Quote of the Month

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

Friday, November 15, 2019

In Motion

Most mornings now a chorus of chick-a-dee-dee-dee greets us as we walk.  Groups of these feathered friends gather in the trees and shrubs, quickly moving from place to place, sometimes stopping a foot or so from us if we are still.  Occasionally blue jays will send out a squawk.  Most other birds have left for warmer climates.  New animals ventured through the yard last night, evidenced by their tracks in the snow.  A large deer strolled along the perimeter.  From the woods paw prints formed a path down the driveway; a type of cat or small canine. Animals are always on the move.

Many marvelous creatures travel more than a few miles during any given day.  They make astonishing annual treks.  Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys (Bloomsbury Children's Books, August 6, 2019) written by Mike Unwin with illustrations by Jenni Desmond chronicles these trips taken in order to survive and for the continuation of their species.

Imagine being a baby swallow in Europe in the autumn.  Just a few weeks ago you left your nest for the first time.  Now, before you are even two months old, you have to fly thousands of miles---all the way to Africa.

In this introduction we learn about the necessity of migratory practices for animals.  These seasonal excursions are not without dangers from predators, geographical physical features and weather as hundreds and thousands of miles are covered.  Page turn by page turn we read and view the paths followed by twenty different groups of Earth's occupants.

A ten-year-old humpback whale, finally an adult, can swim more than fifteen thousand miles per year.  No other animal tops that mileage by swimming.  They move in a line, one behind the other, every year to the inland of Antarctic to breed.  They are the largest penguins in the world.  Another animal moves from the water's edge, inland and south for winter.  Tens of thousands of caribou move as a unit.  Did you know the Arctic tern flies from the North Pole to the South Pole in order to fish for twenty-four hours per day in each summer season?

To see the migration of the monarch butterflies would indeed be like stepping into a fantasy.  Millions move from the north in Canada and North America to Mexico BUT it takes four generations to complete the round trip. (The explanation of the stages is fascinating.)  For years conservationists flew in ultralight aircraft with young whooping cranes to show them the route to migrate in the winter.  It looks like an immense smudge on the water but it's the annual journey in May of millions of pilchards moving north from the southern tip of Africa.

Can you imagine flying and flying and flying over water and not resting on land?  Such is the life of the wandering albatross who searches for food for years before returning to its island birthplace.  On Christmas Island, millions of Christmas Island red crabs carpet the roadways in November as they head to the sea to breed. There is only one bird which travels over the Himalayan mountains.  These bar-headed geese are physically equipped with a unique circulation system.  (This is amazing!)

Great white sharks swim for food across the Indian Ocean six thousand miles.  African elephants walk and walk for water.  Salmon go against a raging current to lay eggs before they die.  The next time you hold a yard stick; imagine it as the wingspan of the straw-colored fruit bat in Africa.  It and millions of others fly for fruit in November.  Like many of other animals named in these pages the final animal usually returns to the place where it was born to lay its eggs and continue the specie, the green sea turtle.  What a sight this must be to see!

Renowned wildlife author Mike Unwin presents captivating factual accounts; taking readers under the sea, through the air and across landscapes.  In conversational paragraphs he acts as an instructor and a guide.  He creates scenarios where we can imagine ourselves next to each animal as they move.  In addition to his lengthier paragraphs several sentences as captions to the illustrations further inform readers.  Here is a passage; two paragraphs of six.

The dancers are a male and a female.  They have nested together for several years, and this dance helps keep them close.  Other cranes are dancing too.  Each pair knows that it's time to build a nest and start to raise a family.  But first they must return to their breeding grounds in the north.

At nearly 5 feet tall, whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America.  They are also one of the rarest---in 1941 there were only twenty-three left, including two in zoos.  Conservationists have worked hard to protect them and today there are around 400 in the wild.

Readers will be enthralled with the illustrations by Jenni Desmond beginning on the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  Her portrait of migrating hummingbirds from flap edge to flap edge is a beautiful blend of background floral elements and a radiate depiction of the tiny birds magnified for readers.  The prominent use of green, red and white is striking.  You want to take wing and fly with them. 

The matching opening and closing endpapers showcase the forest in Mexico as the first few monarch butterflies (three) arrive.  A snowy chilly scene, a two-page image features a single bar-headed goose flying over the Himalayan mountains.  This same scene without a goose provides a space at the end for the publication information and dedications on the left and a barren view on the right.  It gives a very real feeling as to the conditions these birds must endure.

For the contents, introduction and each animal, illustrator Jenni Desmond used

watercolor, acrylic, ink, pencil, and pencil crayon

to create her double-page pictures.  They are eloquent representations in varying points of view.  We are next to the humpback whale and her calf.  We stand near the front of a long line of Emperor penguins stretching back as far as we can see over the vast icy terrain.  We are among the trees in Mexico as thousands and thousands of monarch butterflies move about us.  We see dozens and dozens of globe skimmer dragonflies land on and near two pairs of flip-flops on a sandy beach.  Every delicate detail brings these animals to us as we hold this book in our hands. 

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for the spread titled


The text is in four short columns, two to a page at the top.  Beneath the text is a snow-topped mountain range.  A line of evergreens stretches under the range from page edge to page edge.  In front of this is a large body of water, the lower bottom half.  Three separate lines of caribou can be seen.  One is in the far distance, another to the right of the gutter moving to and on the shore and a third is close to readers, caribou swimming and climbing the grassy slope.  Here we can see the foam on the waves as the caribou splash.  Their images are mirrored in the water.  It's easy to place yourself there, watching and listening to the thunderous noises.

You can't help but be inspired by Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys written by Mike Unwin with illustrations by Jenni Desmond.  Informative text elevated by gorgeous illustrations will promote discussions and further research.  At the close of the book are two pages of a world map with two other discussions, Did You Know? and Making A Safer World For Migrants plus a list of the animals by number with corresponding numbers on the map with respect to their routes.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.  This title is one of Publishers Weekly's Best Children's Books of 2019.

If you wish to discover more about Mike Unwin and Jenni Desmond, please follow the links attached to their names to access websites giving you additional details about them and their other work.  Mike Unwin maintains an account on Instagram.  Jenni Desmond has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  You might enjoy visiting Jenni Desmond's blog. Jenni Desmond was recently interviewed at Let's Talk Picture Books.  You'll appreciate the artwork and process images.  At the publisher's website is a teacher's guide for this title.  The UK title looks like this.

To view the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.

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