There are plenty on non-fiction books for children on the market these days covering everything earth related from recycling to global warming, getting the point across with facts, crafts and mazes. Any bookstore or library you walk into this month should have a display of some or all of these books.
Having a literary focus on my blog, I will leave the reading of these books up to you. I want to take this day to feature some books that I have loved for a long time, before I even knew I needed to save the earth (when I was a kid, environmentalism was called "ecology" and the only public expression of a drive for consciousness in this area was a commercial with a Native America standing in a landfill with a tear rolling down his face...)
Some are based in reality, some are fantasy. I also want to feature some new books along the same lines that I have had the pleasure of reading and reviewing over the past two years.
April being National Poetry Month, I have to start with The Tree That Time Built, a poetic celebration of nature, science and imagination, selected by Mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Winston with illustrations by Barbara Fortin. To inspire a fascination with, love of and respect for nature in your children from a young age, this book is the place to start. It comes with a CD of the many of poets reading their work.
My first exposure to being environmentally conscious as a child was through the picture books of Bill Peet, winner of the Caldecott Honor Award in 1990 for Bill Peet: An Autobiography. Animals, circuses and trains almost always played the starring roles in the books by this former employee of Walt Disney Studios. A man of many talents, Peet was most often the story editor on many of the animated movies that make up the foundation of classic Disney films. His name can be seen in the opening credits for Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, Fantasia, and 101 Dalmations and there is something Disney-esque in his story telling and illustration style. Peet's books are always rich with both story and character and he often gets a message across in the most subtle of ways. In these two books, he employs realistic and fantastical settings to tell his stories. Written in 1966, Farewell to Shady Glade is the story
of animals who find their homes being plowed under and hop a train to a better place. The dedication in the book reads, "TO RACHEL CARSON with the hope that the new generationwill carry on her all-important work toward preserving what is left of our natural world." The Wump World, which was published in 1970, a year before Dr Seuss' environmentally themed book, The Lorax, has a plot line that is echoed in the Pixar movie WALL-E. The peaceful Wumps inhabit a naturally pristine world until the Pollutians from another planet invade in search of new natural resources to consume. The Wumps find an underground cavern to hide in as the Pollutians wreak their havoc, paving over their world. Finally, when there is nothing left to consume and the air is too polluted to breathe, they leave. The Wumps break through the crust of asphalt and walk for days until they find nature emerging again.
Author and illustrator Lynne Cherry" has been been an advocate for the earth since this book was published in 1990. About to chop down a kapok, a worker stops to take a rest under the shade of the tree. While he sleeps, the animals of the rain forest come to him, each with a different reason why he should not chop down the tree and destroy their habitats. Told simply and illustrated beautifully with a naturalist's eye, The Great Kapok Tree is the perfect example of a children's book that manages to engage, teach and entertain at the same time.
Also written in 1990, Chris Van Allsburg's Just a Dream is less subtle in it's message, but every bit as effective. Walter is a litter bug who cannot understand why the girl next door would want to plant a tree for her birthday and cannot be bothered to sort the recycling from the garbage when he takes the trash out. When he falls asleep, a dream takes him from one scene of devastation and waste to the next, each one depicted over a two page spread. From a forest of trees being chopped down to make toothpicks to a garish hotel on the top of Mt Everest to an overfished ocean, Walter wakes up with a new understanding of the world. As usual, Van Allsburg's illustrations are magical and
And, last but not least, one reality based and two fantasy based YA novels from the last year that have environmental themes and are great reads!
Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French was also the winner of the 2010 Green Earth Book Award for Chidlren's Fiction. French tells the story of Julian Carter-Li, a San Francisco native who stumbles into an adventure that includes trying to save a stand of old grove redwood trees north of the city. French's characters, Julian especially, are so well written and human that you almost forget to worry about the trees. I look forward to many more books from this debut author, environmentally themed or otherwise.
Fern Verdant & the Silver Rose by debut author Diana Leszczynski, a Green Earth Honor Book as well as a Smithsonian Notable Children's Book for 2008. Daughter of botanists, Fern Verdant is a young girl who, after her mother disappears, discovers that the ability to talk to plants runs in her family, sending her on a journey to rescue her mother from a nefarious baddie and his thugs. The fantastical and funny details that Leszczynski packs into this book make it hard to put down. Kids may not get a laugh out of the name of Fern's new school, Joan Baez Middle School, but they will be laughing at other details like the boat load of orphans and NITPIC, the Nedlaw Institute for the Prevention of Insanity in Children. This book comes out in paperback in May of 2010.
Of the three chapter books listed her, Toby Alone by Timothée de Fombelle, translated by Sarah Ardizzione, is perhaps the most subtle in its story and message. A planned trilogy, Toby Alone sets the story of the life and possible death of the Tree in motion. Toby and the race of people he is part of are all less than 2 millimeters tall, smaller than some bugs that also inhabit the Tree. Toby and his mother and father, scientist and inventor Sim Lolness, are banished to the lower branches of the Tree after his father uncovers information that shows that the Tree's resources are not limitless and also refuses to share the details of an invention (an engine, but never stated outright as such) he has made that could revolutionize the way work is done in the Tree. From exile, it is a short step to prison for the family, a fate which Toby manages to escape in this first book. By far, one of the most suspenseful, well crafted books I have read and definitely on my Top 10 list of best books read ever. Toby Alone is available in paperback and book two, The Secrets of the Tree, is due out in August of 2010.