Thursday, July 23, 2020

Board Book Review: Our World: a first book of geography by Sue Lowell Gallion

Image: Phaidon

Our World: a first book of geography by Sue Lowell Gallion. Pictures by Lisk Feng. 26 p. Phaidon, July, 2020. 9781838660819. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publicist.)

Children learn best through manipulation. They are tactile, curious creatures. As infants, everything goes in the mouth. Beyond infancy, things need to be touched and turned in order to be learned. Each new experience is cause for rapt attention. The more interactive an experience is, the better. As a child matures, his or her outlook expands beyond the self and the family to the larger community and, eventually beyond. 

Our World invites exploration on many levels. It's unique shape sets it apart from any other book. The pleasing palette and inviting illustrations encourage pausing to pore over each spread. Finally, the text can be read two ways - as an impressionistic poem that inspires awe and curiosity about the planet or as more scientific descriptions of the variety of biomes and landforms that connect it. The sturdy board book will stand up to repeated readings and display options. 


Screenshots: Phaidon

Our World is an appealing and intriguing addition to any home, school, classroom or public library!

I had the privilege of virtually interviewing Sue Lowell Gallion about her unique new book. Numbers = me in black. A = Sue in purple.

1. As you know, I'm a huge fan of your "Pug and Pig" books (Pug Meets Pig and Pug & Pig Trick-or-Treatand I know you've written an easy reader series. Am I correct in saying that Our World is your first nonfiction book? Would you talk a bit about what inspires your writing. Are there plans for more nonfiction?

A: Yes, Our World is my first nonfiction book. I majored in journalism and history in college so I’m returning to my roots with this book. I loved the research work for Our World, and I definitely want to do more nonfiction. It’s a creativity boost for me to work with different formats and genres. They’re like different kinds of puzzles.

I get ideas in many places – driving on highways, in conversations, when I’m playing with my grandsons. Some ideas develop into a story, others stay in the file for later. And, of course, some completed manuscripts find a home with a publisher and many don’t. There’s a lot of rejection in this business.

Thanks for your kind words about the Pug and Pig series. My Beach Lane Books editor just sent me revised sketches from Joyce Wan for Pug & Pig and Friends, which comes out spring 2021. Just wait!

2. Our World
might just be the perfect introduction to well, our world for preschoolers and elementary students. It's simple, impressionistic and tactile. Was the book written with that design in mind? It just begs to be touched.

A: I so hope this book finds a home in lots of school libraries and classrooms! I came up with the concept for a globe-shaped board book at a writer and illustrators’ workshop. There’s nothing like time with other creatives to get my brain firing. Then I started playing with words and content to fit that format.

The globe stand makes a great handle to hold onto the book, doesn’t it? I can’t walk by a real globe without touching or spinning it, so I hoped this book would have the same effect. The visual world Lisk Feng created is stunning. And I can’t say enough about the Phaidon team and their design and production expertise.

3. This is more than a story-in-rhyme; it's a poem, isn't it? A poem that incorporates the basics of geography - biomes, landforms, and can be read as such. I like the dual-nature of the book, simple & impressionistic on the left with facts and more difficult vocabulary on the right side. Left-brain and right brain learning, just now occurred to me! Coincidence?

A: Wow! I love that. Wish I could say it was my idea! I first envisioned the book only with simple, lyrical text for the younger child. I wrote it as a poem, and that’s how the original manuscript was submitted. My editor at Phaidon came up with the idea of adding the secondary text layer that expanded the reach of the book, both in depth of information and audience. We wanted to make the reading experience conversational, so we were very deliberate about that in the secondary nonfiction text. My goal was for the text to convey a sense of wonder and also spark curiosity about the natural world.

The combination of rhyme and nonfiction was challenging, especially during all the revisions. I may not try that again anytime soon! But that’s how this manuscript unfolded. You have to honor that as a writer and then be ready to revise as part of a team. We all want to make the best book possible. I do love the way the dual narrative works with the design. 

4. Sadly, the study of geography has become compressed over the years, folded into a unit of social studies to make room for tested area subjects. I loved geography as a kid. Were you a geo-geek? Do you believe there is a correlation between learning to appreciate how interconnected the planet is and things like empathy and environmental awareness?

A: I’ve always loved geography. I came from one of those families where everyone’s basement had stacks of old National Geographic magazines. I definitely share your concern about teachers having time to teach subjects like this because of the emphasis on testing. And as adults, isn’t an appreciation and understanding of the natural world and the people and cultures around the globe more important? There are so many creative teachers, and great tools and books available to teach geography now, but I know educators are limited by time and curriculum constraints.

And absolutely, as people of any age learn more about the processes of nature on our planet, I think and hope that environmental awareness increases. We’re at such a critical time with climate change. I hope that this book can help kids and adults appreciate this amazing planet and support what’s necessary to take care of it.

What do you think?

I think you've got a winner here, Sue Lowell Gallion! I look forward to not only more Pug and Pig, but more one-of-a-kind informational literature! No pressure! Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. And thank you for the guides, Our World Guide and Inflatable Globe Guide which interested teachers and parents will find useful! I am totally blanking on how to link the documents to this blog post so visit Sue's beautiful website to learn more about her books in general and Our World in particular. There is a link to resources on the book's page. 

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