Animals have always been bit hits for us, perhaps owing to the two fine specimens that are part of our family. All that time spent wondering and talking about what they might be communicating to us? For a while, there was a fixation on all things reptilian and creepy. Now, post three, it has shifted to the predator-prey dynamic. It is all about hisses, roars and snaps here, followed by gulps, gobbles and chomps.
How easy it is to extend that interest further into food chains and life cycles, threats and conservation! I remember an insightful passage from Jane Goodall’s book where she talks about the fundamental connection and synchrony that humans have with nature, which we have, largely, lost in our fast-paced, consumerist lives. It resonated profoundly. I would love my child to understand the coherence and connectedness of all things in nature, the chains and niches and symbioses that have come to be that we are now fast obliterating. Books have been wonderful opportunities. We have been reading some fantastic books on conservation in the last year and these are my favourites.
- Trapped! A Whale’s Rescue
by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor
This needs to be a must-have for schools and children’s centres and libraries. It is based on the true event of a whale becoming entangled in a fishing net and rescued by divers, subsequently. What a wonderfully simple and beautifully illustrated book. I loved that the whale has maximum screen time and her movements are described in an elegant way. The book highlights empathy and hope in a manner that is inspiring. It would make for an easy segue into the conflict between fishing for sustenance and conservation of animals.
- Galapagos George
by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Wendell Minor
If you haven’t heard of Lonesome George, you must Google his sad story. This is an evolution-based book with age-appropriate explanations on how giant tortoises evolved, suffered at the hands of human settlements and are declining rapidly in numbers, some already extinct. I LOVED the references to evolution here, they are tangible and illustrative. And I am surprised at how well a child is able to connect with what is quite a complicated concept to understand.
- Shark Lady
by Jess Keating, illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens
This is the inspiring story of Eugenie Clark who followed her passion and became an international authority on sharks, against all odds. She rose at a time when women in science were frowned upon and vilified. There are references to the discouragement and disappointing advice Eugenie often received (including that she should be a housewife instead!) and also shark myths she helped dispel. This is a fantastic one, particularly as it helps to balance out the evident underrepresentation of other genders in children’s books, and is a conversation starter for both environment and gender equality.
- Sparrow Girl
by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka
Sparrow Girl is based on a true event that happened decades ago in China. Farming villages were ordered to cull entire sparrow populations with hopes that this would increase the yields of produce. The sky starts raining dead sparrows and Ming-Li desperately wants to help the poor sparrows. The book highlights courage and integrity. It also illustrates the interdependence of all living things and the consequences when food chains are disturbed.
- Can We Save the Tiger?
by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Vicky White
This is one of my all-time favourites, both for the text and the mind-blowing illustrations. It is easily read aloud and the information is delivered both in short snippets and more detailed messages, all in a conversational, non-preachy tone. The book focuses on animals that have gone extinct, ones that are on the brink and some that are recovering. If nothing else, have a look at it for the BRILLIANT pencil-drawn illustrations.
PS: Extra soft corner for the mention of kakapos! If you haven’t heard of them, Google and you will see some of the cutest parrots.
- Counting Lions: Portraits from the wild
by Katie Cotton, illustrated by Stephen Walton
The illustrations, oh my! Gorgeous, detailed charcoal drawings by a very talented artist. We count one to ten in the book, alongside lyrical text to discuss ten different animals at varying levels of endangerment. I like that this book mentions giraffes, which are not often featured in narratives of animal endangerment but are facing a silent extinction in the near future.
- Over and Under the Pond
by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
Gorgeous book (love the shades of blues and greens used!) that explores the hidden, underwater universe of plants and marine animals. Aquatic animals are not given anywhere near as much screen time as land based ones and I like that this book highlights just how busy the underwater world is.
- Bee & Me
by Alison Jay
I have discussed this one in a previous post. It is a lovely wordless story about the friendship between a girl and a bee. It is based on messages of empathy and hope and is a great one for discussing the unfortunate plight of bee colonies around the world and why this is likely to be detrimental to the environment.
- Pass the Energy, Please!
by Barbara Shaw McKinney
Have discussed this one in the last post also. Loved this insightful and beautifully worded book on food chains and flow of organic energy. The rhyming text and variety of creatures referred to are fantastic. So many discussion segues made available in one place!
- Endangered Animals (DK Eyewitness Books)
by Ben Hoare
This is a wonderful all-round book, packed to the brim with insightful information on wildlife and issues of conservation. It touches on evolution, research, habitat destruction, climate change, pollution, endangerment, and also has snippets on what we can do to help. There is a LOT of detailed information here and although organised well in chapters, we don’t read this cover to cover at any time. It is a big hit with my little one because of all the eye-catching pictures and we lie in bed for up to an hour browsing through the book and talking about stuff. And the conversations are changing in depth and complexity each time…
It is certainly not exhaustive but I hope you find this list useful. I am constantly on the lookout for more! It is imperative that the next generation understands the importance and urgency of the situation when it comes to fellow creatures on the planet. So don’t let the fascination be the end of the conversation. Use it to inspire the child, it is soul satisfying to watch the expressions of wonder and hope. It is difficult for the younger minds to comprehend the gravity of a species becoming extinct. But if we model empathy and care and concern for another life, we are already making a huge difference. Also, added bonus of learning SO much science and practical knowledge of biology 😉