Bubble Homes and Fish Farts, written by Fiona Bayrock (Nonfiction Picture Book coordinator for the 2008 Cybils) and illustrated by Carolyn Conahan, is a delightful example of an early middle grade nonfiction title. I mean, what kid wouldn't be interested in reading about a variety of animals who use bubbles in creative ways? Did you know that water spiders live in bubbles, below the surface? Did you know that humpback whales work together to form a net of bubbles to "get the most fish per scoop"? Did you know that sea otters trap air bubbles in their fir, to keep cold water out? Can you think of a kid who would love to learn about these examples, and more? I can.
The bubble premise works all by itself. But what takes the book over the top, for me, are the light-hearted thought bubbles included on every page. The sea otter, floating cozily on his back in the water, is thinking "Who needs a hot tub? Not me." When their tadpoles are released from a foam nest, the African Gray Treefrog parent is thinking "Don't talk to any predators." And the water spider in his bubble thinks, happily, "Cozy." The thought bubbles, while not strictly fact-based, of course, add a gentle humor to the book that I think will work well for kids.
There are plenty of facts in the book, of course. The Latin words for all of the animal names are included. A section near the end fills in additional information about each creature, including size, habitat, and other "amazing facts". There's a glossary and index at the end with definitions for various technical terms, like hibernate and larva, as well as a detailed acknowledgement section that reveals the depth of scientific research that went into this whimsical book.
Carolyn Conahan's watercolor illustrations are perfect for capturing the many different types of bubbles in the book. She succeeds, I think, in walking a fine line between making the illustrations accessible and humorous (wide-eyed expressions on many of the animals' faces), while still making them look realistic, and getting the information across. The soft colors lend a reflective tone to the book. (See also some extra images, like those in the book, from Carolyn Conahan. Kids can print them out and color them.)
Bubble Homes and Fish Farts would make an excellent addition to any elementary school or home library. The publisher lists it as being for kids ages six to nine, and that feels about right to me (though I could imagine older siblings reading it with younger ones, too). Fiona Bayrock has taken a unique premise, researched it to find lots of interesting, factual examples, and then added (with Carolyn Conahan's help) both humor and heart. Highly recommended.
This week's Nonfiction Monday round-up is available at Books Together Blog.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.