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April 9, 2012

New Books: Outside Your Window/Step Gently Out

Spring is here (we'll ignore the fact that winter never really came to speak of, at least in the Northeast), and as always, with the season come nature-oriented children's books. Two from Candlewick Press stand out, both celebrating the arrival of new creatures and plants, both using simple poetry as their text, and both featuring astonishing and very, very beautiful images.

The first, Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature, is a set of nature poems for toddlers by writer (and biologist) Nicola Davies. Each page or spread offers a few lines of simple free verse on one aspect of nature a child might encounter (in any season, not just spring)—a feather on the ground, say, or tadpoles in a pond, or a formation of geese in the sky. And each subject is illustrated by Mark Hearld with big, vivid strokes of brush, pen, and collage—a style reminiscent of old Golden Books editions I remember from my childhood. If that's any indication, Hearld's illustrations, and this book, will have a lasting impression on the young kids reading it now.

The second, Step Gently Out, has a similar theme of new creatures in springtime, but with two main differences. First, its text is one poem by Helen Frost that stretches through the entire book, just a few words on each page or spread. And second, its poetry is illustrated by often mind-blowing photography by Rick Lieder. It's the kind of imagery you usually see in science books for kids these days, or on video in nature documentaries—incredibly detailed and precise close-ups of bees gathering pollen from a flower, or butterflies drinking drops off a leaf. Using these photographs as the illustration for a poetry book, however, was a stroke of brilliance: It removes the clinical scientific aspect that nonfiction biology books for kids often find hard to shake, and replaces it with a reinforcement of the sense of wonder that's always been my first impression of images of this kind.

Each book is marvelous and even gasp-inducing at times on is own, but they also complement each other particularly well as a matching pair.

[Cover images courtesy of Candlewick Press]

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