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Monday, July 27, 2009

Pond Circle (Picture Book)

Released June 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

It may look calm and serene in the moonlight, but the pond featured in this picture book for children between the ages of 4 and 8 is teeming with life. On the surface of the water live jade green algae which provide food for mayfly nymphs. Then there's the diving beetles that eat the nymphs and frogs that gobble up the beetles.

Along comes a garter snake that swallows a frog and, unfortunately, for the snake, a skunk lurking nearby grabs the reptile. Meanwhile, an owl overhead is contemplating swooping down on the skunk and, while the bird's away, a raccoon raids its nest and steal its eggs. Now the raccoon has a problem, for he is being stalked by a very hungry coyote.

Using a rhythmic, cumulative narrative reminiscent of "The House That Jack Built," this story shows there's plenty of drama unfolding in that placid pond. My only reservation about this book that illustrates how the food-chain functions is that for some children introducing them to Mother Nature's harsher side might be a tad scary.

Also, the penetrating eyes on some of Stefano Vitale's creature illustrations (especially the owl, raccoon, and coyote) are a little "other worldly" and I'm not sure how preschoolers might react. They may not even notice at all or there may be some type of subtle, negative feelings generated about the animals. I think I might ask the child if there is anything he doesn't like about any of the illustrations and see what he says.

Overall, though, for the right child this is an interesting introduction to how one creature depends on another for its existence. A lot can be going on right in front of us and we don't see it or realize the complexity of how nature works.

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