Monday, April 21, 2008

Conservation Counts

Last year, the crew from MommyBlogsToronto decided to choose a cause for BlogHersAct Canada. We asked you what you thought, and overwhelmingly, the response said, "We care about the environment." A year of articles and challenges followed, and this month, launching in our new home here at Playdate and in celebration of Earth Day, we think it's important to share your concern with your children, and teach them how to tread lightly on the earth. After all, their footprints can be pretty small - just look in the sandbox.

The BlogHersAct Canada page has lots of great tips and challenges this month, but of course, sometimes illustrating these things with a little storytime example goes a long way. One thing that most kids care about is animals, and animals are strongly affected by what goes on in the environment. It's a good way to make the concern more concrete and explain why it's so important to take care of the earth - not just for us, not just for our kids, but also for the other inhabitants who we can help protect.

Here are a handful of good titles to help explain about endangered animals, shrinking habitats, and why it is our job to do better:

The Great Kapok Tree, by Lynne Cherry

In this rainforest tale, a man is directed to cut down a great kapok tree in the Amazon rainforest. After a few swings, the heat and humidity overcome him, and he decides to rest. As he naps, he is visited by a host of creatures and even one young native boy, who tell him of the great importance of this threatened habitat. Upon waking, he chooses to leave the forest intact. It is rare that I introduce a book that even borders on preachy as this one does, but it is a classic in this topic, and filled with gorgeous illustrations of the Amazon and its inhabitants.

The Water Hole, by Graeme Base

This gorgeous book is many things - a counting book, an I Spy, a book about animals, and a sad look at the perils of drought. In it, animals gather at a shrinking water hole to slake their thirst, but as each appears, the faces of many other endangered species appear as ghostly shadows among the shrinking trees and grasses. Subtle backdrops show different areas of the world, too, as this is not a problem limited to one region. Die-cuts add extra interest and emphasize the shrinking pool until it is, finally, gone, replaced by cracked earth and withered trees. This is not nearly as dire as it sounds, for at the end, rain comes back, as do the animals, sending a further message about natural cycles. Just lovely, and wonderful to share on many levels.

Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?, by Bill Martin Jr., ill. Eric Carle

This latest addition to the familiar Brown Bear family focuses on endangered animals. As in the other volumes, Carle's trademark bold illustrations make this a winner with even the very young, who can easily join in the repetitive text. Each animal featured is a threatened species, though, and may prompt a child to want to know more about them. At the end, the animals see a dreaming child, who in turn dreams of them living "wild and free." A short note at the front tells us that over 5,000 animal species are endangered or threatened, and that we can help by spreading the word about conservation. Indeed.

The Sea, The Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle, by Lynne Cherry

This lovely book describes how a mangrove tree takes root, and over years, becomes the home to legions of different animals who start a tiny ecosystem in its shelter. From time to time, a seed would fall from the tree and either add new trees to the tangled mass, or drift off, starting a new grove somewhere else to shelter other animals. After a hundred years, they survived even one fisherman's short-sighted idea of cutting them down, when others told him that they supported the fish that in turn supported the fishermen themselves. Finally, a great hurricane came up. The mangroves sheltered animals in their strong roots and branches, though they sustained heavy damage. Still, some ten years later, the trees are alive and coming back, while the seeds shaken loose in the storm have grown, and started their own islands. (Can I get a chorus of Circle of Life, anyone?) It's a beautiful book, and illustrates how animals rely on their habitats for food and shelter.

The Birds of Killingsworth, by Robert D. Dan Souci, ill. Kimberly Bulcken Root

This lovely book is based on a poem by Longfellow about a farmer who organizes a hunt to kill all the adult birds who were eating of the local crops and thus stealing pennies from his pockets. His daughter and a local teacher are the only ones who oppose him, and secretly rescue and raise the babies that had been left for dead. When the balance of nature is upset and the crops devastated by insects not eaten by the absent birds, the farmer learns a lesson, and the day is fortunately saved by the rescued baby birds, now grown and once again set free. A lesson in ecosystems nicely told as a tale, and illustrated to good effect as set in Colonial Connecticut.

And one to get you started on one thing you can do together to make a difference:

Recycle Every Day!, by Mary Elizabeth Wallace

Wallace uses her trademark bunnies and simple collage style to illustrate many different ways in which we can make recycling part of our daily routine. Instead of preaching and dully setting it out, though, she has a young bunny work on a recycling poster contest. Minna is looking for ideas, and notices that her family recycles different things every day, in one way or another. Makes for a great introduction to the concept, even for a younger child.

Find these and plenty of non-fiction books on the topic at your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Planting the Seeds of Environmentalism

Spring is coming up this month, not to mention Earth Day, and what better time than that to teach our children about the magic of mother nature and her bounty by planting with them and showing them the miracle of growth first hand? Gardening helps out our earth by increasing greenery, encourages eating what we grow rather than what we import, and helps teach our children early science lessons about life cycles. What a perfect way to celebrate! And to help you out, our BlogHersAct focus this month is on teaching children about the environment. In fact, in two weeks, it will be all about gardening with kids, so stay tuned for some great tips!

Meanwhile, I always say that prepping on paper in the form of a storybook is a great way to tie in a literacy aspect and to help them make real-life connections to what they are reading and hearing - something that helps increase vocabulary and comprehension, and a skill that kindergarten teachers value. It's a plus all around. Now let's start with some stories...

Growing Vegetable Soup and Planting a Rainbow, by Lois Ehlert

Lois Ehlert's trademark bold, simple illustrations turn in these two books to planting, and they are terrific for showing toddlers and preschoolers the wonders of the earth's harvest. In Planting a Rainbow, Ehlert uses a flower garden to illustrate colours to gorgeous effect, while in Growing Vegetable Soup, she shows the process of a father and child planting seeds, harvesting vegetables, chopping them up, and finally eating delicious, homemade, homegrown soup. So good, it makes me want to do it, too! I also love her Eating the Alphabet, an A-Z walk through an astonishing variety of fruits and vegetables, though many are not varieties that can be grown here.

The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart, ill. David Small

It's the Great Depression, and when Lydia Grace's father loses his job, she is sent to live with her dour Uncle Jim in the grim, grey city. Well, Lydia may have to go and live in the city, but it doesn't mean she can't continue to plant and grow green things, just like she loves to do. This more advanced picture book is a wonderful ode to rooftop gardening in an urban environment, to the magic power of plants to reach the soul, and to the triumph of a blithe spirit. It's just the thing for an older child of the city who needs a little push to see the potential magic of a small garden of their own. Plus, it's a Caldecott honour book, so apparently a few other people thought so, too.

Fran's Flower, by Lisa Bruce

Fran has a flower, but isn't sure how to take care of it. Does it like hamburgers, like she does? This very simple, boldly illustrated book takes a slightly silly route to teaching children about what a plant needs - water and sunlight. Great for the very young.

Pumpkin Circle, by George Levenson, ill. Shmuel Thaler

This gorgeous photographic book focuses on the life cycle of a pumpkin, from planting seed to harvesting the classic icon of fall. This may seem less "springy" than others on this list, but the planting begins in the early warm months, and the book shows how the leaves grow, the vines spread, flowers appear, and finally, the pumpkins themselves begin to grow. The fun, rhyming text walks through each step, and demonstrates the patience required by some plantings, yet draws the reader nicely through to the harvest and the return of new seeds to the earth. This was picked as one of The New York Public Library's top 100 books of its year (1999), and close to a decade later, is still one of the best for showing a life cycle to younger children without losing them.

There are also plenty of great non-fiction books about gardening for children! Check out the 635 section in your local public library for ideas on how to get started.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.