All the Water in the World, George Ella Lyon and Katherine Tillotson. This read more like a poem than a science book, with a stronger emphasis on beautiful language, internal rhymes and alliteration than conveying information. X came along midway through but didn't want the book to reread, which is a sign of low interest (he usually hears us reading the picture books, then comes back to steal them). P and I liked the pages as they went, but didn't find that either the words or the information stuck too hard. There was a hard left turn in the final pages towards conservation, which disconcerted me a bit.
Bring on the Birds, Susan Stockdale. The summary of this book struck me as dull: a bunch of birds. But the execution brought them to vigorous life. The rhyming scheme seemed as natural as the different plumage and features of the birds. The elementary aged kids all loved it, despite their reluctance to read another picture book. N particularly laughed with delight after almost throwing himself off the couch to avoid reading with me. He recognized a few birds (penguin, owl) but enjoyed all the illustrations and the steady rhythm of the text. A fun book that shone all the better because of my low expectations.
Can We Save the Tiger? , Martin Jenkins This much meatier book is a harder sell for my picture book readers; so far none of the kids has tried it. The muted colors don't seem to appeal, and the first few pages have enough words that the kids shy from a read-aloud, but it's not enticing enough to read on their own. I thought it a wonderful way to explain the idea of endangered creatures in a less simplistic way -- many times conservation is not as easy as turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth. It looks at the reasons people encroach on animal's lands and the costs of saving rare animals, as well as the consequences of not doing so. P read it and found it profoundly depressing, but then he's been in a depressed mode lately.
I Feel Better With a Frog in My Throat, Carlyn Beccia. Hugely popular with our household. Funny subject, funny illustrations, short and sweet explanations that we enjoyed reading out loud. I think it's a good first look at science as well; the underlying philosophy is that people make assumptions but that testing them for results matters. Some hypotheses are true, others not so much. Will be tough to beat.
Planting the Wild Garden, Kathryn O. Galbraith. Another book I'm having a hard time getting my captive panel to review; apparently we don't "do" muted colors. A very basic look at how wild plants reproduce, with help from wind, water, wild animals, and even hikers. My children judged this as "OK for little kids." A read it and liked it, and she turned up her nose at Markle and Jenkin's books.
The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs, Sandra Markle. Depressing but clearheaded look at the tragic story of the Panamanian Golden Frog, which scientists (especially Karen Lips) noticed disappearing, and the investigation to determine the cause. Unfortunately, the fungus wiping them out is currently untreatable in the wild, so the only hope for the Golden Frog is in zoos. The book follows the development and discarding of several theories before showing how the fungus was identified, and then follows the creation and execution of the plan to prevent extinction. It kept my guys interested, although P seemed to resent some of the definitions as condescending. They found it gloomy reading, though.
Thunder Birds, Jim Arnosky. The pictures dominate this book -- the fold-out pages show the breadth and majesty of various carnivorous avians. The text describes their habitats and behaviors, with occasional personal mentions of where Arnosky or his wife were when the saw the bird or what they felt. These asides didn't work very well for us; they felt alien to the book as a whole. If I were a librarian I'd be worried about the extension of the pages; it's hard to imagine this book lasting through more than a few second grade readers.