Review of the Day: Bubble Homes and Fish Farts by Fiona Bayrock
When someone goes about writing a non-fiction picture book for kids they have two choices before them. They can either write a book that they know will be used strictly for curriculum use, or they can write a book about a fun and funny topic that no one has ever tackled in a picture book format before. So while Fiona Bayrock could have written yet another ocean book / fish book / sea life book / animal life book / zzzzzz, she instead decided to go a different route. A bubble route. The premise? Bubbles have far reaching applications in the natural world, above and beyond their usual uses and ramifications. And somehow or other she has managed to find not one, not two, not three or four or five but SIXTEEN examples in the wild where animals and insects have used bubbles to save, play, help, and harm. A unique idea in a singular format.
Your average bubble has a whole host of applications you’ve probably never considered before. For creatures in the wild, however, bubbles aren’t just for fun. They have practical applications ranging from the useful to the downright weird. Systematically author Fiona Bayrock introduces readers to animals like the star-nosed mole, who blows bubbles out its nose, then sucks them back in to smell for food. Or consider the rattlebox moth whose bad-tasting bubbles are so nasty even spiders will cut them free from their webs. One by one, Bayrock introduces us to bubble utilizers, ending with the only creature that uses bubbles to save other species: humans. Illustrator Carolyn Conahan provides light-hearted commentary and watercolors to complement Bayrock’s text. The end of the book contains additional facts about each of these "bubble makers", including size, location, and "Amazing Facts". There is also a Glossary/Index.
The format’s smart. Each section begins with a sentence explaining what these bubbles can do. "Bubbles Are For Sailing", "Bubbles Are For Breathing", "Bubbles Are For Tasting – Yuck!" That sort of thing. Bayrock then uses a very natural easygoing literary style to describe precisely what makes each of these bubble-users unique. Her text is always engaging, even when the featured creature is as average as a Homo sapien. Bayrock also has a way of phrasing a section just right. The Pearl Gourami two-page spread is preceded by the introduction "Bubbles Are For Shooting Hoops". And sure enough she makes a pretty strong case for how one would consider this fish an expert basketball player. I imagine that even if a child initially picks up this book because it contains a favorite animal of theirs (like a sea otter or a dolphin) they’ll find themselves drawn to other sections of the book. After all, it’s hard to resist farting fish communication techniques or frogs that begin life by diving.
You will note when you read the book that for each animal there’s some dialogue coming from the illustrations often pertaining to the text. At first I suspected that somewhere along the line the proposition was made to spice up Conahan’s lovely watercolors with this small amusing commentary from the creatures involved. These usually take the form of speech bubbles (ha ha), and are not too dissimilar from the kind of thing one sees in the margins of Cricket Magazine, the literary mag for kids. Then I remembered something: illustrator Carolyn Conahan is actually the staff illustrator for Cricket. Why, she’s probably more than comfortable drawing natural creatures with snarky attitudes and quick-witted commentary! Remembering that I realized that the format of this pictures must have been in place right from the start.
Seemingly simple, a closer examination of Conahan’s art yields rewards. For example, there are the endpapers. At a glance I just saw two kids drawing a mural on a wall, one of them painting and the other one blowing bubbles for fun. Looking closer, though, I see that Conahan has actually worked in all sixteen of the different critters into that mural. It’s actually a good way to determine how many of these bubble lovers are sea-based (twelve) and how many make do on the land (four). Her natural world is rendered in soft greens and blues, working in the whirling swirling ocean currents that make so many of these bubbles possible. In the opening image we see a girl blowing them, one floating directly in front of her eye. Considering how beautiful bubbles are, and how they have a way of whirling and swirling colors and light together, I felt a little sad that these bubbles didn’t try for a little real world iridescence. Then again, it’s not that kind of art style, and it’s wrong to critique an artist for having their own way of looking at the world and not someone else’s. Still, a little whirly swirly color would have been cool.
I can’t imagine that there are many schools out there where kids are handed an assignment to read a book about fine n’ fancy bubble makers. What I can imagine are scores of kids who will think that bubbles make for some pretty funny stories. For the wildlife-minded child, Bubble Homes and Fish Farts takes the natural world and gives it a whole new spin. Silly and serious all at once, it may not be for every child, but for some it’s bound to provide info they can’t find anywhere else. Or certainly, not as well.
On shelves now.
Other Blog Reviews:
- Jen Robinson’s Book Page
- Abby (the) Librarian
- Miss Rumphius Effect
- The Well-Read Child
- The Book Chook
- Senor Parrot’s Perch
- Bookshelf: What We’re Reading
- Cool Mom Picks
- Collected here.
Other Online Reviews:
- Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
- Alice’s CWIM Blog
- Abby (the) Librarian
- A Year of Reading
- Celebrate Story
- Becky’s Book Reviews
- Non-Fiction Monday, folks. MotherReader has the round-up.
- Listen to a podcast about Bubble Homes and Fish Farts from Just One More Book.
Read an interview with Carolyn Conahan and Fiona Bayrock on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
There’s a whole blog out there dedicated solely to just the promotion of this book as well as Stampede: Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School.
And finally, check out these cool poems by kids as inspired by this book over at Book Chat with Mrs. Matzat.
Filed under: Reviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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