More Earth Day Books!

What are you doing for Earth Day this year? A bit of gardening or planting a tree, perhaps? Teaching a lesson on weather systems and the effects of human activity on ecosystems around the world? Whatever the case may be, I hope you and your middle-graders enjoy it. Feel free to share a story or two in the comment section below.

I, for one, am headed out to Portland, Oregon, to spend some time outdoors. Although I call New York City home at the moment, I lived in Portland for many years and still miss most things about it. The Pacific Crest Trail. The Rose Garden. Mount Hood and nearby (ish) Rainier. So many places to get out and explore nature. I’m very much looking forward to it. While I’ll still be away the following week and won’t be writing a post from the road, look for my next addition to the LB blog at the beginning of May.

Without further ado, here’s this week’s selection:

Who Will Save My Planet? by Maria Cristina Urrutia (Cinco de Mayo). This wordless book uses alternating photographs to get its message across. On one spread, the disturbing picture of a lion crammed into a cage; on the adjacent spread, a different lion runs free in its natural habitat, chasing prey.  Another photo depicts a sidewalk strewn with trash and rotting plastic bottles while the opposite page shows garbage piled neatly into a metal trash can. A powerful introduction to opposites for younger kids: right and wrong; healthy and unhealthy; living and dead. And, of course, the question the title poses still remains: Who will save our planet? An excellent jumping-off point for discussions in the classroom or at home. Ages: The publisher recommends ages 7+, but I’d venture to say the book’s suitable for kids even younger as well.

Plant a Little Seed by Bonnie Christensen. An uplifting and scrumptious-looking celebration of local fruits and vegetables and planting one’s own vegetable and flower patch, this bright and cheery picture book is perfect for gardening season. Christensen (DjangoWoody Guthrie) highlights how fun growing your own vegetables can be, emphasizing not only the planting process and waiting time spent laying around in the sun or doing cartwheels, but also the treats that beg to be enjoyed (Fresh berries! Sugar snap peas!) before harvest time. General veggie-planting tips on the back of seed packets are included on the last page, and canning is talked about but not in great detail. Friendly looking animals, shiny sunflowers, and sunshine pervade the larger-than-life illustrations on each page, lifting spirits and appetites too. Ages 3+

The Family Tree by David McPhail. Every once in a while a book comes across my desk that is poignant, bittersweet, and accessible for little ones. Most of the time, the books that fit into this special category bring tears to my eyes. This lovely and gorgeously illustrated picture book by McPhail (Mole MusicTeddy BearBoy on the Brink) is no exception. It tells the sad but too-often-true story of the destruction of natural resources in the face of progress. The book opens as a young man cuts down a forest to clear land for his new farm, save for one tree. He uses the wood from the rest of the trees to build his house and barn, and the land provides food for his burgeoning family and community. Years pass. The man dies and his great-great-grandson is born. The leftover tree, now big and beautiful and with an added tree-swing, becomes a symbol for comfort, daydreaming, and everything else the boy holds dear. So, when construction workers threaten to tear it down to pave the way for a new road, the boy calls in his animal-friends to stage a protest. The plan works and the new road is built around the tree, which is left standing. Of course, the adult in me tries to repress a disturbing vision of the tree being choked by noise pollution and fumes from the new road (cough), but I believe McPhail’s intended point was a valid one: Progress is inevitable but, hopefully, not always at the expense of nature. Ages 4+

Shakespeare’s Seasons written by Miriam Weiner, illustrated by Shannon Whitt. Culled from some of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets and plays such as “The Winter’s Tale,” “As You Like It,” and “Love’s Labour Lost,” these beautiful snippets (“The purest spring is not so free from mud.” ~Henry VI) printed on each spread introduce kids to Shakespeare’s poetry and to appreciating nature in all its splendid glory. While younger tots might need a little help understanding the meaning behind some of the bard’s text, Whitt’s collage-like illustrations made from cut-and-pasted bits of paper of various textures are breathtaking to behold. They might even inspire an arts-n’-crafts project or two of a new sort. Ages 4+

The Plant Hunters by Anita Silvey (I’ll Pass for Your ComradeHenry KnoxChildren’s Book-a-Day Almanac). The opening paragraphs to this rich nonfiction book says it all: “One got eaten by tigers in the Philippines; one died of fever in Ecuador . . . Another survived rheumatism, pleurisy, and dysentery while sailing the Yangtze River in China, only to be murdered later. Those who survived endured all kinds of challenges . . . These intrepid adventurers faced slime pits, snowdrifts, river rapids, floods, and avalanches . . .” A vivid raconteur using letters, interviews, and journal entries as research targets, Silvey spins thrilling and heart-stopping true tales of 18th- and 19th-century scientists and explorers who risked their lives in far off places like the Amazon basin to discover rare and exotic plants for the purpose of advancing medicine, agriculture, and, of course, botany. While it can be argued that some of the methods they used were exploitative, the challenges they faced and the discoveries they made were groundbreaking nonetheless. Photographs, pencil-drawing illustrations, and maps included throughout. Back matter consists of a timeline, Author’s Note, Bibliography, and Index. Ages 8+

The Lord God Bird by Tom Gallant. In Arkansas in 2004, there was a reported sighting of a thought-to-be extinct male Ivory Billed Woodpecker, often called “the Lord God Bird” because of its large size and striking beauty. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offered a $50,000 reward to anyone who could not only confirm the bird’s whereabouts, but bring a biologist directly to it. Gallant’s quiet but arresting novel is loosely based on these events. Written in the third person, the book follows a widower who finds solace building canoes and sailing amidst the trees. Upon one such journey, he catches a glimpse of the Ivory Bill. Soon enough, the media finds out about his discovery and hordes of scientists and gawkers arrive to see for themselves, cameras and disruptive equipment in tow. Before long, the once-serene woods become a hotbed of activity, threatening the fragile stability of the woods’ ecosystem and the man’s sanity. Toward the end of the book, readers are given a peek inside the threatened bird’s thoughts in reaction to all the hoopla and the effect is truly moving. While this book is geared towards adults, its message and presentation is certainly digestible for a teen, if not older middle-grade audience. A rare and beautiful find on many levels.

To read the rest of this post, including reviews of 10 Things I Can Do to Help My World by Melanie Walsh, How the World Works by Christiane Dorion, and Gaia Warriors by Nicola Davies, please visit Letter Blocks: The B&N Parents and Educators Blog.

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