(reviews)

Gift Books to Hang by the
Chimney With Care

by Christopher Camuto

A book read in childhood has the power to influence an entire life. What better way to inspire tomorrow's environmentalists to form a firsthand connection with nature than by enticing them with stories? An informal poll of Audubon Society staffers and others in the know--children, former children, parents--left us with a long list of fine books about nature, some of them well-known classics, some perhaps soon to be. We highlight as many here as space allows and encourage you to mine for yourselves this truly rich field of literature. For the holidays, such books make gifts with true staying power.

> CLASSIC

Miss Hickory
Carolyn Sherwin Bailey. Viking. 1946.
This Newbery Medal winner, first published more than 50 years ago, has retained all its warmth and charm. Carolyn Bailey weaves a dreamlike fable about a doll, fashioned from an applewood twig and a hickory nut, who finds herself hard-ressed to survive a New Hampshire winter. She does so with the help of animals--crows, deer, squirrels, and others--who are as resourceful as they are witty and kind.

Incident at Hawk's Hill
Allan W. Eckert. Little, Brown. 1971.
A celebrated natural history writer tells the tale of a young boy who wanders into the wilds of Manitoba in 1870 and takes up life with the animals. A Newbery Honor book.

Birches
Robert Frost. Henry Holt. 1990.
A weary grown-up remembers the simple childhood joy of swinging on birch trees and draws complex lessons from the memory. Frost's delightful depiction of rural life is fully evoked in Ed Young's illustrations.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Robert Frost. Dutton's Children's Books. 1985.
Frost's classic poem about the desire to contemplate nature's depths and the need to turn to other matters is made accessible to the youngest readers through Susan Jeffers's wonderful illustrations. The magic of a winter landscape and the haunting allure of poetry are beautifully joined here.

My Side of the Mountain
Jean Craighead George. Penguin. 1959.
First published in the fifties, Newbery Honor book recounts young Sam Gribley's adventures in the Catskill Mountains, where he faces the challenges and joys of self-reliance. Sam learns many worthwhile lessons about the land, wildlife, and himself.

The Old Man and the Sea
Ernest Hemingway. Scribner. 1952.
Hemingway's famous story about the tragic fortunes of a Cuban fisherman presents an important perspective on the relation of man and nature.

White Fang
Jack London. Penguin. 1906.
London's adventure, told through the eyes of an orphaned wolf, makes great reading. His fine novel, which depicts nature in the far north as a thing of harshness as well as beauty, is both instructive and exciting.

Island of the Blue Dolphins.
Scott O'Dell. Houghton Mifflin. 1960.
An elegantly written historical novel about a Native American girl's struggle to survive the forces of man and nature on an island off the coast of California in the early 1800s. A Newbery Medal winner.

The Lorax
Dr. Seuss. Random House. 1971.
Perhaps the best cautionary tale ever written about the dangers of rampant industrialization. Old-growth Truffula Trees, Brown Bar-ba-loots, Humming-Fish, and Swomee-Swans are all sacrificed to the cult of "biggering" factories, roads, and profits. This terrific and tough-minded story concludes with just a seed of hope for the Lorax, and for the rest of us.

The Giving Tree
Shel Silverstein. HarperCollins. 1964.
A gentle if tragic story, told with Silverstein's characteristic clarity and grace, about the changing relationship between a boy and his favorite apple tree.

The Trumpet of the Swan.
E. B. White. HarperCollins. 1970.
E. B. White's masterful tale about a young boy and a voiceless trumpeter swan doomed to a mute courtship is marked by the author's characteristic wit, wisdom, and triumphant humor.

Owl Moon
Jane Yolen. Philomel Books. 1987.
A little girl and her father trudge though moonlit snow hoping to call up a great horned owl from the edge of the woods. A fine winter's tale and a Caldecott Medal winner.

Just a Dream
(Houghton Mifflin; 1990) is a consciousness-changing tale by Caldecott Award winner Chris Van Allsburg about a careless boy who belittles earth-stewarding activities like tree planting and recycling. One night, after seeing a television show that leaves him yearning for the technological trappings of the future, he dreams of a polluted world where his neighborhood is a garbage dump, most trees have been chopped down, and a hotel perches atop Mount Everest. He awakens appreciative of the importance of caring for the environment. Teachers often use this storybook to impart lessons of personal responsibility.

> CURRENT 19912001

The Great Kapok Tree:
A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest.
Lynne Cherry. Voyager Books. 2000.
A boa constrictor, a bee, a toucan, a tree frog, a jaguar, and other rainforest creatures make a gentle, persuasive case for preserving their realm. A clever, richly illustrated story.

Giants in the Land
Diana Appelbaum. Houghton Mifflin. 1993.
Stunning folk drawings of old-growth white pines accompany a lively description of the colonial logging of the grand trees for masts for the English navy.

The Big Book for Our Planet.
Edited by Ann Durrell, Jean Craighead George, and Katherine Paterson. Dutton's Children's Books. 1993.
A thoughtful anthology of poetry, prose, and photographs about the needs of planet earth.

Waiting for Wings
Lois Ehlert. Harcourt Inc. 2001.
A visually stunning first book, about butterflies and metamorphosis. The symbiosis of butterflies and plants is illustrated with flair, and the rhymed text deftly explains the butterfly life. It's likely to turn the youngest child into a butterfly lover.

Twilight Comes Twice
Ralph Fletcher. Clarion Books. 1997.
A subtle and beautifully drawn story that explores dawn and dusk. This is a perceptive, memorable book.

Old Elm Speaks: Tree Poems.
Kristine O'Connell George. Clarion Books. 1998.
A well-illustrated introduction to poetry. Without becoming preachy, these thoughtful, lively poems demonstrate the myriad ways in which trees can make interesting company.

Jubela
Cristina Kessler. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. 2001.
In this book, based on a true story from Swaziland, Kessler re-counts the odyssey of a baby rhinoceros orphaned by poachers. This tale is full of details about the lives of this threatened species. The young rhino's travels in search of a new mother blend in well with JoEllen McAllister Stammen's impressionistic illustrations of the wildlife and landscape of the African grasslands.

Gorilla Walk
Ted Levin and Betsy Levin. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books. 1999.
The Levins present a fascinating account, with wonderful drawings and field sketches, of a 1997 visit to the mountain gorillas of Uganda.

The Eagle's Gift
Rafe Martin. G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1997.
An Inuit boy's mythic initiation into the joy of nature is illustrated with haunting depictions of the Arctic.

Grandad's Prayers of the Earth
Douglas Wood. Candlewick Press. 1999.
A grandfather tutors his grandson about the sacredness of nature, instilling a fine sense of moral relation to animals and plants, rivers and forests. P. J. Lynch's warm illustrations fill every page with scenes that back up these gentle lessons.

A Zooful of Animals
Selected by William Cole. Houghton Mifflin. 1992.
Lively, funny, mischievous poems for the youngest child or infant.

 

 

© 2001  NASI

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Staff Picks

by Mary-Powel Thomas
Features Editor

Honey Paw and Lightfoot
Jonathan London, Chronicle Books, 1995

If the only bears your children know are the Berensteins', introduce them to these two grizzlies. London's lyrical text and Jon Van Zyle's gorgeous acrylic paintings follow Honey Paw from mating through the birth of Lightfoot ("Helpless, almost hairless, blind, no bigger than a hamster") and to the end of his first year. The story veers from playfulness to danger and back again, while illuminating the life of an Alaskan grizzly. This was my boys' favorite book from about age 3.

Sea Otter Inlet
Celia Godkin, Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1997

A gentle introduction to the problem of overhunting, told through the story of sea otters and their favorite food, spiny purple sea urchins. Rich illustrations of the kelp forest and its creatures give way to a barren ocean floor, populated only by sea urchins, after the otters are killed. But nature is resilient, and when a few surviving otters find their way back to the inlet, their appetite for sea urchins soon restores the ecosystem--"eight-legged octopi and many-legged sun stars and five-legged sea stars and . . . even some spiny purple sea urchins, with no legs at all. But not too many."