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Nature Books for Kids

I Can Name 50 Trees Today! All About Trees
By Bonnie Worth/Illustrated by Aristides Ruiz and Joe Mathieu
Random House, 45 pages, $8.99 (Ages 5–8)

This lively read is bound to result in name-calling—of trees, that is. In characteristic Seussian verse, the Cat in the Hat takes young readers on an arboreal journey to identify 50 types of trees. Along the way he points out the features that make them different, such as their size and shape. “Some, like this willow, droop to the ground. Some, like this apple tree, are nearly round,” observes the Cat. But he also describes the traits that unite trees, like their value to humans and animals. As he explains, a tree “gives off the oxygen we need to survive. (It’s a gift from the trees that keeps us alive.)” Part of the Cat in the Hat Learning Library, which introduces young readers to nonfiction using a style reminiscent of Dr. Seuss, I Can Name 50 Trees Today! is full of colorful illustrations, factoids, and a glossary of tree-related terms. Both engaging and educational, it’s a perfect companion during a hike through the woods.
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Kelly of Hazel Ridge
By Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen
Illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen
Sleeping Bear Press, 48 pages, $17.95 (Ages 4–10)

Exploring nature is both fun and revitalizing, as Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen reminds us in this third installment of the Hazel Ridge Farm Series. The book, which won the 2006 National Outdoor Book Award in the children’s category, is based on her family’s experiences on its Michigan farm. A class assignment to write about something “important” in her life takes fourth grader Kelly on a journey through fields, woods, and wetlands, where she encounters a menagerie of wild animals, from owls to snapping turtles. Bright acrylic illustrations depicting her journey lend an inviting warmness to Hazel Ridge; indeed, the pages almost emanate fresh air. In one scene two canine companions accompany Kelly as she walks, barefoot, along a path toward a secluded cabin on the edge of a pond; in another, she sits on a sun-dappled bench set high in a tree. Kelly reflects on values ingrained by her parents, noting that “Mom and Dad have planted thousands of trees. . . . They have created an environment where all of nature’s creatures can feel safe.” She eventually realizes that what’s most important to her is growing up in a family that celebrates nature by admiring it and working hard to help it thrive.
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John Muir: America’s First Environmentalist
By Kathryn Lasky
Illustrated by Stan Fellows
Candlewick Press, 48 pages, $16.99 (Ages 6–10)

Once asked where he hoped his travels would take him, John Muir replied, “Anywhere that is wild.” Written in detailed prose and accompanied by dramatic illustrations, John Muir: America’s First Environmentalist, chronicles Muir’s expeditions to the Florida coast, the California mountains, and the Alaska tundra. Venturing one evening to explore an Alaskan glacier, Muir faces a “dismal night-dance” with yawning crevices; in his coat and scarf, he is a small splotch of green and red against an impressionistic icy backdrop of blue, periwinkle, and grey. Borrowing quotes from Muir’s own diary, Kathryn Lasky portrays him as a passionate naturalist—one who often climbed trees during the rain, because “many of nature’s finest lessons are to be found in her storms.” But Muir was also a pioneering environmentalist. Indeed, noticing overgrazed land and felled forests—devoured in a “fierce storm of steel”—Muir showed a prescient concern for conservation and devoted many years to its cause. Perhaps reading John Muir will encourage kids and adults alike to do the same.
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Uno’s Garden
By Graeme Base
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 44 pages, $19.95 (Ages preschool–8)

When Uno, a smallish person with a biggish nose, first moves to the forest, he’s surrounded by a cast of whimsical creatures, including griffinlike moopaloops, monkeyish lumpybums, and the “completely ordinary” Snortlepig. But soon more people arrive and build a village, which grows into a city. One by one, animals and plants disappear, paralleling the reality of deforestation that plagues us today. Graeme Base’s detailed illustrations capture emotions and personality—from the imploring eyes of fuzzy forest denizens to the goofy grins of clueless construction workers and tired urban dwellers. His palette is a kaleidoscope of jewel tones: In the beginning the forest is rich in emerald, ruby, and amethyst. But they transform to bleak and sour tones of pearl and citrine as buildings and garbage supplant the natural habitat Uno first encountered. It’s up to Uno’s kids to fix what his generation damaged in this creative lesson on the importance of living harmoniously with nature.
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