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Nature Books for Kids

Midnight Forests: A Story of Gifford Pinchot and Our National Forests
By Gary Hines/Illustrated by Robert Casilla
Boyds Mills Press, 32 pages, $16.95 (Ages 9 and up)

Some might choose to take the road less traveled, but Gifford Pinchot, America’s first forester, blazed a trail. Caught between lumbermen who wanted forests cleared “as fast as possible” and others who “wanted to save every tree,” Pinchot believed that “trees could be cut and the forests preserved, at one and the same time.” In Midnight Forests, Gary Hines traces Pinchot’s maturation from a college graduate unsure of his future to the successful head of the U.S. Forest Service under President Theodore Roosevelt. With soft hues of gray, green, brown, and blue, the watercolor illustrations are nostalgic, harking to a time when natural resources seemed limitless and conservation was a strange new idea. A scene of snowcapped mountains and lush forests, followed by an image of Pinchot and Roosevelt in animated discussion, captures the men’s common concern for the fate of the wilderness; it also foreshadows the night they spent “working secretly around the clock” to permanently set aside forest against the wishes of Congress. While Midnight Forests is a good lesson in history, it’s also an inspiring profile of a man who pioneered America’s concept of modern forest management.
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Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition
to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea

By Sy Montgomery/Photographs by Nic Bishop
Houghton Mifflin, 80 pages, $18 (Ages 10–14)

The forests of Papua New Guinea look like a Tolkien fantasy: fungi of every color abound, orchids sprout like daisies, and unusual animals roam. But to some people familiar with Papua New Guinea’s exotic species, the most mysterious—
and adorable—island dweller is the Matschie’s tree kangaroo, an auburn-furred, pink-nosed marsupial that looks like a teddy bear, or “something Dr. Seuss might have dreamed up.” Wandering high among the branches of moss-cloaked trees, the Matschie’s ’roo is both elusive and rare, making its study difficult—and its conservation imperative. In Quest for the Tree Kangaroo, one of a series of real-life nature adventures, Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop follow scientist Lisa Dabek and her international research team on their journey to locate and radio-collar the animal so it can be tracked for future study. Colorful photographs depict various steps along the quest, from the treacherous hike up steep mountains, to setting up camp, to tagging captured kangaroos before they’re released back into the wild. Readers won’t just fall in love with the fuzzy ’roo; they’ll also enjoy meeting some of the humans on the adventure.
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Birdsongs
By Betsy Franco/Illustrated by Steve Jenkins
McElderry Books, 40 pages, $16.99 (Ages 3–7)

All is quiet at sunrise as the sky changes from a glowing pink to a pale denim blue. Then it happens: 10 tat-tat-tats break the stillness as a red-capped woodpecker works its way through a pine tree. It’s a wakeup call for the rest of his feathered friends, who, one after another, sing their distinctive songs. Using cutouts from textured paper, illustrator Steve Jenkins creates a dynamic avian collage where the birds seem to lift off the page. “A flapping of chirping sparrows” crowd around a birdfeeder, their chocolate-colored wings splayed to land, because “each one wants to be first in line.” Nearby, an apple tree “looks like a candelabra” ornamented with waxy leaves and piebald chickadees that take flight “when the tabby cat starts climbing.” While Betsy Franco’s prose is simple enough for a beginning reader, the “feathery facts” section at the end will appeal to kids who want to learn more about the birds they meet—perhaps in their own backyard.
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