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Five New Books Celebrate (and Teach About) Our Earth!

Five beautiful books -- all new since last Earth Day -- examine the relationship between man and nature.

Earth Day 1998 is a perfect time to take a look back at some of the most beautiful and interesting new children's books. This week, we examine five new books about man's relationship with Earth. Book Cover


Let's start with the simplest and most beautiful of books. ... But don't let simple fool you! ONE LESS FISH (Charlesbridge Publishing) is packed with information about the impact of humans on the world's coral reefs. The countdown begins on the first spread:

"Twelve gracious angelfish
thinking they're in heaven.
Along came the divers --
Now there are ... [turn the page] eleven.

Most visitors to the world's coral reefs are there to see and to photograph and to appreciate the beauty around them, we're told in tiny text under the illustration on the next page. But some spearfishers and scuba divers can't resist the temptation to capture or harm the reefs' inhabitants ... so now there are eleven.

On the facing page, we pick up the text ...

"Eleven cheeky snappers
racing 'round the bend.
One took a hook --
Now there are ...

So continues the countdown toward the day when there are no fish left in the coral reefs. But where have all the fish gone? Each rhyme and its accompanying descriptive text tell of another threat to reefs -- pesticides, plastic, oil spills, boat anchors, fishets, overfishing, and more.

As essential as the words are to conveying the book's important message, the highlight of ONE LESS FISH is its illustrations. Kim Michelle Toft's silk paintings shimmer across the pages. The rhyming text, written by Toft and Allan Sheather, entertains while educating about the devastating effects on the reefs of human carelessness.

Book CoverJAGUAR

Helen Cowcher has made a name for herself by publishing books about the struggle of humankind Vs. nature. Her award-winning books include Tigress (Parents' Choice Award) and Antarctica (NCSS-CBC Notable Children's Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies and NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children).

In her latest book, JAGUAR (Scholastic Press), we meet a hunter who has just discovered the tracks of a mighty jaguar. The hunter, fearing for his herd of cattle, sets off in search of the threatening predator. As the hunter stalks the jaguar, the jaguar -- itself a skillful hunter -- stalks its prey, a howler monkey. Finally the dramatic moment arrives, when man and beast meet. The hunter picks up his gun and aims it -- but he cannot shoot.

"Once, he recalls, the forests and vast plains used to hide many big cats and now there are few. Against our dogs and guns, they stood no chance. ... [The hunter] feels no regret. ... The land belongs to the jaguar as much as to him."

A sense of mysticism surrounds the hunter's transformation from killer to "coexister." That feeling might be difficult for young readers to grasp; Cowcher has included a page of notes to explain feelings the hunter might hold for JAGUAR.

Cowcher's illustrations are striking, practically hypnotizing. Most striking of all is the book's cover painting. Open the spread of the cover to reveal a full image of JAGUAR, stalking you from behind the leaves of a tree! A picture index of creatures seen in Cowcher's illustrations is also included.


A CLOSER LOOK AT THE RAINFOREST (Copper Beech Books) is a serious examination of the rainforest. Part social studies, part science, each of the book's spreads scrutinizes a rainforest-related issue. Author Selina Wood details the latest research and the well-known facts and figures as she dissects the rainforest, its life, its threats, and its potential. She takes a look at the native people of the rainforest, at the search for natural rainforest medicines that might be used to combat human ills, and at the rainforests' future.

Each spread is a busy blend of text, photos, and illustrations (including maps and diagrams); and provides students with a deeper understanding of the issues that threaten rainforests around the globe. A special epilogue provides tips for students who want to help ensure the survival of rainforest lands.


Every person and every plant and every animal requires water to live. But, for more than a quarter-million kinds of living things, water serves an additional purpose. Water is their home!

Author Sneed B. Collard III invites us all to jump into OUR WET WORLD (Charlesbridge Publishing), and to see the water habitats, or ecosystems, that are home to many species. "Put on your mask, snorkel, and flippers and dive in," Collard implores.

Collard, a marine biologist, has spent his life exploring rocky shores, seagrass meadows, mangrove swamps, and other wet places. Among the places he leads us to in OUR WET WORLD is a kelp forest off the coast of northern California. Here we gain an appreciation for the sheer strength of the brown kelp, and for its super-growing powers. (Brown kelp can grow up to 14 inches a day!) Sneed also shares information about the life cycle of the "underwater forest:"

The sea otter, a common inhabitant of this ecosystem, is much hated by fishers who fish the area for sea urchins -- one of the otters' primary food sources. But if it weren't for the sea otter there might be no brown kelp. The sea urchins might gobble it to extinction! Any one of the four -- the otters, sea urchins, kelp and fishers -- might not survive without the others!

Collard's valuable knowledge and descriptive text are enhanced by the handsome, lifelike illustrations of James M. Needham. Students will love examining the details of Needham's illustrations for the unusual sea life they might spot. See the pink tongue of the alligator swamp turtle! Can you find the mudskippers, as much at home in the water as they are on the land? Gaze at the blue "lips" of the three-foot-long giant sea clam! Amaze at the unique creatures found in the ocean's "twilight zone" -- creatures that make their own light! The beauty of nature shows through in Needham's fine illustrations!

Together, Collard and Needham transport readers from a Rocky Mountain stream to the deepest, darkest parts of the Pacific Ocean. Stop off at a midwestern pond; a salt marsh along the Massachusetts coast at low tide; a mangrove forest on the coast of Papua, New Guinea; a seagrass meadow off the coast of Florida; the Southern Ocean off the coast of Antarctica; and other places along the way. Don't miss out on this trip into OUR WET WORLD!


This tiny book carries a big message!

Award-winning author-illustrator Molly Bang introduces a simple parable at the start of her latest book, COMMON GROUND: THE WATER, EARTH, AND AIR WE SHARE (Blue Sky Press). The story turns back the clock to a time when sheep grazed on the "common ground" of a small village. As the village grew, so did the number of sheep. Soon, the common ground was overrun by sheep and new rules had to be introduced to control their numbers. Limiting the number of sheep to one per family, the village elders figured, would enable the sheep and the village people to coexist. For those in the village who didn't like the new rule, they could pick up and move to another place.

Turn the clock ahead a few hundred today. Times haven't changed much, Bang points out. We're still abusing our "common" resources. We're depleting our seas, forests, natural fuels, and water. But, today, there's one big difference. Unlike the villagers of 300 years ago, we can't just pick up and move. We've no place else to go! Making better use of our "common ground" is the only answer.

Bang's paintings have a flat, almost primitive feel to them. Their bright colors will appeal to young readers. She introduces each modern-day environmental issue with a painting that shows Earth as it was or is. Turn the page to reveal an illustration of Earth as it might be if we continue to abuse our COMMON GROUND: THE WATER, EARTH, AND AIR WE SHARE.

All of the books in this week's Education World BOOKS IN EDUCATION story are available at bookstores. If you are unable to locate a copy of a book, ask your bookseller to order one for you or contact the publisher:
ONE LESS FISH and OUR WET WORLD are published by Charlesbridge Publishing, 85 Main St., Watertown, MA 02172-4411 (phone 617-926-0329).
Common Ground: The Water, Earth and Air We Share is published by Blue Sky Press, an imprint of Scholastic Press, and JAGUAR is published by Scholastic Press, 555 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE RAINFOREST is published by Copper Beech Books, an imprint of The Millbrook Press, 2 Old Milford Road, Brookfield, CT 06804.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1998 Education World