Over and Under the Pond – Book Review

Part of the current trend for beautifully illustrated and story-like “fact” books, Over and Under the Pond takes the reader on a journey through a world of wildlife hidden within the ecosystem of an American mountain pond. There’s much to enjoy in this visual feast, so read on to take a peak inside!

Children's picture book Over and Under the Pond
Over and Under the Pond, by Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal.

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Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal

At the start of this book, a mother and son take their boat out onto a mountain pond. The still water reflects the sky above. Looking down onto it, the boy asks ‘what’s down there?’ And so the mother describes the the hidden world beneath them, and the creatures that live there. And as the pair paddle along their journey, this hidden world below, above and all around them is gradually revealed.

Page from Over and Under the Pond - a boy and his mother looking into the water
The water reflects the sky and gives glimpses of life moving below, showing how everything in this ecosystem is connected.

The illustrations are simple but beautiful, coloured in rich but muted shades. And as things below or above or around are described, our view point changes. Now we’re at the bottom of the pond, looking up at the bottom of the boat. We can just see the mother and son peering down, while turtles and fish swim above and around us.

Page from Over and Under the Pond - looking up from the bottom of the pond and seeing creatures swimming above.
Changes in point of view give us even more of an insight into this hidden world.

But then the angle changes, and we’re looking down on the boat from high amongst the pine trees. Birds swoop past and a woodpecker clings to a trunk below us, digging for ants. I love the way this change in viewpoint adds an extra element of interest – sometimes it takes a moment for everything to make sense, but then it clicks and suddenly you realise what you are looking at.

Changing views

Page from Over and Under the Pond. Looking down from the treetops.
From the depths of the pond we are taken up to the tops of the highest trees.

Each page gives us a little glimpse into the lives around us. It’s as much about appreciating an instant in time as it is about nature facts. We’re encouraged to make a connection with some of the creatures, seeing things momentarily through their lives. A heron waits, staring into the water, and then with a turn of the page we too are diving down into the water to catch a fish below.

Page from Over and Under the Pond - Heron watches the water.
On this page we see the heron, watching the water patiently, and on the next, we have the viewpoint of the fish below as its beak comes striking through the water.

Heading home

Yet through it all the mother and son offer a constant, reassuring presence. They are part of this world, even though they are visitors just passing through. And as they move through the landscape, time passes and day turns slowly to evening. Colours deepen and the sky is shaded in lovely purples and pinks. It’s time to head home.

Page from Over and Under the Pond - mother and son paddling home in their boat
Even the boy and his mother are connected to this natural world – a bug landing on the boy’s knee; the mother’s paddle slicing gently through the water…

I love the way the book uses just a little bit of fiction to provide a framework for exploring and describing this wonderful environment. More detailed information about the creatures we’ve seen is given at the back of the book. As a result, the main “story” is a gentle observation piece that avoids overloading us with facts. It’s a quiet, peaceful book that actually works really well as a bedtime read, while the kids also enjoy pouring over the pictures to see all the little details. And while it’s a far-away ecosystem, there are also similarities to find. The dragonfly and the shrimp; the heron and the woodpecker…

By the same author and illustrator:

Over and Under the Pond is a follow-up from the author and illustrator’s previous projects Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt.


Picture Books with Diverse Characters

Have you seen my full list of the best 23 picture books with diverse characters? Just like Over and Under the Pond, all of these picture books feature black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) boys as main characters. Something that’s as rare as proverbial hen’s teeth in children’s books, and a problem I’ve written about here.

Check out the list to find out more about our favourites, and take a peek inside. If you like the look of this book, I’m sure you’ll find some others to love there too!

Pile of 23 picture books that star a BAME boy as the main character.
Our favourite picture books featuring BAME boy main characters.

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