Book Review: Rotten! Vultures, Beetles, Slime, and Nature’s Other Decomposers by Anita Sanchez, illus by Gilbert Ford

 

Review by Emily Aguiló-Pérez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: What’s that terrible smell? Plug your nose! Run! Something smells…rotten! But rotten isn’t always bad. If nothing ever rotted, nothing could live. Decomposition seems like the last stop on the food chain, but it’s just the beginning. When dead things rot, they give life to a host of other creatures. So who are these decomposers? Sharks and vultures feast on animal carcasses. Worms, maggots, and dung beetles devour decaying plant and animal matter. Decomposition is happening everywhere: oceans, forests, in your backyard—even between your teeth! It’s nature’s way of creating energy for all living things. So unplug your nose! Open this book to uncover the dirty rotten truth about one of nature’s most fascinating processes.

MY TWO CENTS: Who knew learning about dung beetles, worms, vultures, mummies, and numerous other “rotten” things could be so much fun?! In this informative book, Anita Sanchez provides so many facts about decomposition. I learned, for instance, about the different kinds of dung beetles and how they create their homes out of dung. It’s fascinating! I also learned about the decomposition process of a tree log and why it doesn’t smell terrible (even though one would think anything rotten would smell badly). The book also touches on items that do not decompose and the dangers they pose for nature. Speaking about plastic, it explains that “landfills are overflowing with plastic that’s sitting there, not decomposing. But even worse is the plastic that doesn’t make it into a landfill” (65).

Eighty-three pages of information can seem like a lot for a young reader, but Sanchez’s writing paired with the engaging and colorful illustrations by Gilbert Ford truly provide a fun learning experience. The book is divided into eight chapters, each one focusing on a different decomposer. Each chapter has a variety of sections that provide focused information on the specific topic, using stories, humorous snapshots, and creative illustrations. Some of my favorite recurring sections were “Decomposer Selfie,” which provides short bits of information about an animal or organism, and “Rot It Yourself,” which offers brief experiment directions. There is much to enjoy in this book! It would make a great addition to any library.

TEACHING TIPS: The book naturally lends itself to a science classroom (especially upper elementary and middle grades). There are experiments students can perform and which do not require too many materials. In addition, students can use the bibliography that is included at the end of the book to perform further research on a specific topic, animal, organism, etc. presented in the book.

In addition, this book is a wonderful model for various approaches to informational or non-fiction writing. Because it uses narratives, short blurbs, longer texts, descriptions, comparisons, process analysis, and images, among others, students can learn about and develop their own skills for writing non-fiction.

 

Anita Sanchez--author photoABOUT THE AUTHOR: (from the dust jacket) Anita Sanchez loves to explore nature, even the stinky, slimy parts of it. She dug into the world of rot by creating a compost pile, viewing vultures, watching worms, and even swimming with (very small) sharks. Check out her blog about unloved plants and animals at anitasanchez.com.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: (from the dust jacket) Gilbert Ford feels spoiled rotten for getting to spend all his time drawing. He is the author and illustrator of The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring and How the Cookie Crumbled. He has also illustrated the award-winning Mr. Ferris and His Wheel, Soldier Song, Itch!, and many middle grade novels. He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Learn more about his work at gilbertford.com.

 

 

 

 

headshotABOUT THE REVIEWER: Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez is an Assistant Professor of English (Children’s Literature) at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.  Her teaching and research are in the areas of children’s literature (particularly Latinx literature), girlhood studies, and children’s cultures. Her published work has focused on girlhood as represented in literature and Puerto Rican girls’ identity formation with Barbie dolls. She has presented research on Latinx children’s books at various conferences and has served on children’s book award committees such as the 2017 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the 2018 Pura Belpré Award. Currently, she is part of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s “A Baker’s Dozen” committee.

Book Review: Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez, illus. by Felicita Sala

 

Review by Dora M. Guzmán

Joan ProcterDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK:  Back in the days of long skirts and afternoon teas, young Joan Procter entertained the most unusual party guests: slithery and scaly ones, who turned over teacups and crawled past the crumpets….

While other girls played with dolls, Joan preferred the company of reptiles. She carried her favorite lizard with her everywhere–she even brought a crocodile to school!

When Joan grew older, she became the Curator of Reptiles at the British Museum. She went on to design the Reptile House at the London Zoo, including a home for the rumored-to-be-vicious komodo dragons. There, just like when she was a little girl, Joan hosted children’s tea parties–with her komodo dragon as the guest of honor.

With a lively text and vibrant illustrations, scientist and writer Patricia Valdez and illustrator Felicita Sala bring to life Joan Procter’s inspiring story of passion and determination.

Image result for joan procter

Joan Procter

MY TWO CENTS: This picture book encompasses the biography of reptile scientist, Joan Procter. The story begins by contrasting the ‘cold scaly’ interests to her peers, which eventually lead to her passion in science, specifically zoology. Joan proves many people wrong as she goes above and beyond in her work and research, even during the war. Her hard work and effort land her an opportunity to organize a public display of reptiles at the London Zoo, including Komodo dragons. The illustrations vibrate throughout its textured lines and solid colors, especially in the reptiles. Their colors stay true to their nature, yet enhance the illustration to make it fun for children. The author also includes a thorough biography at the end with a bibliography for readers to extend their own research on this phenomenal scientist!

One word-inspirational. Joan found her passion at a young age and proved her worth as a woman scientist. This book follows her journey of finding her reptilian passion and demonstrating perseverance in her personal and professional journey. In this biography, the reader learns about a scientist who not only studies animals, but also diagnoses and treats them to their best health. Overall, a must add to your library and future read alouds for all readers.

TEACHING TIPS: There are a variety of ways to implement this book within your literacy block. In reading, teachers can highlight Joan’s character traits and how it influenced the trajectory of her life events. Readers can also compare other woman scientists and contrast historical events or challenges. The book also provides multiple opportunities to teach rich vocabulary words that describe reptiles and expand knowledge of adjectives.

 

patricia valdezABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patricia Valdez is a scientist who loves writing for children. She earned her PhD in molecular and cell biology from the University of California, Berkeley, and works at the National Institutes of Health. Originally from Texas, she now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. This is her first picture book. Visit her at PatriciaValdezBooks.com and follow her on Twitter at @Patricia_Writer.

 

 

 

felicita salaABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Felicita Sala is a self-taught artist who studied philosophy at the University of Western Australia. She has worked on several animation projects, but her passion is making picture books. Felicita lives in Rome with her husband and their daughter. Visit her at FelicitaSala.com, FelicitaSala.blogspot.com, and Instagram.com/felicita.sala.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches college courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is currently a doctoral student with a major in Reading and Language. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never ending “to read” pile!

Book Review: Violet by Alidis Vicente

By Sujei Lugo

VioletDESCRIPTION: “Violet is a bright and colorful story set in the Galápagos Islands. Told entirely from the point of view of the animals that live there, this is the tale of a unique baby bird named Violet. Violet’s mother is a Red-Footed Booby, and Violet’s father is a Blue-Footed Booby. Their baby, Violet, is the first one of her kind, a Purple-Footed Booby, and she displays characteristics of both species. Violet’s red footed and blue footed relatives, however, don’t notice her similarities at first, just her differences, and they don’t see how she will ever fit in. Through the kindly intervention of a wise old Galápagos Tortoise, the birds all learn an important lesson about acceptance, and Violet shows off a new dance that is the best of all of them”

MY TWO CENTS: Through the voices of talking animals, Alidis Vicente brings us a rhyming children’s book about prejudice and acceptance. Nancy Cote’s illustrations, founded on acrylic paintings and a pastel colors palette, supports the sympathetic approach of the story. This is the second collaboration between Vicente and Cote, and is one of those children’s books that uses animals to provide a voice of justice and a moral tale at the end.

The story is set in the Galápagos Islands and is told from the perspective of those who have heard the tale about this place “where nature is untouched” and where two group of birds were “forced to pick a side.” Readers are immediately introduced to the biodiversity of the Galápagos Islands and how animals “ruled the land.” Violet was like no other animal that lived on those islands. She was a purple-footed booby, the offspring a blue-footed booby (father) and red-footed booby (mother), who grew up mingling with their own. Her parents defied their social roles and barriers and decided to start a family, thus a baby seabird named Violet was born. The new family returned to their hometown, where the news of a “mixed seabird” was taken as “horrific,” a disgrace, and a baby whose feet “shouldn’t be on land.” In the midst of this outrage, an old, wise tortoise interferes to bring sense to chaos and acknowledge that Violet is different, a descendant of a red-footed and blue-footed booby. Violet proceeds to show her skills, changing the mood and reception of fellow animals, providing actions for the tortoise’s final statement: “THIS makes the Galápagos complete.”

Alidis Vicente uses the opportunity to talk about prejudice and differences and successfully moves beyond the tired “we are all the same” trope. Through a simple story, she challenges colorblindness and provides the characters of this narrative (and readers) the lens to acknowledge differences among their habitats (communities). It is then that communities should work to challenge, minimize and, finally, eradicate prejudice and oppression due to our differences. Although books with talking animals may hinder children in the understanding of social issues, adults can play a role in guiding children to situate what was discussed to their own lives and their surroundings.

TEACHING TIPS: Violet is a great picture book for K-3 grade students and it successfully intersects Language Arts, Science, and Art. Language Arts teachers can incorporate this book in their classrooms and provide students the opportunity to learn new words, while enriching their vocabulary regarding fauna terms, verbs, and adjectives. The book includes a glossary with definitions and pronunciations of some words used in the story. Teachers can also give meaning to those new words and the story’s plot by encouraging a discussion around prejudice and differences.

Science teachers can use the book to teach students about different species, habitats, and biodiversity. The book incorporates several illustrations of different animals with their specific physical attributes. In collaboration with Art class, students can draw and paint images of sea lions, iguanas, seabirds, and whales, while learning about their distinctive features, habitats, and endangered species.

AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR: Alidis Vicente is a stay-at-home mom from New Jersey who began writing children’s books once her son was born. She graduated from Rutgers University and worked for New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services before focusing on her career as a writer. Vicente is the author of The Coquí and the Iguana (2011), The Missing Chancleta and Other Top Secret Cases (2013). The Missing Chancleta won first place in the Best Youth Chapter Fiction Book (Spanish/Bilingual Category) in the 2014 International Latino Book Awards. You can also read her guest post on Latin@s in Kid Lit.

Nancy Cote is a children’s books author and illustrator from Massachusetts who earned her B.F.A. in Painting from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Her books have won several awards including the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award, 1996 Notable Children’s Trade Book from The Children’s Book Council and the National Council for Social Studies, Florida Reading Association Children’s Book Award, SSLI 1999 Honor Book,  She has illustrated various picture books, such as Flip-Flops (1998), I Like Your Buttons! (1999), Hamster Camp: How Harry Got Fit (2004),  Mrs. Fickle’s Pickles (2006), Ella and the All-Stars (2013) and Watch the Cookie! (2014).

For more information about Violet, visit your local library or bookstore. It’s also available in amazon.com

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Alidis Vicente

Nancy Cote