“Firstborn” by Tor Seidler

The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less:  Maggie is a magpie born on a ranch in southwestern Montana.  Unsatisfied with her narrow life, she takes up with a pack of wolves who have recently been reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park.  Led by the alpha named Blue Boy, Maggie and the wolves struggle to survive and carve out their territory in this new land.  Blue Boy’s son Lamar challenges his father’s wishes by falling in love with a coyote and threatening the purity of the bloodline.  Threats both inside and outside the pack will test the bonds of these wolves to the limit.

My Take: Much of Firstborn is caught up with portraying the various tense dynamics among the wolves: the rupture of the pack when the alpha is challenged for dominance, the friction between father and son, the clash with a neighboring pack, etc.  This is all set against the larger story of the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park. Seidler deftly explores this controversial program and the great toll that it takes on the wolves that are caught up in it.

Fans of the Wolves of Beyond by Lasky series will appreciate this book and in general I thought that this was an excellent recommendation for elementary aged readers looking for animal fiction.  Librarians may want to be aware that there is a good deal of animal violence in this book before recommending it.  Ages 9-12.

One Interesting Note About the Author:  According to his website, Tor traces his love of storytelling back to his childhood when his stepfather and brother would spin fantastic yarns involving animals.

The Flowers Are Calling by Rita Gray

The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: A poem describes the different insects and animals that may, or may not, visit flowers for pollinating.  Interspersed between the verses are facts about the flowers and insects.

My Take:  The strength of Flowers Are Calling lies in its alternation between verse and nonfiction.  Each of these elements is strong enough to stand on its own, but the book really broadens its appeal by combining the two.  One could engage younger children by just reading the poem, which is characterized by short, simple text, but also interest older readers by going over the fact based sections of the book.

The poem’s structure stands on the repetition of the phrase “Flowers are calling…” and the quick correction when whatever is named turns out to be unfit for appreciating the flowers.  One verse, for example, states “Flowers are calling a loud blue jay./  No, not a jay! He wouldn’t stay.”  The quick turnaround lends an element of whimsy to the book.

The nonfiction parts of the book help to deepen the reader’s understanding of what is occurring in the poem.  For example, when a “bee fly” is mentioned in a verse, we learn on the next page that “bee flies look like bumblebees but have two wings instead of four.”  I found myself confessing that there was a lot that I did not know about the pollination of flowers.

Special mention should be made of Kenard Pak’s beautiful art.  The muted colors and use of blank space on the page ask the reader to take seriously what is occurring.  We imagine that each animal and flower is significant and has a part to play in this story of pollination.

I’m always looking for quality books that are stand-alone (as opposed to a series) nonfiction that will appeal to younger children.  I’d happily recommend this book to most any library collection that is looking to develop a substantive juvenile nonfiction section.

One Interesting Note About the Author/Illustrator:  According to Rita Gray’s website, she “love[s] all types of poetry, especially haiku, and [is] the Northeast Regional Coordinator for the Haiku Society of America.”  Pretty neat!