Friday, April 22, 2011

J Desk: Four for Earth Day

Image credit: NASA

Here are some cool children's books to inspire awareness of the world we live in.

Steve Jenkins is behind many thoughtful science books for children. A good one for any age is Looking Down, a worldless plunge from space toward the earth, through the atmosphere and down to an American neighborhood, where a boy is studying a ladybug. This torn- and cut-paper collage is a fantastic zoom from the vast to the tiny, very much in the spirit of Powers of Ten -- though it stays closer to home, neither going microscopic nor galactic. It always gets attention at storytime. (Reviewers suggest a range of preschool to third grade.)

Bill Peet is a famous maker of picture books, and I still remember The Wump World from when I was a kid. An idyllic green world inhabited by peaceful animals called Wumps is invaded by polluting aliens. The colonizers aren't Earthlings, but they have an uncomfortable resemblance. Their drive and dedication in totally obliterating the natural environment in their quest to build skyscrapers, smokestacks, and superhighways is both comic and horrifying. There is a happy ending, sort of. The message is a bit heavy-handed but it's delivered with creativity and sincerity. (Reviewers suggest a range of preschool to third grade.)

Author Amy Ehrlich and illustrator Wendell Minor give us an imaginative look at Rachel Carson's life. I say "imaginative" because like historical fiction Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson tries to go beyond the record and get inside the subject's mind, attempting to show the world as she experienced it. I don't know Carson well enough to know how accurate the book is, but I know it's evocative. And it's important for a couple of reasons -- first, because the author of Silent Spring was a pioneer of environmental awareness, and second, because, in Ehrlich's words "Many girls are still turned away from science and math -- and here was a woman who was a scientist -- and a great one." (Reviewers suggest a range of grades 2-5.)

Another author-illustrator team, David J. Smith and Shelagh Armstrong created If the World Were a Village, a book that explores a single idea -- what if you visualized all humanity as a community of one hundred people? Looking over this "global village"gives you some interesting perspectives. Here are a few of them. Of the 100 people, 22 speak a dialect of Chinese, while 9 speak English. The 100 people (using the same compression) keep 189 chickens. 75 of them have secure water supplies, while 25 must struggle every day to get safe water. 39 of the 100 are below age twenty. The illustrations do a lot to dramatize this information, especially in the "Electricity" picture, in which one quarter of the nighttime village is in darkness. (Reviewers suggest grades 3-7.) There is a companion volume, If America Were a Village.

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