Earth Day: A 51st Children’s Book for the List

23 Apr

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I’ve been doing a lot of posts on overviews of different types of book, but there’s been one book this week I’ve found myself carrying around and recommending to everyone that comes within a few feet of me.  Piggybacking on Robin’s post yesterday on children’s books, this is also a picture book.  I found it on our new books cart this week amongst many other earth and spring related titles.  The first time I read it, I got a little teary eyed.  It reminded me a bit of Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. I immediately started thinking of parents I might be able to foist this upon.

You Nest Here with Me is a sweet bedtime story by the wonderful Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.  Robin recommended Yolen’s Caldecott-winning Owl Moon in her post.  In Yolen’s new tale, a mother tells her child about all the places that birds live, in rock, ledges, tall trees and sandy dunes, but reminds the child that while the birds nest all those places, “You nest here with me.”  She goes on the explain that the mother birds keep their babies safe and teach them all they need to know until it’s time for them to leave, but until then, they stay in the nest with Mama Bird. I don’t even have kids and I almost need tissues just thinking about it.

At the end of the book, there’s a description of all the types of birds Yolen mentioned throughout.  The beautiful illustrations will introduce children to species of birds both familiar and strange and may spur a new generation of birdwatchers.

~April

Earth Day: 50 Children’s Books to Read on Earth Day

22 Apr

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There are many good reasons to sit down with a child and read a book with them. Children also benefit greatly from spending time in nature, specifically unstructured time to play freely. As adults we have a great opportunity to build literacy and help them forge or reinforce their connection with the natural world through reading.

Fortunately, there are many well written and beautifully illustrated earth conscious children’s books. At the beginning of April I started making a list of books that I wanted to feature here for Earth Day, and had no idea what I was getting into. After a few weeks of looking through the library, rifling my shelves and asking friends I had a long list, and it’s still growing. A handful of books fell into clear and concise categories; you will find them at the beginning of this list. All the ones that defied easy categorization are at the end.

Books About Animals

Animalia by Graeme Base

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Antlers Forever by Frances Bloxam and Jim Sollers

Bats at the Beach by Brian Lies

Blue Berries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

The Family of Earth by Schim Schimmel

Living Color by Steve Jenkins

Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

The Mixed Up Chameleon by Eric Carle

Mossy by Jan Brett

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Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr

The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer, Steve Johnson, and Lou Fancher

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

There’s a Hair in my Dirt! by Gary Larson and Edward Osborne Wilson

Ubiquitous by Joyce Sidman and Beckie Prange

Very Hairy Bear by Alice Schertle and Matt Phelan

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Books About Environmental Heroes

Life in the Ocean by Calire A. Nivola

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Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli and Kadir Nelson

Manfish by Jennifer Berne, Eric Puybaret

Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnel

Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor and Laura Beingessner

She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head by Kathryne Lasky and David Catrow

Books About Stewardship

The Earth and I by Frank Asch

Hawk I’m You’re Brother by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall

The Lorax by Doctor Suess

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Books About Specific Habitats or Places

The Desert is Theirs by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall

In a Small, Small, Pond by Denise Fleming

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Letting Swift River Go by Jane Yolen and Barbara Cooney

A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry

Song of the Water Boatman by Joyce Sidman and Becky Prange

Everything Else

All the Water in the World by George Elly Lyon, and Katherine Tillotson

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The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales by Dawn Casey and Anne Wilson

Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse

Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? by Carmela LaVigna Coyle, Theresa Howell, and Mike Gordon

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The Earth Book by Todd Parr

Flotsam by David Weisner

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstien

The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry

The Green Mother Goose by Jan Peck, David Davis and Carin Berger

One Well; The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss and Rosemary Woods

The Princesses I Know by Ayla Mae Wild

Re-Cycles by Michael Elsohn Ross and Gustav Moore

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Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost and Susan Jeffers

There Once was a Sky Full of Stars by Bob Crelin and Amie Ziner

A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry and Marc Simont

Water by Frank Asch

Where Do Mountains Come From, Momma? by Catherine Weyerhaeuser Morley

Where Once There Was a Wood by Denise Fleming

You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim

Happy Reading!

~Robin

Earth Day: Environmental Villains of Literature

21 Apr

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We’ve been exploring great books about people who love nature and want to protect the earth, but in any good story there’s also a villain.  It’s a cliche for any villain to say they want to destroy the world, but there are certain ones that are doing their best through environmental degradation.

Let’s take a break from the books and talk about three fictional characters that are the big bads of environmental destruction.

Serena Pemberton from Serena by Ron Rash – Serena is a cold-hearted killer.  She and her husband run a timber company in 1920s North Carolina, but let’s be honest, it’s Serena that calls the shots.  Nothing can stop her ambition to turn all the lumber in the Appalachia forests into pure profit.  One of her primary conflicts is with the real-life founders of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  In the midst of allowing her employees to work themselves literally to death harvesting logs for her lumber empire, she’s also nefariously blocking the preservation of the forest.  The book will be made into a movie this year, but all reviews suggest to avoid it.  Stick to the gothic environmental novel instead.

Saruman from The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien – If the hobbits are peace-loving, living-off-Middle Earth, nature-dwelling hippies, then Saruman is their antithesis.  He turns against the people he has sworn to protect and instead starts messing with nature by creating Uruk-hai and destroying the ents.  The scenes of underground smelting pits in the movies pretty much sums it up.  There are lots of images of the Industrial Revolution woven throughout the trilogy and Saruman is the best example of Tolkien’s criticisms of the era.

Kurtz from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – Like many of our villains, Kurtz is a representative of another entity.  In this case, he represents an ivory trading company.  In any analysis of Heart of Darkness, you’ll see Kurtz bandied about as the epitomization of European imperialism.  That imperialistic bent reflects his role in the subjugation of nature as well as people.  Kurtz uses his superior technology to secure the area’s resources at the expense of the local inhabitants.

The Once-ler from The Lorax by Dr. Seuss – The poor Once-ler will always be remembered for the destruction of the Truffula trees.  To be fair, he did allow his greed to destroy a pretty Utopian place and turn it into a polluted wasteland.  Unlike the other villains, he finds redemption at the end by turning over the last of the Truffula seeds to our young protagonist.  Let’s all hope this child with no horticultural experience manages to keep this one seed alive long enough to revive a whole species of trees.  I know if the Once-ler gave it to me, the Lorax wouldn’t be returning anytime soon.

There are hundreds more titles with even worse environmental villains.  I haven’t read much Dickens, but since my images of his novels are always populated with smokestacks and street urchins, I imagine he has some worthy contenders.  I also considered Captain Ahab from Moby Dick since he was on a one-man whale killing mission, but decided his anger was too targeted at a specific whale.  Michael Crichton (the author) almost made my list for his climate change-denying ways, but I felt too much guilt at including a real human being.

Who are your favorite (or least favorite) environmental villains?

~April

Earth Day: Overdressed (and a Refashion)

20 Apr

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A few months ago, Mara came to me with a dress she wanted to refashion. While we worked on the dress she kept starting sentences with the phrase “In this book I’m reading called Overdressed she talks about how (insert something we were working on) changed because….” After a few sessions of this I finally got the hint that Mara wanted me to read it. So I checked it out of the library, and it was great. I spent most of the book thinking that Jillian the ReFashionista would love it. Then I found myself reading about her in chapter eight! When Earth Day rolled around I knew I wanted Overdressed to be among the books we featured but it only seemed fair that I let Mara tell you about it since it all started with her.

~Robin

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I am honored that Robin has asked me to write a guest blog for Earth Day. She asked me specifically to write about a book I shared with her: Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline.

This book made me realize that my perception of clothes becoming cheaper and less well-made was not just “back in my day…” thinking and was actually true. Not only are the clothes in stores getting worse, but the world has totally changed for garment workers.

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But my edification is not why Robin asked me to write. It’s because this book, combined with Robin’s amazing creativity and sewing skills, inspired me to rework my Mom’s vintage blue velvet dress. Here is a before shot of me in the dress about 16 and a half years ago. (That toddler graduates this year!) The dress fit OK back then.

After reading Overdressed I realized that this was the perfect dress for a remake. It no longer fit, had seams rather than serged edges, and a long hem that I was happy to cut shorter. So I brought my dress to Robin’s house.

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At first she did not want to cut up a 1950’s cocktail dress, but then I started spouting from Overdressed. She was convinced, or, at least no longer quite as reticent. Then she found out it was my mom’s dress and then we had to go through it all again. I assured Robin that my mom would be impressed if we made it wearable, and besides, she gave it to me. It was mine now!

After a couple of weekend afternoons with Robin’s coaching, I had a brand-new dress with a shorter hem, shorter sleeves, and a stunning new back to go with my now short hair. I debuted it at a fundraiser for Mountain Crisis Services.

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When my mom saw the dress on Facebook she picked up the phone to tell me what a spectacular job Robin and I had done with the makeover. Thanks Mom!

I am now inspired to take one of my step-mom’s hand-me-downs and have Robin coach me through another makeover. This sort of sewing fits in with my Reduce-Reuse-Recycle (in that order) lifestyle.

I was bitten by the “makeover for clothes” bug several years ago when I came across Stephanie Girard’s Sweater Surgery: How to Make New Things From Old Sweaters (Domestic Arts for Crafty Girls) and have had fun reinventing sweaters as all sorts of new items. You may be able to get Sweater Surgery or Overdressed from your library. Because Earth Day is everyday!

~Mara

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Earth Day: Books in Nature

19 Apr

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This is not a nature book.  In fact, it’s not a book I would recommend to everyone.  You’ve probably seen at least one of the poems in the book.  Magic has been disseminated all over the internet, mostly without credit.  It took me a bit of digging the first time to figure out it was not by Shel Silverstein, but Bo Burham.  Burham is pretty similiar to Silverstein with his clever wordplay and irreverent humor.  Sometimes, though, it feels a bit like Burham is American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman channelling Silverstein.  So if you’re offended by things normal humans are offended by, I feel like I need to add a trigger warning for pretty much everything.

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Still, when Burham isn’t making his readers uncomfortable, he’s making them laugh out loud at his verbal dexterity and delighting them with his wit. So, if you don’t mind dodging a few jabs to find something great, pick up Egghead by Bo Burham.

~ April

P.S. I took these pictures in the park behind our library.  I had to fight a gaggle of birdwatchers in my path, but I love this part of the park.

Earth Day: The Lorax

18 Apr

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UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

-The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss-

(The photo is from last night’s Earth Day Family Night performance of The Lorax. Today is also Jr. Ranger Day. There are more events happening today, and it’s a fee free weekend in honor of Earth Day and National Park Week.)

~Robin

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Earth Day: Food Policy Non-Fiction by Fiction Authors

17 Apr

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When I started writing my post on food policy books I realized I had two books left to talk about, but I’d already gone on far longer than even I wanted to read.  So I saved them so I could talk about them a little more in depth.  Have you noticed I really like talking about food?  Especially food policy?  I also really like to eat.  And I like to see why other people eat the way they do.  These two books are by authors that normally write fiction, but obviously also spend a lot of time thinking about food.  They spend so much time that they both took a chunk of time out of their writing careers to publish non-fiction books on their food journeys.  I think that it’s because they write fiction, that these books are so enjoyable and interesting.  Even if you decide, as I did, that you couldn’t possibly model your diets off of theirs, their journeys into how various parts of the food system work and how those parts affect the earth, will make you a more mindful and informed eater.

I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close mostly on an airplane.  Considering how emotional I usually get on plane flights (I recall crying to Enya once), the story of a young boy whose father dies on September 11th was probably not a wise choice. Despite that, I loved Foer’s sensitivity and creative storytelling.  While you won’t find the alternative formatting in his nonfiction book, the ethos is certainly there.  In Eating Animals, Foer takes on factory farming.  In his novel Everything is Illuminated, the main character, also named Jonathan Safran Foer and also a vegetarian, goes to Ukraine and is humorously offered all sorts of animal products.  His family has never heard of a vegetarian before.  Foer tells almost the same story in non-fiction form in Eating Animals.  That’s when you know that the author has been working through these thoughts for some time.

Foer is pretty graphic when he talks about his visits to factory farms and commercial fisheries.  If you don’t like to read about animal mistreatment or canals of feces you should probably skip this book.  He’s a little more fervent in his views than the authors I mentioned in my previous post, but he still shines a light on a lot of practices that should be a problem for anyone who cares where their food comes from.  This is a book that covers all the reasons people might have to be vegan, from the animal welfare angle to the environmental aspects.  Even though it’s packed with so much information, Foer’s lyrical style makes it as gripping as any novel.

Barbara Kingsolver has written so many things that I should read, but haven’t.  We chose her book The Poisonwood Bible for our book club, but it was one of the few that I skipped.  I think I was just busy.  Or maybe reading Game of Thrones.  I don’t know.  Flight Behavior is one of the top books on any cli-fi list and most of her novels have a strong sense of place.  This is also very true in her non-fiction food experiment, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Kingsolver and her family move to a farm in Virginia and commit to eating only things they can grow themselves or source locally.  Each chapter covers a month.  Some months, as you can imagine, have much better menus than others.  Every time I eat asparagus I think of her celebration of the short growing season of the vegetable.  It seems like it must taste so much more delicious, not only because of its freshness, but because of its scarcity when it’s only eaten in season.

Unlike Foer, Kingsolver has no problem eating meat.  She describes in detail how her youngest daughter raises chickens and how the girl learns to be a savvy businesswoman between selling the eggs and the meat.  Even though I read the book a few years ago, her descriptions are so succulent that I can feel my mouth watering as I recall her forays into cheesemaking.  It was a struggle for her family to follow the guidelines and she knows this is not a realistic lifestyle.  She uses her experiment to discuss the differences between factory farming and big agriculture, and the locavore movement.  While her book doesn’t quite have the activist fervor of Foer, her gentle passion is just as motivating.

While approaching the food issue from very different angles and with their distinct styles, it’s evident that both authors use their expertise with fiction to bring life to their non-fiction.  If you’re looking for something that’s lest “just the facts ma’am” and more emotionally fulfilling, either of these books will provide satisfaction.

~April

Earth Day: Book Spine Poetry

16 Apr

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~Robin
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Earth Day: This Post Will Not Tell You What To Eat

15 Apr

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If you look at The New York Times Advice & How-To list, you’ll see a good percentage of that list populated by food books.  This week, five of the ten are cookbooks or diet books.  We love getting advice about how to eat – what to eat, what not to eat, how much of it, and so on.  Dr. Phil tells us that there are 20 key foods we should focus on while Trisha Yearwood says don’t sweat it, you only need to eat well 80% of the time.  The advice is confusing and contradicting.  It’s hard to ever feel like you’re eating properly…. and that’s just when we consider how food affects our bodies.

As you may have heard, our diet has a huge impact on the environment.  According to Anna Lappe’s Diet for a Hot Planet, our food system probably contributes to about one third of the world’s emissions.  “…[L]ivestock production alone is responsible for as much as 18 percent of the global warming effect.” (11)  Once you start reading facts like that, it’s kind of hard to ignore our food’s connection with our climate.  Lappe’s book is a good introduction to the ecology of the food system.  She isn’t really advocating for a single diet, just setting out the facts and talks about food politics on a much more systematic level, along with some guidelines at the end.

I also don’t advocate for any single diet change.  I don’t eat most meat because that’s something I feel like I can do to help the planet.  Robin doesn’t eat fish because of the impact it has on our oceans (and she can’t eat shellfish anyway so doesn’t know how delicious it is).  I like to think that between the two of us, we make a great vegetarian.  There are books out there that will tell you that unless you eat a certain way and feel guilty about every bite that is not local, water-conscious, or doesn’t have a mother (don’t all living things genetically have mothers?) you are an eco-failure.  I don’t believe that’s helpful to anyone.  That’s why I really like reading books about the food system a lot more than I like reading books telling me what to eat.  These authors pay more attention to how we eat and why than giving us a list of unbreakable rules.

The rock-star critic of the food system is, of course, Michael Pollan.  I finally got around to reading In Defense of Food when it was assigned to the freshman class of the university I was working for.  This is the book from which the best diet advice for both human and global health originated.  “Eat food.  Mostly plants.  Not too much.”  Talk about simple and non-judgemental.  Pretty much any diet, except maybe hardcore paleo, works with those parameters.  It’s always what I come back to when I get overwhelmed by people telling me to only eat acai on Tuesdays or binge eat for three days and then fast for two.  Side note, Michael Pollan is one of the most interesting people to follow on Facebook if you’re interested in all things edible.

Another food juggernaut is Mark Bittman.  I love him for his How to Cook Everything books which I’ll elaborate on in another post.  For this topic, though, I direct you to VB6, which stands for Vegan Before 6.  He eats a vegan diet for breakfast, lunch and snacks and then allows himself to eat whatever he wants at dinner.  Instead of choosing a very earth-friendly vegan diet or remembering to not eat meat on certain days, this way he significantly limits his meat intake while still enjoying all sorts of food.  I did try this technique myself, but found out I like dairy with pretty much every meal way more than I crave chicken. Bittman’s newest book, A Bone to Pick will compile his insightful articles on food politics.

Toward the end of Diet for a Hot Planet Lappe relates the story of a professor she was working with that followed all the green rules that we like to promote – use less water, don’t buy plastic bottles, recycle, bike to work…  That woman went to New York City, stood in Times Square, and looked at all the energy being used around her.  “In one minute of standing there,” she says, “more energy was used up than I had personally saved in my entire lifetime.”  We have all felt like this.  I recently read a statistic from Steven Johnson, author of How We Got To Now, on how even if everyone south of LA moved up to Oregon, it wouldn’t improve the drought as much as a 10% reduction in water use for crops in the Central Valley.  (source)  That makes cutting a few minutes off the shower feel much less virtuous.

So why should we read these books and take a stand by changing our diets? Recycling or using greener products are usually just a change in routine, but what you eat is attached to your health, identity and social life.  It’s a big deal to change your food habits, especially when you may wonder if it’s worth it.  The truth is, your single choice probably won’t do much.  It takes major institutional change to bring about the future we need.  However, that type of change doesn’t happen without individuals.  When you take a stance to purchase more locally grown, whole foods and less resource-intensive products, companies start to take notice.  They try their hardest to get you to do what they want with advertising, but if their customers want something new, they need to change or die.  They know it.  And if no one makes that change because they think it won’t matter, then nothing happens.  Being informed about our food system enables you to be a good consumer and make small changes that, when compounded, can have big results.

~ April

 

Earth Day: The World Without Us

14 Apr

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I can’t quite recall how The World Without Us wandered into my collection, but it has languished on my shelves for over a year while I was distracted by other books. When April and I agreed to do a literary themed Earth Day I decided to pick it up to see if I wanted to review it. Within a few pages I was totally sucked in. The giant stack of books flowing in from the library that I needed to look at for other Earth Day posts was ignored so I could finish it.

The central question of the book is brilliantly simple: “What would the world look like if humans disappeared?” The answer is surprisingly complex.

In trying to answer it Weisman takes the reader to some surprising and fascinating places. Through his descriptions we are transported across the globe and through time. From the subways and skyscrapers of New York to see how long our buildings would last, to our evolution in Africa to see what might replace us. We witness nature reclaiming abandoned cities in war torn Cyprus and explore the long lasting underground cities of Cappadocia. We learn about the lasting legacy of plastic, deep space probes, dioxins, nuclear waste, radio waves, and the world’s most interesting pile of sloth poop. It’s not always a happy-go-lucky journey, but it is fantastic. The book is well paced, and manages to be informative without information overload.

Hopefully I’ve raved about this book enough to make you want to read it. Make sure you learn from my mistake and put it at the top of your “to be read” pile.

~Robin

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~Robin

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