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Nature Books for Kids

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story From Africa
By Jeanette Winter
Harcourt, 32 pages, $17 (3–7)

Distraught by deforestation and development that had ravaged her native Kenya, Wangari Maathai planted nine tree seedlings in her backyard, thus laying the foundation for The Greenbelt Movement, a grassroots campaign to revegetate Africa and foster a higher quality of life. In eloquent, succinct narrative, Wangari’s Trees of Peace traces Maathai’s enterprising tale, from her childhood in a village near Mount Kenya, to her university exploits in the United States, to her return home in the 1970s, when she recruited a brigade of female villagers to initiate her plan. Jeanette Winter’s singular illustrative style is recognizable by the organic patterns and lively pastel hues applied with acrylic paint that distinguished one of her previous books, The Tale of Pale Male. Her current work reveals the obstacles Maathai has faced along the way, including prison time for planting trees, as well as her successes. Scenes of crouching women planting tiny saplings, “like a green belt stretching over the land” and, later, images of lush, bird-filled forests creating an “umbrella of green” celebrate the activist’s powerful vision—one that has resulted in more than 40 million tree plantings in Africa and made Maathai well-deserving of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.—Julie Leibach
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Birdscapes: A Pop-up Celebration of Bird Songs in Stereo Sound
By Miyoko Chu with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology/Paper engineering by Gene Vosough, Renee Jablow, and Andy Baron/Illustrations by Julia Hargreaves
Chronicle Books, 18 pages, $60 (all ages)

Open to any page in Birdscapes and be prepared for a sensory smorgasbord. This pop-up-book-with-a-twist couples elaborate three-dimensional illustrations with audio recordings of birdsongs to depict seven ecosystems and various avian species that live in them. Bird identification keys accompanying each scene, along with lyrical descriptions of birds, make Birdscapes a poetically instructive tool as well. “Wood thrushes utter their flutelike, shimmering songs, red-eyed vireos repeat their whistled refrains in the canopy, and the repeated calls of ovenbirds ring out through the trees: teacher-teacher-teacher!” writes the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s director of communications, Miyoko Chu, about the denizens of eastern deciduous forests. “At summer’s end, migratory songbirds and their newly fledged young head south, leaving behind forests that blaze with the yellow, red, and orange foliage of trees touched by the first breath of winter.” For readers wanting to learn even more, an appendix offers an extensive discussion of each distinctive habitat and bird species. Though sure to win over young budding birders and naturalists, Birdscapes is a delight appropriate for all ages.—Julie Leibach
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Science Warriors:
The Battle Against Invasive Species

By Sneed B. Collard III
Houghton Mifflin, 48 pages, $17 (10-14)

The thought of war might conjure images of soldiers and rumbling artillery. But every day scientists wage a quieter type of attack: one on exotic plants and animals that terrorize native ecosystems. Science Warriors: The Battle Against Invasive Species details a few of our nation’s worst intruders and the clever solutions researchers are developing to slash their populations and prevent future dispersal. The United States alone is home away from home to an estimated 7,000 invasive species that arrive both surreptitiously (some hitchhike on ships) or by invitation (from ill-advised importers, for instance). Sneed B. Collard III’s riveting tale of the red fire ant enumerates the insect’s vices, such as how it crowds out native ant populations, preys on small animals, and bites humans. “By 2004, the red fire ant had infested 320 million acres in thirteen states—one-seventh of our nation’s land area,” he writes. To fight the invader, scientists have devised a strategy that deploys a parasitic fly whose larvae devour the ants’ blood and internal tissues. A photo of an adult fly emerging from an ant’s severed head drives home the point that battling extreme pests sometimes requires extreme measures.—Julie Leibach
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