Monday, November 5, 2012

30 Days of Picture Books - On Earth by G. Brian Karas

It's Day 5 of Picture Book Month, and it's Nonfiction Monday, so today what's on my mind is information. Facts, if you will. We don't always stop to think how much cold hard data comes at us in the form of the picture books we read as kids, but it's a lot, really. For little ones, a picture book might be their first introduction to dinosaurs, to air travel, to plants and trees. We've certainly read some stellar nonfiction on these topics and many others. In fact, Sprout learned most of the names of fruits and veggies from a terrific picture book on the subject, and to this day, every time we go in the produce section together, he chants, "Broccoli, cauliflower, shout it out!". (Okay, so we get a few looks.)

Lots of times bookstores and libraries keep picture books they deem "nonfiction" in a separate section from your Splat the Cats or your Fancy Nancys. So it requires a bit more looking around to find these kinds of titles, but it's worth it. Sprout pores over a large format book on (what else) trains I brought home, and he's learned so much from it that I swear he can instantly identify each different type he sees.

Today's choice is from the nonfiction shelves -- On Earth by G. Brian Karas. We checked this title out because we'd been having discussions about seasons and time change, and I needed a little backup to explain the whole notion in a simple way. I wanted something that would give an overview of the basic concepts, but not in a dry or boring fashion. The great thing about picture books is you can generally find multiple titles on a topic, selections suited to different age ranges so you can choose what's appropriate.

On Earth fills the bill nicely, as Karas explains the rotation of the Earth and movement around the sun, and how that impacts our seasons. With large format paintings brushed with just a hint of whimsy, he demonstrates how the weather is different according to what time of year it is, and also discusses the passage of time. Best of all, he carefully explains that there's a difference in seasons between the Southern and Northern hemispheres. The page illustrating this just blew Sprout's mind -- "snow up here but sun down there?" -- but it gave us a chance to talk about how his family in Ethiopia experiences different conditions because they are closer to the Equator. I'm always pleased when we can make connections between life here and life in his birth country, an opportunity that comes up frequently when we read together.

"On earth we go for a giant ride in space, spinning like a merry-go-round." This is the first sentence of Karas's excellent picture book, and one that I think represents factual titles quite well. Obviously you'll want more detail if reading to an older child. But the ability of a skilled author to translate complicated concepts into a succinct bit of imagery relatable to a young child is quite impressive.

Next time you're looking for information, don't just head for the computer -- give the picture book shelves a browse, and see how you can help your child learn and connect with books at the same time.

On Earth by G. Brian Karas, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons

No comments: