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Nature Books for Kids

Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson
By Amy Ehrlich/Illustrated by Wendell Minor
Harcourt Inc., 32 pages, $16 (ages 5-8)

In Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson, Amy Ehrlich focuses on experiences that helped shape Carson’s life as a scientist and contemplative nature lover. The day Carson unearths a buried fossil of a seashell near her childhood home in Pennsylvania foreshadows her time spent as a researcher at the Woods Hole Marine Biology Laboratory on Cape Cod. Her recognition as a winner in a children’s writing contest is a natural prelude to the landmark Silent Spring, which established DDT’s toxic effects. Wendell Minor’s exquisite watercolor and gouache illustrations complement Ehrlich’s elegant prose: In one scene, an image of Carson in a glistening forest threatened by development speaks to her belief “that people, as well as other creatures, needed the sanctuary of wildness.” In another, Carson perches on a rocky promontory, gazing out into a big sky where “hawks [ride] the wind, sailing on an ocean of air.” Alone with her binoculars, she is a quiet symbol of a pioneering spirit and an inspiration for any child.
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Who Lives in an Alligator Hole?
By Anne Rockwell/Illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell
HarperCollins, 40 pages, $15.99 (ages 5-9)

Marked by leathery hide and gnashing teeth, alligators may look primitive. But these reptiles aren’t just a prehistoric vestige, as Anne Rockwell explains in Who Lives in an Alligator Hole? “The alligator is a keystone species” that “changes the environment for its own use in a way that helps other plants and animals,” writes Rockwell. An illustration of a gator in a pond, surrounded by a medley of other fish, birds, and mammals, emphasizes how integral the reptile is to a balanced ecosystem, while the depiction of a wetland lost to urban sprawl alludes to the ominous possibility that “when a keystone species disappears, other species that depend on it may also disappear.” After providing a few gator facts—they’re cold-blooded and make their home in “damp muck”—she offers a pithy account of the species’ historical decline to a few thousand gators and the efforts that have successfully restored its population to more than 2 million, which is good news for all creatures.
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Salamander Rain: A Lake & Pond Journal
By Kristin Joy Pratt-Serafini
Dawn Publishers, 32 pages, $16.95 (ages 6-12)

Salamander Rain: A Lake & Pond Journal is one of a series of nature books written in the style of a child’s diary. From amphibians to birds, crustaceans to insects, Kristin Joy Pratt-Serafini’s brightly detailed watercolor illustrations highlight a variety of animals discovered by a boy and his sister as they explore the ponds and lakes around their home. Spotted salamanders, with yellow and orange dotted markings, are charmingly clownish “scrambling over twigs, rocks, and each other” to pools and ponds where they’ll raise their young. A heron, with its “long, slinky neck like a snake” and “skinny legs like broom handles,” appears admirably intent as it hunts for lunch. Boxes with species descriptions and other fun facts answer questions that the boy raises in his journal, and a list of Internet sites and nature books at the end provide additional resources for youths interested in learning more about freshwater habitats. But it’s the childlike wonder conveyed by Pratt-Serafini’s clever narration that will make kids antsy—and parents nostalgic—for a watery romp outside.—Julie Leibach
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