Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Cavorting Creatures

Standing still in a sunny meadow or cool, shadowed forest offers more opportunities than calm.  It is a generous gift, a means to observe animals without them being frightened of your presence.  It may be watching a squirrel practice throwing skills as the ground is blanketed by its tossing of un-opened pinecones.  Two wild rabbits running in circles with little leaps as part of their routine is a sneak peek at a bunny ballet.

Animals are fully aware every moment of every day.  Their lives depend on this understanding.  They are wise enough to know work and play are necessary for balance.  Play Like An Animal!: Why Critters Splash, Race, Twirl, And Chase (Millbrook Press, April 7, 2020) written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Mia Powell is an exploration of the lively antics of animals.

You love to play!
Animals do too!

They have diversions like you do, but their play is for a purpose.  It's a planned situation to hone their skills for survival. They are training for their futures.

Rolling around in the mud is more than displaying a love of dirt.  For collared peccaries and rhinos, it is a means of protecting themselves from sun, heat and pesky bugs.  Being able to leap with ease from tree to tree is not training for a trapeze act, but it builds agility in running from those who want you as a meal.

If you watch animals in the snow, what may seem like foolishness is increasing their abilities to seek solutions to problems.  We count ourselves fortunate if we witness dolphins or elephants enjoying themselves in their natural water parks.  Even watching them on videos we can see how they do this in unison.  Why is this important?

Other creatures play at fighting, wrestling, tug-of-war or tag. What is this teaching them?   Each activity, though pleasurable, is conditioning these animals like athletes or performers.  It can mean the difference between life and death for them.  It can mean having a life shared with others in harmony or living in isolation.  Did you know Keas, a parrot living in New Zealand, can make their own toys?  The next time you play, which animal are you imitating?

What readers will notice first about the writing of Maria Gianferrari in this title are her one-word action verbs.  This definitive use of language invites participatory reading.  These verbs precede a single sentence about the animals and what they are doing.  This is followed by a short explanatory paragraph placed in a separate box.  This approach supplies readers with a rhythm bringing them full circle, from the beginning to the end.  Maria Gianferrari also uses alliteration and rhyming to enhance this cadence.  Here is a passage.



Ungulates love to leap!

(Note:  I am working with a printed PDF.  My copy of this title has not arrived yet.)

When looking at the dust jacket, front and back, right and left, there is no doubt in your mind of the joy to be had by animals and humans alike when they are engaged in play.  On the front, each of the featured animals is in motion in their natural habitat.  It's a glorious blend of water, land and air.  On the back, a sunny hillside highlights the cavorting of children from various ethnic backgrounds.  They are happily leaping, running, jumping in the mud and twirling.  A single rabbit is at rest, looking ready to race away.  Two dogs are enjoying the puddle with their humans.

The opening and closing endpapers are patterned in tiny portraits of animals at play.  They showcase wolves, giraffes, rhinos, elephants, monkeys, gorillas, and ungulates.  The landscape, a green grassy canvas, is dotted with trees, shrubs and water.


using paints, handmade textures, and digital media

the illustrations by Mia Powell are wonderful displays of play.  Her humans and animals are highly animated.  All of them express delight at their activities.

The images, double-page pictures and full-page illustrations, place the animals in the environment they relish the most.  Mia Powell, in order to show captured moments, includes a series of horizontal visuals on a single page.  At times we are close to the movements of the animals and then we step back to get a larger view.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a single-page picture of a rhino.  Most of its body is below the surface of a muddy hole or shallow body of water.  There is some vegetation behind it and on the sides.  Several leaves float near it on the surface of the mud and muddy water.  All we can see of the rhino is its head and horns.  Its wide-eyed look indicates pure bliss.

This title, Play Like An Animal!: Why Critters Splash, Race, Twirl, And Chase written by Maria Gianferrari with illustrations by Mia Powell, is loaded with fun and facts.  At the close of the book sections named:  Why Play?, Play By The Rules, Like These Animals Do!, Play Like These Animals . . ., More Fun Animal Facts, and Further Reading provide us with additional information.  This is an excellent book to include in your professional and personal collections.  It's certain to be a highly requested read aloud and supply circumstances for further research or readers' theater.

To learn more about Maria Gianferrari and Mia Powell and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Maria Gianferrari has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  Mia Powell has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images as well as read an excerpt.

UPDATE:  Maria Gianferrari is interviewed in a podcast at The Lerner Blog

Maria Gianferrari's childhood playground was nature: climbing trees, playing hide and seek in the cornfield and slapping cow patties for fun!  Nowadays she tries to keep the spirit of play alive in her writing.  She enjoys playing Dominion with her family sans the curse cards, and her late dog, Becca, was always ready for a game of "catch the flying biscuit."

(From the jacket flap)
Mia Powell is a mixed media illustrator based in the United Kingdom.  She draws digitally but likes to incorporate handmade textures and elements into her artwork as well.  Mia loves to play with her dog, and she has drawn him in the pages of this book.  He is black-and-white and loves to chase, especially squirrels.

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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