those topics further, hopefully in another National Geographic book to find more information.  I do think this would be a good starting point for someone who thinks they like birds.  There is a lot of think about and look at when thinking about birds. 

The book talks about 15 terms that they recommend you learn to identify birds, I thought that was interesting. They mention the website BirdCast which uses radar to show the migration forecasts of birds and I think that this would be cool to check out. I know that squirrels hate chili pepper so you can put that in your bird feeder to keep squirrels out but now I know that it’s the capsaicin in the chili powder that the birds can’t taste.  I liked the Pronouncing Bird Names pages. The book also mentioned the Merlin Bird ID app that you can download for free to help identify birds, I need to check into that one.  I think my grandkids will also like to use that one.  There are a few sections devoted to eBird, a free website that helps you track your own bird sightings.  The book also lists other websites that might be helpful.  See, I told you there was a lot of fun interesting information in this book.   One more little piece of information:  “ when you see an unfamiliar bird, keep it in view as long as possible and make conscious observations of its characteristics.” Then, before looking it up in a book, write down what you saw.  Well, I don’t do that.  I grab the book and start looking up the bird as I’m watching it.  I’m going to have to change that.  As I find myself confused and just like the book says, “it’s easy to see an illustration and suddenly “remember” something you never really noticed.” 

The illustrations/pictures are beautiful.  Most of the pictures are photos but there are some drawings and models of birds with the different parts of the bird labeled.  The realistic photos provide great detail and I think they definitely add to the book.

This is another excellent resource book from National Geographic but just remember, it’s just the basics.  It’ll get you started and, on your way, to bird watching.  5 stars.

15 terms to identify birds: Crown, nape, supercilium, lore, auricular, malar, eye ring, wing bar, primaries, secondaries, tertials, rump, undertail coverts, rectrices, and flanks

Home: a Peek-Through Picture Book by Britta TeckenTrup

3 stars Children’s Picture Book

I don’t even know where to begin with this review.  This children’s book is packed with a variety of different animal homes.  I enjoyed taking a walk with the bear cub as he saw all the animals in the forest.  I remember reading about beavers, ovenbird, salmon, rabbits, wolves, terns, and bears in this book and the homes that they make in the forest. 

You will find yourself catching a beat as you read this rhyming book and looking at everything on the pages before you.  There are numerous cut-outs on each page so take your time when you look through this book, you don’t want to miss anything.

I really wished this book would have been printed on heavier paper.  There were tons of cut-outs in this book and in the back of my head, I’m wondering how this book will hold up over time.

I liked the language in this book as the author gives the reader some great vocabulary words as he helps the reader become connected to the forest (snout, dome, weaves, warren, eerie, prowl, unfurled, swarms, etc.).  I had a problem with some of the text being printed on a dark background, I wish they would change the color of the text to a brighter color instead of black when they print on a dark background, it helps the text stand out and helps kids it better.

These illustrations were busy, I mean really busy.  I thought the illustrations took away from the text.  The text seemed swallowed up by the illustrations which was a shame to me.  The cut-outs were great but again, I thought there were perhaps too many of them.  Not every page needs to have cut-outs nor so many.  Again, this is my opinion as this is my review.  The book felt so busy to me.  3.5 stars.

Little Houses by Kevin Henkes

5 stars Picture Book

Walking along the shoreline, you spot the most unique shells but are they just pretty?  As you read this picture book by Kevin Henkes, he has you examining shells beyond their outer beauty.  For you are now looking at these shells from all angles:  where did this shell come from?  Is it empty? If not, who lived in it?  If someone lives in it, who is it? Why is it shaped the way it is?  Why does it make the sound it makes when I put it up to my ear?  As this granddaughter takes a walk with her grandmother on the beach, she is taught to look beyond what her eyes sees. 

I liked the flow of the book as it begins with the granddaughter just enjoying her walk on the beach looking at all the shells and then, as her grandma starts talking to her about the shells, her mind gets going about all the different possibilities these shells might have when a few minutes ago, they were just pretty shells.  Grandma helped the girl start to think on her own.  This creative thinking continues as the girl looks out into the water and she begins to wonder about life under the water (something that she can’t see from above).  Grandpa gets into the picture when he tells her how big the world is and that someday she’ll know everything about it. With great illustrations that share the stage with the text, this book is fantastic.  What a great story time book, bedtime book, or read aloud.  Would be a good book to help start a discussion on questions children have about the world they live it.  I highly recommend this one.   5 stars         

A Day For Sandcastles by JonArno Lawson

4 stars Picture book

It’s a beautiful day for building a sandcastle or should I say sandcastles?  That’s exactly what happens in this picture book as these three young children set about making a sandcastle on a bright, sunny day at the water’s edge.  They’ve scooped, packed, and smoothed everything down to make their amazing sandcastle when suddenly, something happens to it.  From a hat flying into it to someone walking over the top of it, these youngsters see their masterpiece collapse and they’re pushing the sand back up and beginning again. 

I liked how the children worked together getting the sandcastle built each time and their attitude each time they had to rebuild.  I enjoyed how the story along with the illustrations conveyed this happy, relaxing day at the beach.  Being a picture book with no words, the soft colors and the way that the story flowed, it felt like a warm, relaxing summer day as the beach goers enjoyed the sunshine. A cute book with fabulous illustrations that complete the story. I do wish that I could see more of the expressions on the individual faces in the illustrations, I think that would add more to the story.   4 stars 

Outdoor Kids in an Inside World: Getting Your Family Out of the House and Radically Engaged with Nature by Steven Rinella

4 stars Nonfiction

Being an outside person, I wanted to read this book to see what Steven had to say about getting kids outside.  I have to agree with everything that Steven said although, some of what he said seems to me, like common sense which might be because I like to be outside.  As he breaks this book into chapters, you don’t need to apply all this book to your life, you can apply what fits.  As you read it and apply it, you might just decide to try more than you originally thought you would. 

The book is broken down into seven chapters with an index.   It starts with some little steps about having your children get used to the idea of nature from fish to rocks to mud. Steven addresses the pandemic, ticks, and other obstacles that have some individuals locking themselves inside.  Offering suggestions on how to get your children out the door, we have mudpies, a small aquarium, or a farmers’ market, to help get this love of nature started.  The author even provides a list of questions, at the end of this chapter to ask your children about items in their life which have to do with nature.  These are thought-provoking questions from where do they think their drinking water comes from?  What crops and livestock are grown around where they live? What birds live in their neighborhood?  Stephen continues in this format throughout the book with the rest of his chapters when he addresses camping, foraging, gardening, fishing, and hunting.  I think most people will find something interesting in this book, in one of the chapters.  I’m not a forager but I found that chapter interesting.  He’s got some good points on how to implant getting children out from behind their electronic devices and how to make it interesting. Steven points out that you have to be present to make this work.  You can’t give them the supplies to go camping and then, you go home.  No, this is a joint project.  It takes at least two (2) to make this happen. It’s also engagement and I think this is key.  Engagement is what we’re slacking on now, I feel.  No one has the time; everyone is busy or so they say.  If you engage with your child with whatever activity they are doing, they’re with you.  Now engagement does not mean, doing all of it nor does it mean just sitting there while they’re doing it all.  Engagement means physically and mentally participating, so you’ll need to get off your phone.  You’ll need to tell everybody else you’re busy.  You’ll need to make this a priority as your child should be a priority for, they’re only young once.  So, engage, give them some positive energy and experience some nature together.  4 stars