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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.

April Pulley Sayre


April Pulley Sayre is a science writer and naturalist with a flair for involving young readers in stories of the natural world. Although she has written a number of nonfiction series titles, I first encountered her writing in the book Dig, Wait, Listen: A Desert Toad's Tale, which I had the pleasure of reviewing. Sayre draws readers into the story of the desert toad's life and survival by using an if-you-were-there approach, which allows young readers to share the toad's observations ("What's that sound now? Is that the rain at last? No, it's a rat, hopping in lengthy leaps like a tiny kangaroo") without projecting "feelings" onto the toad's experience. Instead, Sayre invites young readers to observe a world that is as scientifically accurate as it is dramatic, presenting an understated but highly effective vision of the interconnectedness of creatures and environments.

Sayre's language casually invites her audience right into the story. By imagining that her readers are watching the action from close vantage points, she fosters a literary "let's pretend" game which is right on target for engaging the interest of young readers. In her most recently reviewed book, Army Ant Parade (BCCB 3/02), which recounts the swarming of army ants in the Panama forest, Sayre encourages the reader to share the stage right along with the ants: "Are you standing in the swarm? Don't run. Just step aside. Ants may march up your boots--but not far."

The clean style of Sayre's prose makes her work appear deceptively simple; although her observations are devoid of opinion or emotion, she crafts her words carefully to accurately depict the action and excitement in each scene of ecological interaction. Well-placed use of onomatopoeia ("Plop thunk. Plop thunk. Plop thunk gussssshhhhhhh! It is rain!") and exclamation ("And they [the bees] will be very angry soon. For you are going to steal their honey!" from If You Hear a Honey Guide, listed at the end) contribute to a prose that manages to be both factual and ebullient at the same time. In addition, Sayre's words have been teamed with the illustrative talents of several artists to create effective picture book presentations that encourage scientific accuracy and ecological excitment (see bibliography below for illustrators).

Reviewer Elizabeth Bush captured the strength of Sayre's writing in her review of Army Ant Parade: "The you-are-there approach has the tingly immediacy to keep kids riveted, and young nature buffs will cautiously shake out their pants legs and ask for more." I join those nature buffs in asking for more--more books from this month's Rising Star, April Pulley Sayre.

--Kate McDowell, Reviewer

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