Posts Tagged ‘environmentalism’


“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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forest of wonders cover imageForest of Wonders (Wing & Claw Book 1), by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by James Madsen
published in 2016 by HarperCollins

Raffa, age 12, is the son of two apothecaries who live in a quiet settlement near the mysterious Forest of Wonders.

Though young, Raffa has already demonstrated an uncanny knack for mixing up effective tinctures, infusions, and poultices purchased by villagers. He has acquired a great store of knowledge about the marvelous botanicals growing in the Forest, and how to make use of their powerful healing properties.

One day, Raffa is startled by the literal dropping-in-to-his-life of a little bat. A grievously injured bat. In the process of mending its shredded wings and broken bones, Raffa collects and uses a scarlet vine, an ancient remedy known to his grandmother as a particularly potent agent of healing. And yes, the bat’s wounds heal nicely. But that vine possesses far stranger powers than anyone would suspect. And now some of that vine has gone AWOL.

forest of wonders map by Mike Schley

To prevent the vine from harming others — human and animal — Raffa ventures off to the capital city, Gilden, an overwhelming and menacing place for a country bumpkin. There he encounters a heap of troubles, meets some unusual compatriots, and learns of a sinister plot underway courtesy of the Chancellor of Obsidia.

I do not pick up a lot of fantasy literature, partially because I am cowed by the length of most of the series — often 3 to 5 thick volumes long. With all the titles on my want-to-read list, I usually cannot bear to begin those formidable sets!

Linda Sue Park

Linda Sue Park

However. This one has Linda Sue Park’s name on it, and when I see her name on a book, I grab it. And I’m never sorry.

I loved this book. As we’ve come to expect from Linda, the plot, pacing, setting, dialogue, are perfect. And the characters! Incredibly engaging. By the end of this volume, you’ll have grown to love smart, tenderhearted, conscientious Raffa and his seriously-intrepid band of friends. You’ll also meet Echo — the most endearing little bat on the planet — and several other animals who will steal your heart.

little fruit bat

See how cute a bat can be?!

If my kids were 10 again, they would absolutely lovelovelove this book.  

One of the charms of the story is its focus on the wild plants in the Forest of Wonders and their extraordinary powers of  healing. I felt like I was back in Pomona Sprout’s laboratory at Hogwarts, chopping and blending roots and shoots to magical effect! The fact is, our forests are filled with plant life imbued with medicinal potential, and the awe we feel reading about the Forest of Wonders would be well-cultivated for the amazing, often-threatened, vegetation around us.


Apart from being a magnificent adventure, the story raises thought-provoking questions about civil disobedience, the wise use of environmental resources, the potential for adverse consequences to scientific advances, the ethics of using the ends to justify the means. It’s a thrilling story in which success hangs on tremendously difficult choices, and on friends who trust one another and do not betray that trust.

Grab this for kids ages 9 and up.  The only problem is the cliff-hanger ending! No idea when Book Two will release. (330 pages)

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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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One of the joys of writing these posts for Women’s History Month is seeing, in this condensed moment of time, the array of callings women have embraced through time and around the world. I hope you enjoy discovering the women in today’s post, starting in Kenya with…

wangari maathai cover imageWangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees, by Franck Prévot, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty
first published, 2012 in France; first U.S. edition published in 2015 by Charlesbridge

Wangari Maathai’s calling was to help heal her land, Kenya, from the rapid deforestation and resulting soil depletion, water contamination, loss of wildlife, and agricultural impoverishment. For this, she needed to be a stalwart person, unflinching in the face of huge odds, discrimination, and hostility.

wangari maathai interior prevot and fronty

Maathai was immensely successful, adding work for women’s rights and a more democratic government to her pursuits, and winning the Nobel Peace Prize for her work using environmental restoration to rebuild communities.

This engaging biography is gorgeously illustrated with ravishing color and includes a timeline, photographs, and websites for further investigation. Ages 6 and up.

miss mary reporting cover imageMiss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber, Sue Macy, illustrated by C.F. Payne
published in 2016, a Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Mary Garber’s calling was to tell stories about athletes to the public, and particularly to give equal attention to stories of black athletes at a time when segregated sporting events meant they were largely ignored. She endured criticism, slights, and countless hurdles as she broke into a field previously reserved for men, yet after 50 years of sportswriting, she was voted into the sportswriters’ hall of fame.

miss mary reporting interior macy and payne

I loved learning about Mary and her unflagging interest in the sporting world. I especially loved hearing how her own unappreciated status gave her empathy and awareness of other under-represented people, and of how she brought them into the spotlight. It’s lovely to see someone turn her hurts into good rather than bitterness. Magnificently warm, human illustrations flood these pages with period atmosphere. A delight for ages 7 and up.

Bon Appetit cover imageBon Appétit!: The Delicious Life of Julia Child, written and illustrated by Jessie Hartland
published in 2012 by Schwartz & Wade

Julia Child’s calling was to make delicious food for the delight of others and to teach them to cook it as well. Her bubbly enthusiasm, irrepressible can-do attitude, boundless optimism made the world fall in love with her.

Jessie Hartland’s illustration-saturated, hand-lettered pages reflect Child’s ebullience marvelously.

bon appetit interior jessie hartland

Sheer delight from the end-papers right on through, from Julia’s birth in 1912 to her death in 2004. Plus — a recipe for crêpes so you can dabble in a little French cooking yourself! A joyous offering for ages 6 and up.

of numbers and stars cover imageOf Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia, by D. Anne Love, illustrated by Pam Paparone
published in 2006 by Holiday House

Hypatia’s calling was to scholarship in mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy. Though she lived in 4th century Egypt — an era and location in which few women ever learned even to read or write — Hypatia had a father who believed in educating girls equally to boys. Hallelujah!

of numbers and stars cover image

Revel in the wondrous span of ideas and pursuits opened to Hypatia, until she took her seat as a robed scholar, lecturing “a constant stream of students” from Egypt and regions beyond. I love this extraordinary person and I love her open-minded, open-hearted father. Beautifully illustrated in child-friendly acrylic paintings, this is ancient history that’s accessible to children ages 4 and up.

mother teresa cover imageMother Teresa, written and illustrated by Demi
published in 2005 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu’s calling was to care for the poorest of the poor, treat the dying with dignity, tend to those who felt unwanted, all in the name of service to God. As Mother Teresa, she worked tirelessly her whole life to translate her faith into acts of charity.

mother teresa interior by Demi

Demi’s biography incorporates a number of Mother Teresa’s prayers and direct quotes as she traces her life from childhood in Macedonia and Croatia, to an abbey in Ireland, and then a long life in Calcutta. Demi’s intricate illustrations are splendid as always. Included is a chronicle of Mother Teresa’s journey toward canonization. An inspirational read for ages 8 to adult.

who says women can't be doctors cover imageWho Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell, by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
published in 2013 by Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company

Elizabeth Blackwell’s calling was to become a doctor at a time when only men were allowed in that profession, and to use her medical skills to treat many female patients who preferred the care of a woman.

Most children today cannot fathom the non-existence of women in medicine. Think of the skilled, compassionate, cutting-edge, and female,  pediatric oncologists, psychiatrists, family physicians, who take such tremendous care of us.

who says women can't be doctors interior stone and priceman

Of course, this has not always been the case. When Elizabeth Blackwell decided to become a doctor, most people found the idea either ridiculous, impossible, or scandalous. Thank goodness she, like Hypatia, had a father who valued an equal education for his daughters, and that she also had the guts, intelligence, and perseverance to become the first woman doctor in America. This biography has all the verve of Blackwell herself, illustrated in Priceman’s fabulously-energetic line and color. A brilliant read for ages 5 and up.

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I’ve met a bunch of awesome kids recently in the three novels highlighted today, all of whom I’d love to introduce to you.

They’re coming from widely different locations — a farm in the American South, an island off the coast of India, a ranch in Oregon. Each of them encounters substantial adversity and meets it with an authentic mixture of courage, reluctance, fear, and deep questions about life. All great choices for middle-grade readers and book clubs.

ruby lee and me cover imageRuby Lee & Me, by Shannon Hitchcock
published in 2016 by Scholastic Press

Sarah Willis has her life turned upside down in one split second when her younger sister, Robin, is critically injured on Sarah’s watch.

Over the next months, Sarah is engulfed in guilt and terrified about her sister’s injuries. She longs to experience peace and forgiveness, but isn’t convinced it’s possible for her, not while Robin still lies in a hospital bed. 

Sarah moves to her grandparents’ farm during this crisis, into their warm, accepting embrace, and just down the road from her best friend, an African American girl named Ruby Lee.


As Sarah and Ruby start school, more difficulties await them. School integration has come to Shady Creek, and along with it the area’s first African American teacher for the predominantly white students.

Sarah navigates all this with some huge missteps, then has to find her way back with the help of her teacher, her faith, and her solid heart. Beautifully written characters interact with honesty in this great read for ages 9 and up.

tiger boy cover imageTiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan
published in 2015 by Charlesbridge

Neel lives on an island of the Sunderbans, a tropical home of salty creeks, flowering jasmine, and wild guavas off the coast of India. It’s a home Neel loves to the core of his being, but it’s a tough place to make a living.

That’s why when the corrupt businessman, Gupta, pays men to harvest rare sundari trees or bully widows for rent payments, even good men like Neel’s father turn their backs on long-held values to earn his rupees.


Now, a tiger cub, normally protected in a reserve, has gone missing and Gupta is offering a huge reward for it. Neel and his sister know Gupta means to sell the skin and body parts on the black market if anyone captures it for him. Despite the immense dangers, they’re determined to find it first and return it to safety.

Meanwhile, another treasure is at stake: Neel’s future. He’s a bright student, who could bring honor and success to his family if he’d agree to move far from home for a good education. But the loss of his home-life is not something Neel is willing to accept. 

Mitali Perkins weaves Neel’s inner turmoil and outward adventure together brilliantly in a marvelously diverse setting. Excellent, fast read (132 pages) with an environmental message and resources to learn more about efforts to save Bengal Tigers and bring about holistic development to the Sunderbans region. Ages 9 and up.

heart of a shepherd cover imageHeart of a Shepherd, by Roseanne Parry
published in 2009; a Yearling Book from Random House

Brother is 11 years old,  the youngest of five boys living with his dad and grandparents on their ranch in Eastern Oregon. As his story opens, his father has just received orders to head with his Army Reserve unit to Iraq for 14 months. That seems like an eternity to Brother.

With his older brothers off at their own military assignments and schools, Brother finds himself the only one left to help his grandparents keep the ranch going. Those tasks are brutally hard, and Brother has never been so sure that he’s cut out for either ranching or the military anyway, as generations of Aldermans before him seem to have been.


So there’s a raft of anxieties snarling in Brother’s heart and mind — about his dad’s safety, his grandparents’ health, the bum lambs he’s tending, the promise he made to his dad to keep the ranch in good shape, and his own misgivings about who he is meant to be. Brother doggedly moves forward with the wise help of his extraordinary grandparents — his Catholic grandmother and Quaker, pacifist grandfather — and the new priest in town, Father Ziegler.

This story is unusually deep, honest, and tender, probing issues of faith, calling, and identity in children. Deep chords of grief run through the story, yet the strength of these characters support us all the way through. Ages 10 and up.

P.S. Can I just say that I really dislike the cover of this book? I don’t like to make negative comments here, but if you look at the cover and say, “Hmmm…not for me,” I just want to recommend that you ignore it and give the story a chance.

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


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.


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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