After the last of the leaves fell to the ground this autumn, you can stand in the center of my back yard and see eight squirrel nests. No wonder nearly any time of the day during the summer one or more can be seen scampering across the yard. Sometimes it looks as though two are playing a fast and furious game of tag. It soon became obvious size is not an indicator of dominance. The smallest red squirrel seems to always be chasing the larger fox squirrels.
You would think with winter, by the calendar, nearly a month old all the squirrels would be set for the season but the other day before a particular bout of bitter temperatures, one scampered across the yard with a bunch of leaves to bolster a nest. Watching it move up the trunk, it did not go to one of the many leafy apartments but to a hole in one of the trees. Squirrels Leap, Squirrels Sleep (Henry Holt and Company, November 1, 2016) written by April Pulley Sayre with illustrations by Steve Jenkins is the fourth collaboration by this team combining poetry and art to deliver facts to readers.
In this title we become acquainted with gray, fox, red and flying squirrels. Some traits they share in common, other characteristics are particularly specialized to only one. Their tails are more than a fluffy adornment. They function as protection from the weather and keep them centered as they scoot from place to place high above the ground. Their eyes, noses, jaws and paws function with purpose.
I wonder if their chirping is simple chatter, code for danger or perhaps they are calling out to one another in greeting. All you have to do is walk across an area inhabited by squirrels to see evidence of their work. Nuts, whole or in pieces, are everywhere. You can see small holes as they bury or dig up their stores. There might be some new oak trees sprouting in the spring. Who knew squirrels are nature's gardeners?
If you happen to catch one midrun across the grass, in a flash they disappear up a tree trunk. Have they gone to the top or only the other side, hiding? With all the energy they expend during the day, it's no wonder they curl up as night descends to rest and relax.
Twelve poems supply a very squirrel-like cadence to readers. Each four-line narrative rhymes on the second and fourth line. April Pulley Sayre, a keen observer of nature and in this case squirrels, presents them exactly as they are seen out in the world; full of energy, stopping with twitching tails and paws but ready to charge like lightning if needed. She weaves information into each poem; the purpose of tails, how specific physical characteristics are used by the squirrels, where they stay and rest, how they gather and hoard, and most importantly how they keep the trees they need growing. They are the forest gardeners. Here is another sample poem.
How many seeds?
More, more, more!
Time and time again, if you happen to be observant in your neighborhood or out walking in the woods, you will have seen a squirrel leaping precisely as pictured by Steve Jenkins on the front of the dust jacket. His cut-and-torn-paper collage illustrative technique is nearly photographic in detail. Crossing over the spine leaves, branches and two squirrels frame the three previous collaborations of Sayre and Jenkins. As in much of his other work, Jenkins uses white space to great advantage.
On the book case hues of brown cover the front and back. As on the jacket the back highlights the other three titles but close observation shows these are placed on portions of a tree. Moving to the right, on the front, a sleeping squirrel is shown curled up in a furry ball in its nest. A pattern of acorns, caps on, caps off, covers the opening and closing endpapers. A two-page picture of squirrels, branches and leaves provides space for the title and verso pages.
For each of the twelve poems Jenkins gives readers a double-page image. In many of them he frames specific actions within a circle imposed on top of the main illustration. With his masterful skills he manages to fashion squirrels that literally look ready to leap off the page. When they look right at the reader on several pages, you can almost hear them chattering at you. Jenkins cleverly shifts his perspective; sometimes you can get a broader view of the action and then with a page turn, you feel as though you are part of the squirrelish fun.
One of my favorite illustrations is of a squirrel stretching from a tree trunk to gather an acorn. How they can do that without falling is amazing. Jenkins captures the stretch perfectly. Above the oak branches on the right, he features two circular smaller illustrations. In one a squirrel is looking at us from within a hole in the tree. In the other a squirrel is curled up in a nest at rest.
Squirrels Leap, Squirrels Sleep written by April Pulley Sayre with illustrations by Steve Jenkins is a lively look at these backyard and forest inhabitants. This collaboration is as fine as the others, encouraging readers to respect and appreciate their world. At the close of the narrative are four pages of further facts grouped by species in this book, tails as tools, squirrels glide, early life, feeding time, all in the family, tree hole homes, squirrels: the planters, overwhelmed by acorns, conifer seed collectors, squirrel ancestors, helping oaks and animals and old tree neighborhoods. There is also a list of suggestions for further reading and interesting notices in the news. This title was selected by the NSTA in their Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12: 2017.
To learn more about April Pulley Sayre and Steve Jenkins please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites. If you wish to view some interior images from this title stop by the publisher's website. Enjoy the book trailer.
If you have not seen their previous titles, Eat Like A Bear and Woodpecker Wham! please read these posts. All of the books by this team are outstanding.
Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the titles selected by participating bloggers in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. This week Alyson highlights titles coming in January.