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Whale in a Fishbowl by Troy Howell and illustrated by Richard Jones

A book about a whale in captivity who longs for the ocean, which she can see in the distance. The humans around her are oblivious to her suffering, except for one little girl, who tells her: “…you don’t belong in there. You belong in the sea.” This is a timely book with the recent Sea World controversy – their captive orca whales dying at an alarming rate and being confined in small spaces. I found the book to be really sad, but it does have an improbable happy ending – the whale leaps out of the tank and makes her way to the ocean riding on the waves from the overturned tank. Once in the ocean, she sings for the first time and also meets another whale. In real life, there is no escape for these animals unless humans realize their cruelty and set them free, but it makes the book more appropriate for children to have a happy ending while still teaching the important lesson that animals deserve to be free and don’t like captivity any better than a person would. This book can be a lesson to our children to make a difference for the better – to free the world’s captive animals and to make sure they have a home in the wild – keep the oceans clean, stop destroying the rain forests, stop clear cutting forests, address global climate change, curb human growth and expansion – in other words, share the earth with all the other creatures and respect the earth and all its life.

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The Weaver by Qian Shi

This is a beautiful and emotional story about a creative young spider named Stanley who likes to collect things in his web, such as twigs, seeds, leaves, and human objects he finds. But then rain and wind destroy his web and take everything away. Stanley feels desolate, having lost his possessions. But then he realizes that he hasn’t really lost them – he weaves a new web with images of the things he has lost and then he sets off in the wind to find a new adventure, with new things awaiting him. A simple lesson for children about accepting changes and being resilient, with lovely illustrations done in soft colors.

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Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

Set in a small town in Indiana in 1972, this is a comforting and gentle chapter book appropriate for primary grades about a 9-year-old girl named Flora. Flora is facing changes in her life: her beloved dog has recently died, her parents are separated, living in different houses, and she is starting fourth grade, which is very different from third grade. Over the course of the year, she adopts a cat, makes a new friend, and her parents get back together. There is no real conflict in the story and no swearing, violence, sex, or modern technology; it is just a sweet and simple story with a happy ending. Nothing bad really happens, except the death of Flora’s dog and that happens before the book begins and Flora comes to terms with his death, feeling that he will always be with her, and bonding with the cat she adopts. Though her parents separate, they never begin divorce proceedings and get back together and are happy again. The book has an old-fashioned feel to it, a la Beverly Cleary or Elizabeth Enright. It is a good choice when you are looking for a happy story – an ordinary girl with loving and supportive family and friends dealing with life’s changes – and this makes it appropriate for younger readers, though it is a chapter book and the main character is in fourth grade. I think older readers may be bored with it, though it is a lovely story; it is best suited to younger grades. A feel-good read about family and friendship and happy memories of your childhood hometown.

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The Honeybee by Kirsten Hall and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

This is a timely picture book about the lives of honeybees. This is an important book to share with children as honeybees are endangered due to colony collapse disorder, caused by chemicals used as pesticides. The book imparts important information about honeybees, but it is not dry because it is written in a lively and fun rhyming verse that will keep children’s attention. It also contains sunny illustrations done in lots of yellows and oranges.

The book explains how honeybees find flowers from which to gather nectar, the dance they perform to tell other bees in the hive where to find the nectar source, and how they make honey from the nectar, which they then use as a food source through the winter.

The final page lists more information about honeybees, their endangered status, the serious consequences to human food supplies if honeybees become extinct, and ways people can help save honeybees, which includes not using pesticides or other chemicals, which are the primary cause of the bee’s decline, planting flowers that bees feed on, allowing weeds and wildflowers to grow because they are an important source of food for bees, and lobbying your government officials to pass laws and regulations to help save honeybees.

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Albert’s Tree by Jenni Desmond

In this picture book, a young bear named Albert awakens from hibernation and goes to visit his favorite tree. However, something is wrong – the tree appears to be crying! Albert doesn’t understand. Along come some forest friends – a rabbit and a caribou, who offer ways to cheer up the tree, but they don’t work and the tree is still wailing. Finally, Albert decides that what the tree needs is a hug – he climbs the tree and wraps his bear paws around the trunk, asking, “Why are you crying, Tree?” The tree’s answer reveals the mix-up: it is a young owl in the tree who is crying because he’s afraid of “the big hairy monster.” Albert explains that there is no monster, just him, and Owl comes out. He and Albert play together and become friends, which makes Albert feel his tree is “twice as perfect as it had been before.” A sweet ending to an adorable story about friendship and not making assumptions about others. The illustrations add to the charm of the book: Albert is portrayed as cute and cuddly and there are beautiful, lush paintings of mountains and forest, suggesting a far North setting.

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Fur, Feather, Fin: All of Us Are Kin by Diane Lang and illustrated by Stephanie Laberis

This is an excellent informational picture book appropriate for pre-school and primary grades that explores our earth’s animal life. It is written in a fun, rhyming verse (“All animals on Earth are kin, while not the same outside or in.”) that conveys a lot of information and is beautifully illustrated.The book discusses the following classes of animals: mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, arthropods, and fish. It also discusses other water-dwelling animals outside of these classes and detritivores (“Detritovores, so oft forgotten, dine on things both dead and rotten.”) The book emphasizes how all the different creatures on earth have things in common with each other and depend upon one another.

Every page is filled with colorful and scientifically accurate illustrations of animals from each class, including bears, whales, and humans in mammals, loons, seagulls, and owls in birds, toads, salamanders, and frogs in amphibians, turtles, lizards, and snakes in reptiles, ants, spiders, and butterflies in arthropods, and catfish, seahorse, and eels in fish, plus jellyfish, octopuses, and squid in other water-dwelling animals, and worms, snails, and millipedes in detritivores.

Both informative and entertaining, this is a wonderful book to introduce children to a variety of animals and their classifications and also to teach respect for all life and the interconnectedness of all living creatures. The end of the book has two pages of text with further information about the animals discussed in the book and also a valuable list of ways humans can help earth’s animals, including recycling plastic bags, picking up all fishing line and hooks when fishing, putting decals on your windows to prevent bird strikes, using natural products for lawn and garden care, and others.

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Honey by David Ezra Stein

This is a sweet and gentle picture book about a young bear who wakes from his first hibernation and remembers honey, that delightful treat he encountered in his first year of life. But it is early spring and there is no honey yet. Bear keeps going back to the tree where a bee colony lives and checking for honey, but “it was too soon for honey.” Everything reminds him of honey – the golden light of the sun, the flowing water of a stream, the scent of a tree in blossom. Bears makes do with eating grasses, pinecones, and berries. As the year goes on, Bear finds many other delights to occupy him – summer rains to play in, a waterfall to splash in, and lazy days of lying on his back watching the clouds. Then one day, Bear hears a buzz and the often-checked hive is now filled with honey! Bear eats his fill and is happy, his patience rewarded. As summer winds down, Bear contentedly remembers his summer and how good it had been, providing a feel-good, satisfying ending. With lovely pen-and-watercolor illustrations showing the bear’s natural environment. The book also uses descriptive language to lovely effect, with honey being described as warm, golden, sweet, sticky, spicy, aromatic, and sparkling with sunlight.

Note: I have one quibble with the book: in real life, cubs spend their second year with their mother, so the book isn’t scientifically accurate in depicting the bear as being on his own in his second year.