Posted in Non-fiction, picture books

A look at an ecosystem in crisis: If You Take Away the Otter

If You Take Away the Otter, by Susannah Buhrman-Deever/Illustrated by Matthew Trueman, (May 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763689346

Ages 5-8

A moving look at how ecosystems are connected, If You Take Away the Otter begins with a discussion on the kelp forests in the Pacific Coast waters. Towering kelp trees can grow up to a foot a day, and are full of living creatures: abalones, clams, sea stars, and more find their shelter within the kelp. Sea otters hunt in these waters, requiring about a quarter of their own body weight in food to keep warm (kids would need to eat about 24 hamburgers a day as an equivalent!). Otters keep the food web in balance. In the 18th century, the international fur trade came to the Pacific waters, and otters were hunted for their pelts: which caused a disastrous fallout in the ecosystem. With the otter population decimated, sea urchins proliferated, eating the kelp forests to their bottoms, forming “urchin barrens”. When people above noticed the change, they enacted laws to protect the remaining population; the otters returned, got control of the urchins, and new kelp once again flourished. As the story says: “Those forests are homes again for crabs and snails, sea worms and shrimps. They make safe places for the fish and their eggs. There is food for the seaweed eaters; there is food for the hunters. There is just enough of everything to help the kelp forests, and all that depend on them, thrive”. An author’s note highlights the importance of food webs in our ecosystems, and how a change in one part of the web affects both the ecosystem and the people – in this case, the Indigenous Peoples of the northern Pacific –  who depend on them to survive and thrive. There are resources available for further reading and research.

Mixed media illustrations run primarily blue and green, showing both a thriving and a struggling underwater world. The otters are rendered in beautiful detail, and the floating kelp is almost tangible as it dances across the page. The artwork is just brilliant and gives real life to the factual text. Small callouts throughout offer deeper reading about the effects of environmental change.

A solid book to have in your natural history collections. When my Corona kids come in looking for food webs/ecosystems information, this is a book I want to have handy for them.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Take a nature walk On Gull Beach

On Gull Beach, by Jane Yolen/Illustrated by Bob Marstall, (March 2018, Cornell Lab Publishing Group), $16.95, ISBN: 9781943645183

Recommended for readers 4-7

The latest book in Jane Yolen and Bob Marstall’s On Bird Hill & Beyond series takes us to the beach, where a boy wanders along the shore, observing the wildlife as he goes. He sees a starfish get snapped up by a gull, and he follows along as a group of gulls toss the sea star, trying to grab it as the birds pass it from one to the next. As he follows along, readers learn about the shoreline ecosystem; the tidepools, seaglass, and crabs.

All of the On Bird Hill books are standalone stories, each looking at a different ecosystem through the eyes of a child; all come together to form an early reader science and nature series on habitats. On Gull Beach looks at life on a New England beach, with extra information about different gulls, shorebirds, sea stars, and crabs that make an appearance in the book. There’s also a note about supporting our beaches and wildlife that back up discussions about ecology and conservation. This is a beautifully written and illustrated rhyming story about nature that kids will enjoy and that supports early earth science and habitat study. Have kids point out the different birds they see, and the crabs they spot – that’s my son’s favorite part of the book!

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

National Geographic talks Angry Birds!

angrybirds_natgeoNational Geographic: The Angry Birds Movie-Red’s Big Adventure, by Christy Ullrich Barcus (Apr. 2016, National Geographic Children’s Books), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1426216848

Recommended for ages 8-12

The Angry Birds have arrived on the big screen, and NatGeo Kids is there to celebrate with the release of their twelfth and latest Angry Birds title, Red’s Big Adventure. The book, set in the world of the Angry Birds movie, is set up in four levels: Bird Island, Bird Village, The Search for Mighty Eagle, and Beyond the Island, readers are introduced (or, really, familiarized with – they likely know most of these birds already) to the Angry Birds: Red, Matilda, Chuck, Bomb, Terence, Judge Peckinpah and Cyrus, the Mighty Eagle, and that rascally pig, Leonard. Each character gets a spotlight and a bio, and Red’s adventure is a thread that runs through the course of the book.

What we also get are breathtaking pictures and facts on  the animals and plants, the environments and natural wonders of the world’s islands, from Greenland to Galapagos. Learn how a bird’s beak is better than a Swiss Army knife in terms of multi-purpose use: it’s a weapon, a utensil, a mating signal, and a sensory organ. Learn about mountain ranges and how glaciers are formed; learn to create maps or navigate using the stars, like our forefathers did. Find out about some of the biggest animal migrations in history, or discover an island inhabited by pigs (is that were Leonard and his friends came from?)!

I love the NatGeo books. They have the perfect combination of fun and learning, whether it’s their handy, schoolbag-sized fun facts books, like the Angry Birds and the Weird But True books, their sticker books (my living room coffee table currently has all the Dino Sticker Activity book stickers on them, like it’s a mini-Jurassic Park), the First Big Books, or their atlases and almanacs. The photos are incredible, and the information is easily digestible and exciting in its presentation. My kids love them, and the kids at my library go berserk for them. I celebrated the Angry Birds movie release with an Angry Birds Treasure Hunt around the children’s room, where they had to locate different pictures of the birds and pig for a prize. I honestly wasn’t sure how it was going to go over: were younger kids that into Angry Birds anymore? The answer was a resounding YES.  About 30 kids took part in the treasure hunt, ensuring that this book and the 11 other NatGeo Angry Birds books will be in my next ordering cart.

Add to collections where nature books and Angry Birds are popular. You’ll be happy you did!