Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Happy Hearts

For those who stand or sit with stillness in their yards, open meadows, shady forests, or next to cheerful streams, nature will send rewards. She sends hummingbirds to sip sweet nectar from flowers in your gardens.  She sends two scampering red squirrels, so caught up in fun, they nearly run right into your legs.  They chatter at you as they find sanctuary in nearby trees.  They see you as a challenge.  You see them as a gift.

Our animal friends carry on their lives as they have for generations, adapting to changes and honing their instincts.  When we see them with happy hearts, and intent on frolic, they are also becoming their best selves.  Play in the Wild: How Baby Animals Like to Have Fun (Roaring Brook Press, June 30, 2020) written and illustrated by Lita Judge is a companion title to her Born in the Wild: Baby Animals and Their Parents and Homes in the Wild:  Where Baby Animals and Their Parents Live.  It's a lively exploration of animals and their antics.

Pounce, leap, chase, and slide.
Young animals like to play.

In the first of nine sections pertaining to animals and their play, we are given lively examples of head butting, running in circles, wrestling, and winter fun.  The otters, red river hogs and red pandas are seen embracing moments of joyful abandon.  In the subsequent eight sections, more specifics are noted.

So animals are aware that advances are playful rather than fighting, they have techniques for inquiry.  Kelp held in the mouth of a swimming sea lion pup is an invitation to another pup.  Play is a means for locating a meal.  Arctic foxes jump, jump and jump some more in anticipation of leaping up and coming down to catch food scurrying beneath the snow.  Various forms of play abide by certain rules.  Some things are allowed, others are forbidden.

In some animal communities play strengthens the group.  In gray wolf packs, youngsters master skills through play which will later allow them to work together as adults to survive as a single unit.  Some of their play continues for the rest of their lives.  Play is practice for attracting and keeping a mate.  Many males will fight each other as adults, so their pretend fights as babies are a prelude to securing a mate.

If during play, one animal baby hurts the other baby, they have learned to say they are sorry.  If a gorilla bite hurts another gorilla, the injured party will stop until the other one comforts them.  Play builds stronger bodies, thus insuring a greater chance of endurance and continuity.  In conclusion readers are told, animals do play for the sheer joy of it.  You'll know this is true if you ever notice a raven and a coyote doing something extraordinary.  The raven dives at the coyote.  The coyote chases the raven.  If the coyote is not fast enough, the raven waits.  Aren't animals wonderful?

Using spirited language replete with action verbs author Lita Judge acquaints readers with animal play.  For each portion there is a short introductory sentence or two.  The capers of three other creatures, in detail, are offered in support.  Lita Judge is well aware of her intended audience for this book, selecting those facts most likely to remain with her readers.  These pieces of information many times coincide with the play of children.  Here is a sample of a section title, its introduction and one of the animals.

Play can be practice for finding a mate.

Male animals often have to compete with one another
to breed.  The competition can be fierce, so many young
animals develop important skills through play-fighting.

Nubian ibex kids spring vertically in the
air, jump on each other, and knock heads.  These
rounds of "King of the Mountain" may prepare
male billies for the challenges they face in
adulthood.  Adult male ibexes compete for a 
mate by crashing their long horns into each
other like battering rams.

Your heart will fill with happiness simply by looking at the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  The baby elephant splashing through the water, birds flapping to avoid her, is learning to celebrate when goodness is presented.  To the left, on the back, along the top three otters slide down a snowy slope.  Two are starting on the left and all we see of the third is the back legs and tail on the right.  At the bottom center of the image, a fourth otter is staring at readers as if to ask us to join in their sliding.

A dark bird's egg blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the initial title page, two baby cheetahs climb over a patient parent.  On the verso and title pages a double-page picture features a grassy scene with a pale blue wispy sky.  On the right a wolf cub playfully grasps a tail in its mouth. 

Lita Judge's paintings span two pages, full pages and smaller three images are grouped on two pages.  Lightly brushed backgrounds or white heighten her exquisitely detailed depictions of each of the animals and the settings in which they are placed.  She brings readers close to the activities giving us a sense of being in the moment.  All the animals are in motion.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  It takes place in a snowy setting.  Here two red pandas are wrestling.  On the left, the one is rolling on the ground, legs and arms moving to keep the other one away.  The one on the right is standing upright on its back legs.  Its arms are outstretched.  It is ready to leap on its playmate.  Their faces signal their merriment.

Readers will enjoy every single moment of the information, conversations, and artwork in Play in the Wild: How Baby Animals Like to Have Fun written and illustrated by Lita Judge.  It's a delightful new nonfiction book by a gifted person clearly dedicated to presenting the animal world with meticulous care to her readers.  At the close of the book are five pages of more information about each of the twenty-seven animals.  This is followed by a glossary of twenty-three words in which readers might not be familiar.  There is a list of written sources and recommended websites.  I highly recommend this for your professional and personal collections.  You could pair this title with Play Like An Animal!: Why Critters Splash, Race, Twirl, and Chase by Maria Gianferrari and illustrated by Mia Powell.

To discover more about Lita Judge and her body of work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Lita Judge has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.  At Macmillan's website you can view multiple interior images.

Even though educator Alyson Beecher is taking a much-deserved hiatus from her blog, Kid Lit Frenzy, please take a few moments to view previous blog posts about the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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