Book List: Water, from snowflakes to African ponds

September 1, 2009

looking deeper
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There is an excellent article, “The Importance of Water to Human Life and to the Operation of the Human Body” where you learn that next to air, water is the most important element for life to survive.  Water is essential to the functioning of every cell in your body: 2/3 of your body weight is water, including 75% of your brain, 83% of your blood, 22% of your bones, 75% of your muscles, and 90% of your lungs.

Because water is such a broad and important topic, it is difficult to know where to begin.  I decided to approach water from an unusual perspective, so I chose a quote from Wilson A. (“Snowflake”) Bentley whose picture book biography Snowflake Bentley is featured on our book list this month:  “Of all the forms of water, the tiny six-pointed crystals of ice called snow, that form in such quantities within the clouds during storms, are incomparably the most beautiful and varied.”  And Snowflake Bentley should know:  he spent his life photographing snowflakes.

Bentley was born in 1865 in Vermont where he lived his entire life.  According to the award-winning author, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, Vermont, the heart of the “snowbelt” receives 120 inches of snowfall each winter. Although he had little formal education, Bentley had a microscope which he used to study flowers, raindrops, and grass – but most of all, he loved to look at snowflakes—and he never found two that were alike.

When Bentley was 16, he discovered a camera with its own microscope, and convinced his parents to spend their savings on the camera that cost as much as ten milk cows.

Nature's Geometry
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The next winter, Bentley unsuccessfully attempted to photograph snowflakes.  However, a year later he found a way to make it possible for everyone to see “the great beauty in a tiny crystal.”  Winters passed–some winters he could take only a few pictures, and some winters he was able to take hundreds.

Bentley gave speeches about snow and published pictures in magazines.  However, he never became rich because he spent his money on his pictures.  Ironically, after a long walk to photograph snowflakes, Snowflake Bentley died of pneumonia.

The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.  Snowflake Bentley won the Caldecott Medal in 1999.

I met author Jane Kurtz when the Museum opened the exhibit Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia.  Jane, the daughter of a missionary, grew up in Ethiopia, and many of her books provide insight into that country.  Jane and her brother Christopher wrote Water Hole Waiting, the simple story of life on the African savanna and the importance of water to life.

Tooth brush
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When morning arrives, the monkeys are ready to eat and drink.  However, mother monkey grabs her child’s paw to keep him away “from hippo’s yawning jaws,” as the hippos drink and swim in the water hole.  When the hippos leave, the monkey tries again to visit the water hole, but are held back because “the grazers” (including zebras) are running down the path.  But the zebras have to be careful, too; crocodiles are waiting for their breakfast!  Again, mother monkey holds her child back.  And so, the day at the water hole progresses from early morning until evening when the monkeys finally get to drink.

The Authors’ Note provides additional insight into life at a watering hole.  It appears that animals take turns with different species drinking at different times; however, during the dry time, different species may drink together. Children will understand when the Kurtzes explain, “…whether you’re a thirsty monkey hanging back while a lion drinks or a person hiding near a water hole hoping to spot a parade of animals, waiting is never easy.”

The large, colorful illustrations almost give an insight into the animals’ personalities—look at their eyes and expressions!  I am not sure I could last all day watching the water hole, but if the animals resemble the illustrations, I would certainly try.

Because I like the simplicity of the Kurtzes’ book, I also chose another on the same topic: The Water Hole by Graeme Base.  Base is an Australian author whose alliteration-filled alphabet book Animalia and picture book mystery The Eleventh Hour are favorites with teachers, children and parents.  The pages of all three books feature amazing borders to complement the incredible illustrations.

The Water Hole is a counting book that takes you around the world looking at animals and birds in their native habitats, all drinking at water holes.

One hippo is the first to drink at the shrinking water hole located in Africa.  Look beyond the hippo to find the giraffe, the lion, the chimpanzee, the impala, the cheetah, the elephant, the wildebeest, the crested crane and the leopard, all native to Africa, camouflaged in the background.  How do you know which animals to look for?  The border tells you!

Two tigers are visiting their ever-shrinking water hole in India, with ten animals camouflaged in their background.  The book proceeds through three toucans from South America, four snow leopards from the Himalayas, etc., completing the around the world journey with ten kangaroos in Australia, where the water hole has stopped shrinking because it is completely dry.

And, when the water hole dries up all the animals are forced to leave.  Later, it begins to rain.  (Look for a map of the world in the raindrops.)  And, what happens when the water hole fills up?  You know—everyone returns as animals and birds from every continent share one water hole.

Don’t forget:  Water is good for you and it’s cheap!  Drink up!

Authored By Susan Buck

After too many years in public education to count (as an English teacher and middle school librarian), I came to the Museum 4 years ago. My department’s focus is promoting field trips, and this is especially exciting for me because I see it as an opportunity to connect students with the wonders of science. My spare time is spent with my granddaughters Abbie, Elizabeth and Emma. When I ask, “What shall we do today?” they always answer, “Go to the Museum!”

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