This one’s an oldie but a picture-book-lovin’ goodie. It is the magnificently-illustrated nature book, Before & After: A Book of Nature Timescapes, by author/illustrator Jan Thornhill.
Before & After is a quiet book. In fact, except for the preface, which offers valuable clues for what to look for in the pictures that follow, the only sounds to be heard are the whispers in the prairie wind and the lapping melody of the sea.
Thornhill’s lushly-colored, full-page spreads challenge young minds to observe “before and after” illustrations of dazzling landscapes or seascapes, then see if they can spot the differences between them. Children are also challenged to see if they can explain why the changes occurred. One of my favorite scenes is a full-spread illustration of “quiet time at the watering hole,” where zebra, giraffes, impala, gnus and flamingos all drink cool water under the blistering sun of the African Savanna. A cheetah dozes on a low branch, baboons yawn with lazy contentment, and cape buffalo lope on the plains. But a lioness is lurking in the tall grass, and…you guessed it, on the very next page, many changes have happened. The cheetah’s eyes have popped open in annoyed surprise, the zebra are stampeding away, the giraffes are hysterical, and the lioness has spotted the perfect impala lunch.
I also quite enjoyed the scene of “rainy time” in the Brazillian Rainforest. Koala, tree kangaroos and other critters huddle in the high, lush branches, clutching their young and waiting patiently for the sun. And on the next page…hooray! There’s a tree-top celebration as the same critters venture forth, rain-free and ready to explore.
But of all the biomes Thornhill illustrates, the most clever was the very last: the backyard garden. The before picture shows a cluttered backyard, gardening utensils scattered about, peat moss hills and garden hoses. The border is illustrated with caterpillars, butterflies, squirrels, bugs, wild birds…and humans; a toddler examining an interesting bug he’s found on the ground. The next page shows the same area a year later. There’s a vast difference now; the garden is neat, the birdbath is up, the feeder is full of seeds and hungry birds, and more humans are enjoying the peace and beauty.
Before & After is a magnificent book. Each page has a neat border dotted with the various animals found within the scene for easy identification. The last page of the book is dedicated to “nature notes;” a full description of the biomes highlighted in the book, and the animals and insects indigenous to them.
This one may be an oldie, but it’s still a must-have. I give it 5 Stars, and I highly recommend it for your science classroom, your elementary library, or your child’s private collection of favorite picture books.
Best wishes and happy reading,
PICTURE BOOK DEPOT