The word, “nonfiction,” is received by some children with as much welcome as liver and broccoli for dinner, since images of encyclopedias and textbooks come to mind. However, What’s Up, What’s Down? by Lola M. Schaefer (with illustrations by Barbara Bash) is a phenomenal book that describes the world from a relational standpoint, using language that tells a beautiful story of how so many things on our planet are related just by asking, “What’s above this?” and, “What’s below that?”
In order to read this book, we must rotate it on its side, so that we are flipping pages down instead of to the left. It starts off with the lowly mole in the ground and asks, “WHAT’S UP if you’re a mole?” By repeating the question, “What’s up…,” the book goes through roots and grass and toads and wildflowers all the way up to the moon! (All the time, of course, we are captivated by beautiful illustrations that show – for example – how trees lead up to birds, and how birds lead up to “bold, blue sky.”)
At the moon, we must rotate the book to the other side, such that we will flip the pages up to progress through the rest of the “story.” The text on this page reads, “WHAT’S DOWN if you’re the moon?” Successive questions of this nature bring us through clouds, ocean waves, whales, and seaweed all the way down to “the bottom of the WORLD.”
I believe this book is especially appropriate for first and second graders since it presents a relational view of the world that they have not likely seen or considered before, without getting bogged down in scientific detail. Additionally, the language is poetic (“birds rushing here and there on invisible highways”), and the vocabulary challenges are not so immense that children are lost, but plentiful enough where a good teacher could form a word-reading lesson or two from this book! Great for reading aloud with a group of young students or with children at home!
–Reviewed by Derek Reinhold