There are two main reasons we decided to do a feature on books that encompass the theme of nature and environmental awareness. The first is that now is a time when all eyes are beginning to turn to the effects our actions are having on our planet. Whatever people’s opinions are, there is a definite amount of attention focused on the environmental issues at hand. The people that are going to have the most influence on whatever happens with our environment, however, are the ones which form the audience these books are directed at. Children. Now, more than ever, it is time to share with them the beauty that lies in caring for our world and the power that they have when it comes to making a difference.
The second reason is because there is simply so much awesome stuff in nature that is overlooked by youngsters-seriously awesome stuff- that gets lost amidst all that attention grabbing technology coming out nowadays. A wonderful way to turn their attention (and appreciation) towards some of the things that go on in the natural world is through story books, which plant the seeds of curiosity and intrigue that in turn lead to involvement and action.
So here is the list of what we deemed some of the ‘best’ nature books out there-whether they were chosen for their storyline, their educational value, or simply the beauty of their illustrations-each and every one of them has something neat to offer.
The Wump World: A charming tale about taking care of our planet.
Bill Peet is my all-time favorite children’s book author/illustrator. To me, he’s one of the best out there. Why? Simply because when I was a child, his were the books that captivated me the most. They were the ones I fell completely in love with, and returned to again and again and again. The Wump World was no exception. It is a unique tale that tells the story of a far off planet, all lush and green and untouched, populated by creatures called Wumps (they look somewhat like capybaras, if you know what capybara’s look like.) All is well until one day little Martian creatures called the pollutians land on Wump World, forcing the Wumps to hide underground while they tear up and pollute their planet. They build highway upon highway and jam them with cars and buses, they pack skyscrapers next to each other, and pour sludge out into the lakes and rivers. Meanwhile, the poor Wumps are left to wonder if they’ll ever get their home back.
The Curious Garden: Creating a better world, garden by garden.
An old elevated railway rests on the west side of Manhattan called the High Line. For years and years trains ground and rumbled their way across the train tracks, high above the busy city streets. In 1980, the High Line was shut down, abandoned, and forgotten. With nothing to interfere, nature patiently took over, growing and flourishing. Nowadays if you seek out the High Line, you’ll find a lush garden winding its way through a city of concrete and metal.
It was the High Line that inspired author/illustrator Peter Brown to write his book ‘The Curious Garden.’ In it, a young boy named Liam discovers a small garden growing on an abandoned railroad. He is fascinated, as he lives in a dreary, built up city. Nurturing and caring for it, Liam embarks on a quest to create a greener world, one garden at a time.
The Little House: A heartwarming story brimming with nostalgia and cozy illustrations.
Originally published in 1942, Virginia Lee Burtons ‘The Little House’ is packed with old fashioned, charming illustrations and overflowing with a lively, intriguing plotline about the rapid, sometimes sad, development of our world. It begins with a little house being built in the quiet countryside. For years, she watches the seasons come and go. Sometimes she wonders what it would be like to live in the city in the distance. Eventually, cars begin to take over carriages on the roads, and more and more houses begin to crowd into the country. Finally, the little house is surrounded by apartments and huge buildings and railroads. She is abandoned, and nobody cares for her, until one day a wonderful twist of fate grants her the happiest ending of all. It is a beautiful tale, told from a different perspective, that I adore.
The Water Hole: Exquisite illustrations and a timeless theme.
Graeme Base brings us another stunning book with ‘The Water Hole.’ Throughout it, readers watch as various exquisitely drawn animals come to a water hole to drink. First there is one rhino, than two tigers, followed by three toucans, and so on and so forth all the way up to ten kangaroos. With each new group of visitors, the pool of crisp, cool water shrinks ever so slightly. By the end, there is no longer anything to drink, and the landscape is parched and dead. All the animals have gone away-until long rains come and revive the lush scenery. Filled with color, depth, detail and the timeless theme of conservation, it is a gem among children’s literature.
On Meadowview Street: Where are the meadows on Meadowview Street?
There’s a bumper sticker I see often, it says “Suburbia: Cut down all the trees and name the streets after them.” It makes me chuckle, because to some extent, it’s quite true. Caroline, the protagonist of ‘On Meadowview Street’ has a bit of a question that runs along the lines of that bumper sticker. She moves to Meadowview Street-but where’s the meadow? All around are neat, trim houses with mown lawns and almost no trees. As she sits in the backyard of her new home, she notices a tiny wildflower growing. She begs her dad to mow around it. The next day there is another flower…and another…and before long there are true meadows popping up all over Meadowview Street. This story empowers our little ones and pushes the idea that they can make a huge difference in our world. After all, with little hearts filled with love and passion, they are often the ones that can help us adults change our ways and maybe add a few wildflowers to our otherwise trim and proper lawns.
and then it’s spring: Spring presented in a beautiful, unique manner.
Illustrator Erin E. Steads stunning woodblock printing and pencil illustrations beautifully compliment the simple, almost poetic prose of Julia Fogliano, author of ‘and then it’s spring.’ Starting off in a slumbering, brown world, a curious young boy observes as spring approaches, and slowly, ever so slowly, the land turns green. It captures that edge of impatience we all feel when the cold weather is coming to an end (being from Minnesota, I understand that impatience a little too well) and that wonderful feeling when warmth and sun finally starts to encourage new growth to poke up. The whole book is a work of art-one that should be added to the bookshelves of adults and children alike. It is, put simply, fantastic.+
Just A Dream: Our actions today decide the fate of tomorrow.
My dreams usually have events happening in them that are a direct result of something that had been going on in my day, or recently in my life. This can be a good thing, or a bad thing. Sometimes, there is quite a bit irony in them, something that changes my perception when I wake up. Usually this is related to the bad dreams. I think ‘I can’t let something like that happen! Yikes.’ It seems, then, that I am much like Walter, the main character in Chris Van Allsburg’s book ‘Just A Dream’, who happens to experience multiple dreams related to his daily activities, which then in turn affect how he acts in reality.
Walter is not a boy concerned with environmental welfare. He drops his jelly doughnut wrappers on the ground, scoffs at the neighbor girl who planted a tree on her birthday, and dumps all the trash and recycling into one can because he doesn’t want to miss his favorite T.V. show- the one about the future filled with robots and tiny airplanes. One night, he crawls into bed, where he undergoes a series of nightmares that show the future in a very grim light. In one, his street is covered in trash. In another, smokestacks clog the skies. It’s never ending. When he finally does wake up, he decides there must be something he can do to prevent his dreams from coming true. It turns out there is, and when he goes to sleep that night, he dreams of a beautiful future-one without smokestacks or smog clouding the skies.
Owl Moon: An incredible encounter in the wild.
We never forget those moments when we have a close encounter with something wild. An animal, the churning ocean, a silent forest…those are memories that stick with us, more vividly than most, for the rest of our lives. It seems, too, that many times these moments take place when we are small and the world is large, and they form some of our earliest memories of something ‘stunning.’
It is one of those instances that forms the basis of ‘Owl Moon’, a lovely tale written by Jane Yolen about a young girl and her father who venture out to go owling for the first time on a cold, clear winter night. Together they trek through a dark, shadowy pine forest with the moon washing the world white and silver, occasionally stopping to make the call of a Great Horned Owl. After long minutes of patience and silence, the pair is rewarded with the appearance of the great bird. While the encounter is only brief, we can tangibly feel and understand the rush of emotion in the story when the girl finally sees her first owl.
Weslandia: Create your own civilization…why not?
It’s hard when you don’t fit in at school-I myself was a bit of a misfit-and it can be lonely. Often times, when this is the case for a youngster, they turn their energy and creativity into projects that nobody else would think of-something imaginative that they can do by themselves, without being called ‘weird’ or other undesirable terms. In Weslandia, this is the case for our protagonist Wesley. He’s a gem of a kid who just doesn’t do things quite the way other folks do (for example, he doesn’t like pizza, or football.) When school gets out for the summer, Wesley decides to create his own civilization. It takes off in incredible ways, and by the time school rolls around, Wesley is finally appreciated for being the unique person he is. Enchanting, creative, and original, I thought this was a very pleasurable book for young readers.
The Tree: An environmental message told from a different sort of perception.
‘The Tree’ sends a clarion call to all generations about protecting our environment. It is told from the perspective an 800 hundred year old tree, which speaks to readers about all that it has seen come and go. Towards the end of the book, it wonders if it will be destroyed by far off machinery which sends sounds echoing across the forest. If so, what will happen to the tree’s home and all of the living things it shelters?
It is a story written poetically with steady rhythm and rhyme, and illustrated beautifully. I found it quite lovely that at the end of the book, it is children who are empowered as they are the ones who come and care for the tree. In reality, this will be the case many times over as they are the ones who will decide the future of our natural world.
Farewell To Shady Glade: Letting go of the familiar past, embracing a whole new future.
Ah! Another Bill Peet book! I am thrilled. I truly cannot get enough of his stories. He often focuses on nature or the environment in some sense, but Farewell To Shady Glade (along with The Wump World) are blatantly obvious ones that send a pretty clear message to their readers, hence why they both made this list. In a nutshell, Farewell To Shady Glade tells the story about a group of animals that live in a beautiful space filled with trees and a little pond. When the birds take leave one day, there is a spread of alarm. The reason for their sudden departure becomes horribly clear as construction machinery eats its way toward Shady Glade. Guided by a wise, old raccoon, the animals are forced to find a new home. It is not a terribly happy story, but it still has a happy ending, if that makes sense. It’s a bit text heavy, but fantastic for “older” young readers.
A Seed is Sleepy: A wonderful tool for learning about plants and their life cycle.
Much more fun than say, a biology class, A Seed Is Sleepy teaches about the basics of how plants grow and the incredible journeys that seeds make. It is a pretty awesome way for kids to learn about unreal ways that nature takes to develop into the things we see around us. Detailed, intriguing illustrations lend a hand in turning what could be considered a dull topic by many youngsters into something fascinating. In addition to that, simplified, descriptive writing highlights some of the more exciting events that take place when a seed is growing and developing. For little ones who are learning all about what’s going on around them, I would say this is a wonderful book. It’s balanced, entertaining, and chock full of fascinating facts.
Not Your Typical Book About The Environment: Humorous, fascinating, and well worth reading.
There are so many books out there that send sad, subtle messages to kids about the environment and what we’re doing to it, not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, but it was incredibly refreshing to read a book that is straightforward, educational, and downright interesting. Author Elin Kelsey has created a children’s book that teaches us about the best ways to deal with the environment by pointing out all of our unique connections to it.
Bee’s can help world peace, seaweed and algae make up a lot of what’s in our ice cream, and buses can be powered by poop…seriously. These are just a few examples of the things Kelsey talks about and explains. Using engaging diagrams to make the complicated subject of sustainable living easy to understand (some adults could learn from this) and a humorous energetic outlook, this book is a treasure.
All The World: From oceans to front porches, rainy days to the branches of a tree, we are all a connected world.
It’s easy to disconnect, easy to think on an individual basis, to miss all the pieces that make up our world. The truth is, we all play a huge part in everything that goes on in it. Well maybe not a huge part in everything but you know what I mean- each one of us is important. In ‘All The World’ author Liz Garton Scanlon and Caldecott Honor Medalist Marla Frazee team up to bring us a children’s book to remind little ones (and adults) that from the oceans to tree branches to rainy days, ‘all the world is all of us.’
I found the illustrations to be particularly wonderful, but then, I am a fan of Marla Frazee. On top of that, the writing is a bit different. Each page says something in a manner like “Hive, bees, wings, hum-Husck, cob, corn, yum! Tomato blossom, fruit so red-All the worlds a garden bed.” It’s a neat way to make connections, and it’s very pleasant to read out loud.
The Carrot Seed: Sometimes kids just know best…
Children often times have faith in the things that seem impossible to adults-after all, they haven’t been alive long enough to realize when something is likely to happen, or not. They’re all indomitable spirit and determination and hope. This is very much highlighted in ‘The Carrot Seed,’ a story by Ruth Krauss and illustrator Crockett Johnson. In it, a little boy’s elders (mother, father, and brother) insist that the carrot seed he has planted will not grow. Despite their criticism, he continues to nurture it. Of course, in the end, he had the right gut feeling and his carrot pops up. Crockett Johnson (for those of you who don’t recognize him by name he illustrated Harold and The Purple Crayon) draws in an absolutely addicting manner, and I could look at his pictures forever. For the illustrations alone, I think this is a great book. Add to this a nice, simple storyline, and you have a winning combination.
Loving our Environment
The natural world is fascinating. Somewhere, between blur of T.V. and computer screens, the noise of beeping, blaring electronic toys and games, the wonders of nature are passed by. Children don’t know just how incredible the world around them is-or the impact that they can have on our environment. They get lost off in cyberspace-and it can be hard to bring their attention to things that seem ‘everyday.’ With the help of a great group of books though, it’s possible to bring them back to earth (if you will) and maybe, just maybe, you’ll take something away from these stories as well.