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The Picture Book Buzz

Log Life - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I love hiking the forests and parks throughout the Pacific Northwest, stumbling on fun, and sometimes unusual, nurse-logs in various stages of decomposition.

Photo of a young tree growing out of the top of a mostly decomposed stump. © M Marshall

From trees just starting to host moss and mushrooms to trees which have almost totally disappeared. Like the one which makes this tree appear almost suspended in mid-air, with its roots wrapping a larger, mostly decomposed trunk. So, I was excited to discover Amy Hevron's first book, Log Life, in her newest Tiny Habitat series for young readers. It's a wonderfully entertaining and engaging look at the life cycle of a nurse-log in an old-growth forest.

Book cover - a new little fir tree, vole, mushrooms, ferns, beetles, and snails on a fallen tree.

Log Life

Author/illustrator: Amy Hevron

Publisher: Beach Lane Books (2024)

Ages: Baby to 8

Informational Fiction


Themes:

Nurse-logs, decomposition, ecosystem, nature, and discovery.


Synopsis

Discover the tiny, fascinating world of nurse logs in this first book in an illuminating picture book series that explores how even the smallest habitats play big roles in nature.


When old trees fall to the forest floor, they can take centuries to decompose, becoming home to all sorts of organisms along the way. These nurse logs are unique ecosystems that support hundreds of rare and important plants, creatures, and fungi. They provide nutrients for tree seedlings, hideaways for animals, shelters in the winter, and protection from the elements. With snappy text and lush illustrations, this book invites curious readers to step into a tiny ecosystem that’s truly like no other.


Opening Lines:

Once there stood a giant

fir tree that stretched to the sun.


One stormy day, a great gust came.

The tree creaked,

and cracked,

and COLLAPSED!


What I LOVED about this book: With a succinct and inviting text that matches the adorable, deceptively simple illustrations, this book takes children on a 1,000-year journey through the fun and varied ecosystem which nurse logs provide. Starting with a really fun way to show a tree's collapse, by using tilting colored rectangles around the tree and "falling" text.

Internal spread - progression of three rectangles, with a tree drawn inside, from upright to horizontal. Showing a tree cracking and falling.

Text & Image © Amy Hevron, 2024.

Using creative "staging" or headings - "Spring year 1" and "Winter year 500," Amy Hevron beautifully handles the passage of an enormous amount of time, especially for a small child to whom a week can be long. Attributing cute faces and dialogue to animals and plants, Amy appeals to the younger readers. I love the different personalities and varying degrees of cuteness she captured in these little fungi. While the text's combinations of short sentences and lower vocabulary, interspersed with some word play and scientific terms, names, and concepts, extends the interest to the older kids.

Internal image - on left, 5 panels showing mushrooms, lichen, liverwort, & hornwort growing on the fallen tree. On the right, a large spotted red-capped mushroom surrounded by everyone mentioned on the left.

Text & Image © Amy Hevron, 2024.


Fungi were the first to arrive.

They feasted on the damp wood.


They invited their lichen friends,

who invited their hornwort friends,

who invited their liverwort friends,

who invited their chicken mushroom friends.


It was a big, mushroomy party!


The arrival of beetles and ants brings numerous birds, squirrels, and a new, little fir tree. With the page turn, warm summer days herald in year ten and a mossy green change to the fallen tree, providing a place where "Snails vacayed in the decay. Voles nibbled on seeds in the shade." I enjoyed how Amy used a lot of wood-like grains and interesting textures in her soft, earthy illustrations, of both the plants and animals.

Internal spread - the fallen tree, now mossy and covered in ferns, hosts a martin, frogs, a salamander and numerous new plants and flowers.a

Text & Image © Amy Hevron, 2024.

Autumn rains (and 100 years) bring more changes and new plants and animals. Some of which are highlighted in zoomed-in spot illustrations. (See one of these beautiful images in Amy's interview on Monday.)


As the seasons (and years) progress, Amy continues to alternate between full spread images and half spreads opposite multiple panels. If you're familiar with the Pacific Northwest, or just love plants, you'll also enjoy spotting the fiddle-head ferns, skunk cabbage, cinquefoil, trillium, and more. The ending spreads are magnificent and the perfect way to end a look at the life cycle of a nurse-log. In addition to cataloging some of the animal cast, a note offers additional information and some locations around the country where nurse-logs can be found, as well as additional readings. This is a wonderful picture book introduction to the long life and nurturing role of a nurse-log within a forest's cycle of life. Resources:

Photo of a decomposition scavenger hunt sheet with 16 things to find.
  • go on a decomposition scavenger hunt in a forest, a park, or even your back yard. How many of the fungi, plants, and animals from the book did you find on your hunt? What different mushrooms, plants or animals did you find?


  • make a collage or a diorama of a nurse log. Use the log in the book for an example or a log you find on a walk.

  • pair this book with The Second Life of Trees (Imagine This!) by Aimée M. Bissonette, illustrated by Nic Jones and One Day This Tree Will Fall by Leslie Barnard Booth, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman (March 26, 2024). As three books on fallen trees, how are these books the same and how are they different?


If you missed the fun interview with Amy Hevron on Monday, find it (here).


This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions and resources see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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