I was going to start Halloween posts but then I made an awful discovery, creepier than any Halloween story: I think Candlewick is anticipating family conversations and sending books in advance. Look, I’m just saying… Ok so this is one I requested, yes, but it’s not like I gave them a schedule! I just figured it could be an interesting option for homeschooling and if it were good, I could review it in that light.
Then comes the day that my daughter and I are out at the cafe and she was reading about deforestation. She looked up and wondered about instituting a policy where “for each tree cut down, one had to be planted.” We discussed it, talked about current policies, and talked about new forests (sustainable or not) planted as she suggested vs old growth. And then we got home and my eyes fell on the book that had arrived the very day before… A Walk Through the Rain Forest by Martin Jenkins with illustrations by Vicky White. (It will be out October 18.)
The book is, in terms of production and style, an absolutely appealing nonfiction hardback suitable for a number of ages, though I think my daughter is technically probably at the older range for it: I think the sweet spot is Grades 2 and 3. You could easily build a classroom unit around it, and if I can fantasize, a whole elementary school project centered in the school library would be fantastically fun and enriching. But I’m thinking as a homeschool mother now and this was startlingly perfect for the moment and, further, proof of something I’ve been wanting to rant about for a while: how adamantly I believe that the idea of books being “too young” or “outgrown” can be damaging.
See, I think if I were a Grade 4 or 5 classroom teacher, I might hesitate to use this book. Not because I think the kids wouldn’t benefit from it: they would. But because the schoolroom pressure (sometimes based in curricula, other times coming from parents or other forces) can push away from picture books. This is a mistake I find it hard to overstate. I recall once being in a book shop and I saw a kid enthusiastically picking up a brightly illustrated book and saying “oh look!” The parent barely glanced and didn’t so much as flip it open before saying “that’s too young for you.” I wanted to cry and throw a tantrum as the kid put it down.
Fortunately, I think the sophisticated cover on A Walk Through the Rain Forest will give it more of a chance to reach older kids, and every child will enjoy the engaging storytelling and almost detective-like investigation in this book as we walk in, listen and look, wonder at the absence of young trees and why they can’t see animals… and try to figure out how a rain forest grows… And, finally, thrillingly, discover the answer through the guidance of author and illustrator! Watching how the trees and animals work together is explosively interesting to children who love nature, and the illustrations are the kind that make kids say, “cooool” and “oh wow!” Ask me how I know.
The gentle humour with which the book unfolds is exactly like that in a good storybook, and I’m going to boldly surmise (though I haven’t given it a practical test drive– I’m arrogant enough to know I’m pretty decent at gauging such things by now) it would be a great read aloud.
But the versatility of this book comes entirely down to the gorgeous storytelling paired with remarkably perfect art. It’s so beautifully executed in what it limits itself to doing (telling the story of how a rain forest works) that it evokes far, far more: for my purposes, it propelled our conversation about planted forests vs old forests to a whole new level. It also played into the independent project my daughter is doing on the trees in our area. It led her to ask about maybe making a trip to a forest in our area.
Her reading level is, perhaps, “higher.” I don’t know what that means in practical terms. She’s beside me on the sofa laughing over Sergio Ruzzier’s Fox + Chick books now (there’s a new one, Up and Down, and it’s somehow as good as the first three– no one since Lobel has kept quality up that long in a buddies series of that kind). That series is aimed at new readers. There is not, to my knowledge, a legally binding ruling that prevents anyone else from enjoying them. And enjoying their sly, smart, somehow tender but unsentimental stories is beneficial to her.
Likewise, this slender, brilliant picture book which takes a precise yet original angle on the growth of a rain forest has given us the answer we were looking for yet didn’t know how to find in the unit I didn’t know I was doing at this level. It was a homeschooling gift.
It’s out October 18, and if you know a kid who loves animals and forests, they will want this. Teachers and librarians? You might as well pre-order it, honestly.