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Nature Books for Kids

Extreme Animals: The Toughest Creatures on Earth
By Nicola Davies/Illustrated by Neal Layton
Candlewick Press, 64 pages, $12.99 (Ages 8 and up)

Extreme Animals introduces kids to a panoply of creatures “that relish the sort of conditions that would kill a human quicker than you could say ‘coffin.’ ” How about fleas facing 200 times the force of gravity while somersaulting through the air (humans can withstand only one-eighth that force) or sponges that can regenerate even after being hacked to pieces? Though packed with information, Extreme Animals keeps it light. Neal Layton’s cartoon illustrations are both comical and instructive. An image of an iguana donning shades and sunning itself in a lawn chair speaks to lizards’ temperature tolerance, and a sketch of a tiny blackpoll warbler panting during migration alludes to some birds’ ability to go days without food. Nicola Davies’s conversational style will keep children interested, and the details she provides can teach even an adult a thing or two about wildlife.

 

The Tale of Pale Male: A True Story
By Jeanette Winter
Harcourt Books, 32 pages, $16 (Ages 3–7)

In The Tale of Pale Male, Jeanette Winter tells the story of an intrepid red-tailed hawk that made headlines after first appearing in New York City in 1991 and building a home atop a 12-story apartment complex on Fifth Avenue. Whether he’s courting Lola, a lady hawk, finding provisions for their nest, or raising their young, Pale Male clearly has star power. Winter’s creative acrylic illustrations only add hawk appeal. With their tawny, patterned feathers and impressive wingspan, the birds soar majestically against a pastel backdrop of dusty rose, violet, and blue skyscrapers. At the same time Pale Male’s chicks, peeking out from a crown-shaped nest under a serene sky of pink clouds, appear “all downy soft like dandelions.” As readers soon learn, however, not everyone loves the birds. Annoyed by the showers of little bones and feathers raining past their windows—“evidence of Lola’s meals”—apartment residents hire workers to dismantle the nest. Pale Male’s champions line up across the street in protest, holding aloft bright yellow and white picket signs declaring “Honk 4 Hawks” and “Bring Back the Nest.” Rooting for Pale Male, too, readers will be heartened to learn that this story has a fairy red-tail ending.
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Why Are the Ice Caps Melting? The Dangers of Global Warming
By Anne Rockwell/Illustrated by Paul Meisel
Harper Collins, 40 pages, $15.99 (Ages 5–9)

Anne Rockwell makes it easy to teach your children about the perils of global warming with Why Are the Ice Caps Melting? “If too much greenhouse gas surrounds the earth, the sun’s heat can’t escape,” she writes. “The earth will become too warm.” Rockwell covers a lot of ground besides the underlying science, delving into various consequences and solutions. A “What Can You Do?” page at the end urges children to consider their role in taking up the fight. Meanwhile, Meisel’s colorful illustrations of polar bears trapped on melting ice and kids planting trees should resonate with readers of all ages. Regardless of whether some people disagree with the notion of human-induced global warming, her final message is clear: “It’s still a good idea for us to do whatever we can to try to stop the amount of greenhouse gases from increasing.”
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Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion
By Loree Griffin Burns
Houghton Mifflin, 64 pages, $18 (Ages 10 and up)

A message in a bottle might be a beachcomber’s dream, but a waterlogged shoe can also tell a tale. In Tracking Trash, Loree Griffin Burns meets several scientists from around the country who follow floating debris in an effort to better understand ocean currents and protect marine life. As “the world’s leading expert on flotsam and jetsam,” Curtis Ebbesmeyer has conducted ocean drift experiments by tracking spilled cargo containing everything from Nike sneakers to rubber bath toys. Captain Charles Moore’s discovery of the “Eastern Garbage Patch”—a nexus in the Pacific where garbage accumulates on converging ocean currents—highlights the problem of the irresponsible disposal of plastics. Finally, the hot pursuit of abandoned fishing nets (or “ghost nets”) by Mary Donohue and Jim Churnside helps save animals from entanglement and reefs from ruin. The book is careful to offset depressing photos such as that of a monk seal ensnared in a ghost net with uplifting ones, including scientists pitching in to collect debris. This book makes it clear that trash talks—and that we need to listen.
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