22 Sep 2017

Book Review: When Planet Earth Was New

It’s hard to say a lot about a book that has only 300 words. It’s elegant. It’s simple. It’s a look at billions of years of Earth’s natural history in 16 images.

This picture book is made up of engaging stylized art accompanied by super-simple text with a touch of the poetic. I would love to have a little kid again to read this to. It is accurate, but accessible. Images are full of action. Gladstone wrote about complex things using words are short and common; though a parent might have to explain “evolve,” it is a common word. Sentences hover around 10 words.
“The earth cooled slowly — so slowly…”

While this book doesn’t have the resilience of a board book, I’d much rather have read this to my son than Goodnight Moon every night for four years, even before he knew what the words meant. We would look at all the scenes, talking about what is shown, how long a million is, whether humans rode dinosaurs (they didn’t, and the text makes it clear that the two creatures are separated by several pages). We would use the folio at the end to guide discovery of each image, making it a scavenger hunt as we spot more detail. A glossary and list of related websites would help me explain even more and guide that little learner where their curiosity leads.

Diemert created the art with ink, collage, and digital media. She made every image active and engaging and full of detail that kids will love to discover every single night. Even the spread showing a dinosaur skeleton in the desert has an active tiny creature kids can imagine a story for.

The book leaves us with a sense that though Earth’s journey was long, it’s not over. Little minds will wonder where it might lead, and they’ll repeat the poetic words making them part of the family lexicon.

Recommended for kids from 1 to 8.
by James Gladstone, illustrations by Katherine Diemert
36 pages, OwlKids Books

Images from the book reproduced with permission of OwlKids Books.

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