Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal

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Zonia’s Rain Forest
Author and Illustrator: Juana Martinez-Neal
Published March 30th, 2021 by Candlewick Press

Summary: A heartfelt, visually stunning picture book from the Caldecott Honor and Sibert Medal Winner illuminates a young girl’s day of play and adventure in the lush rain forest of Peru.

Zonia’s home is the Amazon rain forest, where it is always green and full of life. Every morning, the rain forest calls to Zonia, and every morning she answers. She visits the sloth family, greets the giant anteater, and runs with the speedy jaguar. But one morning, the rain forest calls to her in a troubled voice. How will Zonia answer?

Acclaimed author-illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal explores the wonders of the rain forest with Zonia, an Asháninka girl, in her joyful outdoor adventures. The engaging text emphasizes Zonia’s empowering bond with her home, while the illustrations—created on paper made from banana bark—burst with luxuriant greens and delicate details. Illuminating back matter includes a translation of the story in Asháninka, information on the Asháninka community, as well as resources on the Amazon rain forest and its wildlife.

Praise: 

⭐“At its simplest level, this is a beautiful story about a child who loves her home and the animals she with whom she shares it. Martinez-Neal’s rounded, soft-textured illustrations are wonderfully inviting and involve linocut and woodcut leaves and fronds printed on natural banana-bark paper… The text is kept to two short sentences per double-page spread, reflecting Zonia’s uncomplicated and innocent view of the world, which is shaken when she stumbles upon a large section of clear-cut forest.” – Booklist (starred review)

⭐“This beautiful look at a young girl’s life and her determination to save her home is a perfect read for young environmentalists.” – School Library Journal (starred review)

“In Juana Martinez-Neal’s Zonia’s Rain Forest, super-cute critters are out in full force…A girl who lives in the rain forest begins each day by greeting her animal friends in this exuberant picture book crowned with an environmental message.” – Shelf Awareness

About the Author: Juana Martinez-Neal is the Peruvian-born daughter and granddaughter of painters. Her debut as an author-illustrator, Alma and How She Got Her Name, was awarded a Caldecott Honor and was published in Spanish as Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre. She also illustrated La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya, for which she won a Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, Babymoon by Hayley Barrett, and Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, which won a Robert F. Sibert Medal. Juana Martinez-Neal lives in Arizona with her family. Visit her online at www.juanamartinezneal.com.

Review : Zonia’s story starts as a story of family. We meet her mother and baby brother and the love between them is evident in the words and illustrations.

The book then moves to Zonia’s adventures visiting her friends throughout the rain forest. We get to meet all of her animal friends. With backmatter introducing the type of animals, Trent and I went on a research exploration of the different rain forest animals that Martinez-Neal introduced to us.

The book ends with a call to action. Zonia is Asháninka, Indigenous people of the Peruvian Amazon, so the rain forest is her home. Her family’s home. The book ends with Zonia running across deforestation near her home and realizing that the forest needs her, and all of our, help.

And finally, the backmatter of the book is incredible. Juana Martinez-Neal, who is Peruvian, is not Asháninka, so I am not sure of the accuracy of the portrayal, but the backmatter shows the work she did to do justice to them and their home. The back matter includes a translation of the entire book to Asháninka, information about the Asháninka People, a few facts about the Amazon, threats to the Amazon, and Zonia’s friends we met in the book. Finally, especially useful for in the classroom, she includes selected sources and resources, all which can be viewed at https://juanamartinezneal.com/books/zonia/.

With Martinez-Neal’s ability to craft the simplistic text in a beautiful way mixed with her signature illustrations, full of movement, color, and personality along with the rain forest elements, Zonia’s Rainforest is a perfect book for story time, science cross-curricular reading, a jumping off point for inquiry, or a mentor text.

Read “The story behind Zonia’s Rain Forest” by Juana Martinez-Neal here.

Watch an interview with Juana Martinez-Neal about Zonia’s Rain Forest: 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: Julia Torres created a Teacher’s Guide for Zonia for Candlewick Press, and it is the best resource for teaching Zonia. It includes 7 Discussion Questions and 8 Classroom Activities.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, The Leaf Detective by Heather LangA Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel

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**Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing a copy for review!**

Review and Giveaway!: Rescue at Lake Wild by Terry Lynn Johnson

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Rescue at Lake Wild
Author: Terry Lynn Johnson
Published April 27, 2021 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary: In this funny and moving animals-in-peril adventure, a twelve-year-old girl and her two best friends determine to rescue two orphaned beaver kits—and soon find themselves trying to solve a local environmental crisis.

Everyone knows that twelve-year-old Madison “Madi” Lewis is not allowed to bring home any more animals. After she’s saved hairless mice, two birds, a rabbit, and a stray tom cat that ended up destroying the front porch, Madi’s parents decide that if they find one more stray animal in the house, she won’t be allowed to meet Jane Goodall at an upcoming gala event.

But when Madi and her two best friends, Aaron and Jack, rescue beaver kits whose mother was killed, they find themselves at the center of a local conspiracy that’s putting the beavers and their habitats in danger. As Madi and her friends race to uncover the threat targeting the beavers, Madi must put her animal whisperer skills to the test in both raising the orphaned beaver kits and staying out of trouble long enough.

About the Author: Terry Lynn Johnson writes about the wild with the wisdom and passion of someone who has spent her life working to preserve and protect it – both as a backcountry canoe ranger in Quetico Provincial Park and in her current job as a conservation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. She lives at the edge of a lake in northern Ontario, Canada, where she loves watching all wildlife, including beavers. Visit her online at terrylynnjohnson.com

Twitter: @TerryLynnJ
Instagram: terry_lynn_johnson

Review: This book is everything the summary promises and more. I read it in one sitting because I couldn’t put it down. It was so interesting learning about beavers and conservation, but also watching Madi and her friends figure out the solution to a problem that adults automatically went to the extreme about.

Kids are going to love Madi and her friends. Their banter is so funny yet right on point for their age. I also love seeing how close they are even as they grow up and change.

In addition to the main story about the beaver rescue, Madi’s family situation will bring about good conversation about different types of families.

But truly, the real stars of this book are the beavers. I never knew as much about them as I do now, and they are such interesting animals. This book definitely led to inquiry as I wanted to learn so much more about environmental conservation and beavers.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to being a book that so many kids are going to want to pick up and read, this book lends itself perfectly to so much in the classroom!

Madi talks often in the book about her grandmother and Jane Goodall and all of the work they did to help preserve animals; however, there are tons of other scientists who help converse nature and animals’ habitats. Have students research these scientists, and remind them to think about local and smaller rescue facilities who do work that often aren’t recognized.

Madi LOVES animals and we learn so much about beavers in this book. Use the idea of Madi’s notebook to have students pick an animal and research it.

Madi solves a problem by going step by step through the problem solving process. Look at the six-step problem solving process and work through how Madi made her way through to help her town and the beavers.

Finally, learn about Terry Lynn Johnson’s inspiration for Rescue at Lake Wild here. This would lend to a great discussion about author’s purpose and point of view.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do the adults of the town automatically start killing beavers?
  • How does Madi figure out a solution to the problem?
  • How did the setting play a part in the story?
  • Which character did you most relate to and why?
  • Who do you look up to like Madi looks up to Jane Goodall?
  • What is your passion and how can you pursue it in your life?
  • How did having her two friends to help her lend to Madi being successful?
  • How did Madi’s grandmother inspire her? Who has inspired you in your life?
  • Madi’s mother said no more animals, which Madi obviously disagreed with, and although it seems harsh, she has her reasons. What do you feel about this? Can someone be right and wrong at the same time?

Flagged Passages: Chapter 1

I hear it again.

Urgent chattering reaches us from the mound of sticks and mud just off the bow of our boat.

“We’re going to have to do it,” I say, and then can’t help add, “I told you they were here.”

As an animal whisperer, I know these things, but sometimes I have to remind certain people.

A breeze catches the boat and swings us around the anchor line. The channel’s empty except for the beaver lodge, the three of us, and one bored dog.

“We’re sure the parents aren’t coming back, Madi?” Aaron asks.

“You saw their parents,” I say. “They’re not coming.” We’ve been here almost two hours to make sure there were no other adults in the lodge.

Finally Jack says, “Let’s do it already.”

“Before you say I should do it because I’m smallest,” Aaron says, “let me remind you I’ve been the rescuer the last two times.”

He’s talking about when we boosted him into a tree to save a raccoon that turned out not to need saving. Okay, I was wrong that one time. But the day we lowered him from the window by his feet to save the baby bird? That bird would have died without us.

“Out of the three of us, you’re the easiest to hang by the feet,” I say reasonably.

“It’s not my turn.” Aaron shifts on the aluminum seat. “And I’m not that small.”

“We’ve never done this before,” Jack says. “So it starts over.”

“What starts over?”

“Turns,” Jack says.

Adjusting the tiller handle, I move to sit next to Aaron in the middle of the boat. “We should play for it.” I hold up a fist, the universal sign for rock-paper-scissors. “So it’s fair.”

The three of us stick our fists together. Jack’s black Lab, Lid, pokes his nose into the circle too, ever hopeful that we’re about to unveil food.

“One, two, three!

“No!” Aaron yells at our scissors to his paper. “Rigged!”

“I’d take your shirt off if I were you,” Jack advises. “So it doesn’t get stuck and snag you down there. We probably wouldn’t be able to pull you up.”

Aaron pales but tries to look brave. “I always end up doing it,” he grumbles, reaching behind his back to pull off his T-shirt. The hot July sun bounces off his blinding white torso.

Aaron scowls at us and then glances over the side of the boat. He studies the brown water and mutters something about leeches.

“Maybe you should keep your shirt on for protection,” I suggest, eyeing his stick-thin arms covered in rust-brown freckles, and his pale shoulder blades that could cut a breakfast sausage.

“Are they even still alive?” Aaron says. “I can’t hear them anymore.”

He’s right. There’d been no sounds from the lodge in the last few minutes we’ve been sitting here arguing.

Earlier, we’d found two adult beavers floating dead on the other side of the channel. Jack, as usual, had wanted to investigate the crime scene immediately. But the noises from the lodge mean babies inside. Those babies will starve to death if we don’t rescue them.

We’ve been waiting here long enough to know there are no other adult beavers coming to take care of them. But how long have the young ones been alone in there? Maybe they’re starved already.

“Shhh!” I say. “Listen.”

We still our movements in the boat and drift. An enthusiastic frog trills next to us. The wind rustles the leaves of trembling aspen towering above. The water gently laps at the aluminum beneath us. We strain to hear anything. The silence stretches.

A long, high-pitched noise erupts from Lid’s rear end. It echoes strangely from the bottom of the boat, sounding like an optimistic elephant. Surprised, Lid looks behind him.

Aaron and Jack both burst out laughing. It’s so hard to keep boys focused.

“Guys, I don’t hear them. Maybe we waited too long.” Maybe the little beavers are just too weak now to make noise and desperately need help right this very second. I grab the anchor and haul it up. “We have to hurry!”

I yank at the oars and thrust the boat up onto the muddy bank of the lodge. Lid jumps out first, followed by Jack, who ties us off on a log. Aaron warms up, swinging his arms, further accentuating his shoulder blades.

Stepping onto the latticed sticks, I peer at a section of the lodge’s roof that’s been ripped apart, most likely by wolves. But the predators haven’t gotten through. The only way into an indestructible beaver lodge is underwater.

“Okay. You’re looking for the opening to the tunnel,” I say to Aaron. “It’ll be hidden among all the sticks. Hopefully it’ll be wide enough for you to fit. You can breathe once you get into the chamber. It’ll be a room above water like a den. That’s where you’ll find the baby beavers.”

Aaron nods while staring at the lodge. He examines the murky water.

I watch him uneasily and think about when we’d boosted him into that tree. He’d spent most of the time clutching the trunk and yelling for us to bring him down. And when we’d lowered him for the bird he insisted over and over, “Pull me up!”

This is actually dangerous. If Aaron panics, he could drown for real. He could get lost under there, or get caught on something, like Jack said.

A fluttery feeling builds inside my chest. Did Jane Goodall let someone else face aggressive chimps at the Tanzania research center? No.

It should be me.

Read This If You Love: Lost in the River of Grass and Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby; Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly;  Vet Volunteers by Laurie Halse Anderson; Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review and giveaway!**

Blog Tour with Review and Giveaway!: The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest by Heather Lang, Illustrated by Jana Christy

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The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest
Author: Heather Lang
Illustrator: Jana Christy
Published February 9th, 2021 by Calkins Creek

Summary: Meg Lowman was determined to investigate the marvelous, undiscovered world of the rainforest treetops. Meg’s perseverance and creativity allowed her to achieve this goal, but when this fantastic ecosystem started to disappear, Meg needed to act quickly.

Meg Lowman was always fascinated by the natural world above her head. The colors, the branches, and, most of all, the leaves and mysterious organisms living there. As a scientist, Meg set out to climb up and investigate the rain forest tree canopies– and to be the first scientist to do so. But she encountered challenge after challenge. Male teachers would not let her into their classrooms, the high canopy was difficult to get to, and worst of all, people were logging and clearing the forests. Meg never gave up or gave in. She studied, invented, and persevered, not only creating a future for herself as a scientist, but making sure that the rainforests had a future as well. Working closely with Meg Lowman, author Heather Lang and artist Jana Christy beautifully capture Meg’s world in the treetops.

About the Creators: 

Heather Lang loves to write about real women who overcame extraordinary obstacles and never gave up on their dreams. Her award-winning picture book biographies include Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine.

Jana Christy currently lives in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts. She is the illustrator of various titles, including I’m the Big One Now!: Poems about Growing Up. Visit janachristy.wixsite.com/illustrations.

Review: Heather Lang does an amazing job of the layering in this book ensuring to include many different aspects of Margaret (Meg) Lowman’s life including her passion for the environment, challenges of being a woman in the sciences in 1970s and the barriers that came with the institutional sexism, and someone wanting to be innovative yet being shut down left and right.

The narrative of the story is written in beautiful verses mixed with direct quotes from Lowman and extra side bar notes that includes facts and information that help drive the biography. And finally the illustrations, filled with vibrant blues and greens, bring the story and setting to life for the reader.

The back matter includes an author note sharing about Lang’s interest in Lowman and about meeting and interviewing her, and it includes photos of Lowman and Lang! This shows the reader Lang’s research methods and how the quote throughout the book are primary sources.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: 

Publisher-provided Educator Guide:

Flagged Passages: 

View two spreads from the book by visiting the publisher’s page:

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Love: Marjory Saves the Everglades by Sandra Neil Wallace, The Blue Giant by Katie Cottle, Over and Under series by Kate Messner, Swimming with Sharks by Heather Lang, Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell, The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino, The Tree Lady by Joseph H. Hopkins

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**Thank you to Boyds Mills & Kane for providing a copy for review and giveaway!**

Authors Interview with Philippe Cousteau and Austin Aslan, Authors of The Endangereds

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The Endangereds
Authors: Philippe Cousteau and Austin Aslan
Published September 29th, 2020 by HarperCollins

Summary: It’s time for animals to take fate into their own paws! The Endangereds is the first book in a thrilling new adventure series by world-renowned environmentalist and Emmy-nominated host of Xploration Awesome Planet Philippe Cousteau and award-winning TURBO Racers author Austin Aslan.

Innocent animals are in trouble: temperatures are climbing, tides are rising, and nature is suffering. Someone needs to step in to rescue animals from extinction. Someone needs to turn this mess around, before it’s too late.

And that someone is . . . the Endangereds, the unlikeliest heroes you’ll ever meet—a superstrong polar bear, a pangolin with a genius for engineering, an extremely sarcastic narwhal, and an orangutan with a big dream.

Together, these four daredevils are determined to save endangered species across the globe, no matter what the risk. Rappelling into an underground cavern to save the day? No problem. Looping video footage to sneak through buildings unnoticed? Got it covered. Opening a doorknob? Okay, pretty hard without thumbs. But don’t worry. No matter what it takes, the Endangereds will get the job done.

But when two of their friends get kidnapped by a villain with a dastardly agenda, the team finds themselves up to their snouts in trouble. Can the Endangereds save the day? Or will this villain put humans and animals alike on the extinction list?

The A-Team meets the animal kingdom in the first book in the thrilling new adventure series from the host of Xploration Awesome Planet Philippe Cousteau and award-winning author Austin Aslan.

About the Authors: 

Philippe Cousteau is a multi-Emmy-nominated TV host, author, speaker, and social entrepreneur.  He has hosted numerous TV programs for Discovery, BBC, CNN, Travel Channel and more.  Currently he is the host of the syndicated television show Xploration Awesome Planet and producer/narrator of a new Virtual Reality experience Drop in the Ocean.  Philippe is the author of several award-winning books and is a sought-after speaker having keynoted events for the United Nations, Harvard University, and more. In 2004 he founded EarthEcho International; the leading environmental education organization dedicated to inspiring youth to take action for a sustainable planet. Philippe and his wife, fellow explorer and TV host Ashlan Gorse-Cousteau, reside in Los Angeles.

Austin Aslan is the author of the TURBO Racers series and the Islands at the End of the World series. A National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, he can often be found camping in a tent on a punctured air mattress. In other lives, Austin drove ambulances way too fast, served as an ecotourism Peace Corps volunteer in a Honduran cloud forest, and managed a variety of campaigns. He lives in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Interview: 

Philippe Cousteau is a world-renowned environmental advocate, filmmaker and explorer. Austin Aslan’s debut novel, The Islands at the End of the World, was named a Best Book of 2014 by Kirkus Reviews. It was ranked by The Guardian as a top-ten climate fiction read. Together, they’re the authors of The Endangereds, the first book in a new science-backed, high action middle grade series.

AUSTIN: Philippe, it’s always an honor to wrap back around with you to discuss The Endangereds! The collaborative process of writing the first two books in the series has been a career highlight for me and a wonderful, thrilling ride. It’s great to be here with you on the Unleashing Readers blog for this guest Q&A. Readers should know that we both thought it would be fun to engage in a bit of a back-and-forth with each other to share with you some of the insights we’ve gathered along the way. Philippe, I’ll go ahead and get us started with a question about the “sausage-making” process for designing an action-packed book that intentionally includes some educational components, as well as a message or two. I’ve heard you repeat in the past that your grandfather always used to say to you, “Before we can talk about the environment, we must talk about education.” That sounds totally on point to me! But I’m curious, tell us more about your vision for this series as a mix of swashbuckling entertainment and environmental activism.

PHILIPPE: That’s a good question as the idea of creating a book that is first and foremost fun and exciting but also educational has been the central driving challenge of The Endangereds. For several years through my non-profit EarthEcho International, we have focused on education, channeling my grandfather’s advice to me, but we realized pretty early on that we couldn’t just focus on education in the traditional sense.  We also have to find ways of reaching people through other means. I have always been interested in fiction and how we can leverage fictional stories to tell important truths like the fact that biodiversity on earth is declining and hundreds of species go extinct every year.  The Endangereds was our way to do that because we know that young people are already interested in animals and that many of them are also clued in to the problems nature faces today but what they need is some inspiration to get them engaging in actively solving the problems we face. What better way to do that then create a team of inspiring heroes who are overcoming adversity to solve problems and help nature?

AUSTIN: I’ll never forget that first moment when I was approached by you and our editor about teaming up to make this idea a reality. The concept just sparkled for me, right away. I was electrified. I know my mind raced with ideas. The connection to the A-Team was obvious from the title alone. But you and our editor, David Linker at HarperCollins, had already zeroed in on the four main characters (and one of them shared a name with an A-Team member): A polar bear, an orangutan, a narwhal, and a pangolin! What a fabulous line up. What inspired this particular combination of species, do you think? I’ll say that I particularly gravitated toward the idea of including the narwhal, named Murdock. What’s not to like about narwhals? Also: from the “sausage-making” angle, I personally loved the challenge of including a two-ton marine mammal as part of the team. The possibilities and the potential humor of it fascinated me. And indeed, Murdock turned out to be one of my favorite characters. So, why these four animals in particular, and not, say, the lion, giraffe, hippo, and zebra from the Madagascar movies, if you know what I mean? Oh, also: I grew up watching the A-Team, and I believe you did too. What’s the role of our generation’s nostalgia for 80’s entertainment in The Endangereds’ success?

PHILIPPE: Good questions, as we were coming up with the animals I wanted to focus on some that where familiar, like a Polar Bear and mix in some that were not so familiar, like a Pangolin, as a way to provide comfort to readers but also introduce them to a new species.  Pangolins are arguably one of the most endangered animals on earth, and they are just cool looking with their claws, scales, and powerful tail.  I also chose Arief because of an experience I had filming with CNN about 6 years ago in Sumatra at an Orangutan rehabilitation facility.  They take Orangutans that have been illegally caught and sold into the pet trade and re-introduce them into the wild.  Orangutans are also highly endangered, especially Sumatran ones, and so I wanted to tell that story, and of course, like you said, Narwhals are just cool!  Because this book has a purpose—to entertain and educate—we really wanted to be able to highlight animals that could embody the main issues facing endangered species, like habitat loss, illegal wildlife trade, climate change etc.  As for the A-Team, as you’ll attest Austin, we agreed early on that we wanted to have some easter eggs for the adults who might be reading this book to their children to enjoy and who doesn’t like the A-Team?

AUSTIN: Did I say Murdock the narwhal was “one” of my favorites? They’re all my favorites! Seriously, I even love the mystery animal villains we’re crafting for the series. Without giving too much away, I wanted to spend a minute talking about who the “bad guys” are in these stories. While the world’s present biodiversity threats are mostly human-caused, I think it’s too easy and too obvious, from a storytelling perspective, to just throw humans under the bus all the time. The reality is that a lot of people care about biodiversity and would join the Endangereds in their missions if they could. The rancher in the Four Corners area where our first book takes place, for example, isn’t the nefarious environmental destructor he’s taken for at first. He may even prove to be an ally to the black-footed ferrets our E-Team is deployed to protect! Philippe, can you say a few words about the buzz-term of environmental justice, and how important that concept is to understand in terms of our collective ability to arrive at real solutions?

PHILIPPE: I remember our long conversations about this, and our agreement that, as you said, it would be too easy to make humans the villains.  A theme that I really love in the series is one of balance; Arief, the Orangutan leader, talks about it a lot. The idea that the Endangereds exist because the world is out of balance, and since the Endangereds are really a proxy for humanity, diving into this world was really important.  But we didn’t want to make shallow evil characters; in a way, we wanted to be able to sympathize with them a little bit, they have motivations that aren’t hard to understand, they have been wronged like the E-Team, but have taken a different path. For me, it’s a metaphor for the choices we make as people—do we want to be positive and solve problems or be negative and cause them. Obviously, our message to youth is that the best way forward is to work together to solve problems. Austin, I know we are wrapping this up but before we do, I have a question for you.  What was the biggest challenge in writing this book and how did you overcome it?

AUSTIN: In terms of “sausage making” there were several challenges, as with any book. But I find that a story’s biggest potential rewards lie where the difficulties are. That’s where things get interesting…and fun! But rather than dwell on the craft elements that kept me up at night while drafting, I’d like to focus on the challenge of overcoming doubt and allowing myself to feel worthy of the aspirations of this series—and our partnership. We’re out to save the world, after all, through inspiring a new generation of environmental stewards to take up the mantle of a great cause. That’s a tall order. It feels like a lot of responsibility! Was I out of my league? Should I have stepped aside?

I think we all struggle with “impostor syndrome” in our various professions. The key breakthrough is realizing that, in this life, we’re all in it together! And that we’re all human and that means we’re each a package-deal full of talent and shortcomings. If we each defer to someone in the shadows to eventually come forward and do the work that needs to be done…none of us will ever get anywhere. And that’s one of the core messages of the book, ironically! Our animal heroes aren’t demigods. They’re not perfect angels sent from on high. They’re flawed, they’re uncertain, they’re scared. But they’re the ones who came forward and answered the call. I think that’s what kids need to take away most of all, and I like to think that we’re practicing what we preach by putting ourselves out there to pull these stories off.

That’s enough out of me (for now)! Philippe, any closing thoughts?

PHILIPPE: I think you said it perfectly. I just want to add that as part of The Endangereds, we have partnered with my non-profit EarthEcho International, World Wildlife Fund, and Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants to offer several live webinars where I will sit down with experts who work every day to protect these animals in the wild. Young people who join us will have a chance to ask me and the experts questions and hear stories about what wildlife conservation is like in the real world.  Go to www.TheEndangereds.com to register for FREE to join us.

Thank you, Phillipe and Austin, for being a guest on Unleashing Readers! Your focus on environmentalism is so important, and we are so glad that this book is out there for kids!

The Blue Giant by Katie Cottle

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The Blue Giant
Author & Illustrator: Katie Cottle
Published May 26th, 2020 by Pavilion Books Ltd.

Summary: A poignant and timely picture book introducing children to the issue of ocean pollution, with ideas to help the world become a better, cleaner place.

Coral and her mom are enjoying a break at the seaside. Until a creature emerges from the waves! It’s a giant. A blue giant. It is made of water, fish, and sea plants and has a stirring plea to help clean up the ocean.

Coral and her mom agree to help, donning their scuba-diving outfits and setting off to sea. But they can’t do it alone…can they?

This stunning follow-up to Katie Cottle’s debut picture book The Green Giant is another entertaining and beautiful eco-tale from the 2017 winner of the Batsford Prize. It introduces children to the issues of pollution, waste management, and the oceans, with suggestions of lifestyle changes to help clean up our seas.

About the Author: Katie Cottle is an illustrator and printmaker living and working in Bristol, U.K. Her work is often informed by the marks and colors created through traditional lithography. She also works digitally, using an iPad, and occasionally paints with gouache. The Blue Giant is her second book, following on from The Green Giant.

Review: Katie Cottle has caught onto something big with the format of this and her Green Giant book: it truly brings our environment to life and shows the harm that we are doing to it. The anthropomorphism of the ocean makes it even easier to connect to it as an entity as it shows how we are hurting it, and it shows what Meera DOES to try to reverse the effects we’ve caused.

In addition to the theme and story, I also really liked the illustrations. The author’s use of line is used expertly to show movement, and I loved all of the colors to really bring the story to life.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is perfect for any discussion of water pollution and the environment. It shows a problem, a potential soultion, and hope for the future. It also specifically talks about single-use plastics which may be a new topic for many students.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is something you can do to help the ocean?
  • What does Meera do to help the ocean?
  • How does our actions effect the ocean?
  • What is an animal that is effected by our pollution?
  • What is a single-use plastic that you use that you could replace?
  • What was the author’s purpose in writing this book?
  • Why did the author give the ocean a voice in the book?

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Read This If You Love: Learning about the environment

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**Thank you to Media Master Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

Author Guest Post: “Environmental Science Activities for Kids” by Donna Latham, Author of Biomes: Discover the Earth’s Ecosystems with Environmental Science Activities for Kids

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“Environmental Science Activities for Kids”

We can all agree that Earth is a pretty amazing planet. We’ve got oceans, rainforests, icebergs, and a huge range of diverse species living all over the place!

Earth is amazing, and it’s also enormous. It can be easy to forget and hard to imagine just how much area there is and how many organisms share it. One way that makes it easier is to think of the planet as a whole system and imagine it as being sectioned into different biomes. That’s what I did when I set out to write a book about what it’s like to live on Planet Earth. By taking a tour of the earth’s different biomes, we can see how interconnected all species actually are and how important it is to take of the environment where you live—because whatever happens to the land, water, and air where you are will have repercussions elsewhere in the world.

In Biomes: Discover the Earth’s Ecosystems with Environmental Science Activities for Kids, I focused on nine biomes: deciduous forests, coniferous forests, tropical rainforests, deserts, temperate grasslands, tropical savannas, tundra, mountains, and oceans. Each one had an entire ecosystem to discover and explore, along with distinct species that had adapted specifically to their environment.

Inviting children along the journey is especially important. Climate change is no longer a slow-moving, far-away issue. Intense storms, rising sea levels, and altered seasons are all readily apparent in ways they didn’t use to be, and children are noticing and asking what they can do to be of service to the planet and help keep it healthy.

So, fasten your helmet as we get ready to embark on a bumpy ride around the world on a tour of the nine biomes! Our first stop is some super cool projects designed to get kids thinking about the environment and their role in its care.

MAKE RECYCLED PAPER

This activity is pretty messy! Be sure to do it outside if possible! You can use your homemade paper to take notes or send letters to friends about your biome discoveries.

Caution: Have an adult help with the blender.

Rip scrap paper into teeny pieces. Place about 1/2 cup of it into a blender. Pour about 2 cups of hot water over the paper. Repeat this process until the blender is halfway full. Cover the blender and set it at a low speed. Mix the paper and water until it reaches a pulpy consistency. If the blender gets sluggish, add a bit more water.

Carefully take the pulp outside. Spread newspaper on a flat surface, and place a towel or rag over it. Set it aside for a moment.

Place a window screen in a pan or on a baking sheet. Pour the pulp over the window screen. Wiggle the screen back and forth until the pulp coats it. Gently lift the screen from the pan or sheet, and allow any excess pulp to drip off.

Set the screen on top of the towel and newspaper. Keep the screen’s pulpy side up. Layer a second towel or rag and more newspaper on top of the screen, creating a sandwich. Use a rolling pin or other tool to press on the sandwich from one end to another until you’ve wrung out all the water.

Spread out a third towel or rag in a warm, dry spot, and carefully place the sandwich on top of it. Allow it to dry for 24 hours. If you live in a humid place, it will probably require more time.

When the paper is completely dry, peel the newspaper and towels away. You’ve got homemade paper!

Think About It:

  • How might this method of recycling paper into new paper work for large amounts of paper?
  • Could a factory use this process?
  • What are some ways companies could change this process so they could work with recycled paper from an entire school?

SALT AND SEED GERMINATION

During periods of drought, soil becomes salty. How does salt concentration in soil impact seed germination? Sprout radish seeds to find out!

Use three plastic deli tubs of the same size. Individually label the tubs, each with a different solution identifier: Solution 1: 1 Teaspoon; Solution 2: 2 Teaspoons; Solution 3: 3 Teaspoons.

Place a piece of paper towel or coffee filter at the bottom of each container. Sprinkle quick-sprouting radish seeds over each piece. Label three plastic cups to match the solution identifiers of each deli tub.

Prepare the solutions. Pour 1 cup of distilled water into each plastic cup. In the Solution 1 cup, add 1 teaspoon of salt. In the Solution 2 cup, add 2 teaspoons. In the Solution 3 cup, add 3 teaspoons. Stir to thoroughly dissolve the salt.

Use an eyedropper to add a small amount of each solution to its corresponding container. Make sure you completely wet each paper towel or coffee filter, but don’t drench it. Cover each container with a piece of clingwrap.

Predict what will happen over a two-week period as you tend the seeds. How will different salt solutions impact seed germination? How will the solutions affect seedlings as they begin to grow?

Place the containers in the same location, where they can receive sunlight undisturbed. Monitor the seeds each day. Write down your observations. Add more solution to each corresponding plant. After two weeks, assess and analyze your results. What are your findings about soil content’s impact on germination and growth?

Think About It:

  • What do your conclusions mean for large-scale agriculture?
  • What happens when entire farms have soil that becomes too salty?

TEST YOUR AIR QUALITY

Arctic haze is a certain kind of polar air mass. Chock-full of chemical pollutants from Canada, Eurasia, and the United States, this reddish-brown smog sometimes hangs over Alaska, creating poor air quality. What’s the air quality like where you live? Conduct this test to find out.

Choose four separate areas, both indoors and outdoors, to test the air. Indoors, you might select  your kitchen, and outdoors, target a bush or shrub.

Label one index card for each location. Your labels should match those in your science journal. Use a craft stick to spread petroleum jelly over the cards. Leave each card in a safe spot in its target area. Wait 8 hours.

To collect data, visit each location and gather its card. Use a magnifying glass to study each sample. Do you observe any particles? What color are they? Can you identify what they are? Record your findings in a notebook.

While you’re at each location, use your senses to take in your surroundings. In your journal, write your observations of the area on the correct page. Can you smell anything? Does the air feel dusty or damp? Do you see blowing sand or plant parts? Is there cigarette smoke, industrial emissions, or road construction that are affecting air quality?

Place each sample in a row. Use the magnifying glass to compare and contrast each card. Which sample is the cleanest? The dirtiest? What conclusions can you draw about the air quality?

Think About It:

  • Saharan sunsets occur when gigantic dust clouds from Africa’s Sahara Desert travel thousands of miles across the globe. These produce hazy skies, hotter temperatures, allergies—and beautiful sunsets.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What type of biome do you live in?
  • How does Earth sustain life?
  • How are food chains essential to life on Earth?
  • How are living things adapted for life in the coniferous forest?
  • Why are tropical rainforests called “the lungs of the planet?”
  • What changes will occur if the desert continues to be Earth’s fastest growing biome?
  • How are grasses and hooved animals adapted to thrive in wide-open spaces?
  • What happens when ecosystems change?
  • In the interconnected web of life, how do warming temperatures in the Arctic impact the planet?
  • What makes mountains different from other biomes?
  • How does ocean depth impact biodiversity?
  • What have you discovered about Earth’s vast interconnections?

More classroom resources can be found at https://nomadpress.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Biomes-Classroom-Guide.pdf.

Biomes: Discover the Earth’s Ecosystems with Environmental Science Activities for Kids
Author: Donna Lathan
Illustrator: Tom Casteel
Published March 5th, 2019 by Nomad Press

About the Book: What’s the difference between a desert and a rain forest? A tundra and a coniferous forest? These are all examples of biomes, and they are all home to plants and animals that are uniquely adapted to live in those environments!

In Biomes: Discover the Earth’s Ecosystems with Science Activities for Kids, middle school kids journey across the planet and visit the world’s nine terrestrial and aquatic biomes to learn about the distinctive climates, geologies, resources, and organisms that can be found there. Kids will wander through forests, sizzle in deserts, shiver in the tundra, slog through marshy waters, and plunge beneath the seas to explore coral reefs. Along the way, readers will encounter the flora and fauna adapted for survival in each unique climate zone. They’ll learn about gnarly krumholz trees, bioluminescent sea creatures, camouflage, carnivorous plants, and blubbery marine critters.

The health and wellbeing of the world’s biomes are an essential part of the balance of the planet as a whole. Biomes and their inhabitants around the world are being threatened by climate change and human behavior. In Biomes, kids will learn how to take steps toward positive change and keep the environment healthy and functioning in a way that best supports sustainable life on Earth!

Biomes includes hands-on STEM activities and critical thinking exercises to encourage readers to consider threats to the environment and figure out ways to be part of the solution. Fun facts, links to online primary sources and other supplemental material, and essential questions take readers on an exploration of the biomes of Earth.

About the Author: Donna Latham is an award-winning author and playwright. She is the author of Amazing Biome Projects You Can Build YourselfBackyard Biology Investigate Habitats Outside Your Door With 25 ProjectsDeciduousForestsDesertsGarbage Investigate What Happens When You Throw It Out With 25 ProjectsNorah JonesOceansRespiration and PhotosynthesisSavannas and Grasslands, and Tundra. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Society of Midland Authors. She lives in Batavia, Illinois. Website: donnalatham.com

Thank you so much for this guest post about our amazing Earth and how it works!

Author Guest Post: “Celebrate Biodiversity: Life + Variety = Biodiversity” by Laura Perdew, Author of Biodiversity: Explore the Diversity of Life on Earth

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“Celebrate Biodiversity: Life + Variety = Biodiversity”

From smelly stinkhorn mushrooms to hardy tardigrades, and towering sequoia to soaring condors, and creepy anglerfish to the Hercules beetle, Earth is home to MILLIONS of known species of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and microorganisms of all shapes and sizes. Scientists estimate there could be millions (if not billions) more species that have not yet been identified.

Biodiversity is present everywhere on the planet including some pretty extreme places: near volcanoes, at the deepest parts of the ocean, in the sand, in hot springs and mud pots, in the ice, and even under the ice. And consider this – wherever you are at this moment you are in the company of hundreds or maybe even thousands of other species growing, squiggling, flying, reproducing, wriggling, feeding, and thriving.

Biodiversity: Explore the Diversity of Life on Earth explores genetic, species, and ecosystem biodiversity and how each species, no matter how large or how small, has a role to play. It is all CONNECTED. As John Muir once wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

These interconnections make our planet mighty, yet also fragile and vulnerable. Writing and researching Biodiversity gave me an increased appreciation for the amount, variety, and complexity of life on our planet. Unfortunately, I am also now even more aware of the many threats to biodiversity. The time for action is now. To quote Dr. Seuss, “Unless,” he wrote in The Lorax in 1971, “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

My hope is that the book will inspire wonder in kids and raise awareness.

Wonder leads to caring (hopefully a lot!).

And if kids care, they will act.

Starred review from Booklist:

“By book’s end, readers will truly understand what biodiversity is, its importance to the health of the planet, and humans’ impact on the complex natural systems where it thrives.”

Activity: Explore Biodiversity

To start the discussion about biodiversity, generate a list as a group of five examples of each of the following: plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and microorganisms. This list will ultimately spark conversations. Next, challenge students to research and discover one species of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and microorganisms they’ve never heard of. To generate even more interest, challenge them to find the most unique or bizarre species they can. Their findings can be shared in any number of formats, including a museum-style gallery walk, an online slide show, or a “show and tell.”

Questions for discussion:

  1. What are the similarities between the all plants discovered? What are the differences?
  2. What would happen if one of the animals students researched disappeared?
  3. What role do the fungi play in the ecosystem?
  4. Bacteria are often thought of as something to get rid of. What do you think the larger results of this might be?
  5. How do you feel about the microorganisms all around you?

Activity: Get Involved

There are many ways for students to get involved to support biodiversity. One is to protect or create new habitats.

Today, the populations of pollinators are in decline, especially butterflies and bees. Much of this is due to habitat loss and poisoning as a result of pesticide use in agriculture. To support pollinators, conservationists are encouraging people to plant pollinator gardens at home, work, school, and in the community.

Start by identifying a place where kids can plant a garden. If space is an issue, consider using a large pot or a planter outside a window because they will attract pollinators too! The next step is to research the types of pollinators in your area. Then research types of plants that these pollinators are attracted to. Try to find a variety of plants that flower throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Perhaps go talk to a local expert or invite one into the classroom. Draw plans for the gardens and plant in the spring. As the garden grows, record observations about the growth and about the species that visit the garden.

Questions for discussion:

  1. How many different species have you observed in your garden? Do certain pollinators like specific types of flowers?
  2. There is a lot going on above the soil. Did you ever consider what is going on below the soil? What kinds of species may be living there? Are they harmful to the garden or helpful?
  3. What would it take to launch a local effort to create pollinator gardens? Could you educate neighbors about planting their own gardens? Can you convince the school to set aside a larger area for a garden? How about in the community?

Activity: Celebrate Biodiversity!

Understanding and appreciating biodiversity are a critical part of the effort to protect it. Kids can play a key role in raising awareness about the threats to biodiversity. Have kids create a piece of visual art that celebrates biodiversity. It can celebrate the biodiversity around the world, just in your community, unseen biodiversity, or biodiversity in a single ecosystem. Each student should choose their own medium – painting, sculpture, collage, photograph, or whatever interests them. The goal is to create a piece that celebrates the variety and value of life on Earth, and to make others stop to think as well.

Consider places where the artwork can be displayed – in the school, community centers, churches, other gathering places, or even online. Invite family and friends to view the pieces. International Day for Biological Diversity is May 22, but, of course, you can celebrate any day.

Questions for discussion:

  1. As you worked on your piece, did you slow down and spend more time thinking about biodiversity?
  2. What was the reaction to the pieces from others?
  3. Have you been inspired to do even more to raise awareness of the issues facing biodiversity? What else can you do?

More teaching resources for Biodiversity at https://nomadpress.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Biodiversity-Classroom-Guide.pdf.

Biodiversity: Explore the Diversity of Life on Earth with Environmental Science Activities for Kids
Author: Laura Perdew
Illustrator: Tom Casteel
Published March 5th, 2019 by Nomad Press

About the Book: From the tallest tree to the smallest microbe, Earth is home to more than 1.5 million known species of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and microorganisms. And scientists estimate there could be millions, if not billions, more that have not yet been identified!

Biodiversity: Explore the Diversity of Life on Earth with Environmental Activities for Kids introduces middle schoolers to the evolution of life on Earth, beginning with the first single-celled organisms that emerged 3.8 billion years ago to the complex, multi-celled organisms that exist today and make up the tree of life. Biodiversity is found everywhere on the planet—on land, in the water, and even in extreme environments such as ice and volcanoes. There are actually entire microbiomes beneath our feet, in puddles, and even in our belly buttons!

Biodiversity includes hands-on STEM activities and critical thinking exercises to encourage readers to consider the threat to biodiversity and figure out ways to be part of the solution. Fun facts, links to online primary sources and other supplemental material, and essential questions take readers on an exploration of the incredible biodiversity on Earth.

About the Author: Laura Perdew is an author, writing consultant, and former middle school teacher. She has written more than 15 books for the education market on a wide range of subjects, including the animal rights movement, the history of the toilet, eating local, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. She is a long-time member of the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators. Laura lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Website: lauraperdew.com

Thank you, Laura, for this wonderful post about our amazing Earth!