“Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature” by Nicola Davies; illustrated by Mark Hearld

“Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature” by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Mark Hearld (Candlewick 2012) is a stunning work.

The 110 page picture book progresses through the seasons, starting with spring. The poems are simple and straightforward for the most part. Which makes the author’s occasional metaphors and similes light up her poems.

The spectacular art, which we’re told is mixed media, draws you into the author’s observations of each poem. By the look, I’d say the artwork is a collage of watercolor, gouache, and ink on paper.

In “Bulbs” Davies writes, “something tells the bulb it’s time to grow./Inside its brown coat and layers like an onion,/ a tiny pulse beats…” The author has watched nature and passes her acute observations to us through a child-like eye, making us experience nature afresh.

In “Nesting” artist Hearld uses actual strands of straw in the bird’s beak and in the nest she’s building. It makes you feel like you’re helping to construct the nest.

In “Flowers,” Davies writes, “Without a sound the flowers call out./ They shout to insects with their colors—” What we normally see, the author has made us hear. Let’s listen to our gardens.

In “Tide Pooling,” Hearld uses mono-printed fish or crayfish in the larger spread. That is, he’s made a woodcut or linoleum cut or maybe a potato cut of one fish, and printed it in various colors across his larger composition. The artwork makes you want to try some of his child-friendly techniques.

In “Starlings,” she says of the flying starlings, “hundreds, thousands maybe…They look like smoke, or a curtain rippling in the breeze…as if their flying is a dance that they all know by heart.” Nice image, but the clincher is the heartfelt dance.

Perhaps my favorite of the poems is “Snow Song” in which Davies speaks of falling snow. “Listen, and you can hear the quiet,/ as if every sound had been wrapped up and put away.” And “snow kept a diary” of animal and bird footprints.

Read this book and look outside your window. Go outside and see nature. Observe her acutely. This is a great book for studying and writing poetry in the classroom. The free verse poems invite you to make your own observations.

 

Patricia Hruby Powell is a nationally touring speaker, dancer, storyteller, occasional librarian, and children’s book author.

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