for the beauty of the earth…five books for celebrating Earth Day

john muir america's first environmentalist cover imageJohn Muir: America’s First Environmentalist, by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Stan Fellows

Born in the wildness of Scotland, raised in the wilderness of  Wisconsin, John Muir fell in love with the out-of-doors as a young boy and grew up to champion the preservation of earth’s wild places for all of our sakes.

The immense, craggy peaks of Yosemite, the towering, ancient Sequoias, the vast, rosy depths of The Grand Canyon, the confetti of wildflowers on Mount john muir illustration stan fellows 001Ranier’s slopes — all of these and millions upon millions of acres more, are ours to enjoy, in large measure because of the work of John Muir.

Kathryn Lasky has written a rich, engaging, informative biography of Muir, dropping in to witness his early antics in Scotland, his self-imposed, grueling hours of study and invention in Wisconsin, his 1000-mile walk (!) from Indiana to the Gulf Coast of Florida, his hair-raising explorations in California and Alaska, and his efforts in public policy. Her accounts burble with birdsong and shimmer with sunlight on water. John Muir’s deep love of Earth’s beauties wells up in this account which quotes from his diaries and paints vivid pictures of his frosty, muddy, fresh-air life.

Stan Fellows’ beautiful, vibrant acrylic illustrations capture the grace of wildflower and feather, the mood of open skies and languid bayou, the fiery splendor of autumn and icy blues of glaciers. This is a strong collaboration of word and illustration; reading through it, I felt an enormous yearning to lace up my hiking boots!

Learn about the man who fiercely believed that people need “beauty as well as bread,” in this excellent biography, suited to early-elemenatary and up.

grow_it_cook_it cover imageGrow It, Cook It: Simple Gardening Projects and Delicious Recipes, from DK Publishing, Consulting Editor Jill Bloomfield

Stop-light red tomatoes, hanging from fuzzy stems…
Crimson, bulgy beets, hidden beneath the soil…
Slender, bumpy, bean pods, trailing from clambering vines…


savory tomato-eggplant towers,
rainbow salads,
crunchy stir fry.

Making use of scruffy items you’ve not quite tossed out — old boots, laundry

Mmmm...spicy, mini pumpkin pies, made from the pumpkin you grew!

Mmmm…spicy, mini pumpkin pies, made from the pumpkin you grew!

baskets, cracked scrub buckets — you and your kids can rig up planting containers inexpensively (Reduce and Reuse!), grow gorgeous, fresh vegetables and fruits, then cook them up into delicious dishes with the help of this book.

Wow! So inspirational! Crammed with glorious, full-color photography (DK’s specialty), there are step-by-step directions for growing 17 different plants, from mint to sunflowers, potatoes to strawberries. Okay, the idea that I, in Minnesota, could grow a lemon tree sounds far-fetched. But, truly, most of these are do-able projects, all grown in containers. You don’t need garden space.

Once you’ve harvested your goodies, there are 34 recipes for using them to whip up everything from scrumptious strawberry meringues to hearty, individual loaves of bread, baked in terra cotta pots and topped with home-grown sunflower seeds!  How fun is that?! Fourteen of the recipes are written especially for kids, with step-by-step directions and photos; the rest are nicely grouped on the final pages.

Tips for making your own compost, mulching, and using natural methods of diverting pests, augment the environmentally-friendly potting advice. When we work with the earth, getting that dirt right under our fingernails, pulling carrots up like so much treasure, we value it more. This looks like a dandy place for starting small, in gardening with kids.

one well cover imageOne Well: The Story of Water on Earth, written by Rochelle Strauss, illustrated by Rosemary Woods

All the water in the world runs in a closed circuit — no more water is created as time goes by. It doesn’t grow. The amount of water available when there were a million people on the planet, is the same amount of water available now, with over 7 billion people.

How much do we 7 billion have to share? The amount of fresh, clean, accessible water — in comparison with the total amount of water on Earth — is very, very small;  it’s less than 1 percent of it.

This precious supply of water must serve all the world’s people, as well as most other species of animals. That’s why it’s vitally important that we

Does it matter if she has access to clean water?

Does it matter if she has access to clean water?

step up our efforts to conserve, share, and protect this essential component of life.

Rochelle Strauss, an environmental educator from Toronto, has written a highly-readable overview of these issues. Emphasizing the global concern for water,  she looks at the sources of Earth’s water,  the water cycle, the various demands and problems with that supply, and responsible steps we should take. Helpful comparisons bring meaning to the many statistics in these discussions. Her tone is forthright; she is spelling out a problem in the hopes of encouraging action, not despair.

Rosemary Woods’ ocean-blue paint is the beautiful background for each page. Her captivating illustrations, painted in rich, vivid colors, show a glorious array of pink flamingos and golden sunflowers, stripey zebras, and people, people, people — in saris and hijabs and blue jeans and sombreros.

Water crises are only becoming more severe. This book is an excellent conversation-starter for ages 8 and up on a critical topic.

rachel carson and her book that changed the world cover imageRachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World, by Laurie Lawlor, illustrated by Laura Beingessner

Rachel Carlson was a girl who loved nature, creeping among the shrubbery to snap a photo of speckled eggs, exploring fields, lingering over the stuffed birds in the natural history museum.

She also loved to write, winning a prize and publication in a children’s magazine when she was just 11 years old.

Combining these two loves, Carson made extraordinary contributions to rachel carson and her book that changed the world illustration laura beingessnerscience, and particularly to the protection of our bird populations. Her book, Silent Spring, published in 1962, detailed how the use of some insecticides caused the death of many birds, leading to a ban on DDT,  the flourishing of endangered birds, and a new awareness of environmental concerns.

Laurie Lawlor’s engaging biography ambles pleasantly through the course of Rachel Carson’s life –her childhood in Pennsylvania, her pursuit of biology, her love of the sea and woods and fields, her beginnings in journalism, her challenging life of caring for many family members. The multi-faceted life of this determined person with such a thirst for knowledge, is winsomely portrayed.

Lawlor’s vivid prose is accompanied by lovely tempera and ink illustrations by Laura Beingessner. There is great tenderness, beauty, and reserve in these gorgeous paintings, whether it’s the varied flora and fauna, period fashions, or quiet wonder in Rachel’s face.

A lengthy Epilogue of what occurred after the publication of Silent Spring is written for adults. Source Notes and Recommended Readings are include. This is a captivating book for ages 6 and up.

not your typical book about the environment cover imageNot Your Typical Book About the Environment, by Elin Kelsey, illustrated by Clayton Hanmer

Jam-packed with information on a wide variety of environmental topics, this book, also coming out of Canada (Go, Canada!) aims to provide positive outlooks and action steps,  rather than leave us wallowing in despair. It definitely has a high-energy vibe going  in content, format, and illustration.

The choices we make each day,  from how often we wash our clothes,  to whether we use our own water bottle rather than buying a disposable one, to what we eat for dinner — affect the earth. This book hugely increases our awareness of that, with an upbeat tone.

Four chapters  –fashion, food, technology, and people — each hold a lively smattering of topics. There’s a ton o’ material here, but the presentation makes you feel like you’re nibbling goodies at a buffet rather than drowning in dry facts.

In the fashion chapter, we read a creative explanation of how fossil fuels and clothing are related, an even-handed survey of more eco-friendly approaches to clothing or even airplane

The Swiss go green! Taken on our trip last summer.

The Swiss go green! Taken on our trip last summer.

upholstery, a comic-strip linking fur hats, sea otters, fish sticks and you!, and short entries about how plastic bottles and fleece jackets go hand-in-hand,  a new way Nike shoes are turning up in sports fields, biomimicry, and more.  Each of these topics is illustrated in a zippy, sunny, cartoon-style. Side bars and extra bubbles of info, clever graphic presentations of facts, and bold swatches of color, all move us briskly along from one tidbit to the next.

It’s an eye-opening array of mini-stories that will increase your awareness of many, many environmental concerns, and the ingenuous folks out there coming up with solutions. Geared for mid-elementary and older, the author does a nice job of presenting the problems and solutions with a cool head — among these possible solutions, here are the pros and cons to each one — thereby putting the reader in the drivers’ seat to think these things through. She also determinedly sticks to a hopeful point of view.

A great choice for becoming a well-informed, we’ve-only-got-one-planet, person.

There’s lots, lots more titles to choose from in my Subject Index under Science/Nature, so take a peek there as well.

And here are Amazon links for all these earth-friendly books, with hopes for greener days ahead:

John Muir: America’s First Environmentalist
Grow It, Cook It
One Well: The Story of Water on Earth (CitizenKid)
Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World
Not Your Typical Book About the Environment