It Starts With Wonder | Guest blog post from Kate Messner

It Starts With Wonder

by Kate Messner 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This series started on a school field trip. I taught seventh grade English for fifteen years, as part of a wonderful interdisciplinary team. Every winter, we used to take our students on a snowshoe field trip in the nearby Adirondack Mountains to look for animal tracks and other signs of life in the winter woods. On one of those field trips, we saw this.

Hole in snow
Photograph by Loree Griffin Burns

It was just a little hole in the snow, with some tiny tracks leading up to it. The naturalist guiding us could have walked right on past. But instead, she stopped our group and said, “Oh! Everyone gather around and look at this!” When we were all circled around, she pointed down and said breathlessly, “Do you know what this means?” She paused. Then she whispered. “This means that we’ve had a visitor from…the subnivean zone!”

We stood in hushed silence for a moment until someone said, “What’s that?” And our guide explained that the subnivean zone is the fancy phrase used to describe the secret network of tunnels and tiny caves that exist under the winter snow. All the smallest forest animals knew about it, she told us, and they’d go down there to be a little warmer, a little safer from predators. And then we continued on down the path.

But the rest of the day, as I padded through the woods on my snowshoes, I couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d said. We’d been hiking for three or four miles…and all that time, there’d been a secret invisible world going on down there, under the snow? I asked a lot more questions. We talked more about the different animals who make their winter homes under the snow and the creatures who find their way through the woods above. And when I got back to the school bus, after I took attendance and made sure we hadn’t left any seventh graders out in the woods, I started writing. I didn’t even have a notebook with me that day – my first draft of Over and Under the Snow was written on the back of the attendance list for the field trip, in bumpy, school-bus handwriting. But it couldn’t wait, because I was fuelled by wonder that afternoon.

That’s what we do as writers of children’s books – we wonder. We stop everyone in their tracks. We slow down the day for a few minutes to say, “Look at this! Look more closely… Isn’t it amazing?” And that’s how I know when I have a story idea with the staying power to grow into a picture book. If I’m feeling that sense of awe at how things work, how things are, how amazing this part of our natural world is, then kids are likely to feel that way, too.

After Over and Under the Snow was published and doing well in the world, Chronicle asked illustrator Christopher Silas Neal and I if there might be another hidden world we’d like to explore. We emailed back and forth a bit, talking about the things that made us wonder. And we discovered that we both loved our vegetable gardens. Not just the weeding and tomato-eating part of gardening…but the wondering part. We’re both parents who love getting down on our bellies to look more closely at the critters that inhabit our gardens, and that was the wonder that sparked our second book together, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt.

Our third book together, Over and Under the Pond, starts in that same place – with a familiar setting and a desire to slow down for a closer look. When I was getting ready to work on this book, I went back to the setting of Over and Under the Snow – the trails of the Paul Smiths Visitors Interpretive Center in the Adirondacks – but in a different season. The pond that had been covered with ice and snow in January felt like an entirely different place in July — a green, lush, buzzing ecosystem, just waiting to be explored. So I scheduled one of the centre’s guided canoe trips and spent a day paddling through the reeds. We marvelled at the tiny water striders skating on the pond’s surface, stared up at woodpecker scars on a tall tree by the water, and gasped as an American Bittern fluttered up from the grass.

Over the pond
Photograph by Loree Griffin Burns

There were families along on the trip, and I watched them, too. With their phones turned off and tucked away in waterproof bags, they paddled through the quiet together, whispering about the minnows and wondering what might live in that hollow log on shore. Slowing down in places like this feeds us in important ways. As a writer, I walked away from my canoe at the end of the day full of ideas, full of images and poetry and fresh air. I was ready to hit the library, finish my research, and get to work on Over and Under the Pond. But maybe even more important than that, spending time in the quiet of a cold snowy trail or a warm mountain pond reminds us to slow down. To look. Listen. And wonder. That’s my biggest hope for these books – that they’ll bring families together on the couch for a cozy story and then outdoors to wonder, too.


Over and Under the Pond is out now, order your copy today.

Today I Feel…

Today I Feel…

Today I Feel

 

Open-up a discussion about feelings with your little reader with the help of Madalena Moniz’s gorgeous alphabet of emotions.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Beautifully illustrated by Madalena Moniz’s subtle watercolours, Today I Feel… follows a child through a whole range of emotions, from adored to curious to strong. Not all of the emotions are positive and not all of them are simple, but they are all honest and worthy of discussion with a young child.

Today I Feel…: An Alphabet of Emotions is on sale next week – pre-order yours today.

Little Library | Picture Book Biographies

Fill your little one’s library with inspiration

From the story of Charles Darwin aboard the Beagle to a glimpse at the extraordinary life of Josephine Baker, we have a collection of picture book biographies sure to inspire and educate your budding young reader.

Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventure

Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventure Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventure

Charles Darwin’s Around-the-World Adventure by Jennifer Thermes | Abrams Books

Charles Darwin was a scientist by profession but an explorer at heart. At age 22, Darwin embarked on his first voyage aboard a ship called the Beagle. This picture book follows Charles as he explores South America for the first time, collecting insects, galloping with Gauchos, digging up dinosaur bones, eating armadillo for breakfast, and making early discoveries related to evolution and natural selection. He encounters a volcano, a glacier and an earthquake and survives a harrowing five-year journey before returning home to England, determined to devote his life to the natural world. Complete with mesmerizing map work charting his voyage, the biography communicates Darwin’s ideas and discoveries with gentle illustrations that capture his admiration for the world around him.

Ada's Ideas Cover

“Fiona Robinson has created an originally illustrated, empathetically produced tale of a significant character in our history. Highlighting this incredible story of an eighteenth century young woman in complementary mixed media illustrations makes for a truly engaging read.” picture books blogger

Ada's IdeasAda's Ideas

Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson | Abrams Books

Ada Lovelace (1815–1852) was the daughter of Lord Byron, a poet and Anna Isabella Milbanke, a mathematician. Her parents separated when she was young and her mother insisted on a logic-focused education, rejecting Byron’s “mad” love of poetry, but Ada remained fascinated with her father and considered mathematics “poetical science.” Via her friendship with inventor Charles Babbage, she became involved in “programming” his Analytical Engine, a precursor to the computer, thus becoming the world’s first computer programmer.

This picture book biography of Ada Lovelace is a compelling portrait of a woman who saw the potential for numbers to make art.

Josephine

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson | Chronicle Books

In exuberant verse and stirring pictures, Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinsoncreate an extraordinary portrait of the passionate performer and civil rights advocate Josephine Baker, the woman who worked her way from the slums of St. Louis to the grandest stages in the world. Meticulously researched by both author and artist, Josephine’s powerful story of struggle and triumph is an inspiration and a spectacle, just like the legend herself.

On a Beam of Light

“This inspiring picturebook introduction to the life of Einstein has skilled, stylish, engaging illustrations and simple, lyrical text… It encourages children to look, think, visualise, solve problems, and dare to be different.” Nicolette Jones, Sunday Times Culture

On a Beam of Light

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky | Chronicle Books

Travel along with Einstein on a journey full of curiosity, laughter, and scientific discovery. Parents and children alike will appreciate this moving story of the powerful difference imagination can make in any life.

Manfish

 

Manfish

 

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne | Chronicle Books

Before Jacques Cousteau became an internationally known oceanographer and champion of the seas, he was a curious little boy. In this lovely biography, poetic text and gorgeous paintings combine to create a portrait of Jacques Cousteau that is as magical as it is inspiring.

Cloth Lullaby

“Both sad and heart warming; this is a story worth sharing.”Magpie That

9781419718816.IN02Cloth lullaby

“Such an engaging life story and one we urge you to read. Cloth Lullaby is a sensitively produced biography of a hugely creative woman.”picture books blogger

Cloth lullaby

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky and Isabelle Arsenault | Abrams Books

Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010) was a world-renowned modern artist noted for her sculptures made of wood, steel, stone, and cast rubber. Her most famous spider sculpture, Maman, stands more than 30 feet high.

Just as spiders spin and repair their webs, Louise’s own mother was a weaver of tapestries. Louise spent her childhood in France as an apprentice to her mother before she became a tapestry artist herself. She worked with fabric throughout her career, and this biographical picture book shows how Bourgeois’s childhood experiences weaving with her loving, nurturing mother provided the inspiration for her most famous works.

With a beautifully nuanced and poetic story, this book stunningly captures the relationship between mother and daughter and illuminates how memories are woven into us all.

Swan

“The underlying message of undying perseverance is all too abundant and one that will resonate with readers everywhere.” Picture Books Blogger

SwanSwan

“The perfect book to inspire budding ballerinas and guaranteed to have you twirling and pirouetting around the house.”My Little Style File

Swan

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder and Julie Morstad | Chronicle Books

The world is big. Anna is small.
The snow is
everywhere
and all around.

But one night . . .One night, her mother takes her to the ballet, and everything is changed. Anna finds a beauty inside herself that she cannot contain.

So begins the journey of a girl who will one day grow up to be the most famous prima ballerina of all time, inspiring legions of dancers after her: the brave, the generous, the transcendently gifted Anna Pavlova. Beautiful, inspirational, and triumphant, Anna Pavlova’s life is masterfully captured in this exquisite picture book.

Have you got a favourite? Let us know @AbramsChronicle #ACBLittleLibrary

An acorn is just the beginning.

Because of an Acorn cover

Introduce your intrepid young naturalists to life cycles and ecosystems with this clever little book by Lola M. Schaefer and Adam Schaefer. Wander down the forest path to learn how every tree, flower, plant and animal connect to one another in spiralling circles of life. Because, an acorn is just the beginning…

Because of an Acorn_int  Because of an Acorn_int

Because of an Acorn_int

Because of an Acorn_int

Including a glossary of terms and a few ideas of what you can do to help maintain the world’s forests, this little book will inspire, teach and engage young minds.

All from one little acorn…

#FiveYearsOfBooks | Top Five Books for Under 3’s

ACB_5yearlogo_long
Double celebrations; our 5th Birthday and Children’s Book Week!

Take a look at a few of our favourite books for Under 3’s.

Little Giraffe
Little Giraffe Finger Puppet Book Chronicle Books

This adorable Little Giraffe is a favourite both in our office and in bookstores. His charming little face had to be included in our Top Five books for under 3’s!

So spend a day at play with Little Giraffe in this interactive reading experience, fun for you and your little one.

Alphablock
Alphablock
Christopher Franceschelli & Peskimo Illustration
Abrams Books
This is so much more than a book of ABCs.

This fresh high-concept ABC book encourages readers to manipulate the alphabet in a whole new way.

Alphablock features thick pages cut into the shape of each letter, creating a sort of peek-through guessing game around the letter form itself. As children interact with the pages, they will familiarise themselves not only with the 26 letters and associated words, but also with each letter’s physicality — angles, holes and curves, both front and back.

Don’t miss Countablock and the new Dinoblock!

Pantone Colours
Pantone: Colours
Pantone
ABRAMS Books

Not your average colours book, this beautiful book from colour expert Pantone definitely deserves a place in our Top 5 books for Under 3’s.

Pantone: Colours introduces children to the ten basic colours and twenty shades of each. Every spread features a colour heading, a monochromatic image and a variety of gridded shades and tints of the same colour. Younger children will enjoy naming the colours of the high-contrast recognisable objects. Slightly older children will peruse the shades to choose favourites; immersing themselves in the concept that one colour name actually refers to a variety of dark, light and in-between tones.

For more Pantone for little hands visit out website.

Taro Gomi Play All Day
Taro Gomi’s Play All Day
More Than 100 Punch-Out Pieces!
Tarō Gomi
Chronicle Books

Let Taro Gomi’s unique punch-out-and-play book take you on an adventure!

Taro Gomi invites children to punch out more than 60 fantastic playthings, including ring-toss games, finger puppets, boxes, picture frames, a zoo’s worth of animals, and more!

Packed with Gomi’s fun, accessible artwork and a delightful variety of games and toys, this book will appeal to children of all ages, engaging their imaginations and entertaining them all day long.

TouchThinkLearn: Opposites

TouchThinkLearn: Opposites
Xavier Deneux
Chronicle Books

Xavier Deneux’s TouchThinkLearn books redefined the very young concept book market. Their ingeniously simple and tactile way of communicating core concepts, allow the youngest readers to actively explore knowledge in a hands-on, multi-dimensional way. Just seeing the cover, with its powerful combination of die-cuts and raised, shaped elements, readers will know they’re in for a very special treat. Our Top 5 Books for Under 3’s wouldn’t be complete without a book from this series.

Opposites is the ideal subject for the TouchThinkLearn format: the raised die-cuts of the left-hand page ‘reflected’ in the depressed cut-outs of the right. Whether it’s the moon rising out of the night of one page and the sun setting in the day of the next; or a little polar bear emerging into the white arctic snow and a tiny mouse disappearing down a black hole, Opposites offers shape and reality to give early learning new dimension.