In Juana Martinez-Neal's Zonia's Rain Forest, super-cute critters are out in force, ready to woo lap sitters. But this book also offers something for older siblings ready to do some sightseeing beyond the familiar comforts of the First World.
Young Zonia lives in the rain forest among "those she loves"--her mother, her baby brother and a bevy of creatures she greets at the start of each new day. "Good morning!" she says to four shaggy, moonfaced Hoffman's two-toed sloths. "Welcome! I live next door," she tells some red-feathered, bitty-eyed Andean cocks-of-the-rock. After she has finished making the rounds, Zonia encounters something she hasn't before: her friend the blue morpho butterfly is sitting on the trunk of one of several freshly cut trees. Zonia runs home and alerts her mother. When her mother reminds her that the forest "is speaking to you," Zonia vows to answer it. "We all must answer" is the only text on a concluding two-page spread that shows Zonia standing with a protective hand on a tree, proudly defiant in traditional dress and face paint.
The generous and valuable back matter in Zonia's Rain Forest includes insight into the significance of Zonia's face paint, information about her background (she's Asháninka, the Peruvian Amazon's largest Indigenous group), and a pictorial glossary of her rain forest friends. Caldecott Honoree (Alma and How She Got Her Name) and Sibert Medal winner (Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story) Martinez-Neal created Zonia's art on handmade banana bark paper, against which dabs and swaths of well-chosen color blaze. Readers too young to appreciate the book as a call to environmental action will find sport in spotting the blue morpho butterfly that Martinez-Neal has introduced in each spread, nearly every illustration a tropical enchantment. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author