Outside Your Window
A First Book of Nature
By Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Mark Hearld
$19.99, ages 3 and up, 108 pages
A world of wonder is unfolding outside -- all through the windows of this enchanting book.
Each spread of this big-format nature book shows what a child might see, looking out of their window into the natural world:
From "a hundred fluffy parachutes" about to take flight off a dandelion to a squirrel scampering from trunk to fence with a fidgety gate and air of alertness.
Zoologist and award-winning author Nicola Davies muses about the natural world in short, playful poems, while artist Mark Hearld plays out what she describes in enchanting collages.
Hearld, who makes his debut in picture books with this gem, impresses with a voluminous display of art and creatively layered details. His collages are organic, absorbing and rich as earth.
One of his most enchanting collages, also shown in part on the cover, shows two cutouts of birds by a nest that's been built up with paint, strips of paper and real grass then set against an air-brushed sky.
Block prints of feathers are applied to the wings and the chests are painted with delicate white plumage, then each tawny bird is given beguiling eyes of altering black and rust circles.
Over spring, summer, winter and fall, the scenes in the book shift and develop, and familiar things happen:
Icicles drip from the eaves of a child's house, spiders dangle from "tiny parachutes" of string from the window frame or baby birds open their mouths in a nest perched outside the window.
You can almost see little hands on sills and noses pressed to panes, as readers watch the seasons come and go on the pages, and little creatures pass by on their busy way.
Davis's writing is wonderfully disarming, often sounding like it came from a child.
"in the city park at sunrise, / a little brown bird sings. / "Tu-loo, tu-loo, tu-loo, / chuck, chuck, weeeeeeeee! / His song says, 'This is mine!'" she proclaims in the poem, "Summer Song."
Later, Davis describes how the tails of lambs "wiggle, wiggle, squiggle," and lists five reasons to keep chickens. Among them, "They look very silly when they are taking a dust bath."
At times readers go beyond their window and enter the scenes that see: dipping a net into a pond for newts, fish or wriggly worms or watching a tide fill a bay "like a brimming cup."
On one spread, readers watch tadpoles wriggle in an icy pond and in others, they investigate what they see or imagine that they're a part of it.
"I found a feather on the ground," Davis writes in one poem. "It looked so sad and scruffy, / split into little spiky barbs. / I pulled it tight between my fingers, / the way a bird does with its beak; the stringy barbs zipped back together, to make the feather whole again. / Then I swooshed it through the air, / and I could feel it trying to fly."
Other poem are instructive -- suggesting wonderful things to look for, such as rainbows after a storm, or are invitations for readers to play.
In a spread about fox dens, Davis suggests that readers make their own hideaway out of twigs, dead leaves, even bales of hay, then she gives a charming list of things to do their den.
"1. Sit and think. / 2. Notice things, like the smell of the earth or what beetles are doing. / 3. Get very close to birds and animals. You can see them, but they can't see you. / 4. Have adventures -- your den can be anything you want it to be."
Sometimes a scene feels like it's coming to life, as if the words and pictures were in motion and their pace was building, as in "Night."
"The Breeze shivers through the barley, / and the sea sighs. / Far away an owl is calling / and a star shines. / The moon sails white and silver / in the dark sky," she writes as an inky breeze swirls around the poem. "Sometimes you can feel, / Sometimes you can feel, / sometimes you feel the world is turning."
On every page, something floats, crawls, swims, trickles, flies or scurries on a journey to somewhere else -- and always in time for the readers to see it go by.
This is a book to soak up, and wander through back and forth. Then, when it's not in use, to prop up and display, rather than slide into a bookshelf.
Give it to a child with a drawing book, an ink pen and colored pencils, and watch him run out his back door to find his own natural wonders to record.