Tom Chapin’s children's song starts winding itself into my brain this time of year, making me think of the joys of living on our planet: “Happy, happy Earth Day . . .” Schoolchildren will play cooperative games with giant Earth balls and spend time cleaning up their environment and helping out with community service projects. It’s a great time to celebrate our planet and think of ways to protect the life it sustains. Here are some wonderful new books to help children connect with nature.
CHERISH THE SEA
Alison Formento and Sarah Snow add another excellent book to their series about nature in These Seas Count! Mr. Tate’s class gathers for a field trip to a local beach where they learn about pollution, trash and the need for beach cleanup. Part counting book, part ecological wake-up call for the young, this book gently informs children about animals who live in or near the world’s oceans. Glorious colorful collages grace each spread, allowing the readers to feel the movements of all the animals. I especially loved the jumping dolphins and swimming jellyfish. Mr. Tate and Captain Ned make the case for interconnectivity, giving the worried children a solution. Cleaning up the beach, counting the giant bags of garbage and scooping trash out of the ocean make the children think about the importance of the water cycle for all creatures.
THE LITTLEST CREATURES
Beginning readers with a penchant for eggs will love Lynette Evans' Whose Egg? On the left is a riddle, perfect for the youngest scientist to ponder: “My egg is emerald green. It lies like a jewel in the dry, red land. I will hatch with wings and feathers, but I will never fly. Who am I?” On the right is a clever piece of engineering—an open-the-flap book that slowly reveals the egg’s contents. This time, the egg contains an emu, but other critters are born from eggs, too—alligators, penguins, butterflies, platypus, snakes, turtles and plovers. The sturdy paper will hold up through repeated readings; it’s a good thing, because youngsters will read it over and over. Illustrator Guy Troughton's warm, highly detailed watercolors fill each spread, and sharp readers will notice little clues as to the animals' identities on the left–hand page. Is that a little turtle arm poking out? Yes, it is! This one is a charmer.
GREEN AND STRONG
Plasticine artist extraordinaire Barbara Reid has outdone herself with Picture a Tree. Just stop and take a gander at the end pages. Each little square is part of an illustration to come—a tiny hand-created paean to trees. Accompanied by sparse text, the illustrations are a marvel of movement, detail and emotion. Starting bare in winter, a nod to the cycle of the seasons, Reid asks the young reader to imagine trees as more than trees. They are shadows, drawings, tunnels, oceans, homes . . . even a friend. The scenes with children playing in the trees are particularly enchanting for young readers, and Reid's nod to the human life cycle grabbed this adult. The adolescent tree blooms next to a group of eye-rolling teens, making me smile in recognition. One spread shows a modern boy, reading in a tree over a river. The reflection is another child, from an earlier time, also reading. Every page invites the reader to look closely and marvel, “How did she make this art?”
Older children love sloths. Why is that? Is it the fur? The smiling eyes? The long arms? Whatever it is, kids love sloths, and A Little Book of Sloth by Lucy Cooke has sloths aplenty! Costa Rica is home to Slothville, a sanctuary for sloths. Buttercup was the first sloth in Slothville, but now, 20 years later, she is the “queen of Slothville.” She lives in in her hanging wicker throne, watching other sloths hang around. Though there are interesting facts galore (Sloths are Xenarthrans, not bears or monkeys; their top speed is 15 feet per minute; wild sloths are actually green; some have an extra vertebrae; it takes four weeks to digest a meal), the photos are the stars. I found myself shouting “LOOK AT THIS!” when I turned each page. Like a viral video of puppies, these photos just are so dang adorable that your eye never tires of looking at them. Three sloths in a basket are accompanied by the text, “Baby sloths are the Jedi masters of the hug. Their innate hugability helps them cling to their moms for the first year of their lives. They love to hug so much; collectively, they form a cuddle puddle.“ Really? Cuddle puddle? That phrase alone makes me feel happy all over. Slide this onto the shelf with the puppy and kitten books, marked "A" for Adorable.
This earth is filled with all sorts of wonders, and it’s a deep pleasure to read books celebrating these wonders. Be like the sloths: Just chill out with these books and marvel at the magic of this earth.