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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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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.

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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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erik in stockholmMy son, Erik,  graduates from college this week!

I’m a happy mom, and deeply thankful for all I’ve learned from him as he has pursued majors in Biology and Environmental Studies. The world needs more people like Erik, devoting themselves to researching, restoring, protecting, and wisely stewarding the natural world.

I’m celebrating his success, fittingly, with five books about trees. Such glories, trees.

the tree lady cover image2The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever, by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
published in 2013 by Beach Lane Books

Kate Sessions grew up in Northern California in the late 1800s, a tree-loving, mud-grubbing girl with a bent for science which was not so common for girls in those days.

In 1883, she moved to San Diego,  a desert town the tree lady hopkins and mcelmurrywhose rusty dustiness was unbroken by trees. Before long, Kate could stand it no longer. Trees were needed, she said, and although no one thought trees would grow there, Kate set about to transform the city park into a shady, tree-filled oasis.

Hunting down trees from around the world that were suitable for this climate, Kate created a magnificent garden now known as Balboa Park. It remains a lush, green haven for the people of San Diego.

This pleasantly-told biography is just right for ages 5 and up. The gouache illustrations are really lovely, full of the beauty and hush and elegance of trees, and the fashions of the 1800s, with a bit of a Miss Rumphius flavor. What a great legacy to leave!

celebritrees cover imageCelebritrees: Historic and Famous Trees of the World, by Margi Preus, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
published in 2010 by Christy Ottaviano Books

Trees can live to be so, so, so old.

Which allows for the possibility of becoming known and loved by generations of people, and sometimes becoming legendary.

Here are 14 famous trees, and a short account of their lives. There’s Methuselah, a Bristlecone Pine in California that’s around 4,800 years old, the “oldest known single living organism on earth.” And General Sherman,celebritrees preus and gibbon that famous Sequoia, weighing about three MILLION pounds.

And The Tree of One Hundred Horses in Spain. Perhaps the thickest of all trees. Here we learn the story of how it got its name.

Each of these stories is quite short — just enough to acquaint us with these beauties in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The pages are dominated by Gibbon’s friendly, bold illustrations.

There’s additional info in the final pages telling us more about these and other “champion” trees, along with ideas for how you can help protect trees. It’s an upbeat, intriguing book for early elementary and up.

big tree cover imageBig Tree, by Mary and Conrad Buff
published in 1946 by The Viking Press

This Newbery Honor title traces the life story of Wawona, a Sequoiah growing in the forests of California.

It’s out of print — the sad fate of so many Honor titles — but worth tracking down for its unusual, storytelling mix of both history and nature lore. Those of you who know Holling Clancy Holling’s books will find a similar flavor here.

The story begins when Wawona is just a tiny seed, “no larger than an ant,” still packed into a tight brown cone on an ancient Sequoiah. When the cone splits, and Wawona is released, he is whirled by the wind to a perfect mound of earth.

We follow Wawona through the years, centuries, and milennia of his life, through storms and forest fires, as Native Americans and then white the big tree illustration mary and conrad bufflumbermen come his way. We learn how magnificently strong he is, as well as the only threat he really cannot withstand. Occasionally an event from history is mentioned so we get a better understanding of just how old this tree is.

Interspersed with the narrations about the tree itself, are a number of stories about various animals living in and near Wawona. There’s a bear who meets his match in Mother Skunk, a couple of bucks fiercely battling for supremacy, chipmunks, owls, golden eagles…and each story contains a nice bit of nature lore.

At 80 pages long, with gorgeous black-and-white illustrations throughout, it would make a nice read-aloud for early-elementary and up. Keep in mind that cruelties are inherent to authentic nature stories, and that’s the case here as well.

my old tree cover image 001My Old Tree, by Patricia Lee Gauch, illustrated by Doris Burn
published in 1970 by Coward-McCann, Inc.

Elderly, stately, grand trees. Mighty in girth and height. Broadly spreading branches and hefty limbs.

That’s the kind of trees that just beg to be climbed my old tree illustration doris burn 001and lolled in. That’s the kind of tree this boy has in mind for his tree fort and his hoped-for life among blossoms and squirrels and sky.

This story is a quaint pleasure, just the idle thinking of a small boy dreaming of how life in a tree might look. It beckons us with the lovely innocence, the simple non-electronic-ness, the roving outdoorness of a healthy childhood.

I adore Doris Burn’s work, and these soft, nostalgic, retro illustrations are classic Doris Burn.  It’s a sweet, vintage read to coax your kids outside and up a tree.

a tree is nice cover imageA Tree is Nice, by Janice May Udry, illustrated by Marc Simont
published in 1956 by Harper & Row

I’ve featured this book on Orange Marmalade before, but I just couldn’t do a whole list of five about trees without adding this gem.

It’s one of my all-time favorite children’s books. One of those, if-I-had-to-pick-just-10-for-the-desert-island, this-would-be-on-the-list, books. It won the Caldecott way back in 1957, but feels as fresh as if it were written a tree is nice illustration marc simontyesterday.

Udry’s charming, unsophisticated, pure reflections of what is so nice about trees, complemented by Marc Simont’s perfect paintings which capture the essence of trees with such splendor I get a pang in my heart. That’s what you get.

If you do not know this book, do not pass go, do not collect $200 until you’ve leisurely, lovingly enjoyed it.  

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