Book List: The Amazon and Rainforests

Kayapo Mekragnoti headdressThe Museum currently has an exhibition titled Spirits and Headhunters: Vanishing Worlds of the Amazon, so this month’s books feature the rainforest and the Amazon. For over 40,000 years, people have lived in the rainforests, hunting, gathering food and raising vegetables in addition to using the tropical plants for medicine, without harming their environment.

Today, rainforests cover approximately 7% of the earth’s surface.  However, according to author Richard Platt, the rainforests are disappearing at the rate of an area the size of 16 tennis courts every second.  Platt continues to say that by preserving the rainforests we are safeguarding our health and the health of our planet.

Rainforest living up to its name
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Gail Gibbons has written innumerable nonfiction books for young children.  Her books provide easy to understand information with colorful, appealing illustrations. Although it is fifteen years old, Nature’s Green Umbrella is a wonderful explanation of the importance of rainforests to the people of the world and to the environment.

The book contains a simple map of the world so it is easy to see the location of the rainforests.  In addition, vocabulary words are provided so children can learn the appropriate terms that relate to “nature’s green umbrellas.”  You will learn about transpiration, an ecosystem, chlorophyll, emergents, a canopy, an understory, the forest floor, epiphytes, parasites, nutrients, leaf litter, leaching, selective cutting, extractive reserves, “greenhouse effect” and “slash and burn.”

The illustrations are simple drawings of the plants and animals in the rainforest.  Their interdependence is easy to comprehend as the cycle of life is explained in terms a child can understand.  Gibbons also provides a brief explanation of medicines, fruits and vegetables the rain forests of the world have provided.

When attempting to explain a nonfiction topic to a child, Gail Gibbons’ books are always a great place to start.

A very unique, more mature approach to investigating the rainforest is One Small Square: Tropical Rainforest by Donald Silver.  First, picture a transparent four-foot cube–four feet long, tall and wide.  “Place” this imaginary cube on the rainforest floor and picture the plants and creatures that could be found inside. In this layer of the rainforest you might find sloths, moths, hummingbirds, bats, boas, bloodsuckers, army ants, scorpions, Hercules beetles, roaches, spiders, lizards, worms, centipedes, lizards, wasps and more.

What lays beyond the fog?
Creative Commons License photo credit: Armando Maynez

Next, using the same four-foot transparent cube investigate one small square of the understory, one small square of the canopy and one small square of the emergent layer.  Doing this, you will become familiar with the layers of the rainforest and the plants, animals, insects, birds, etc. that might be found in each.

After the information is presented you will find a Match Game where children will match the plants, animals, insects, birds, etc. that are found in each layer of the rainforest to the appropriate layer.  You will also find colorful drawings of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, invertebrates, plants, funguses, monera and protists associated with the rainforest.

Gail Gibbons presents a basic introduction to the rain forest, and Donald Silver provides additional information for older children in a colorful, attractive book.  Choose the one that meets your needs.

Lynne Cherry wrote and illustrated The Shaman’s Apprentice based on a true story first written by Mark Plotkin.  When you open the book you see colorful illustrations of some of the useful plants from the rainforest, their uses and their English names if available.  Who knew you can use Tonka Beans or Custard Apples for fevers or Snakeweed for snake bites?

run forest, run!
Creative Commons License photo credit: mugley

The Shaman’s Apprentice is the story of Kamanya, a young boy who is sick, from the Tirio village of Kwamala.  The shaman goes into the forest to gather leaves, roots and bark and uses these to heal Kamanya who never forgets how the shaman saved his life.

Kamanya liked to follow the shaman into the rainforest and learn about the plants used for healing.  One day a man from another village came to tell the people of Kwamala about men who had come to his village carrying a disease that the shaman could not cure.  Some of the Kwamala tribesmen became sick or died.

Several months later, missionaries visit the village of Kwamala and give the tribesmen quinine to cure the “mystery” disease, malaria.  The missionaries changed life, and the shaman was no longer the most important person in the village because his medicine had failed and the missionaries’ medicine had succeeded.  Life continued for four years until the missionaries left.

Soon another stranger, named Gabriela, arrived in the village.  Gabriela came to study the healing properties of rainforest plants.  She told the tribesmen that the quinine had come from the bark of a tree–the shaman had been right after all!

Gabriela followed the shaman through the forest as she learned about the healing plants.  After several months she left, but returned each year to learn more from the shaman.

On one trip, Gabriela brought the tribe a book containing information about all the medicinal plants.  The chief thought the book was very important and decided that the shaman should teach Kamanya all he knew.  Gabriela knew that in her absence the shaman’s work would continue. So, Kamanya became the shaman’s apprentice, and when the shaman passed into the spirit world, Kamanya became the shaman who healed his people.

The Vanishing Rainforest by Richard Platt is the story of Remaema, a child of the Yanomami tribe and how the tribe adjusts to the coming of the nabe (white people) who, with the exception of Jane, want to destroy the forest.  As trees are destroyed the animals leave, and without animals there can be no forest and all will starve.

Rikomi is a member of the Yanomami tribe who works for the government, but has not forgotten the battles against the nabe.  Rikomi devises a plan to save the tribe and satisfy the nabe, too.  With the nabe’s money, the Yanomami could pay for education and better health care, and with the Yanomami’s help, the nabe could learn about the rainforest.  Readers know that the plan will succeed when the animals return to the forest.

Whether you choose a nonfiction book or a fiction book that tells a story, you will gain insight into this important, unique part of our planet.

Book List: Imaginary Places

Imaginary Places can be anywhere your imagination takes you—sometimes happy places, sometimes to the future or sometimes to worlds unknown.  Children know about the Wizard and the Land of Oz, some of the unusual characters Alice met when she fell down the rabbit hole or what happened when Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter Pevensie venture through the wardrobe into the land of Narnia where it is always winter but never Christmas. But one of the most popular imaginary places for children is Peter Pan’s Neverland.

TIPOYOCK LIFE PICTURE Tinkerbell PETER PAN
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James Barrie first published Peter Pan in the early 20th century, and the book remains a classic over one hundred years later.

All children are probably familiar with Peter, Wendy, John, and Michael Darling and their dog Nana.  Interestingly, all of these characters were based on real children and a real dog.  Three of the boys were named after three of the sons of Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies—Peter, John and Michael.  The name “Wendy” was first introduced in Peter Pan. A young girl named Margaret Henley called Barrie “Friendy,” but when she pronounced the name it came out “Fwendy”.  And, Nana, the Newfoundland, was inspired by a St. Bernard puppy Barrie and his wife Mary bought on their honeymoon in Switzerland.

Peter Pan is often referred to as the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up.  Is it possible the character was also based on Barrie’s brother Daniel, Barrie’s mother’s favorite, who died at age thirteen?  Barrie’s mother is said to have found comfort in the fact that Daniel would never grow up and leave her.  The first sentence of the book reads, “All children, except one, grow up.”  Hmmmm.

Peter Pan features the adventures the Darling children share in Neverland with Peter, Tinker Bell, Captain Hook, the pirates, the mermaids and the lost boys (who desperately want a mother.)

One of Barrie’s last wishes was for future royalties from Peter Pan be awarded to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London.  Seventy-two years after his death sick children in London continue to benefit from Barrie’s generosity, and children everywhere benefit from being exposed to this wonderful storyteller.

Children often fear being different, but reading The Araboolies of Liberty Street could help them understand that different often means unique, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  Liberty Street is an imaginary street where all the houses look alike—all painted white.  The children of Liberty Street would love to have fun, but when anything fun begins to happen General Pinch grabs his bullhorn and yells, “I’ll call in the army!”  So, Joy cannot hang upside down from a maple tree, Katie cannot creep around like a tiger and Jack cannot spin around until he becomes dizzy.  As you might imagine, Liberty Street is a very quiet street.

Then one day the Araboolies move next door to General Pinch.  There are dozens and dozens of Araboolies.  They have colorful skin that changes color each night and they glow in the dark!  The Araboolies paint their house with red and white zigzags and hang colored lights and toys everywhere.  They paint the sidewalk and pour sand on the grass. The Araboolies have lots of pets who live indoors while the Araboolies live and sleep outdoors—all in the same bed. 
When General Pinch threatens to call in the army, the Araboolies pay no attention because they do not speak English, so they have no idea what the general is yelling.

When Joy kicks a boolanoola ball through the Pinch’s window and hits General Pinch’s stomach, the general tells the army to attack Liberty Street at dawn and get rid of the house that is different. That night Joy devises a plan, and all the children of Liberty Street spring into action.  They spend the entire night decorating all the houses—except the Pinch’s house—to match the Araboolies’ house.

At dawn when the army comes to follow General Pinch’s orders, they waste little time in identifying the Pinches’ house as different.  They yank the house off its foundation and drag it far away.  The Pinches are never seen again, and you are left with the feeling that fun will now be allowed on Liberty Street.

On the adult level, this book is said to be a satire against a system which believes that the strong survive by bullying the weak. (General Pinch vs. the children.)  But through the Araboolies children learn about tolerance, fair play and even poetic justice, and the Araboolies are just plain fun.

The future is another imaginary place, and few futuristic stories for young adults are more compelling than Among the Hidden, the first in a seven book series, by Margaret Haddix Peterson.  In order to limit the growth of the population, the Population Police decree that families may only have two children.  The problem is that twelve-year-old Luke is a third child.  Luke’s family lives in a wooded area, and because of this Luke has been able to play outside.  However, when the government begins to develop the land near his house, Luke is confined to the attic.

Patience
Creative Commons License photo credit: Nicholas_T

One day Luke is carefully looking outside when he sees a shadow of a child in a window of a house that already has two children.  When he runs to the house he meets Jen, another third child. Jen plans a rally in support of third children, and it ends tragically when all the participants are killed.  Luckily for Luke, he had not attended.

Luke becomes friends with Jen’s father, George Talbot, a Population Police official who opposes the population law.  While they are talking the Population Police break into the house, and Luke is forced to hide in the closet.

When the police have gone, Luke wants to talk, but Mr. Talbot motions for him to remain silent.  He writes a note saying that the Population Police have placed listening devices around the house and are listening for evidence.

Mr. Talbot is able to provide Luke with a fake I.D. to make it possible for him to live as a real person, but this identity comes at a huge cost for Luke and his family.

This is a great book to read and discuss such issues as population growth, the allocation of the world’s resources, the distribution of agricultural products, the right to privacy, censorship and the use of propaganda.

Among the Hidden is the first in the Shadow Children series.  Other titles in the series are Among the Imposters, Among the Betrayed, Among the Barons, Among the Brave, Among the Enemy and Among the Free.  On the journey from Among the Hidden to Among the Free, readers watch Luke adjust, change and grow.  This is a trip worth taking.

Book List: Water, from snowflakes to African ponds

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!

Book List: Mythical Creatures

The sense of wonder is alive in children, and that may be the reason children love books about mythical creatures– unicorns, dragons, monsters, etc.  The pages of books are the perfect, safe places for these creatures to come to life.

When I began considering books to write about one title jumped out at me:  The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster a Tale of Picky Eating by A. W. Flaherty.  The reason is simple.  My granddaughter Abbie believes cereal, chicken nuggets, Pop Tarts, Cheetos, peanut butter crackers and a few other items make a wonderful diet.  I hoped this book would help me discover a way to get Abbie out of her rut, but it did not.  However, not for the reason you might expect.

Katerina-Elizabeth is a young girl who takes an ocean liner to visit her grandmother in Scotland.  Traveling alone, Katerina-Elizabeth discovers that her parents have ordered oatmeal for her every day.  Hating oatmeal, Katerina-Elizabeth tosses it out the porthole.  A sea worm “no bigger around than a thread and no longer than your thumbnail” thinks the oatmeal is a lovely treat.  You guessed it….Katerina-Elizabeth continues to throw her oatmeal overboard each morning, and the sea worm, growing constantly, follows the boat to get his breakfast. 

When the boat reaches Scotland it continues up the River Ness to Loch Ness and the worm follows.  Luckily for the worm, the children of Scotland do not like oatmeal either, and they also throw their breakfast in the water.

Several months later, a child spots the worm and calls it a monster.  Looking at his reflection in the water, the worm sees how much he had changed.  Tourists begin flocking to Loch Ness to see “Nessie,” and when Katerina-Elizabeth is sailing home to America, the most famous “Nessie” sighting of all occurs. 

The author, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a teacher at Harvard Medical School is a picky eater, as is one of her twin daughters.  The other twin is, like Dr. Flaherty’s husband, a normal eater.  In a section called “The Science of It All,” Dr. Flaherty explains the difference between Supertasters, Nontasters and average tasters.  She says that picky eating is often genetic, and most picky eaters are Supertasters.  She even provides a simple test to see which kind of taster your child or you are. 

Although I loved this book, I did not learn ways to help Abbie become an adventurous eater. More importantly, I realized Abbie must be a Supertaster, so she is not likely to change.  I’ll just relax and enjoy her.

One of the most beautiful books about mythical creatures is Pegasus by Marianna Mayer and illustrated by K. Y. Craft. 

Rainy Day
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Pegasusis the story of the young hero Bellerophon and his quest. The king of Lycia has been instructed by King Proetusto kill Bellerophon, but the king of Lycia is fond of Bellerophon.  Rather than kill the young man outright, the king of Lycia devises a task which would inevitably lead to Bellerophon’s death.  Bellerophon is to slay the Chimera, a fire-breathing monster with the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a serpent.

Before beginning his journey Bellerophon consults a well-known soothsayer and is told that in order to be successful he would need the help of the winged, wild horse Pegasus.  As he is looking for Pegasus, Bellerophon falls asleep by the fountain Pirene.  In his sleep, a beautiful goddess appears to him and tells him of the importance of creating a bond of trust between the young hero and the winged horse.  Only with this bond will the slaying of the Chimera be possible.  Following the battle between the hero and the monster, Bellerophon marries the king of Lycia’s daughter.  However, the hero and the winged horse had forged a bond that neither would forget.

The illustrations in this book are exquisite.  Seeing the picture of Pegasus spreading his wings, you can almost feel the feathers and experience the horse rising into the sky.  The illustrations enhance the text to the extent that it is difficult to imagine one without the other.  The last page features the only round picture in the book, and it creates the feeling of gazing through a telescope at the constellation Pegasus in the night sky.  The illustration is both beautiful and thought-provoking.

Surely, unicorns are every young girl’s favorite mythical, magical creatures, and unicorns that fly are even better! Unicorn Races by Stephen J. Brooks features Abigail and her nightly journey to a forest to watch six unicorns race. 

Unicorn Dreams
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After being tucked in for the night Abigail gets up and puts on her princess dress, her princess shoes and waves her princess wand.  In a few minutes, the unicorn Lord William appears at Abigail’s window, and after she puts on her princess crown he flies her to the magical place where colored unicorns race and fairies and elves provide a feast sure to please any child—sundaes, cakes and cookies.  Following the feast, Lord William flies Abigail back to her room where she falls asleep dreaming of the next unicorn race.

The author Stephen Brooks is a former Federal Agent and “writes to comfort children.”  His books “provide enchanting worlds where children are safe to wander and explore.”  Linda Crockett’s illustrations bring this fantasy to life with beautiful colors and magic on each page.  Don’t just read the book—look closely at the illustrations for a special treat.

Let the wild rumpus start!
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Perhaps the best-known book about mythical characters is Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.  Max has been naughty and his mother sends him to his room with no dinner.  Alone in his room, a magical forest, the Land of the Wild Things, grows in his imagination.  Although Max becomes “King of All Wild Things” he is homesick and returns to his room where he finds his dinner waiting for him—still warm.

So whether you choose a book in the hopes of solving a dilemma like I did or just want your imagination to soar, these books are a great place to begin.  Enjoy!