that miracle called Planet Earth…a list of five books for Earth Day 2014

mount ranierIt’s time again to celebrate Planet Earth, this beautiful, intricate, astonishing home of ours.

Most of us care about what we know, and what affects us. It’s critically important, then, to introduce our painted buntingchildren to Nature, to help them fall in love with the plants and animals, rivers and oceans of our world, and to give them a big-picture view of how interconnected it all is.

 So, take your kids out-of-doors, most importantly, and then settle in with one of these excellent  books:

outside your window davies and hearld cover imageOutside Your Window: A First Book of Nature,  by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Mark Hearld
published in 2012 by Candlewick Press

The beauties of nature ought to be extolled in a beautiful book, and that’s just what this gorgeous book does for preschoolers and up. It’s simply stunning.

Nicola Davies, an author and zoologist,  has written short, free-verse poetry and meandering thoughts about everything from cherry blossoms to tide pools, spiderlings to the crisscross patterns of winter twigs against the gray sky. Childlike, naive, and keen. These are arranged by the four seasons.

Such a lovely, eclectic mix, with everything presented in poetic, arresting language.

And then the illustrations! Have I mentioned it’s a gorgeous book? The pages are awash in beauty — colors, textures, patterns, that are so lovely it aches,  drawing us in. I wish I could show you every page. You will want to buy two copies and frame a bunch of these, I think.

outside your window interior davies and hearld

I am so pleased that this book for very little people is so artistically sophisticated.  Don’t miss it.

big belching bog cover imageBig Belching Bog, by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Betsy Bowen
published in 2010 by University of Minnesota Press

I’m moving gradually up by age-group, and here is a handsome title from two Minnesota artists — one wordsmith, and one woodcut printmaker — for kindergarteners through adults.

“If you come to the Big Bog, you might think youbig belching bog illustration betsy bowen have come to the loneliest, quietest place on earth,” Root says, and then goes on to introduce us to the amazing plants and animals that do make their homes in a bog, including hungry sundew plants and wood frogs who literally freeze during the winter and unthaw the next spring.

It’s such an unusual habitat, full of exotic fascination, plus one deep mystery for you to discover.

Betsy Bowen’s woodcut prints are well known to us lucky Minnesotans. Her work is gorgeous, striking, evocative. The teals and spruces and mossy greens of these pages will usher you right into this watery world. Additional info about bogs and the residents of bogs is included for mid-elementary and up.

no monkeys no chocolate cover imageNo Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young, illustrated by Nicole Wong
published in 2013 by Charlesbridge

Chocolate is a great hook for a book, right?

This engaging book does a fantastic job of showing how cocoa trees depend on some creatures you would not suspect, to get you that Snickers bar.

Step by step, the authors clearly and briefly tell us what a cocoa tree needs to produce those all-important beans. Sunlight and water, yes, but also midges! And no monkeys no chocolate stewart and wonglizards! And monkeys!

You will be astonished to learn the roles played by each of these creatures and others, too. It’s a super introduction to the complexities of nature and the importance of the tiniest members, for early elementary and up.

Two goofy bookworms pop up on each page as well, with commentary to tickle kids’ funny bones.  An added word tells more about cocoa production and rain forests.

the camping trip that changed america cover imageThe Camping Trip that Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks, by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein
published in 2012 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Teddy Roosevelt was a booming, energetic fellow, while John Muir was a quiet, enduring man. Both of them had one thing in common, though: an enormous love for wilderness.

Barb Rosenstock takes us back to 1903, whenthe camping trip that changed america illus gerstein 001 Roosevelt asked Muir to take him camping in the Yosemite wilderness. Muir had been championing the area, calling for its giant redwoods and granite domes to be saved from tacky trinket shops and ranchers. If he could reach Roosevelt, he might stand a chance.

“Any fool can destroy trees,” Muir wrote in 1901. Roosevelt heeded his call and became passionate about protecting our wilderness areas. If you ever hike Yosemite’s waterfall trails or stare across the mysterious depths of the Grand Canyon, you’ve got these men to thank. 

Terrific story, told with a light hand, and illustrated in Mordicai Gerstein’s amiable, optimistic, energetic paintings. It’s a great read for 7 and up, with an Author’s Note teasing out what’s factual here and what’s her best guess.

planet art cover imagePlanet Ark: Preserving Earth’s Biodiversity, by Adrienne Mason, illustrated by Margot Thompson
published 2013 by Kids Can Press

Biodiversity — the abundant, varied kinds of life on Earth, from bacteria to gray whales — is critical to Earth’s health, and ours.

This book does a brilliant job of clearly teaching us about the amazing diversity that exists, the complex interdependence of living creatures, and why diversity matters. Kids ages 9 and up, and most of us adults, will tremendously benefit from these respectful explanations.

In succinct, engaging, level-headed paragraphs, Mason explains how healthy habitats and soil maintain diversity, the problems of invasive species, overharvesting, climate change, and industrial farming, as well as ways people are working to safeguard diversity around the world. 

Throughout the book, she clearly connects us to why this matters.

planet ark mason and thompson

Taxol, for example, a chemotherapy drug, was discovered in the bark of the Pacific yew tree, a tree that for many years “was discarded as a scrub tree that had no value to people.” Mason tells us that one reason for preserving biodiversity is that it’s impossible for us to know what we are currently “throwing away when we lose species and damage habitats.”

Excellent book from the Citizen Kids series I mentioned some weeks back.