“Great Piece of Turf” watercolor by Albrecht Durer
In celebration of Earth Day, 2017…
Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, written by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Jessica Lanan
published in 2017 by Sleeping Bear Press
When I was homeschooling my children, a fat, black book sat on our shelves ready to grab and consult about some new natural wonder happened upon. What are all those parts of a bee for? What do flickers eat? What wildflower is this, spreading like a white carpet in the springtime woods?
That book was Handbook of Nature Study. At almost 1000 pages, it expounds copious amounts of technical information, lyrically celebrates the world of nature, and proffers many more questions to ponder and explore than it even answers.
That masterpiece was written by Anna Botsford Comstock, “the mother of nature education” who in the 1800s realized the appalling lack of nature knowledge in our nation’s children and developed a model program at Cornell University, teaching nature-study to teachers.
This elegant biography of her life begins with her childhood delight in nature — a common theme for those who pursue environmental care so get your kids out-of-doors! — and follows her lifetime making important contributions to nature education, a critical piece of our children’s education that is still, sadly, endangered.
Gorgeous, sun-soaked illustration work by Jessica Lanan fills us with the joy of stars and doodlebugs, snowflakes and tadpoles, just like Anna. I love that Comstock’s work is heralded in this fabulous piece of nonfiction for ages 4 and up.
Trees, written and illustrated by Lemniscates
published in Spain in 2016; first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick Studio
The blessing and wonder of trees is pondered and appreciated in tranquil text and dynamic, stylish illustrations in this gem coming to us from Spain.
It is more like my beloved A Tree is Nice than anything I’ve seen since that classic appeared in 1956.
Observing how trees live and grow, reflecting about the good things trees do for us, Lemniscates provides a lovely conversational text to give us pause, stir up rich thoughts, effect gratitude for trees.
Her artwork as always soars with vitality and a lovely contemporary European vibe. A delight for ages 3 and up.
The Wolves Return: A New Beginning for Yellowstone National Park, written and illustrated by Celia Godkin
published in 2017 by Pajama Press
As one species after another enters endangered categories it is impossible for most of us to see what the ramifications of their loss will be, making it far too easy to dismiss as “just a turtle” or “just an agave plant.”
Yet the complex, interactive webs which rely on biodiversity are critical to a healthy planet and to our health as humans. Some species are keystones — kind of like the jenga block on the bottom of the pile. If we pull them out, a ripple effect occurs that damages an entire ecosystem. Such was the case with the wolves of Yellowstone.
By hunting those wolves to the point of near-extinction settlers unwittingly disturbed the timeworn balance that had allowed all sorts of plants, animals and waterways to flourish. This lovely book shows how each piece began to be renewed as wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone beginning in 1995.
Each turn of the page shows another glory of nature able to perform again its vivid song, as the positive, un-domino effect takes place. What a hopeful, gladsome journey! Share this with children ages 4 and up.
Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water Around the Earth, written by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm, illustrated by Molly Bang
published in 2017 by Blue Sky Press
This is the fifth book in this outstanding series about sunlight which I highly recommend from start to finish. Thus far we have learned how we transform sunlight into electricity, how plants use sunlight to make food, how the sun’s light sustains life in our oceans, and how fossil fuels are sunlight trapped under the Earth’s surface. What an awesome collection!
In this installment we investigate Earth’s precious, life-sustaining water and how sunlight moves it through its critical water cycle. Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm are word-wizards and illustration-magicians who make all of this as enticing as a juicy slice of watermelon. Your children — and you — will grasp the mechanisms of the water cycle in a way that fills you with wonder…
…and spills over into keen awareness of the gift that water is and the massive harm that will emerge if water sources are polluted, overtaxed, or altered by climate change. These grave matters are discussed briefly and quite lightly on the last two pages of our story, then covered more in depth in the six extra pages of notes — a fantastic resource which extends each aspect of the story at a level for mid-elementary and up. The bulk of this book is superb for ages 4 and up.
Trash Talk: Moving Toward a Zero-Waste World, written by Michelle Mulder
published in 2015 by Orca Book Publishers
Of the 3 R’s in the environmental maxim — Reduce, Re-use, Recycle — the first is perhaps the most critical, most challenging, and least addressed.
We are a people shackled by consumerism. If we’re honest, we evaluate ourselves and others by our stuff — our homes, clothes, cars, gadgets, furnishings. We gather it like manna. We build bigger houses to accommodate it; rent storage space for the excess; and throw away astonishing volumes of it each year. Stuff does not make us happy, yet we keep buying — and trashing — more of it.
I think examining our relationship to stuff and trash is surprisingly vulnerable, indicting, illuminating. Michelle Mulder does just that in a non-shaming, yet direct way. The many facets of trash — the reason why we keep making more of it than past generations, the ways it damages our environment, and the intangible ways our habits affect not just the planet but our relationships with one another — will keep you turning the pages.
Gleaners at work, eliminating food waste from these fields.
Mulder inspires us to free ourselves from relentless consumerism and trash-making, encourages us with the innovative, heartening ways people are cultivating community and sustainability in one shot, and challenges us with information about the price to humans and our planet of so much trash.
Highly recommended for family discussions with kids ages 6 and up.
The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, written and illustrated by Jan Thornhill
published in 2016 by Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press
Do you want to avoid depressing books about extinct animals? I know. It’s hard to bear these stories and much nicer to read success stories like the Yellowstone wolves. Don’t overlook this title, though. It’s tragic, yet Thornhill swings it around in the end to encourage and inspire. We really can learn from our mistakes, if we face up to them.
Thornhill’s evocative, icy blue and gray illustrations sweep us into frigid North Atlantic lands and seas where hundreds of thousands of “northern penguins” — the Great Auks — once lived.
Regaling us with descriptions of these flightless swimmers, she awakens a proper sense of wonder at their magnificence, then unfolds for us the ways in which human progress spelled their demise. Innocuous developments such as the Vikings’ knack for shipbuilding, and recklessness by the greedy collectors of eggs — many factors came into play in the extinction of this marvelous bird.
Your heart will ache, as mine did, at their avoidable destruction, yet Thornhill wisely uses the final pages of her account to detail some surprising ways in which the Great Auk still “lives on.” I love that she models for us a way of soberly considering harm, then moving forward to do good. A lengthy text for ages 7 and up.
There are gobs more fantastic books in my Subject Index under Science. Some are listed under the sub-heading “Environmentalism” but check out the Animals, Earth, and Plants listings as well for many more titles.