An appealing mix of lively poems, engrossing pictures, and smart bookmaking.



Sixteen playful poems excavate soil and its symbiotic life-forms, targeting the subterranean habits of 12 animal species.

A tongue-in-cheek “Dirt Recipe” lists ingredients that serve “a host of hungry fungi / and at least a billion germs.” Some poems focus on how and what critters eat. The doodlebug’s earthen funnel can catch ants while the trapdoor spider’s ingenious hinged snare captures others. Harrison’s accessible verse frequently employs rhymed couplets: “A thousand ants, without a sound, / build a city underground.” Elsewhere, he explores poetic forms: “Doodlebug” is a funnel-shaped concrete poem; “Gopher Tortoise” is a villanelle. Cosgrove’s pictures expertly exploit the clever vertical orientation, with double-page spreads depicting both aboveground and subterrestrial realms. Above the gutter, “Yellow Jacket Wasp” depicts two, one flying, another climbing from a small hole in the ground. Below, another 15 emerge from a nest whose dark opening ominously promises more. Occasionally, the artist extends a poem’s meaning by presenting two views. For “Bumblebee,” a queen is shown among autumn leaves, then burrowed into a cozy winterized home. Two kids of color appear occasionally. The color palette combines naturalistic and fanciful hues: Wasps and bees sport their black and yellow stripes amid woodland scenes in seafoam, teal, and dusty lavender. Harrison includes additional notes for the poems’ 14 subjects, with at least one overgeneralization. (Not all grubs are “baby Japanese beetle[s].”)

An appealing mix of lively poems, engrossing pictures, and smart bookmaking. (web citations) (Informational picture book/poetry. 5-9)

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8234-3861-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Well-intentioned but likely to overwhelm the intended readers and listeners.


The cadences of a familiar nursery rhyme introduce concerns about ocean garbage and what we, who made the mess, can do to help clean it up.

With the rhyme and meter of “The House That Jack Built,” Lord builds the problem of plastic waste in the oceans from the fish that must swim through it to a netted seal, a trapped turtle, and overflowing landfills before turning to remedies: cleaning beaches and bays, reducing waste, and protesting the use of fishing nets. Two pages of backmatter describe problems in more detail, while a third elaborates potential solutions; suggestions for individual action are provided as well. Blattman’s images begin with a racially diverse group of youngsters in a small boat in the center of a plastic trash gyre. The children, shown at different angles, bob spread by spread over trash-filled waters. To accompany the words, “Look at the mess that we made,” she adds a polluted city skyline and a container ship belching smoke to the scene. Finally, the dismayed young boaters reach a beach where a clean-up is in process. From their little skiff they help scoop up trash, rescue the turtle, and wave protest signs. The message is important, even vital in today’s world, but many caregivers and many environmentalists would eschew this doomful approach as a means of introducing environmental concerns to the early-elementary audience who might be drawn in by the nursery rhyme.

Well-intentioned but likely to overwhelm the intended readers and listeners. (map) (Informational picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-947277-14-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Flashlight Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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Informative yet optimistic, this cri du coeur from Planet Awesome deserves wide attention.


From the Our Universe series , Vol. 6

The sixth in McAnulty’s Our Universe series focuses on Earth’s human-caused problems, offering some family-level activities for mitigation.

Vivaciously narrated by “Planet Awesome,” the text establishes facts about how Earth’s location with regard to the sun allows life to flourish, the roles of the ocean and atmosphere, and the distinctions between weather and climate. McAnulty clearly explains how people have accelerated climate change “because so many human things need energy.” Soft-pedaling, she avoids overt indictment of fossil fuels: “Sometimes energy leads to dirty water, dirty land, and dirty air.” Dire changes are afoot: “Some land is flooding. Other land is too dry—and hot. YIKES! Not good.” “And when I’m in trouble, Earthlings are in trouble, too.” Litchfield’s engaging art adds important visual information where the perky text falls short. On one spread, a factory complex spews greenhouse gases in three plumes, each identified by the chemical symbols for carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Throughout, planet Earth is appealingly represented with animated facial features and arms—one green, one blue. The palette brightens and darkens in sync with the text’s respective messages of hope and alarm. Final pages introduce alternative energy sources—wind, hydro, solar, and “human power—that’s from your own two feet.” Lastly, Earth provides excellent ideas for hyperlocal change, from buying less new stuff to planting trees. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Informative yet optimistic, this cri du coeur from Planet Awesome deserves wide attention. (author’s note, numerical facts, atmospheric facts, ideas for action, sources) (Informational picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-78249-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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