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“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.

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I have a new Musings post up today.

I’m musing about my dear Grandma Runa who is a strong, steady, happy inspiration for me…

…and my recent “Aha!” moment when I realized something surprising about her that’s been staring me in the face all along…

…and what that can mean for our own flourishing.

Click here, or search the Musings tab to read “as green as my grandmother.” 

 

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It’s Earth Day tomorrow, and Poetry Month all April long, so this slim volume of poems by Wendell Berry, one of our most eloquent spokesmen for the respectful care of the Earth, seemed like the perfect collection to share with you today.

terrapin and other poems cover imageTerrapin And Other Poems, by Wendell Berry, illustrated by Tom Pohrt
published in 2014 by Counterpoint Press

As my blog title indicates, these poems are not only for children. In fact, I have no idea that Berry intended them for children per se. According to the book jacket, it was artist Tom Pohrt who set about collecting pieces by Berry that he deemed especially accessible to children and creating initial sketches to accompany them. In time, he and Berry collaborated in order to deepen Pohrt’s knowledge of the flora and fauna for his watercolor illustrations.

All that to say — this is a volume for all ages. The briefest poems in the book are only a couple of lines long, while others extend quite beyond that. Some of these gems will spark an interest in even very young children — a reflection on a rabbit caught in the rain; a musing about the first person ever to whistle.

terrapin and other poems illustration1 tom pohrt

The poem which gives its name to the collection, The Terrapin, is a delightful piece for children with its commentary on a fellow who is always at home and who “pokes along” with “no map and no suitcase” because he can never really get lost! No matter where he wanders, he is “always home.”

Other pieces incorporate expressions and crafting that obviously require more heft than a 2-year-old can muster. Some will be best appreciated by middle-graders and older, making it a nice volume to grow into.

terrapin and other poems interior berry and pohrt

Berry’s habits of observing and keenly appreciating the natural world mark these poems. They are written by one who listens intently and snuffs in the odor of forests and feels the companionship of unelectrified, velvet nights. There’s a down-to-earth sense about them, a muck-on-the-boots, frost-nipped-face feel, rather than anything artificially romantic.

A snake swells with the body of a mouse. Trees are planted in the hopes they “may live when I/ no longer rise in the mornings/ to be pleased by the green of them/ shining…” A calf is birthed, and a squirrel met whose terrapin and other poems illustration tom pohrtragged tail testifies to a time when “he should have hurried more than he did.” Glimpses and gazings at the real, natural world.

We have Tom Pohrt to thank for this collection, and what is more, for his elegant, captivating watercolor paintings that fill each page with such grace and beauty. It is a felicitous partnership.

Everything about this book works together to slow us down and draw our minds and aesthetic tastebuds to the detail and expanse, stillness and music, temporal and eternal, ever on display in Nature. 

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from the urbanhousewife dot com

Earth Day is coming up this week. I hope you take the opportunity to marvel at the wonderland around us and resolve to learn more about proper stewardship of this precious, interconnected home of ours.

For those of you in the Twin Cities, I’d also like to draw your attention to a lecture co-sponsored by the MacLaurin Institute and the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Dr. Katherine Hayhoe will be speaking on Climate Change: Facts, Fictions, and the Christian Faith” on Thursday, April 21. You can find out more details at the link here

I’ve got a whole stack of excellent books today. I’ll proceed in order from least to most technical, and end with a gorgeous new cookbook to inspire all of us!

this is the earth cover imageThis is the Earth, by Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander, paintings by Wendell Minor
published in 2016 by Harper

Wendell Minor’s magnificent paintings are the first thing you’ll notice in this gorgeous survey of the eons of life on Earth. Wall-to-wall color embraces us beginning with the clean, unspoiled beauty of savanna, river, and sky, explosive with wildlife, plant life, sparkling water, pure air.

this is the earth illustration wendell minor

As humans make homes and lives for themselves and increasingly subject the land to industrial spoilage and environmental damage, the pictures are not so gladsome. But the story doesn’t end there. The authors continue their poetic account of our interactions with Earth into the present, when better care-taking is practiced and begins to heal the planet.

It’s a tender, beautiful appeal towards greener living that is perfect for children ages 3 or 4 and up — the ideal time to begin forming sustainable habits.

nature's day cover imageNature’s Day: Discover the World of Wonder on Your Doorstep, by Kay Maguire, illustrated by Danielle Kroll
published in 2016 by Wide Eyed Editions

UK botanist Kay Maguire and Brooklyn-based artist Danielle Kroll have teamed up to create this lavish, beautiful guide to nature lore through the seasons. As with every Wide Eyed Edition, the production quality is impeccable. Everything is lovely!

nature's day interior maguire and kroll

Each season hosts its own glories, and they’re parceled out here in tidbits of information and charming, fresh illustrations. Learn about the fascinating Dawn Chorus of springtime. Investigate the vegetable garden in summer. Snoop in the autumnal leaf litter to see what’s lurking there. Check for surprising signs of life in wintertime. And so much more!

nature's day interior2 maguire and kroll

80 over-sized pages of beauty and wonder to meander through again and again. An inspiration for gardening, nature walks, trips to the farmer’s market, and appreciation for the natural world. Ages 4 and up.

buried sunlight cover imageBuried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth, by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm, illustrated by Molly Bang
published in 2014 by Blue Sky Press

This is the fourth book in Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm’s fascinating series on sunlight. What an astounding star that sun of ours is! 

Here they explain how oil, coal, and gas — fossil fuels — were formed, like tiny treasure chests with precious supplies of energy from the sun trapped inside of them, then buried deep in the earth.

buried sunlight interior2 bang and chisholm

And how, fairly recently, humans discovered those treasure chests and unlocked their potential by burning them to power our world. And how the rapidity of our use of these fossil fuels is affecting Earth’s climate like never before due to the enormous release of carbon dioxide that is occurring.

buried sunlight interior bang and chisholm

I am not a scientist. But Penny Chisholm is an MIT professor and Molly Bang has an uncanny knack of writing these complex facts in accessible language that even I can understand! This book has been vetted by my dear son, a PhD student in Environmental Microbiology, and some of his environmental cohorts and gets all thumbs up. Grab it to share with kids ages 5 or 6 and up. You adults will benefit from it, too!

a warmer world cover imageA Warmer World: From Polar Bears to Butterflies, How Climate Change Affects Wildlife, by Caroline Arnold, illustrated by Jamie Hogan
published in 2012 by Charlesbridge

I suspect most of us have heard about the difficulties polar bears are having in the arctic with the changes in the duration of sea ice which decrease the length of their hunting season.

But what about the impact of climate change on penguins and walruses. On butterflies and fish? The interconnectedness of the natural world is explained in a nature-notebook format in this informative book. You will learn how changes that affect plant life, water temperature, and ice conditions, go on to impact a wide collection of animals.

a warmer world interior arnold and hogan

With its succinct, clear, text and appealing illustrations geared to kids ages 7 and up this book shows some of the furry and feathered reasons we work to limit climate change.

what's the buzz cover imageWhat’s the Buzz?:Keeping Bees in Flight, by Merrie-Ellen Wilcox
published in 2015 by Orca Book Publishers

Author Merrie-Ellen Wilcox loves bees and raises them in six hives at her British Columbia home. Her enthusiasm for this hard-working insect shines through in this book that covers all things Bee.

Learn about the amazing bee, its life, work, and hive-home. Discover the astoundingly-huge job bees do as pollinators for enormous amounts of crops — apples, almonds, blueberries and more — that we eat every day, as well as the way they aid other species such as bears and fish. Find out all about the delicious honey bees produce and the many ways honey and beeswax benefit us. 

what's the buzz photos by rob cruickshank and christopher butterfield

Finally, and sadly, learn the enormous problems bees face today. This will come as no surprise to most of you, but oh, it is distressing! How can you become a Bee-Friendly Kid? A number of realistic steps are listed here which makes this book one of the most practical of the batch today. We can make a difference! Highly-accessible writing and lots of color photographs make this a great read for ages 9 and up.

inside biosphere2 cover imageInside Biosphere 2: Earth Science Under Glass, by Mary Kay Carson, photographs by Tom Uhlman
published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The ability to conduct controlled experiments in the great outdoors is enormously difficult, obviously. So many variables complicate the findings.

Enter Biosphere 2, a massive, glass-enclosed structure containing an amazingly-devised rain forest, desert ocean (yes, you’ll find out what that is), savannah, hillsides of soil, and teams of cool scientists researching important questions.

inside biosphere 2 photo by tom uhlman

How do rainforests respond to ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide? How will climate change alter the acidity of water and what difference does that make? How are Earth’s landscapes reshaped by climate change? What’s the best way to harvest rainfall?

This lengthy account is superbly written and documented for budding science enthusiasts who are chomping at the bit to take their place among the people asking these questions, devising experiments to find answers, and developing policies for the long-term good of Earth-dwellers. Thorough and intriguing for ages 11 to adult.

the forest feast for kids cover imageThe Forest Feast For Kids, by Erin Gleeson
published in 2016 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

A couple of years ago, Erin Gleeson published her bestselling cookbook, The Forest Feast. Lavishly decorated with her lovely watercolor illustrations and filled with simple, fresh, vegetarian recipes, it charmed the socks off of everybody.

Now, with the same touch of beauty and simplicity, she’s written an edition for kids. And it is sooo lovely! Look, here are the end-papers:

the forest feast for kids endpapers by erin gleeson

The pages of this book are bursting with gorgeous, full-color photos. Recipes with hand-lettering and watercolor flourishes cover everything from Pomegranate Hot Cider to Butternut Quesadillas and Plum Tartlets. All of them contain only a few, simple ingredients. Here is food that is a feast for the eyes as well as the palette. Food prepared as a gift of love and care. An artistic endeavor in which we appreciate the colors, textures, and flavors of fresh food.

the forest feast for kids interior by erin gleeson

So, why include this cookbook in an Earth Day post? Because the biggest impact you can make on your carbon footprint — even  beyond not driving your car —  is to give up or greatly reduce your consumption of beef. These recipes not only taste good, look splendid, and provide opportunity for community — they actually contribute to the health of the planet. 

A beautiful choice for boys and girls ages 7 and up. It would make quite a good birthday gift, I think!

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It’s coming up on Earth Day 2015. I love that we set apart a day to Stop!

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Stop rushing past dainty mosses. Stop overlooking the sparkle of sunlight on open water. Stop and listen to birdsong. Stop and consider what an excellent home Earth is.

When we slow down and teach our children to delight in the naturalbrazilcityfarm from cityfarmer dot info world around them, we help cultivate a society that takes proper care of the Earth, a noble and profoundly important calling.

There are so many spectacular picture books about everything from the tiniest microbes to massive sequoias to ocean currents and outer space. I have learned a lot about our planet from picture books, I’m not too proud to say! I hope you’ll take advantage of these five and many other titles listed in my Subject Index under Sciences.

something about a bear cover imageSomething About a Bear, written and illustrated by Jackie Morris
published in 2014 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

There is just something about a bear, isn’t there?

Their massiveness combined with their dashed cuddly looks makes us tremble and simultaneously want to tousle their shaggy fur like a pet dog’s.

Jackie Morris tells us something about eight different bears in this book. Her lush paintings bring out the luxurious fur, wicked-powerful claws, immense girth, and diverse habitats of these fellows. I love her art!!

something about a bear illustration jackie morris

From China’s bamboo forests to glacial Arctic waters; bears snatching salmon and bears hunting termites; bears nesting in tree tops and bears piggy-backing their darling cubs — we learn just a snitch about each while we fall in love with their cushy ampleness.

For ages 3 and up. Additional notes on each of these bears give more information to older readers.

handle with care cover imageHandle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey, by Loree Griffin Burns, photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz
published in 2014 by Millbrook Press

From the colossal we head to the fragile.

In the rainforests of Costa Rica, there’s an unusual sort of farm. In airy, screened greenhouses, these farmers are raising butterflies!

Providing enough food for thousands of caterpillars, keeping predators at bay, and searching out the caterpillars who are about to form pupae keeps everybody here busy.

aaa-chrysalids-102

The Puparium — a butterfly nursery! —  is filled with cabinets, which are in turn filled with spectacular, jewel-like pupae. Lime green, shimmery gold, sea foam…these elegant packages are about to be shipped to museums around the world so YOU can enjoy the fluttering, graceful wonders in a Butterfly House when they emerge.

This fascinating account is accessible to children ages 5 and up, and is accompanied by gorgeous photography, extra pages of information on the life cycles of various insects, and ideas for further reading. Really, I think it will make you want to pack up and go be a butterfly farmer!

water rolls water rises cover imageWater Rolls, Water Rises = El agua rueda, el agua sube, by Pat Mora, illustrations by Meilo So
published in 2014 by Children’s Book Press/Lee & Low Books

Water, skimmering up the sandy beach, tickling your feet.

Water, moisting about as fog, creating new, mysterious worlds.

Water, bustling and chimmering over rocks in a river bed.

All the beauty, wonder, and variety of water is celebrated in this truly beautiful book.

I have to say here, that I don’t think the book cover quite conveys the gorgeousness of what’s inside here, so don’t let that dissuade you.

water rolls water rises illustration meilo so

Three-line, poetic depictions of a wide array of watery places make up the book’s text — an oasis in the Sahara, a rocky headland teeming with seabirds, a deep canyon threaded by a serene and silent river…such a lovely gathering of the many forms, moods, sounds, geographies, textures of water. The poems are written in Spanish and English.

water rolls water rises mora and so

Meilo So’s exquisite artwork ravishes us on every page. So beautiful. She masterfully captures the atmosphere of all these locations through her vivid colors and graceful line. Seriously, every page you turn, your heart will skip a beat. Thumbnail images at the back tell us the locations which inspired each of her pieces.

Water is a precious resource. Share this book with folks ages 2 and up.

sequoia cover imageSequoia, by Tony Johnston, paintings by Wendell Minor
published in 2014 by Roaring Brook Press

Personifying one magnificent Sequoia, Tony Johnston escorts us lyrically through a round of seasons in this old fellow’s long life.

When we see, in person, these behemoths, or really, any superbly ancient tree, it is natural to consider all the history they have stood through. This imagining of what a tree would say if it could talk — if it were an Ent, say — is just what happens.

So, this tender giant’s brief, quiet biography is most fitting. I love the images Johnston calls forth, of “springtimes, clothed in his old man’s robes — every shade of green” as he stands enjoying the trickling, rushing, flow of waters once again. Of the woodland animals he observes in all their comings and goings. The silent watcher.

Wendell Minor’s paintings convey that same sense of vastness and ancientness and stillness; just how it feels to walk through the California parks where they live.

sequoia illustration wendell minor

Enjoy this with ages 3 and up. Additional notes on Sequoias will  interest mid-elementary and older.

here come the humpbacks cover imageHere Come the Humpbacks!, by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Jamie Hogan
published in 2013 by Charlesbridge

Every living thing on earth is full of wonder, but there’s something about humpback whales, those singing giants of the deep, that’s especially dramatic.

Follow one mama humpback and her new baby through one year in this exceptional book for ages 4 or 5 and up.

We begin in February, in the emerald waters of the Caribbean where mama is awaiting the birth of her little one. Well — not really so little. He’s weighing about a ton at birth!

here come the humpbacks illustration jamie hogan

Learn about that fella’s first days, how he breathes, the mind-blowing singing of the whales around him,  the patient sacrifice his mother makes for him, waiting in waters where she cannot eat until he’s big enough for the long journey to the cool, feeding grounds off the coast of New England. Discover the dangers they have to evade, and the remarkable ways a pod cooperates to get food.

All of this and more is delivered in a transfixing, clear narrative, with added asides on every page. The pages themselves are dominated by rich, pastel and charcoal pencil illustrations that carry us right under the ocean, eye to eye with these magnificent creatures.here come the humpbacks sayre and hogan

I learned a great deal from this little book, which includes added notes about whale migrations, the ways scientists are studying whales and protecting this truly awesome species. Maybe someone you love will be inspired to pursue a lifetime learning about one member of the vast animal kingdom, and sharing those spectacular secrets with the rest of us, too!

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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.

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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…

…become…

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

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