Quote of the Month

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

Saturday, November 20, 2021

The Treasures All Around Us

When you grow up in a family of collectors, you tend to become a collector.  When you grow up in a family embracing nature, you find yourself fairly at ease in the out-of-doors.  Combining these two attributes, your wanderings outside make use of all your senses especially when you are seeking a new item to cherish.  You find another heart-shaped rock, a large piece of sea glass, or a stone that fits perfectly in your palm.  You locate a new leaf to press or a hard-to-find protected flower to photograph or draw.  Perhaps you are gathering particular kinds of pine cones and acorns or small pieces of driftwood to fashion into a wreath. You hear the sound or song of a bird you are hoping to see for the first time. 

The possibilities are as varied as the people who collect and respect what our natural world has to offer.  What's in Your Pocket?: Collecting Nature's Treasures (Charlesbridge, September 14, 2021) written by Heather L. Montgomery with illustrations by Maribel Lechuga takes readers into ordinary moments leading to spectacular outcomes.  Through the lives of nine scientists as children, we understand and appreciate the value of seeking and needing to know.

When you explore the great outdoors
and find something strange and wonderful,
do you put it in your pocket? 

Following this introductory question to a young gatherer is a statement about scientists and why they collect.  Three major names in science are presented.  Who do you think put a seedpod in his pocket that exploded?  Who do you think put worms under her pillow for safekeeping?  One would find hundreds of uses for peanuts.  The other would have their name tied to chimpanzees forever,

Two more times the present-day explorer, the girl with her dog, is given questions to answer prior to reading about six additional naturalists in two groups of three.  Meg Lowman's multiple collections hidden under her bed provided a haven for a live critter unwelcome inside her home.  It's not every mother who would be fascinated by receiving a live lizard for a birthday present.  Adult Diego Cisneros-Heredia named a newly discovered frog after her.

There was a time when people did not understand the connection between caterpillars and butterflies.  This girl's collection eventually flew away, joining links in a chain. There was another girl who loved roaming along the shores of the Pacific Ocean.  How many teenagers do you know who collect sea slugs?  This young woman and these other eight people have made our planet better for their collecting, curiosity, and passionate love of our natural world.

Readers will enjoy the cadence created by author Heather L. Montgomery where questions are asked and responses about scientists are supplied prior to each trio of children who became extraordinary scientists.  Each time the questions are asked the first is repeated, as is the second for the third section.  These questions also suggest the type of collecting the children did.  After we are informed about the child's activities, an identical phrase shares the name of the scientist with readers before giving us a paragraph about them.  These narrative techniques are inviting and inventive.  Here is a passage.

Will found beautiful blue eggs high in a tree.
Needing his hands to climb back down,
he held the eggs in his mouth.

Oops! . . .

Looking at the open and matching dust jacket and book case readers are welcomed into nature.  On either side of the spine lush flora frames the text and our young explorer.  How many of those items spilling from her pockets have found a place in your pockets when you are outside walking and observing?  On the back, left, an emerald and blue hummingbird sips nectar from an open flower.  Beneath it, a caterpillar munches on a leaf.  A butterfly floats above the ISBN.  On the jacket, front, right, and back, left, the brightest elements are varnished.

A darker hue of the teal on the girl's overalls is used to cover the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page, a cluster of found objects are placed between the text.  An initial two-page picture spans from the dedication and publication information page to the first page.  The girl on the front of the jacket and case is first shown in silhouette with her dog walking through the woods.  Just before the gutter, they are in full color and jumping over a log.  On the first page, the duo stop and crouch down to look at fossils.  The girl's left foot moves off the right side as her hand puts the fossil in her pocket.  Her dog, head raised, is smelling that fossil.  

These images, rendered digitally, by Maribel Lechuga flow beautifully, page turn by page turn.  We first see one of the children turned scientist enjoying one of their favorite pastimes.  Then two separate visuals are joined together by shared elements or by one element morphing into another element.  For the final three individuals, this style is reversed.

Readers will travel from the present to the past, from childhood to adulthood with ease and fascination.  Maribel Lechuga's vibrant pictures are full of details of flora and fauna.  Her historical accuracy of place and time through clothing, architecture, and technology is excellent.  Energized by her artwork, we want to be with these people and we are.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  We are at the same level as Will who has climbed up an oak tree.  A nest filled with five blue-speckled eggs is nestled between two branches.  His left arm is wrapped around the tree trunk for support.  His right arm and hand are extended toward the nest.  His face is filled with happy anticipation.  On the grassy meadow with low shrubs beneath him, his bike is laying on its side.

Whether you are already a collector and lover of the outdoors or not, this book, What's in Your Pocket?: Collecting Nature's Treasures written by Heather L. Montgomery with illustrations by Maribel Lechuga, is guaranteed to inspire you to increase your respect and interest in our natural world.  At the close of the book are four plus pages titled More About These (Grown-Up) Kids.  There is a recommended additional book title for more facts about each person after these short biographical paragraphs.  There is A Note from the Illustrator, A Note from the Author: My Collections, a list of Field Guides and a Selected Bibliography.  Your personal and professional collections won't be complete without a copy of this book.

To discover more about Heather L. Montgomery and Maribel Lechuga and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Heather L. Montgomery has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Maribel Lechuga has an account on Instagram.  At the publisher's website is an interior image and a fantastic nine-page activity kit.  At Penguin Random House are several of the initial interior illustrations.

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