Friday 22 April 2016

Earth Day Green Reads for Children

What better way to celebrate world Earth Day than to head over to Kew Gardens in the height of its spring bloom, and furthermore to experience an incredible (and rather pungent) giant flower which only blossoms once every twenty years for 48 hours? With its plethora of environments housed in vast greenhouses, outdoor wildernesses, and arranged gardens; and sporting playgrounds, aquariums and discovery zones to explore, Kew is simply an amazing place to take children.We've been twice in the last couple of weeks, and barely covered a portion of its vast acreage.

For Earth Day I've selected a few great recent picture books for children to help them to think about their environment and particularly the host of precious animals sharing our planet. We'd love to hear about others you've found too. 

1. Where's the Elephant? by Barroux is a brilliant graphic exploration of the effects of deforestation. Illustrating the concept perfectly through almost entirely wordless pages, the impact of a simple search for three animals in a rapidly reducing habitat is immense. The child is invited to find the elephant, parrot and snake, who initially are tricky to find. Then their habitat is decreased and decreased until there is nothing left to hide them. And they leave. This is a deep and prophetic tale of the importance of saving our world before it is too late.

2. The Tree by Neal Layton, which will be published on 5th May, is an extremely simple and beautifully illustrated story about a pine, which hosts families of rabbits, birds, and squirrels. Happy together in their miniature ecosystem, their world is thrown into chaos when a couple of humans turn up with grand plans to build a mansion, requiring the removal of the grand old tree. However, as they start to chop, and nests tumble, rabbits scurry and their tears begin to flow, the couple realise that all can live together if they perhaps adapt their plans...

 3. Simon James' environmental classic Dear Greenpeace is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It is an adorable tale about a little girl Emily who writes to the organisation, seeking help for the whale who lives in her pond. Despite their continued responses that this phenomenon is impossible, and entreaties not to add salt to provide a saline environment, undeterred she continues to seek the best solutions for him before finally setting him free. It is an extremely cute, amusing and informative tale for little people.

4. Footpath Flowers by Jon Arno Lawson and Sydney Smith is another exquisite wordless book for children, conveying with simple images and colours, the importance of noticing the beauty in everyday unlikely places. Like the Man with the Violin (reviewed here), it is an ode to the wonder of childhood and the importance of seeing beauty in places others may not. On a walk with her father, a little girl gathers flowers that might otherwise be trampled as weeds (I'll just about forgive the authors for this gathering of wild flowers given their locations...) and with small acts of kindness, she transforms her surroundings and adds colour to everyone she meets. A grey world is metamorphosed into a floral paradise, all through the joy of a child.

5. I've been meaning to write about J. Roussen and E. Walkers' Beautiful Birds for a while. It is a simply stunning book on so many levels - it is a work of art in itself and a piece de resistance when it comes to original illustration and use of striking colour. It is also a clever ABC book (something Culturegrandma cannot resist), and an encyclopedia of the bird kingdom for enthusiasts of all ages. It is lyrical and rhyming and an original introduction for even the youngest child to a range of birds and some of their characteristics.

6. I adored the film Born Free as a child, and was delighted to discover that the actress Virginia McKenna was so moved by the whole experience that she and her husband Bill set up their own charity, Born Free, which aims to protect animals in the wild and rescue those in dangerous captivity. Chimp Rescue, a true story peppered with photographs, is one of a series of books produced by the charity to tell the stories of animals who have been saved and highlight the plight of others round the world. Chinoise is a young chimpanzee who was captured, sold and kept in a restaurant in a small cage - thirsty, sick and afraid. This challenging story, a read for older children, documents her tale and ultimate rescue, and also includes some great facts about that most intriguing of animals; the chimpanzee.

7. Tiny: The Invisible World of Microbes, by Nichola Davies and illustrated by Emily Sutton is a brilliant book on science. Introducing the complicated and seemingly incomprehensible world of microbes in a remarkably simple and elegant way, the genius of this book is that through explorations of scale, purpose and presenting the good, the bad and the ugly, children as young as four are able to understand the complexities of these powerful and tiny creatures. Children, very like the reader, discover that microbes help us to digest our food as well as (at times) making us sick. They turn food into compost, milk into yogurt, wear down cliffs and make snowflakes grow. With beautiful illustrations and gripping text, this was very much an "again" book from Culturebaby.

8. Finally, and with impeccable timing, a quirky book Pattern Play, dropped through the letterbox this week. It immediately gripped Culturebaby who is dying to cut out, fold and create the miniature models of a range of patterned animals. With sheets of beautiful marking designs and ideas around a range of methods from decoupage to papier mache, we've promised this will be tomorrow's activity for the little ladies.

Disclaimer: We received copies of these books from a number of publishers for review purposes. I only write about ones I really like - and all opinions are my own. As a family we recently bought annual membership to Kew Gardens are we are delighted with it so far!

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