It’s Earth Day again and to help celebrate, Quarto and Wide Eyed Editions sent me a selection of Earth Day picture books that all focus on wildlife, nature, and conservation.
Sadly, this year most of us will have to be content with looking at our beautiful planet through a window or a screen instead of stepping outside to experience it for real, but I find myself hoping that this experience will bring us all a newfound appreciation for the great outdoors.
I have really enjoyed working my way through this selection and am delighted to share my thoughts with you all. You can also win all six books to read with your family. Details are at the end of the post.
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Little People, Big Dreams: David Attenborough and Jane Goodall by Mª Isabel Sánchez Vegara, Illustrated by Mikyo Noh and Beatrice Cerocchi
The “first” of our Earth Day picture books are actually a pair from a popular series. Little People, Big Dreams is a series of short, biographical picture books covering a wide range of famous figures from the world of sport, science, fashion, politics, and more. Each book explores the life of its subject in a simple and easy to understand way, beginning with their childhood.
David Attenborough’s book begins with his childhood in Leicester, UK and follows his burgeoning interest in naturalism, studies at Cambridge University, his career broadcasting nature documentaries to the world, and finally, his work educating people about the natural world and encouraging them to look after it. Jane Goodall’s book covers her childhood love of animals (especially her stuffed chimpanzee Jubilee), her travels in Africa and lifelong studies of chimpanzees, and her work as an animal rights defender.
The text in these books is very minimal, with only a couple of sentences across each double-page spread. Instead, the focus of the book is on the artwork which shows the famous figures doing what made them famous and illustrating the impact of their achievements. The artwork is simplistic and cartoony but works well for the style of the series which is aimed at very young children.
Both books conclude with a simple timeline that includes some photographs of their subject and covers the same information given in the book across a single double-page spread – ideal for kids who are writing a report because all the information they’ll need can be found here.
I enjoyed reading these short books and although these biographies are far from in-depth, they are fantastic primers for these famous figures and will hopefully inspire kids to investigate further. I’ll certainly be picking up some other titles from this series in the future.
Greta and the Giants by Zoë Tucker, Illustrated by Zoe Persico
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few years, you will have read about young climate activist Greta Thunberg and her movement that has led kids around the world to strike in order to encourage adults to work on preventing climate change.
Greta and the Giants takes Greta’s story and uses it as inspiration for a picture book about a young girl named Greta who lives in a beautiful forest. Greta realizes that her home – and the animals who live there with her – are under threat from giants who keep chopping down the forest in order to build cities, factories, and more. The giants have left almost nothing of the forest intact and so Greta realizes she must act, but how can one very small girl get the attention of giants?
Greta and the Giants takes a complicated current affairs issue and uses a great metaphor to make it more understandable (and less scary) for younger children. The book has a happy ending, which the real Greta Thunberg is still a long way from achieving, but this serves to make the story inspiring and helps foster a sense of hope that perhaps we can still prevent a climate disaster.
I also hope that the adults reading this will see the metaphor more literally and realize their own part to play in the story. The book ends with some information about Greta Thunberg, a list of basic actions that readers can take to help the climate and a list of links for further reading.
Greta and the Giants is the most beautiful and thoughtful of our Earth Day picture books and that makes it ideal for introducing children to the concept of climate change and – more importantly – of what they can do to help stop it. I loved the illustrations and the story and I hope it will encourage many more families to join the fight to save our planet.
National Parks of the U.S.A. Activity Book by Clare Grace, Illustrated by Chris Turnham
In the summer of 2018, I fell in love with National Parks of the USA by Kate Siber, a stunningly beautiful illustrated guide to the 59 national parks spread across the United States. This year, an activity book based on this book has been released. I will note that realistically drawn snakes and spiders pop up with some regularity in this book – there’s even one of each on the cover – so those with severe phobias may feel uncomfortable reading.
The National Parks of the U.S.A. Activity Book is illustrated by Chris Turnham who illustrated the original and includes 15 double-page activities, a set of plant and animal stickers based on the book’s illustrations, and a pull-out poster. The activities include a word search (actually a “bird search”), maze, codebreaker, and anagrams, plus a spot-the-difference, puzzles like matching the animal to its outline, and a spot to design your very own national park.
My ten-year-old initially turned his nose up at working through this book with me – clearly, it couldn’t be as exciting as another half hour on ROBLOX – but soon he was joining in and helping me break codes and hunt for bird names. His favorite activity was the highly complex maze, something he has always enjoyed doing.
My biggest issue with the National Parks of the U.S.A. Activity Book is that the book is printed on a very strange paper than leaves an unpleasant, almost fuzzy sensation on your hands after touching it. I found myself wanting to wash my hands every time I held it, which, admittedly, was probably a good thing given that we have been working our way through the book during the COVID-19 lockdown! The book also doesn’t have as much packed into its pages as it could have done – it’s fairly sizable so more activities could easily have been included by scaling down those already inside – but the large text does make the book as it is very inclusive and ideal for readers with visual disabilities.
The National Parks of the U.S.A. Activity Book is a beautiful addition to this series and ideal for anyone wanting to encourage their children to appreciate the great outdoors – even if we can’t go there for real just now. The activities are more suited to older children than youngsters which makes it a refreshing change too.
Atlas of Ocean Adventures by Emily Hawkins, Illustrated by Lucy Letherland
By far the physically largest of Earth Day picture books selection, Atlas of Ocean Adventures is a guide to the world’s oceans and many of the creatures who live in them. The book is divided into five sections, each one covering one ocean. The larger oceans (Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian) get significantly more pages than the two smaller ones (Southern and Arctic). While this does make sense from one point of view, I also don’t feel that the quantity of interesting animal life in an ocean is directly proportional to its physical size.
Within the sections, each double-page spread focuses on a single species, looking at the environment in which it lives, its markings, hunting habits, breeding cycles, and other facts of interest? Because no species lives in isolation, other creatures who share that animal’s environment – most frequently its prey or predators – also get occasional notes about them as well. With only one full paragraph and a handful of one or two-sentence captions per double-page spread, this isn’t the most in-depth tome available and is more of an introductory guide that will hopefully spark interest in the oceans among its readers.
I often found myself texting interesting facts I was reading to relatives also in isolation – for example, did you know that a sea otter has the densest fur of any animal and can have up to a million hairs in the space of a 50p piece?
Measuring an impressive 38cm x 28cm, the huge size of this book means that the full-color illustrations are really given the space they deserve to shine, even if this size does also make the book rather unwieldy – especially for small hands. This isn’t a book you’ll want to try and read in bed and is more suited for sprawling on the floor and reading together.
The illustrations themselves are a bit of a mixed bag. Painted in a watercolor style, some lean strongly toward realism while the very next page can feature a penguin wearing a bowler hat and carrying a suitcase. This means that the book as a whole can feel a little confused – is this a realistic nature guide or a funny, cartoonish take on ocean life? While I liked both styles of illustration, I found myself wishing the book had picked one and stuck to it.
This book will be great for sharing by families and would be an amazing addition to school libraries where it can be referred to regularly. It’s probably not a book you’ll sit down and read cover to cover often but is ideal for research and dipping in and out of.
Birding Adventures for Kids by Elissa Wolfson and Margaret A. Barker
The final book in this collection of Earth Day picture books is Birding Adventures for Kids, a fascinating book that combines a basic field guide to North American birds with an activity book for kids of all ages.
I’ll admit, I had to look up the definition of birding because I’d only ever heard of bird watching before and was surprised to learn that birding, or competitive bird watching, is even a thing. This book is less about the competitive element, however, and more about getting kids started in the bird watching hobby and showing them how to better care for their local feathered friends.
The first section of the book is an alphabetical field guide covering 25 native birds and a handful of common non-native ones too. Each bird’s pages include full-color photos, a range map showing where they can be seen, information on markings, size, preferred diet, and their voice. There are also fun facts scattered throughout along with information on the conservation status of each one. There’s enough here to help kids (and adults) identify many of the birds they might see in the garden wherever you live in North America.
The second and third sections are filled with activities and games. Included are instructions on making bird feeders, nesting areas, and baths, a guide to making your garden more bird-friendly, and advice on using binoculars. There are also games to play such as the Bird Migration Game for a large group of kids (Ideal for Scout troops), a bird feeding experiment to conduct, and advice on how to bird watch indoors.
This is a really fun book that encouraged me to start really paying attention to the birds around me. On a recent family walk, I managed to spot seven different species within just a few streets from my front door. Birds really are everywhere and Birding Adventures for Kids will help you and your family get to know the ones who are sharing their patch of the Earth with you.
GeekMom received a copy of this item for review purposes.
Earth Day Picture Books Giveaway
To be in with a chance of winning a set of the six Earth Day picture books featured here, fill out the form below. The contest is open to all residents of the continental United States and Canada until April 29th 2020 at 11.59 PM PST. Please note that there might be a delay in shipping prizes.