Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How Things Work in the Yard

Words and Art by Lisa Campbell Ernst
$14.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages

Eyes will dart around the pages of this charming book as if they were taking in a yard awakening with activity.

With adorable paper cut-outs and facts that say just enough, award-winning Ernst answers 20 questions about what children see as they play in their yard.

Each question is posed as child would ask it: How does it work? -- whether the thing is mechanical or not -- and this gives the story a sweet feeling from the start.

"How does a butterfly work?" one spread asks. Among the answers: by tasting nectar with its feet, using wings to fly and feel sound, and sipping nectar with a straw-like proboscis. 

Children learn where dirt comes from, how a robin sings, what an acorn becomes, how a squirrel leaps and balances, why a snail leaves a gooey trail, how a sprinkler sprays water at them, even how a bubble floats from a wand.

Ernst brings a child's experience to the page with playful details. In a spread about wheels, a child tugs on his wagon and causes his stuffed animals inside to flop over. In a spread about water, a child galoshes splash down into a puddle.

Each description is age-appropriate (fireflies are "beetles with a blinking light") and a few spreads suggest ways for readers to play with the subject: Ernst shows how to chain dandelions together, cause ripples in a puddle and float a leaf like a boat.

Colors are warm and soft, and cut-outs are cheery and simple, yet have added details that give them depth and magic: a dandelion's petals spiral around in tiny rectangles and a seed pod seems to puff out as tiny stars of white paper crowd onto a serrated circle of velum.

Like the endearing little books preschoolers staple from construction paper to learn about the life cycle of a plant or butterfly, this book captures a child's wonder at learning about the world for the first time.

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