Outside in

by Deborah Underwood (Author) Cindy Derby (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

From the New York Times best-selling author behind The Quiet Book comes a mindful contemplation on the many ways nature affects our everyday lives, perfect for fans of Joyce Sidman and Julie Fogliano.

Outside is waiting, the most patient playmate of all. The most generous friend. The most miraculous inventor. This thought-provoking picture book poetically underscores our powerful and enduring connection with nature, not so easily obscured by lives spent indoors.

Rhythmic, powerful language shows us how our world is made and the many ways Outside comes in to help and heal us, and reminds us that we are all part of a much greater universe. Emotive illustrations evoke the beauty, simplicity, and wonder that await us all . . . outside.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review

Outdoors is part of people all the time, even when they’re indoors. “Once we were part of Outside and Outside was part of us,” opens the text. The premise that nowadays humans sometimes forget about Outside is belied so thoroughly and passionately by the illustrations that it barely registers—which works just fine in this love letter to nature. From opening spread to closing, nature is all-encompassing. Derby uses watercolors, powdered graphite, and thread or flower stems soaked in ink to paint full-bleed scenes bursting with dampness and leaves, branches and sticks, and qualities of light so various that they evoke different seasons and different weathers all at once. Outdoors, watery paint describes hanging branches or rain; leaves look liquid; large orange patches are treetops but evoke flower petals. Indoors, sunlight beams through glass panes to set a watery, purple-black hallway quietly aglow. Bits of dense color saturation and keen, crisp, sometimes prickly edges pierce, delineate, and offset the bountiful, wet, organic swaths. Outside “sings to us with chirps and rustles and tap-taps on the roof”; it “beckons with smells: sunbaked, fresh, and mysterious”; we feel it “in the warm weight of our cats and the rough fur of our dogs.” The child character embraced by Outside (when both outdoors and in) has peach skin and long, straight, dark hair. Lushness without sweetness—wild, darkly romantic, and exquisite. (Picture book. 3-9)

Copyright 2020 Kirkus Reviews, LLC Used with permission.


Grades K-2. Lovely, expressionistic art and poetic prose invite readers to contemplate nature’s mystique and its role in everyday life, which is often taken for granted or goes unnoticed. The opening scenes set the pensive tone—“Sometimes even when we’re outside . . . / we’re inside. / We forget Outside is there”—while Derby’s illustrations show a road surrounded by trees, followed by a girl in close-up, inside a car. In her home, the girl’s experiences highlight how Outside makes itself known, such as when birds are silhouetted against a window, or is interwoven into daily indoor life, from the food we eat to what we wear (“Outside cuddles us / in clothes, / once puffs of cotton”). Ultimately, the girl heads outdoors, drawn to explore what’s there. Through an evocative mix of aqueous washes and richer, more saturated tones, the color-washed, loose-brushed illustrations capture a sense of nature’s intrigue, delights, and influence. While the lyrical text and concepts may be a bit too abstract or esoteric for younger children, the presentation and approach may still inspire reflection about interconnectedness in the natural world.

Copyright 2020 Booklist, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

K-Gr 3--In this exquisite tale, the wonders of nature are revealed to be all around us if we just take the time to notice and appreciate them. Spare, lyrical text offers a fable-like depth of insight: "Once we were part of Outside and Outside was part of us. There was nothing between us. Now, sometimes even when we're outside... we're inside." Derby's luminous watercolor illustrations evocatively show this disconnection: A little girl, buckled into a car seat, seems unaware of the scenery passing by her. "Outside" is an ebullient character, and tries to capture the child's attention by singing to her with "chirps and rustles and tap-taps on the roof," and with "slow magic tricks" like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Outside also makes its way inside, as seen in the nourishing berries on the kitchen counter, on the cotton T-shirt the child wears, and as a morning sunlight-streaming natural alarm clock. Ever patient, Outside waits and whispers, "I miss you," until the little girl rediscovers the world outside her window. VERDICT This gorgeous celebration of nature is a stirring invitation to play.--Linda Ludke, London Public Library, Ont.

Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

"Once/ we were part of Outside/ and Outside was part of us/ There was nothing between us," begins Underwood (Ducks!) in plainspoken lines. "Now/ sometimes even when/ we're outside.../ we're inside." Derby (How to Walk an Ant) portrays this tension in a gentle series of illustrations that mix gauzy, muted tones and textures with punctuations of color. The pictures follow a small child and family, visualizing moments, indoors and out, when "outside reminds us" of its abiding presence. Inside, "flashes at the window" illuminate a hallway, a window-side transformation exemplifies nature's "slow magic tricks," a tiny snail sneaks in on a bunch of kale, and rooftop serenades include "chirps/ and rustles/ and tap-taps on the roof." Even when the girl sits ("in wooden chairs, / once trees") or stands at the bathroom sink ("rivers come inside"), the outdoors communicates its presence, requesting attention. In the final pages, the child and a cat step outside into a feathery, vibrant landscape--a moving reminder that nature's beckoning need not go unrequited. Ages 4-7. Author's agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary. Illustrator's agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary. (Apr.)

Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

★ "[A] love letter to nature....Lushness without sweetness—wild, darkly romantic, and exquisite."—Kirkus, STARRED review

★ "This gorgeous celebration of nature is a stirring invitation to play." —School Library Journal, STARRED review

★ "A moving reminder that nature's beckoning need not go unrequited." —Publisher's Weekly, STARRED review

★ "[A] gentle, unpreachy text that conveys the way modern life can be cut off from or blind to nature....Ink and watercolor art is gorgeously luminous....Perfect for an outside storytime, this will also provoke discussion among kids about their own outside/inside differentiations." —The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, STARRED review

★ "[A] lyrical and sensory exploration of the artificial separation between indoors and outdoors....Outside In is a beguiling, thought-provoking book that thinks outside the box." —BookPage, STARRED review

"Lovely, expressionistic art and poetic prose invite readers to contemplate nature's mystique and its role in everyday life.... Through an evocative mix of aqueous washes and richer, more saturated tones, the color-washed, loose-brushed illustrations capture a sense of nature's intrigue, delights, and influence." —Booklist

Deborah Underwood
Deborah Underwood has worked as a street musician and at an accounting firm but for years has been a full-time writer who occasionally plays the ukulele. She is the author of several picture books, including New York Times bestsellers
The Quiet Book and Here Comes the Easter Cat, as well as Monster & Mouse Go Camping, Interstellar Cinderella, and Bad Bye Good Bye.

Hannah Marks is a self-taught illustrator and designer, who often gets her best ideas after eating cake. She lives in England with her husband, three children, a bonkers cat, two gerbils, and a teeny-tiny Roborovski hamster.​​​​​​​ The Panda Problem is her U.S. picture book debut. Find her on Twitter @Hannah_Marks, on Instagram at hannahmarks_, and on Pinterest at hannahemarks.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
April 20, 2020
Caldecott Medal
Honoree 2021

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