Alan Rabinowitz is an American zoologist who has spent his life studying wild cats and was called ‘The Indiana Jones of Wildlife Conservation’ by TIME Magazine. But as a child, Rabinowitz struggled to fit in due to a very pronounced stutter. In the picture book, A Boy and A Jaguar, Rabinowitz tells his story to young children as a way to encourage those who struggle to find their own voices and for those who have found their voice, to speak up for those in need.
As a child, Rabinowitz simply couldn’t get the words out. It made it difficult for him to go to school, let alone have friends. However, when he talked to animals, he could speak without stuttering. He felt a bond with the animals. He felt that they were misunderstood and mistreated, just has he was. As a child, he promised his pets that if he ever found his voice, that he would keep them from harm. Fortunately, his father saw the bond that he had with animals and frequently took him to the Bronx Zoo.
Rabinowitz learned tricks to get him through school and finally found a program that helped him deal with his stutter. But even when speech was less of an issue, he still much preferred the company of animals over humans. His work took him to Belize to study jaguars and to ultimately fight to protect them.
This is a beautiful book that can really encourage children to think about they way that they treat others, the way that they treat and respect animals, and how one person can be a change for good. Rabinowitz was up against a lot of really challenging obstacles, and yet he persevered. The story also shows how Rabinowitz followed his passions and made good on his childhood promise to protect the animals. In a world where we are told by many different people how we should act and what we should do when we grow up, Rabinowitz listened to his inner voice and took solace in the places that gave him the most peace.
The only thing that I felt was missing from this book was any sort of author’s note to explain just who Rabinowitz is and the work that he has done. He is a very well respected animal activist and he founded the organization Panthera, a group devoted to protecting wild cats and their ecosystems. Turns out that Rabinowitz also does work advocating for stutterers as a spokesperson for the Stuttering Foundation of America. From a childhood where teachers considered him “disturbed,” he proved them wrong and has truly become a voice for those in need.
Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!
Earth day is this Saturday and it is such an important time to make sure that you are educating your children about the world that we live in and how to keep that world around for the future generations. This is our time to take care of our environment and to remind our kids that it is our job to heal the world.
One great way to reduce the amount of trash going into landfills is to compost. Compost is a great way to feed our earth and take pressure off of our landfills. Not everyone has the ability to have a compost pile, but for those that do, Compost Stew, by Mary McKenna Siddals, is a great way to encourage kids to get involved. Siddals does a great job of simplifying the process in a fun A-Z manner. In her author’s note at the beginning and “chef’s note” at the end, she also gives kids some great facts and ways to get started. Continue reading →
There was a time when we had no technology and people had more time to explore the world around them. That’s when some of our most amazing scientific discoveries occurred. What is amazing is that many of these discoveries were made by women and young girls. I love the notion of encouraging our boys and girls to explore the world around them. I have watched as my younger daughter is fascinated with the natural world around her. Until they started building on the lot across the street from us, she was known to spend large chunks of time making up her own world and seeing what there was to see in her own personal forest. Much of our focus these days seems to be about encouraging children to create the next computer breakthrough, but there is still a world of nature around us for them to explore.
Maria Merian was one of the first naturalists to study animals that underwent metamorphoses. One that she was particularly taken with was the butterfly. In Margarita Engle’s beautiful book, Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian, children can learn about the work she did to advance our knowledge of the life cycle of the butterfly. At the time that she lived (late 1600s), it was the common belief that insects like butterflies came from mud, as if by magic, and were therefore also seen as evil. At the tender age of 13 Maria secretly studied caterpillars and butterflies. She watched as caterpillars were born from eggs laid by butterflies, that each caterpillar ate specific types of leaves, and that after creating and resting in a chrysalis they would emerge as butterflies. She documented everything that she saw and wanted to publish her findings so that people would stop calling them evil. The book is quite simple in its story, but astonishing in all that this young girl accomplished at a time when it was possible to think that butterflies were something to fear.
Another woman who made a huge difference in how we consider our environment was Rachel Carson. In Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World, by Laurie Lawlor, we are introduced to young Rachel and her passion for studying wildlife. Rachel Carson once wrote,”Once you are aware of the wonder and beauty of earth, you will want to learn about it.” From a very early age, she loved being exploring the outdoors and while at college preferred the local natural history museum to parties and dances. While at college she also came home to rural Pennsylvania and saw pollution impacting her once pristine landscape and wound up studying biology to learn all that she could about plants and animals. She had great struggles being a female scientist during the Depression, but she always found a way to persevere. Her biggest contribution to our society was in the publication of “Silent Spring,” a book that made specialists and the layperson more aware of the dangers of chemicals on our natural surroundings, and how the pervasive use of chemicals could pollute our environment. This book does an awesome job of showing how she got to the point of writing that book and encouraging kids to be aware of the world around them and protect it.
Kate Sessions was also a woman who loved natural science in a time when that was highly unusual. Her story gets told in The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever, by H. Joseph Hopkins. The Tree Lady tells the story of how Kate Sessions always loved getting her hands dirty, studying science, and from a very young age was completely enamored with trees. Kate was the first woman to ever graduate from the University of California (my alma mater) with a science degree in 1881. She had grown up in Northern California surrounded by trees and lush nature, but after college moved to San Diego, which was void of trees. She left her job as a teacher and became a tree hunter trying to find trees that could grow and thrive in San Diego’s dry climate. She not only discovered trees and brought them to San Diego, but she helped encourage those living in the area to plant the trees themselves. Her biggest achievement was the work that she did in the City Park.
All along, Kate Sessions believed that San Diego had the potential to become a beautiful desert oasis. She believed in herself and in her dreams and through hard work and determination, her dreams became reality. The illustrations in this book are the perfect companion to the moving story.
I love finding new non-fiction picture books to encourage my girls to learn and grow. I find a number of them as part of the non-fiction picture book challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. I haven’t done a great job of staying on top of this challenge, but that doesn’t keep me from trying to be a part of it. Check out the posts on her site.
Today is Earth Day. A day for us to collectively demonstrate our support for environmental protection. It has also become a day where we are able to teach our children that we are all responsible for this earth and that we all need to take care of it. This isn’t the one day a year that we protect our earth, but it is a good day to get kids started on a lifetime of protecting the earth and making good choices about products they use and practices they put into place.
There are tons of books out there celebrating the earth. This grouping is just eight that we happen to enjoy and have relatively easy access to. If you have others that are favorites, we are always happy to see those added into the comments section so that this can be a place for people to come back to when looking for earth day appropriate titles.
We are Extremely Very Good Recyclers – In this edition of the wonderful Charlie and Lola series, Lola learns about recycling. When Lola tells her brother that she is going to get rid of her excess stuff, Charlie suggests that she recycle them instead. Since Lola doesn’t know what recycling means, Charlie explains that it is “a way that people can reuse old things in a different and new-ish way.” As with all of the Charlie and Lola books, Charlie does a great job explaining new ideas to Lola. Lola gets excited about recycling and passes that on to her friends. In the end, they are all able to do another wonderful thing for our earth – plant a new tree.
The Lorax – An Earth Day classic, originally published in 1971. Dr. Seuss does so many things right in this book it is hard to know where to start. He begins with a desolate, run-down bleak landscape and then as he explains that long, long ago things were much different, you are presented with gorgeous, bright imagery. As the Once-ler’s business grows the Lorax shows the repercussions of each act until there is nothing left for the Lorax to protect. Then Dr. Seuss makes sure that his readers know it is their job to help protect their earth with the quote that we all now know – “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
How to Help the Earth – by the Lorax – While we’re on Dr. Seuss’s Lorax, after the movie came out in 2012, a slew of new books based on the character emerged. I purchased this one for a story time on Earth Day and it features the Lorax explaining about landfills and smog and what we can do to reduce our environmental footprint. While it isn’t the classic Dr. Seuss book, it is a great way to help kids understand what they can do.
Why Should I Recycle? – For the younger set, Jen Green has written a great book that explains what recycling is and why we should do it. By giving concrete examples of how new things can be made from recycled goods, kids can understand the value of recycling. While it doesn’t show the larger concept of protecting our earth, it is a great place to start.
Earth Day – Hooray! – For the slightly older crowd, this book is a fun mixture of pitching in for your neighborhood, factoids of information about the environment and a mathematical challenge that runs throughout the book. A group of kids is trying to clean up a local park and realize that if they recycle the cans they find in the park, they can turn them in for money and purchase flowers to plant and spruce the park up a bit. They realize that a few kids can’t do it on their own and in a wonderful show of leadership and the value of team-work decide to get their entire community involved.
A Tree is a Plant – From the wonderful “Let’s Read and Find Out Science” series, that teaches children about trees and how they grow. Not necessarily an “Earth Day” book, but it is always important to bring up the scientific aspect of trees.
We Planted a Tree – This book is a simple poem that is illustrated to show two very different families from very different parts of the world (New York and Kenya), planting trees and then watching them grow. As the trees flourish, so do the families. The book also travels around the world showing many different cultures enjoying the beauty and beneficial aspects of trees – green leaves that cool us as well as the world, clean air, and food. It shows how planting a tree can impact the growth of other plants that nourish us as well. “We planted a tree, and that one tree made the world better. We planted a tree, and that one tree helped heal the earth.” Simple. Beautiful. Perfect.
A Tree is Nice – As I had discussed back in my post for Tu B’Shevat, this classic picture book touches upon the innate beauty of a tree and the many things that trees are able to give us and the world around us. At the very end of the book it gently persuades the reader to plant trees and watch them grow.
I covered many books back in January when I wrote about Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the trees. All of those books are also wonderful for Earth Day although Happy Birthday, Tree! stands out due to it’s repeated efforts to give back to the trees and protect the environment. The book begins and ends with a beautiful tree showing ways to help the earth.
The Jewish holiday Tu B’Shevat is coming up next week. Tu B’Shevat is the New Year or birthday of the trees and historically has to do with when you could eat the fruit off of a tree. In Israel, schoolchildren take to the hills and valleys and plant trees “as a response to and celebration of the critical role trees play in our environment and for life itself.” There are not a huge amount of great books specifically aimed at the holiday itself, but there are some really wonderful books about the trees – what they give us and how we can give back to them and the environment as a whole.
Happy Birthday, Tree by Madelyn Rosenberg
This is a special book about appreciating nature and how it is our job to take care of the nature around us. The story is of a young girl who has a favorite climbing tree in her front yard. When Tu B’Shevat comes around, she wants to help her tree celebrate its birthday. She and her friend find lots of ways to honor the tree and realize that the best thing to do is to plant another tree so that it has a companion. The fact that they give the tree a companion shows how we need to remember that nature is alive and we need to love it just as much as the people around us. There are also notes at the end of the book on various ways for us to help the earth.
It’s Tu B’Shevat by Edie Stoltz Zolkower
This is a great board book for younger kids to understand the holiday. One of the big themes of the holiday is to plant trees. This book focuses on that aspect at the beginning and then highlighting all of the wonderful things that we get from trees – fruit, shade, clean air, a place to swing…This is a great book for young Jewish learners.
A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry
This beautiful picture book is simple and speaks in a language that children truly understand. “Trees are nice. They fill up the sky. They make everything beautiful.” We play in their leaves, we swing from their branches. We pick apples (and other fruit). They are homes to animals. They give us shade. They help keep our homes cooler in the summer and protect us from weather in the winter. A tree is nice – so go plant one. I wasn’t a huge fan of this book when we first received it years ago, but it has completely grown on me and now looking at it in comparison to other books out there, I appreciate the beauty in this book and understand the reason it won the Caldecott in 1957.
The Busy Tree by Jennifer Ward
A very sweet book with outstanding illustrations about some of the jobs that trees do – from feeding and sheltering animals, providing oxygen and being a place for children to play. Short and poetic, but great for explaining the role of trees to a young child.
Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter (#nfpb2014)
This is the inspiring story of Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman who founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 and later won the Nobel Peace Prize. After Kenya gained their independence in the ’60s, commercial farming took root but devastated local farming. Life became incredibly difficult when women had to walk miles to get the wood necessary to cook their food and heat their homes. Wangari planted seedlings and then had village women plant the trees and take care of them. These were “seeds of hope.” Women all over Africa began to plant trees. This book is accessible for young readers and especially powerful after having the more detailed, but less accessible Planting the Trees of Kenya (a great book, but better for older kids).
The Inside Tree by Linda Smith
This is a very silly story about a man who winds up with a tree inside his house. I wouldn’t say that it is exactly “about” trees, but it is a funny look at how you can’t keep them contained.
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I also wanted to note that Wangari’s Trees of Peace is the first of our books that we are counting towards our 50 non-fiction picture books. We are participating in the awesome challenge created by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy. Alyson has listed some awesome books coming out in January and February that I will definitely have to add to my “to read” list.
Generally, I will devote a full post to my non-fiction Wednesday selections, but I wanted to get a few in for the holiday. All of our non-fiction picture books that we read this year will be kept in a bookshelf on Goodreads. Make sure you stop over at Kid Lit Frenzy to see all the other nonfiction picture books showcased by other bloggers.