Quote of the Month

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

Friday, August 20, 2021

Oh, Those Amazing Animals

Each new fact we add to our understanding of an animal, the better we grasp their place in the network of life on our planet.  Each animal, like each human, has an effect.  Many of them have been impacting our lives before we were born.  And they continue to do so.  

At a winter camp one year shared with students, we were listening to a lecture about horses.  We were close to a horse, closer than many of the gals and guys (including me) had ever been.  One piece of information has stayed with me for decades.  It has to do with horses' ears.  When asked for volunteers to ride, no one responded, so I did.  When you see people getting on and off horses and riding them in movies and videos and on television, it appears effortless.  Truthfully, getting on and off was fairly easy, but no one told us how high you would be off the ground. The distance from the saddle to terra firma seemed huge.  Horse Power: How Horses Changed The World (Abrams Books for Young Readers, April 27, 2021) written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes will enthrall readers of all ages as we take a journey back in time to present day.  Along the way we learn about the power of horses and their impact.

About fifty-six million years ago, horses first appeared on earth.  The earliest-known ancestors
of the modern horse lived in North America.  The size of dogs, with toes on their feet, they 
nibbled tender leafy plants that grew from the warm, steamy earth.

Over long periods of time, the survivors evolved into larger animals with single hooves. Suddenly, eleven thousand years ago, they vanished.  Somehow, using a former land bridge that connected Asia to North America, they began to flourish once more.  How many thousands of years ago do you think it was when horses finally let humans ride them?  This was the beginning of immense transformation.

Horses provided a means to do everything faster and more efficiently.  Their physical characteristics, each one, are designed for the horse to survive in a variety of conditions.  Did you know a horse's height is measured four inches, a hand, at a time to their withers?  Around the globe different people from different cultures used different horses to suit their needs.  Unfortunately for horses, they were used in conquests and war.  Horses were returned to the lands of North and South America by the Spanish.

Did you know horses reside on every continent except for Antarctica?  As people moved, so did horses.  Horses across continents gave people the opportunity to continue communicating.  The Pony Express in the United States is only one example.  In time, even with advancing technologies, horses were still necessary.  Their necessity in turn created new jobs.

With the invention of the automobile, that necessity diminished.  Horses were replaced by cars and more cars and still more cars until now we humans have a global problem.  Horses shaped human history.  Today, there are herds roaming wild on six of the seven continents. 

When author Jennifer Thermes writes, readers take note.  Her meticulous research is found in each sentence we read.  She is building a world for us with her words.  In this book, she fuels, through facts, a story of horses which increases our admiration page turn by page turn.  Aside from the main narrative, she presents other information in her illustrations and in her sidebars.  Here is a passage and a sidebar.

City horses were trained to stay calm through the noise
and frenzy of a big metropolis.  Some wore blinders to shield
their eyes from sudden movements, since their natural instinct
is to run when frightened.  Without horses, human society
would have been brought to a halt.

Horses were the engines that powered everything.

One horse produces an
average of 35 pounds of
manure daily.  In 1900
more than 130,000 horses
lived in New York City,
which meant millions of 
pounds of fresh "road
apples" in the streets
every day!

A blue wash acts as a frame around a golden yellow wash on both the front and back of the open dust jacket.  The galloping horse on the front depicts horses' power when running free.  All the smaller vignettes around this creature represent how they made our lives better.  The tail on the horse on the front crosses over the spine to its completion on the back.  There praise for a previous book is placed over an image.  A farmer stands next to a large horse, resting one hand on its flank.  A cat looks up at the horse's face.

On the book case, a golden yellow canvas uplifts a spirit of freedom supplied with the image.  Left to right, back to front, a herd of horses races.  A range of color in their coats and breeds is shown to us.  Their beauty is staggering.

On the opening endpapers, on a white background, is a map of the world.  On the map are numbers corresponding to the thirty-three featured horse breeds.  Smaller images of the horses are placed around the map.  They are labeled with their name and country.  On the closing endpapers, hosting the publication information and the dedication, are horse portraits.  These portraits showcase how horses have been historically shown in artwork during ancient times. 

A double-page picture is presented on the title page.  On the left, so close you feel as though you could touch it, is a golden-brown horse.  Its gaze is toward rolling hills on the right.  A herd of horses runs upward as a parent and foal watch.  Is this the same herd running across the book case?  Perhaps. 

These illustrations by Jennifer Thermes were rendered

with pencil, watercolor, ink, and colored pencils on Saunders Waterford watercolor paper.

Their details are astounding.  Each is an exquisite portrayal and enhancement of the text.  There are many double-page pictures with smaller insets.  Some images are half-page and framed with fine black lines.  Other visuals span one and a half pages horizontally with fine black lines acting as borders.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page visual.  It is a swirl of three separate but blended images.  Crossing the gutter from the right and moving across the top and side on the left portion is a steam-powered locomotive.  It gets larger as it gets closer to us.  The smoke from the engine stack moves along the top of the picture, enlarging on the right to hold the text.  Under the smoke is a scene of horses and horse-drawn vehicles moving to and from the train station.  Underneath this is a close-up of one particular family.  A couple embraces each other before the woman boards the train.  To the right of them and extending one and a third pages is a large, gray-dappled horse.  The train moves through a star-studded blue.  Golden yellow frames the other two portions of this marvelous whole.

You will want to have more than one copy of Horse Power: How Horses Changed The World written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes in your professional collections.  People who already admire these majestic animals will read this over and over.  For others, this book will open their minds and supply them with a greater appreciation of horses.  At the close of the book is an extensive author's note, a list of select sources, and a two-page timeline.  This book is a treasure you will want to add to your personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Jennifer Thermes and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Jennifer Thermes has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website is a video with Jennifer Thermes speaking about this book.

Living in the Midwest, the chance of seeing a parrot fly outside your window or through the woods on a walk are slim.  If one were to be seen, it would be downright strange.  These flying wonders, nevertheless, hold a fascination for many of us.  Their characteristics and behaviors as revealed in The Truth About Parrots (Seriously Funny Facts About Your Favorite Animals) (Roaring Brook Press, May 25, 2021) written and illustrated by Maxwell Eaton III are truly remarkable.

These are parrots.
There are about 350 different parrot
species across the world.

Despite the differences perceived in parrots, they share similarities.  Their heads, beaks, and tongues, yes tongues, set them apart.  They have distinguishing feet, zygodactyl feet, with two toes in front and two toes in back.  The plumage on parrots is vivid.  Did you know parrots can see ultra-violet light?  

Parrot couples, mates, are often partners for life.  They express their care for each in loving actions.  Parrots in captivity can live more than fifty years.  In the wild, we are not as sure about their life spans for several reasons, but we do know about the kakapo found in New Zealand.  Can you imagine living more than one hundred years?  They are unfortunately endangered.

As varied as their colorful feathers, so too is the diet of parrots.  Some like nuts, others like nectar and pollen, and one prefers a fruit.  On rare occasions, one parrot has been known to be carnivorous.

To say parrots have the gift of gab is an understatement.  They are well known to be particularly gifted mimics.  Their cleverness does not end there.  They can communicate an understanding of other things using our language.  Speaking of language, it is thought by specialists some parrots make up their own words and definitions.

As with many animals, we humans continue to be the cause of much harm in the world of parrots.  We destroy their living spaces and take them from their homes as pets.  The more we know, the more we can protect them.

This eighth and final book in this outstanding series written by Maxwell Eaton III is equally as memorable as its predecessors.  The mix of facts and humor is engaging from beginning to end.  It starts on the jacket and book case, continues on the title pages and throughout the book.  Facts are presented in the main body of the narrative and in smaller insets on each one or two pages. (All the parrots are labeled with their names and where they live.)  The humor is found in the commentary and conversations in the speech balloons.  It is made by other parrots, other animals (even prehistoric), and a human child.  It is guaranteed you will burst out laughing at the hilarity and cleverness.  Here is a passage with commentary.  

One thing all parrots share is a keen
mind with vocal learning abilities.  Many
can copy sounds.  Most famously, human

I've noticed. (child)
I've noticed. (Eclectus parrot, New Guinea)
I've noticed. (a second parrot)
I've no itch. (a third parrot)
That's a relief. (a fourth parrot)

On the matching dust jacket and book case, illustrator Maxwell Eaton III begins his pictorial interpretation.  The leaves framing the right and left of the front indicate the climate in which most parrots reside.  The green spine acts as a branch.  The comment by the larger of the three parrots is a fitting introduction.  

To the left of the spine, on the back, two slim leafy tree branches extend from the spine.  On them perch two rows of small yellow parrots.  One on the top says:

I'm hearing
voices again.

The opening and closing endpapers are covered in the same hue of red as on the parrot highlighted on the front of the jacket and case.  On the initial title page two more of those parrots offer their opinions on the title.  Across the formal title page, a flock of those same birds flies from left to right from leafy branches.  The one in the lead exclaims:

We're colorful

These visuals by Maxwell Eaton III are highly animated.  They are defined by black lines and a full color palette.  There are double-page pictures, single-page pictures, partial-page pictures, and double-page pictures with framed insets as places for more images, commentary, and information.  Several of the funniest images involve the play of keas.  A duo appears in a double-page picture, a single-page picture two page turns later and at the end.  (So very clever, Mr. Eaton III.)  

One of my favorite illustrations is the left side of a double-page picture.  There two Salmon-crested cockatoos found in Southeast Asia are resting on a branch among treetops.  They are close together, a parrot pair.  The one bird is grooming the other bird.  The one being groomed says:

I can never
reach that

The Truth About Parrots (Seriously Funny Facts About Your Favorite Animals) written and illustrated by Maxwell Eaton III is a book holding an array of fun-filled facts.  This author and illustrator has a knack for selecting the points most will find intriguing, and his commentary displays his ingenious wit.  At the close of the book, prior to the end page, are two pages of additional information.  Parrot nest sites are discussed, as is the eating of clay, eggs, and chicks.  Further research is suggested.  I highly recommend this title for both your professional and personal collections.  

To learn more about Maxwell Eaton III and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Maxwell Eaton III has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.

There are places on this planet many of us will never visit or reside.  It is with gratitude we can thank those writers and illustrators of nonfiction for taking us to those spaces.  On the continent of South America in the country of Peru, there is a national park.  This park, Manu, is home to one of the most diverse populations of monkeys.  In Fourteen Monkeys: A Rain Forest Rhyme (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing Division, July 6, 2021) written by Melissa Stewart with illustrations by Steve Jenkins, we travel to the Manu National Park, learning of fourteen very different monkeys who reside in this shared community.

Fourteen monkeys share Manu,
a warm, lush forest in Peru.
Most tropical rain forests are home to just a few kinds of 
monkeys.  But 14 species live in Manu National Park, in
Peru.  How can they all survive together in one place?

They may shout out a good morning call from the tops of trees, but red howler monkeys are known for sometimes sleeping eighteen hours a day.  Spider monkeys in Peru use their physical traits, long legs and feet designed for securely grasping, to move quickly.  You won't believe what they play in their spare time.  Gray's bald-faced saki would give Olympians a contest when it comes to leaping.  The distance is impressive and mind-boggling.

Two kinds of capuchins share the distinguishing curled tail, but they hunt in particular parts of the rain forest for specific types of food.  Pygmy marmosets build relationships by grooming each other when they take a break from eating.  Amiable in nature, one specie moves carefully from place to place using their tails.  Their greetings are affectionate.

You will never guess what feast is the most pleasing to the Goeldi's monkeys after the rainy season.  Wow!  Black-capped squirrel monkeys have twenty-six unique calls to speak to each other.  Two tamarin types, like the capuchins, frequent different heights in the rain forest.  One acts as a sentry.

In the dark of night, one specie moves to feed.  When the moon is full, they race, hoot, and meet mates.  The dusky titis are known for literally sticking together, especially at night.  They twine their long, thick tails together.  From the top of the trees to the bottom of the rain forest floor, these fourteen monkeys show the world how differences can be an advantage.

Known for her painstaking research, author Melissa Stewart delivers her results in three distinct manners for readers.  Each of the fourteen monkeys are tied together with single sentence rhyming couplets.  These act as introductions and combined as an informative poem.  Coupled with each sentence are paragraphs offering further items of interest.  At the close of the book fourteen groups of facts are presented, one for each monkey.  These include the common name, the scientific name, group size, diet, predators, young, lifespan, and a field note.  Here is a passage.

Way up in the leafy crown,
woollys dangle upside down.

Grey woolly monkeys move through the treetops
at a slow, steady pace.  To cross gaps, they hang
by their tails and gently lower themselves to the
next branch.  They also swing by their tails to
reach tasty fruit.  . . .

Even without his name on the dust jacket and book case, the artwork of Steve Jenkins is evident.  His 

cut-and torn-paper collages

are extraordinary in their representations.  On the front of the jacket and case is a Goeldi monkey ready to consume fungi.  The crisp white canvas, used in most of his images, highlights the varied green hues of the rain forest, the fur on the monkey and the startling shade of the food.

To the left, on the back, of the jacket and case is a green silhouette of rain forest trees and shrubs.  Placed in the branches of the trees are the fourteen monkeys.  Fourteen circles, outlined in red, hold their portraits.

A rich spring green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  A single monkey crouches between the text on the title page.  With a page turn, deep green shades fill tree outlines on the left and white text offers a welcome on a dark green background on the right.

Each monkey is given a double-page picture with the exception of the capuchins and tamarins.  The monkeys are placed in their most-frequented settings.  They are shown in a mixture of perspectives.  For each one an iconic, smaller image of a rain forest in a darker color is placed within the larger visual.  A circle on this element shows the level of residence of that showcased monkey.  Some prefer the tops of the rain forest, others in the middle, and a few are closer to the ground.  For each of the monkeys, you will be astounded at the extent of the details.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the marmosets.  On the left amid greenery a sturdy tree trunk rises.  Clinging on the right side, ready to seek food, is a marmoset.  On the right, after hours of eating, two marmosets are cuddled together for a nap.  One already is sleeping.  The other looks at the reader.

Reading this book is like taking a trip to the Manu National Park in Peru.  Through the words of Melissa Stewart and the artwork of Steve Jenkins, Fourteen Monkeys: A Rain Forest Rhyme takes us on an adventure to remember.  At the close of the book is a two-page vertical picture of rain forest trees with the monkey silhouettes placed where they reside.  They are numbered and named as are the layers of the rain forest.  Then, there is an extra column of narrative preceding the factual entries for each monkey.  Along the bottom of pages two and three of these factual entries are the monkey sizes shown to scale compared to a human.  I highly recommend this title for both your personal and professional collections.

To discover more about Melissa Stewart and Steve Jenkins and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the link attached to their names.  Melissa Stewart has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior illustrations.  At Andrew Hacket's website and at Reading Rockets, Melissa Stewart speaks about this book.  Here is a link to an extensive study guide.

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