This Thing Called Life – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: This Thing Called Life

Author & Illustrator: Christian Borstlap

Publisher: Prestel Verlag, Germany, 2020

Original Title: A Propos de la Vie

Ages: 5-8

56 pages.

Genre: Nonfiction

Themes: life, death, philosophy, connection


Long, long ago, before little white wires started growing out of our ears.


From the smallest specks of life to the largest creatures, this engaging picture book shows the
many shapes and forms life takes all around us.

What is life? It’s constantly moving, growing, reproducing, and dying. It’s happening now, all the time, and it’s everywhere around us. From little helicopter seed pods that float through the air to blue whales in the ocean, the world is filled with all different types of odd and familiar kinds of life. 

Why I like this book:

The creator does not shy away from complex and even abstract terms, like perception, species, but I believe the quirky illustrations will connect kids to the complex concepts that can sometimes be hard to put into words. I would say the audience needs to be at least 5 to really launch into the discussion that the pages clearly promote.

It has a very European feel to the philosophical and honest nature of the text, where themes like survival and fairness and aborded. The whimsy of the illustrations and connectedness of all living things draws the reader in. The visual humor balances the somewhat heavy themes. While most of the creatures are imaginary animals (furry, spiky, feathery, hungry, scared), yet they all depict real things that organisms must do to survive and thrive. This is not a warm fuzzy picture book, but one I believe will be a great asset to story time and the many questioning kids in our classrooms.


Great Earth Day choice to discuss connectedness of all living things.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

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Book Recommendation – FLAMER

Title: Flamer

Author and Illustrator : Mike Curato

 Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, Sept 2020

Ages: 14+

Themes: bullying, homophobia, racism, fat-phobia, scout camp, coming of age, Asian-Americans, body positivity, religion, fighting parents

Genre: Graphic Novel, fiction


It’s the summer between middle school and high school, and Aiden Navarro is away at camp. Everyone’s going through changes—but for Aiden, the stakes feel higher. As he navigates friendships, deals with bullies, and spends time with Elias (a boy he can’t stop thinking about), he finds himself on a path of self-discovery and acceptance.


I know I’m not gay. Gay boys like other boys. I hate boys. They’re mean, and scary, and they’re always destroying something or saying something dumb or both.

I hate that word. Gay. It makes me feel . . . unsafe.

Why I like this book:

Flamer is a raw and gutsy realistic portrait about what being closeted in the 90s could have been like for any young teen. I was already a huge fan of Mike Curato’s picture book work, and this was such a courageous and stellar debut for an older audience.

Loosely (or less loosely) autobiographical, this graphic novel is steeped with heart, humor, healing and power. This is a transitional summer for Aidan as he is switching from Catholic school to public school for 9th grade. He has long been battling with homophobic bullying and some internalized homophobia, as well as being picked on for both his weight and ethnicity (he’s half Filipino). The journey is super hard but so realistic for me, from one of almost self-loathing through moments of suicide ideation through to the beginnings empowerment. Many of us in the queer community growing up in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s will be able to relate to this as I am sure will many teens today despite the progress we have seen.

Curato has capture the 90’s camp experience perfectly in his illustrations and I don’t know whether it is he or his art director who made the choice to basically use orange/red and black and white, only, but it is a sensational choice, accentuating the depths of emotions Aiden experiences. Aiden focuses on his scout troop, The Flaming Arrows, learning archery and orienteering, building fires and canoeing, hoping for acceptance and trying to find things he is good at  finds things he’s good at, like making and tending to the campfire and making people laugh. Moments of relief also come from time spent with his bunk mate, Elias, on whom he has a subconscious crush. Aiden’s best friend, Violet, and her camp letters, also contrasts with the incessant bullying he experiences.

He is, however, constantly tormented, and Curato liberally includes the most offensive and frequent name-calling, Faggot, throughout the book. The language, mention of masturbation and porn ground the novel in the stark crushing reality of this closeted hurting teen (and his peers) and never feel gratuitous.

While the novel only spans seven days, with the intensity of the experience and various flashbacks especially of his unsupportive family situation, Curato packs in years of emotion. This all culminates in a dark-night-of-the-soul vividly depicted without words.

The novel also portrays and accurate and damning critique of the homophobia in scout camps in the 1990s, and still in much of the world today. Counselors were removed and and queer boys (or those suspected to be) were humiliated and bullied. Sadly the scouting movement failed many young tweens and teens in their community, and novels like this are important exposés.

Flamer is frank, harsh and funny— the testimony of one young gay teen’s journey toward self-acceptance and finding his people. This is a strong debut novel I want to get into the hands of many teens.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes. 


Read what the author has to say about FLAMER.

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The Blue Giant. – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: the blue giant

Author & Illustrator: Katie Cottie

 Publisher: Pavilion Children’s books, UK, 2020

Ages: 4-8

Themes: conservation, the ocean, plastic waste, ecology, care for the earth, pollution


Meera and her mom are enjoying a break at the seaside. Until a creature emerges from the waves! It’s a giant. A blue giant. It is made of water, fish, and sea plants and has a stirring plea to help clean up the ocean.

Meera and her mom agree to help, donning their scuba-diving outfits and setting off to sea. But they can’t do it alone…can they?


Meera and her mom are going to the ocean.

Why I like this book:

This is a timely and strong eco-tale introducing children to the issue of ocean pollution, with ideas to help the world become a better, cleaner place.

It introduces children to the issues of pollution, waste management, and the oceans, with suggestions of lifestyle changes to help clean up our seas through an allegorical tale, and the narrator, an imaginary Ocean Giant, who grieves for all the destruction we humans have done. I like the emphasis on how big the problem is and how much we need many involved in the solution. The illustrations are bright and bold, and enhance the Giant’s challenge to action as well as our tiny place on this planet, out of corporation to our influence!


Great Earth Day choice.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Posted in Book recommendation, Children's literature, conservation, Earth Day, Perfect Picture Book Friday | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment