Without trying to be thematic, I read three books this weekend that all related to taking better care of the Earth and all the creatures we share our planet with.
Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals (Tricycle Press, 2010; illustrated by Ashley Wolff) is a clever rhyming alphabet book that explains how and what to compost, as well as why composting is important. Ashley Wolff’s collage illustrations are a study in recycling themselves. The main character’s apron is made out of pages from the Farmer’s Almanac, beautiful papers are used for goose feathers, and found objects add depth to every page.
Years ago, we made composting columns out of soda bottles so kids could observe this process. This was a great project, although some kids were grossed our by the worms! Now, I would add a writing component to this unit, using the experience to model writing a how-to book. Instructions for how to construct these columns can be found here: http://www.learner.org/courses/essential/life/bottlebio/ecocol/build.html Marty McGuire Digs Worms by Kate Messner (Scholastic Press, 2012; illustrated by Brian Floca) is a natural read aloud choice for a unit like this.
Denise Fleming is a favorite of early-childhood teachers everywhere. In underGround (Beach Lane Books, 2012), Fleming has created cut-away illustrations of the ground beneath our feet using pulp painting, “a papermaking technique using colored cotton fiber poured through hand-cut stencils.” (from a note included on copyright page) Animals, plants, rocks, and minerals are all shown with details sure to fascinate the youngest naturalists. Humorous touches are everywhere, making the book a kind of I-spy of buried treasures. Two pages of facts about the critters who inhabit the book supplement the simple rhyming text.
City Chickens (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012), by Christine Heppermann, is a non-fiction book for kids in second grade and up about Chicken Run Rescue, a shelter for rescued hens and roosters in Minneapolis. Heppermann includes a wealth of information about Mary and Bert Clouse’s efforts to care and find new homes for abandoned chickens. The reasons such a shelter is needed are explained, as is the responsibility of caring for these birds. You will have a different view of them after reading this book and seeing Heppermann’s gorgeous photographs. Notes include information for educators and a source list. This book could be used as a springboard for opinion writing about keeping chickens as pets. Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project has a digital text set of additional resources on pets in the classroom here. More information about City Chickens is available on this website.
I grew up across the street from a working dairy farm. The rhythms of the farm were the rhythms of life. It makes me sad to know so many children are only able to experience nature from a distance, but these books will ignite the curiosity of children about the wonders that surround them.