Saturday, September 19, 2015

Nature Knew It First! Picture This: Shapes by Judith Nouvion; translated by Vali Tamm


A starfish has five
strong arms. Count them:

Nature, that peerless design artist, is the ultimate source of the familiar shapes that dominate this concept book that teach preschoolers the shapes--triangles, squares, circles, and the more complex diamonds, spirals, curved and straight lines, and even trapezoids, hexagons, and pentagons.

And nature does it in living color, with elaborate shapes and patterns that have their functions--camouflage, simulation, attraction, strength, and sometimes seemingly artistic caprice. Judith Nouvion's Shapes (Picture This) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) is that rare creation, a board book for preschoolers and primary graders that includes stunning photographs for nature study and concepts of geometric shape with illustrations that inspire both young scientist and artist.

Nouvion begins with a ladybug on a sunflower and invites the child to count the dots on her wings, but also remarks that the number of dots reveal the type of beetle she is. Other glorious one- and two-page spreads show a line of pigeons roosting on a straight telephone line, followed immediately by the supple curved lines of a slithering snake. There is a lovely round, blue jellyfish, with radial lines from center to circumference, a more-or-less triangular green moth on a green leaf whose striations mirror the figure, a square-shelled ghost crab, a rectangular-ish flying squirrel in full soaring position, the diamond shape of a devil ray, and the oval egg of a gentoo penguin in its pebble-and-feather nest.

There is a sumptuous semi-circular peacock tail, coiled antelope horns, and the beaded beauty of a chameleon's spiral tail.  A flock of flamingos on a lake form a definite criss-cross, while honey bees tend the golden hexagonal cells of their hive. The fake eyes  of the peacock butterfly adorn the four corners of its trapezoidal wingspan, and a porcupinefish puffs itself into a defensive spiky ball shape. These and more shapes in nature beguile the eye and stimulate the mind of youngsters as they teach and reinforce the concept and vocabulary of shape.

With a text that invites interaction (Can you spot the square before the crab disappears?), this book is a first purchase for public and school libraries, as well as all early childhood classrooms and homes with preschool libraries of their own. Art, mathematics, and biology come together, as they should, in this intriguing nature study book for young readers.

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