Summertime can feel sleepy during these dog days of August, and nothing feels better than a trip to the beach! Here are two books by award-winning nonfiction author Melissa Stewart and illustrator Sarah Brannon which highlight two types of summertime creatures — shelled ones and sleeping ones.
“Summertime Sleepers: Animals that Estivate” (2021, Charlesbridge Publishing, written by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah Brannen, ages 4-10) introduces readers to the animals which sleep through the summer. As we read the child-friendly text, we meet 12 estivating animals and learn their habits as they “settle into cool, snug spots” to sleep through the summer’s heat.
With a main text which compares and contrasts, we see many different animal behaviors. For example, some animals “snooze in groups, but others rest all alone,” and “Some hard-shelled creatures climb up high for a nap … while others doze underground.”
Detailed watercolor illustrations depict the animals in their natural habitats. Many pages include a child’s black-and-white scrapbook which gives the reader details such as the animal’s scientific name, home territory and size. The scrapbooks also include drawings of the animal in action.
The book includes a secondary text on most pages as well, which highlights specific animals. For example, we learn about how land snails estivate when we read, “When the days grow long and hot, land snails cling to tree branches and seal their shells shut. Their heart rates slow, and they barely breathe as they wait for cooler days.”
In total, the book gives a large amount of information which is easily taken in and digested through the different elements of the text and illustrations. This well-crafted book was awarded a 2022 Sibert Honor.
In “Seashells: More than a Home” (2020, Charlesbridge Publishing, ages 3-9), Stewart and Brannen also deliver information in an engaging, accessible way. We learn at the beginning that seashells, “like treasures from a secret world beneath the waves,” come in many shapes, sizes and colors, and that’s because “seashells have so many different jobs to do.”
The rest of the book introduces the reader, using comparisons, to the roles that seashells play. Seashells “rise and sink like a submarine … or hold steady like an anchor,” for example.
The secondary text on each spread gives more details, such as talking about the gas-filled chambers of nautilus shells which help the creation dive down by filling with water and then rise up by letting water flow out.
The colorful watercolor illustrations include a small sketchbook on each spread with diagrams of the action being described in the text.
Reading on, we learn that seashells can “pry like a crowbar,” “curl up tight like an armadillo,” “let in light like a window” and “wear disguises like a spy.”
Each spread brings to light well-researched examples of shells readers may have seen on the beach. However, now they will be able to understand the reasons for these shells’ shapes and configurations.
We end with the idea that seashells are homes as well, which “Protect like a fortress.” Backmatter includes the five largest groups of mollusks with a short description of each. This well-executed book is a companion book to the author/illustrator pair’s 2014 ALA Notable Book “Feathers: Not Just for Flying.”
No matter which of these books they read, young readers are in for an empowering, engaging, informative treat!
Alice B. McGinty (alicebmcginty.com) is the award-winning author of 50 books for children and runs the Words on Fire Writing Camp for Teens during the summer, wordsonfirecamp.wordpress.com/.