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The Short Stack

Nature at play

‘Wild Ideas’

By Elin Kelsey, illustrated by Soyeon Kim, Owl Kids, $18.95, ages 4 and up

For little kids, small problems loom large. Even the simplest tasks — like reaching the faucet or putting on a jacket — challenge the preschool set to come up with creative solutions. Someone I know once tried to use the dog as a step stool. In “Wild Ideas” Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim (also the creators of the deeply gorgeous “You Are Stardust”) put animals to much better use: as role models for creative problem solving. Dung beetles navigate by the stars. Sea otters “balance rocks on their bellies, perfect for cracking crabs,” humpback whales “blow a fine net of bubbles to trap tasty fish.” “Wild Ideas” is filled with clever animal behaviors illustrated with photographs of exquisite, delicate-looking dioramas. The depth of the images and the surprising facts work together to create a lovely connection between the reader and the natural world.



By Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo, Enchanted Lion Books, $17.95, ages 4-8

Toddler genius alert: When he was 3, Edward Estlin Cummings composed his first poem: “Oh, my little birdie, Oh with his little toe, toe, toe.” We know about his earliest verse, writes Matthew Burgess in “Enormous Smallness,” because his mother recorded all of her son’s juvenilia in a little book called “Estlin’s Original Poems.” Once you sidestep the guilt you feel for not keeping more detailed notes about your children’s most sparkling phrases, you can better appreciate the story of the making of a poet: a warm childhood spent in Cambridge, with summer stays at a farm in New Hampshire at the edge of the woods; an early interest in nature and a particular fascination with elephants. Stories and events from Cummings’s life mix on the page with his poems and gorgeous illustrations. The muted color palate and the sharp variety of textures capture both a sense of the early 20th century and the mind of a poet who kept up his child-like playfulness with language for his whole life. NICOLE LAMY

Nicole Lamy can be reached at