a list of…five books to help us love and care for this good Earth

All the Water in the World, by George Ella Lyon, illustrations by Katherine Tillotson

Squirting from hoses, splinking on sidewalks, shwooshing up the beach, sparkling in a dewdrop…wonderful, wonderful, water!  Where does it come from?  Where does it go?

George Ella Lyon has written this brilliantly simple book to help children understand that water only travels in a great big circle — the water cycle.  No more can be made than what is already in the system.  All the water in the world is all the water in the world.  Pouring down from the skies is the same water that those skies licked up from rippling lakes and quiet ponds.

Dry places, like the arid West African land our family once lived in, and lush places — every place on earth, living things thirst for life-giving water.  Lyon’s lyrical text, voiced by an unseen, spoken-word poet,  rejoices in water, beckons us to protect this valuable resource, to keep it clean,  to keep Earth green!  A great reminder about a resource that is far too easy to take for granted in the U.S.

Katherine Tillotson brings water to exuberant life with her bold, digital illustrations that sweep us into a bracing mood starting immediately on the title page, and streaming right through the book.  There is fantastic motion in these images, drastic differences between arid and watered places, and extremely clever design that grabs our attention and imagination.  Accessible to preschoolers, and interesting for all.

A Tree is Nice, by Janice May Udry, illustrated by Marc Simont

“Trees are very nice.  They fill up the sky.”

Have you ever stopped to count the ways you love trees?  Trees in winter, whose elegant black branches stand in silhouette against the milky sky; trees in autumn, blazing in colors to make your heart break; trees upon trees upon trees in forests that comfort you with their ancient largeness.

Janice May Udry’s endearing catalogue of the loveliness and beauty and delights of trees is one of my all time favorite books.  If I had to choose just a tiny library of books, this would be high on the list.  Her brilliantly simple lines encompass so much of what is good in trees, from their leafy whisperings to their grand, inviting branches,  to their restful shade.  Utterly absorbing.

Marc Simont rightfully won the Caldecott Medal in 1957 for his perfect illustrations.  Alternating between the clarity of ink and wash, and the exuberance of full color, Simont amazingly captures tree-ness.  We have turned to his book many, many times when we have been drawing trees.  Their bulky comfort, their grandeur, their leafy-ness, their elegant, differing ways of branching; the Emerald City-esque green of a spring wood; the  charming New England splendor of glowing maples and leaf-piles and happy children.

I consider this one of the most perfect picture books ever made.  A classic every child should know.  Ages 3 to great-grandpa!

Secrets of the Garden:  Food Chains and the Food Web in Our Backyard, by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont

It’s spring.  As this congenial,  family-of-four gets busy in their vegetable garden, we listen in to explanations by the big sister of the family, Alice, and learn an incredible lot!  As Alice prattles on, we find out how plants sprout, the different parts of plants we eat,  what plants need to grow,  how the food made by plants becomes the food we eat, which garden visitors we don’t like and who their natural enemies are, and what wonderful workers worms are.

Meanwhile, we’re also learning about food chains, from bitsy short chains, just two members long, to lengthy chains and intricate webs, all comprised of living things found in an ordinary back yard.  Okay, they keep chickens.  So do some of you.  In fact, the chickens and their exceptional teaching charts are a big help in Alice’s explanations!

Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld has packed a bushel of juicy tidbits about backyard ecology into this book, yet it reads like a pleasant story, ambling happily through spring planting, summer tending, autumn harvesting, and winter dreaming.   The charming, comfy, pen-and-watercolor illustrations by Priscilla Lamont are a perfect companion to the text. Depicting a cheerful, unhurried family, Lamont employs loose lines, humorous details, various sized snapshots, conversation bubbles (quite a few are the chickens’ wise words!), and sunny color.  Exceptionally well done — this is a treat to pour over, perfect to share with kindergartners and up.

Planting the Wild Garden, written by Kathryn O. Galbraith, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin

Some gardens are planted by human hands, with seeds placed tenderly in the soil.  But look around you!  From forests carpeted with snowy white trillium, to grassy meadows whose milkweed patches attract fluttering monarch butterflies; brambly tangles of raspberry canes scrambling in roadside ditches, and pure white water lilies floating atop their long, wavering stems.

These wild gardens are planted, too.  But how?  Kathryn Galbraith simply, clearly, peeks at many different ways seeds are transferred.  Wind and rain, birds and furry raccoons, exploding seed cases and seeds with sneaky, grab-on-to-you hooks — this catalog of nature’s gardening methods is gently fascinating.  Wendy Halperin’s gorgeous, whisper-soft, pencil-and-watercolor artwork always elicits a sigh of pleasure.  Ever so lovely.  Broad views of windswept grasses, sequences of close-ups showing seeds taking wing, sunny streams and dozens of wild creatures…each page, including the endpapers,  is beautiful and engaging.  Includes a nice bibliography for finding out more.  Gorgeous book for preschoolers and up.

Buffalo Music, written by Tracey E. Fern, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Molly is a pioneering woman, living with her husband, Charlie, perched above the Palo Duro Canyon on the Texas panhandle.  Her life is full of toughness and chores, early mornings, smokey fires, scrub basins, scorching heat; and devoid of much human company.  Instead, Molly’s ears are accustomed to the squawks of crows, the chirps of prairie dogs, and above all, the music of the buffalo.  Herds and herds, thousands of buffalo, roaming the vast plains, huffing, scratching, wallowing, thundering, creating a comforting background soundtrack to Molly’s life.

Then, the buffalo hunters come with their rifles.  In short order, the herds are decimated.  Molly’s music is gone.  Until one morning,  a cowhand trots up, leading a couple of awkward, frowsy buffalo calves.  Orphans.  Since Molly is known far and wide for nursing orphaned animals, it seems the best place to take ’em.

Molly’s tender care for these two puny critters succeeds, and as time goes on, more and more orphaned calves are brought her way.  Molly assembles them into her own, small herd.  Years later, to her joy, when the folks at Yellowstone National Park declare their desire to rebuild a buffalo herd there, Molly is able to supply them with some of her “babes” to get started.  Her work in saving the buffalo, has resulted in a herd for all Americans to enjoy.

This fictional account is based on the true life story of Mary Ann Goodnight, who settled at Palo Duro Canyon in 1876.  It’s a delightful, optimistic story, perfect for ages 4 and up, with an Author’s Note supplying extra information on the real Mary Ann Goodnight for middle-elementary and older.   I found it as I searched for everything Lauren Castillo!  I adore her illustration work, and this book is no exception.  Her soft, homely lines convey tremendous warmth; her prolific use of bittersweet-oranges and honey-golds bring cheer and strength to the Texas landscapes; her lumpy, bulky buffalo and straightbacked, indomitable Molly will win your heart.

Here are Amazon links for these Earth-friendly stories:

All the Water in the World

A Tree Is Nice

Secrets of the Garden: Food Chains and the Food Web in Our Backyard

Planting the Wild Garden

Buffalo Music