Quote of the Month

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

Friday, August 17, 2018

All Together Now

It was early morning.  The sun was not up yet but the birds were.  Their different songs were like instruments in an orchestra tuning before a performance.  Off in the woods a squirrel chattering with gusto scolded an intruder.  Branches snapped as a startled deer ran.  Soon hundreds of bees would hum flitting from blossom to blossom.  The number of living beings sharing space with us is huge and amazing.

As is with many things, if we pause and ponder, we realize all kinds of life in all shapes and sizes swirl around us at all times.  We are part of a much greater whole.  Fur, Feather, Fin: All Of Us Are Kin (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, May 1, 2018) written by Diane Lang with illustrations by Stephanie Laberis addresses the similarities and differences in the families of creatures on our planet.

All animals on Earth are kin,
while not the same on the outside or in.
Some we stroke with loving hand;
some we don't yet understand. 

Mammals, that's us too, do not hatch their babies.  We are all born.  Birds come from eggs but their gift is feathers whether they fly or not.  Some use their wings to move on land or in the water.  From fur to feathers to skin smooth to the touch now we have amphibians.

This is a family with big alterations.  Masses of eggs in water, swimming tadpoles and then like magic we get a frog, toad, or a newt.  A change of skin texture helps to regulate body temperature in the following family.

They move on land and through the water, slowly or quickly.  They can even scoop out a place to keep them safe.  You never know what a reptile will do.  Do you know what group has jointed legs and hard exteriors?

Creeping, crawling, flying and fluttering arthropods travel under water, across land and in the air.  (They do tend to eat each other, sometimes.)  Breathing under water with gills plus their bones distinguish fish from other animals.  Do they all look alike?  Not always.  And are there others making their homes in the water?  Yes!  Can you name one?

There is a special kind of creature whose work is never done.  They make what is dead and gone into something rich and new.  Detritivores are essential to the cycle of life.  With every breath we take, many others are doing it right along with us.

Each phrase or sentence supplies a soothing rhythm for readers as Diane Lang carefully creates rhyming words at the end of each line.  Each of three couplets for the families, mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, arthropods, fish, water dwellers, and detritivores, contains distinguishing facts about them.  An introduction and conclusion bring us full circle.  Listen for the beat.  Here are two couplets.

Metamorphosis:  the road
for changing tadpole into toad . . .

or salamander,
or newt.
And at the end, a whole new suit!

A pristine white canvas highlights the array of animals on the matching, opened dust jacket and book case.  You almost expect them to run right off the page. The tiny intricate details are a request for readers to stop and see how many animals they can find.  How many can they name? 

To the left, on the back, a similar twist and turn has a different group of creatures following a path.  On the opening and closing endpapers a beautiful blue-hued sky is patterned with puffy clouds.  Two sea gulls travel past those clouds.  You will notice the change in their position from the front to the back.

On the verso and title pages a panoramic beach scene spreads before us.  A woman and two children are walking toward the water. On the next double page picture, the little girl and little boy are watching all the animals in a tide pool. (The trio is highlighted on the final two-page illustration of a closer view of the ocean.  There are lots of animals to find here.)

Stephanie Laberis alternates between vast two-page pictures, groupings of smaller images on one or two pages and single-page visuals.  These elevate the pacing while giving readers views of a wide range of animals.  Her illustrations are in full color, depicting different kinds of weather, seasons and settings.

One of my many favorite images is on a single page.  Rain slants across a gray sky.  Moving in close it pelts the feathers of a loon.  Its wing is raised to provide shelter for five furry babies in the nest.  They are in various stages of sleep and wakefulness.  Reeds frame the birds on the right and left.

As soon as readers and listeners are shown this book, Fur, Feather, Fin: All Of Us Are Kin written by Diane Lang with illustrations by Stephanie Laberis, I can guarantee they will move in closer to notice all the animals shown in the wonderful images and portrayed with the poetic, factual words.  This title could be used to begin a unit on animals in general, diversity in the animal world or to begin a study of a particular group.  It will spark awareness and promote research.  You will want to have more animal books ready.  At the close in an author's note more explanations are offered about similarities, differences, how we can help animals now and resources.  You will want to have a copy of this book for your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Diane Lang and Stephanie Laberis and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Diane has activities to download.  Stephanie maintains Instagram and Twitter accounts.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the selections this week by other participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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