Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Deep Down Underground

Twice this winter we've had a good five-inch layer of snow covering our ground.  Despite the depth my canine companion leaps and dives, nose first, attempting to smell what is buried beneath all those snowflakes.  If a particular scent captures her interest her paws become eager diggers, like a four-footed, furry archeologist intent on a goal.  She is not alone in her endeavors to discover what can be found underground.

Shortly before our ground was frozen a series of raised loops and zig-zags covered my front yard.  It looks like a group of moles engaged in merry mayhem.  There are whole worlds waiting to be explored.  The Street Beneath My Feet (Quarto Knows, March 1, 2017) written by Charlotte Guillain with illustrations by Yuval Zommer is a unique, fascinating approach to earth science.

When you're walking along the city streets
there's always so much to see and hear.

Most of the time we are either so focused on our own destination or captivated by the buzz of activity around us, we fail to think about what is below the ground. (Also, if your mom was like mine, she was always saying, "Stand up straight with your shoulders back and hold your head high as you walk.") We don't have to go very deep to find an entire network of pipes, wires and cables.  Water is carried through a system of gutters and drains.

In each layer of dirt there is living breathing beings.  If we go farther we might find the community sewer.  As we keep traveling down there will be more signs of life, most of it from the past.  Underground tunnels with tracks provide transportation.  We go through bedrock into sedimentary rock.  Seemingly magical wonders await us here in caves.

The farther we go the rocks reveal more gifts, peat, coal and granite.  As we get to the crust the earth's plates shift.  If they clash, we may have an earthquake.  As we travel deeper and deeper toward the core, it gets hotter and hotter; it's like liquid fire.  In the very center it is solid with temperatures near 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Now it's time to go back up.

Each step of the journey, each section, presents new surprises; precious and semi-precious rock, minerals and gems.  We learn about metamorphic rock.  Fossils appear.  As we get closer to the surface roots branch into the dirt.  Animal burrows, setts and dens and insect nests come into view.  As we finish, standing on the ground again, a forested meadow replete with flora and fauna spreads before us.

From page to page Charlotte Guillain takes us on marvelous voyage through our earth with her words.  She enhances our knowledge about those things in which we might be familiar but shares details with us about those things we never thought about before but are glad we now know.  In the conversational tone of a learned tour guide, she invites us to looks closer, to notice the smallest items, and asks questions of us about those things we encounter.  Here are four passages which follow her description of sedimentary rock.

If you're lucky,
you might find
an underground
cave.  This 
one formed
when water 
wore away
the rock
and made
in it.

Watch you head!
There are stalactites
hanging down from
the roof of this

Psst!  Limestone 
is a type of
sedimentary rock
that formed 
in the

Spiky stalactites form when water moves
down through sedimentary rock.

I think it's safe to say this book has been designed in a remarkable manner completely in keeping with the subject matter.  When you open the book case on the right is what you might encounter beneath a city.  On the left the image depicts what you might find beneath a forested meadow.  Yuval Zommer cleverly takes the tree on the front extending it over the spine to the back.  You will be compelled to stop and look closely at every single element.  On the front many of the details are raised and varnished heightening the tactile experience.

When you open the front cover, the book needs to be turned to read the text and enjoy all the artwork.  This is a vertical accordion book with eleven pages fully illustrated on both sides on durable, heavier matte finished paper.  It is brilliant!

Yuval Zommer's images are spectacular in their intricate and delicate details done in full color.  It's as if he literally went beneath the surface to add as much as he could in each layer.  When he shows us the storm drain, not only is water running down but leaves are swirling in it.  His inclusion of a human skeleton is as if we have unearthed a grave.  Mementos of the person's life are included with the bones. In another illustration from right to left he shows the progression of the development of coal and how it is mined.  On the final page, on the inside of the back cover, a circular slice of our planet shows the Earth's layers.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when we are climbing back up to the surface. In two separate images which appear as one, Yuval Zommer shows us a fox family in their den, individual badgers in setts and rabbits running in tunnels and nestled in their burrows.  He includes possible flora used in their abodes.  Careful readers will see a tiny mouse curled in its own home.  Worms squirm in the dirt.

This book, whether you place it in your professional collections in your libraries or classrooms or in your personal collections at home, will be a huge hit with readers.  The Street Beneath My Feet written by Charlotte Guillain with illustrations by Yuval Zommer has been created to inform in a singular, outstanding style.  This title has been selected by the National Science Teachers Association as one of the Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12: 2018.

To learn more about Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.

I hope you will take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected this week by others participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  This completes my fourth year participating in Alyson's challenge.  My life is far richer for being a participant, expanding my respect for this beautiful planet and those who have or are inhabiting it.  I thank you Alyson and other participants.


  1. Book design is such a critical part of making a great nonfiction title, isn't it? With the right illustrations, laid out in the right way, you can turn something interesting into something so exciting and fascinating that no kid can put it down. :)

    1. You have said this beautifully Jane. I think it's totally genius the way the words and art are presented in this title. Once you've read the book, you can't imagine reading it any other way.

  2. I wonder if this would be fun to pair with Kate Messner's Over and Under books.

    1. I think they would be perfect together. Thank you for the suggestion.