I’m participating in Kid Lit Frenzy’s 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. My goal is to read 100 nonfiction picture books this year. If you’d like to see what nonfiction picture books others are sharing this week, visit Kid Lit Frenzy’s link-up post.
Mrs. Harkness and the Panda, written by Alicia Potter and exquisitely illustrated by Melissa Sweet (seriously, is there anything Melissa Sweet can’t do?!), tells the story of the brave Mrs. Harkness, who traveled to China in the 1930s to search for the elusive and shy panda bear. It’s quite a story. Her husband had died in China attempting this expedition, and of course everyone thought she was mad to even attempt it. It’s impossible to feel very good today about what this expedition did–they discovered a solitary baby panda in a tree, no doubt waiting for its mother to return, and they absconded with it!
Mrs. Harkness brought her baby panda back to America and eventually gave it to the Brookfield Zoo. But the Author’s Note at the end points out that panda-mania helped change attitudes about panda survival and conservation. Zoos were also the primary site of animal observation and science at this time, so Mrs. Harkness’s panda provided scientists with valuable information. Potter’s writing is especially strong and engaging. This book sparks interesting discussion about conservation and species survival. It also sparked an interest in my kids in learning more about pandas, so I’ll be looking for more panda books.
I am totally in love with Parrots over Puerto Rico, written by Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore and illustrated in gorgeous paper and fabric collage by Susan Roth. It’s a brilliantly designed book. There are no words at all on the cover–just the image of the birds. And when you open the book, you read vertically–that is, the book opens like your laptop and you lift the pages up rather than turn from left to right. (Did that analogy make any sense at all??) And that’s a genius choice because the book is about birds living in the tops of trees, so the vertical alignment emphasizes the subject and theme. The art is really the star here, but the text is also very well-done. Simply written and full of information and detail, the book tells the story of how these wild parrots in Puerto Rico became endangered and how scientists worked to save them. I really hope this will win a Caldecott! Definitely one of the most distinguished picture books of 2013.