Last Sunday, the New York Times Book Review featured Al Gore’s review of Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Henry Holt, 2014), an examination of “what biologists call the sixth mass extinction.” Gore states that Kolbert “makes it clear that doing what is right means accelerating our transition to a more sustainable world.”
It seems to me that educating our kids about the wonders of the natural world is one way to accomplish this transition. Children are naturally curious and amazed, and we should do everything we can to build on this sense of wonder. One natural way to do that by sharing books, beautiful nonfiction picture books that celebrate “The World Around Us.”
Sing of the Earth and Sky,
sing of our lovely planet,
sing of the low and high,
of fossils locked in granite.
Sing of the strange, the known,
the secrets that surround us,
sing of the wonders shown,
and wonders still around us.
Each one of the books shared below open a window onto nature, and will help inspire awe and wonder about our world in children of all ages.
The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest–and Most Surprising–Animals on Earth, by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin, 2013)
This book is chock full of fascinating facts about animals of every kind, a book to savor and pore over. The stunning illustrations of each animal are carefully crafted in Jenkins’ signature collage technique. Jenkins provides a thorough explanation of his process in the book and in this video:
Island: A Story of the Galápagos, by Jason Chin (grades 2-4, Roaring Brook Press, 2012)
Jason Chin has created a richly detailed account of the creation of the Galápagos and how they came to be populated by so many species found only on these volcanic islands. The book ends with the arrival of Charles Darwin on the HMS Beagle and provides a brief explanation of how Darwin developed his theory of evolution based on his observations of animals during his visit to the islands.
Coral Reefs, by Jason Chin (grades K-4, Roaring Brook Press, 2011)
Coral Reef begins with a girl taking Coral Reef down from a shelf in the Rose Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library. As the main character becomes immersed in her book, coral begins to appear, and soon the library is transformed into a magnificent coral reef. Chin’s text and illustrations are perfectly matched as the structure of the reef and the relationships of the animals who live in and around it are explained. An Author’s Note briefly explains the threat to coral reefs from global warming and offers suggestions for how readers can help slow this process. Chin also explains how he researched coral reefs and offers some additional resources.
The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery, by Sandra Markle (grades 4-8, Millbrook Press, 2013)
Recommended by the National Science Teachers Association, Sandra Markle’s meticulously researched book explains in detail the essential role honeybees play in nature. Gorgeous photographs are clearly labeled and include explanatory captions. Markle raises the many questions scientists have about the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder and is realistic in her conclusion that honeybees are not out of danger. Suggestions for how to help honeybees are included, as well as a list of additional resources, a glossary, and index.
The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families, by Susan L. Roth & Cindy Trumbore; collages by Susan L. Roth (grades 1 and up, Lee & Low Books, Inc., 2011)
Created by the same team behind Parrots Over Puerto Rico, winner of the 2014 Sibert Medal for the most distinguished information book published in the United States, The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families describes the effort of Dr. Gordon Sato to ease the poverty and lack of food in the African country of Eritrea. The story is told in layers, the simplest of which is a cumulative rhyme a la “The Hose that Jack Built.” Sidebars explain Dr. Sato’s project in more detail, and an Afterword provides even more details as well as photographs of Dr. Sato, the mangrove trees, and the Eritreans who worked to make the project a success. A glossary, websites, and sources are also included.
Stripes of All Types, by Susan Stockdale (Preschool-grade 1, Peachtree, 2013)
This simple rhyming text introduces young readers to a wide variety of animals whose stripes help them survive in different habitats. Stockdale’s writing is full of vivid language, and is perfect for building vocabulary. Additional information about each animal is provided at the end of the book.
Collard’s rich, descriptive language and Brickman’s stunning collages present readers with a surprising range of information about wings found all over the world, from “steamy rain forests to the frigid North Pole.” Details illuminate the wide variety of styles of wings, how many wings particular animals have, even the various purposes for wings. A list of both print and digital resources is included, as is a glossary and a brief description of Brickman’s paper collages.
Pointy, Long, or Round: A Book About Animal Shapes, by Patricia M. Stockland; illustrated by Todd Ouren (Kindergarten-grade 3, Picture Window Books, 2005)
Here’s another book organized around a trait many different animals have in common. Stockland’s text is simple yet descriptive, and provides details about how these animals use their shape for protection or survival. Additional details related to each animal’s shape can be found in side bars, which are cleverly incorporated into the illustrations.
Volcano Rising, by Elizabeth Rusch; illustrated by Susan Swan (grades 1-4) Charlesbridge, 2013)
Volcano Rising explains what volcanoes are, how they work, and that “volcanoes are not just destructive. Much more often, volcanoes are creative.” This overview is told using one font style. Specific examples of each type of volcano, such as the creation of Paricutín, a volcano in Mexico that grew to a height of 1,300 feet in just nine years, are provided in a different font. Back matter includes a glossary, resources the author used, and books for further reading.
The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps, by Jeanette Winter (Preschool-grade 3, Schwartz + Wade Books, 2011)
When Jane Goodall first went to Africa, she “wanted to learn things that no one else knew, uncover secrets…” She did just that during her years studying the chimps of Gombe. Winter writes in language that is both simple and accessible, yet evokes Jane’s sense of wonder in all that she sees. She ends her account of Goodall’s inspiring life story with these words: “Jane carried with her the peace of the forest…and opened a window for us to the world of chimpanzees.”
Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 is a “celebration of nonfiction picture books” organized by Julie Balen, Cathy Mere, and Mandy Robek. Many bloggers shared lists of their favorite nonfiction picture books on Wednesday, and a list of their posts can be found on Julie’s blog. My post is a little late because of internet issues, so I decided to combine it with Poetry Friday. Be sure to visit Karen Edmisten for the Poetry Friday Round Up. Thank you to all these ladies for devoting their time to make cyberspace a rich and inspiring place to visit.