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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books:

Rising Star
Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.
Nicola Davies

Many young children have a natural curiosity about wild creatures. In preschool and elementary classrooms across the country, there are children insisting that their true names are "Shark" or "Barracuda;" children heading straight for the bucket of plastic sea creatures and enacting whole dramas with them; children searching the book corner for something to sate their appetite for more information about these amazing life forms. If they discover the works of Nicola Davies, they will likely be satisfied.

Davies, a zoologist, has a love for her subject matter that shines through all of her texts. In Wild about Dolphins, readers join her on a dolphin-seeking excursion, and the first-person narrative and use of dialogue draw them in. When she finally correctly identifies a dolphin (after several failed, but happy, attempts), her excitement is contagious, in large part because it is clear how genuinely thrilled she is. The use of description in One Tiny Turtle--"Just beneath the surface is a tangle of weed and driftwood where tiny creatures cling. This is the nursery of a sea turtle."--reflects Davies' own childlike wonder and anticipation. What will we see next? What's below the surface?

Natural history for young people seems often torn between holding out for older audiences or dumbing things down unendurably. Fortunately, Davies brings her considerable expertise and enthusiasm to books for listeners and very young readers. Most of her texts have two levels: a story, which is cast in large font, and factual information alongside it, in a smaller font (both of which play out across richly illustrated pages that bring her subjects' worlds closer). The stories draw audiences in with poetic, lyrical descriptions, arousing appetites for the more factual information in the supplementary text, which can be introduced by an adult for youngsters not quite up to reading the more technical material.

Davies has a poet's touch with metaphor that comes alive in the stories. When the bat in Bat Loves the Night captures a moth, its "wings fall away, like the wrapper from a candy." The skin of the whale in Big Blue Whale is "springy and smooth like a hard-boiled egg, and it's as slippery as wet soap." The whale's ear hole is "as small as the end of a pencil." Not only do these metaphors relate their subjects to our world, but they relate them to items and experiences familiar to young children. The factual text is equally compelling, and it effectively complements the story. When the bat in Bat Loves the Night "beams her voice around her like a flashlight," audiences get a clear picture of a difficult concept. The smaller text then describes and defines echolocation in more scientific terms. The baby turtle in One Tiny Turtle "pokes her pinprick nostrils through the silver surface to take a quick breath, so fast, blink and you'd miss it!" The complementary text states that "turtles are reptiles and need to come up to the surface for air. They do this every four to five minutes when they are active. When they are asleep, they can stay underwater for hours."

Throughout Nicola Davies' books, narration and exposition flow together to create ideal books for young children eager to learn more about the natural world. For all kids, even those not fascinated by aquatic creatures, look for Davies' latest (due to be released by Candlewick Press in September, 2004): Poop: A Natural History of the Unmentionable. If you need proof that Davies is a child at heart, writing for children, I imagine you might find it there.

--Carolyn LaMontagne

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This page was last updated on February 1, 2004.