Melissa Stewart in an on-going series for Peachtree Publishers. A Place for Birds (2009) and A Place for Frogs (2010) introduces readers to birds and frogs in an easy to read format, spread across the tops of double-page nature spreads. Side bars and fact boxes provide more detailed information in support of the simpler text.
Birds undoubtedly benefit from the vigilance of bird watchers. Stewart uses the example of the Eastern Bluebird, which nests in old trees and rotten fence posts. But when farmers began replacing wooden fence posts with metal ones, bird watchers noticed that these little birds were losing their nesting ground. It was a problem easily remedied with nesting boxes, and a fabulous example to young readers of how sometimes it is remarkably easy to right environmental wrongs. Scientific study plays a large part in redressing the balance between human needs and environmental concerns, but advocacy really can begin at home. A few pages later we read about the Exxon Valdez and the devestating effect it had on the Common Murre, which lives off the coast of Alaska. Clearly there is no easy solution to this sort of environmental disaster, although the timeliness of the mention, due to the current Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, is compelling.
One fact which both books makes clear, is that birds and frogs are just as important as links in the food chain as they are alive. It is vital that predators have these animals--and their eggs--on which to feed. It is an unexpected conclusion after so much emphasis is placed on protecting them. It seems that sometimes, the place for birds and frogs, is on the menu!
Special note should be made of the illustrations by Higgins Bond. The realistic acrylics are full of activity and detail which help to place the subjects in their natural environment. And, depending on the location of the reader, these environments might look familiar. I particularly liked the cover illustration of A Place for Birds; showing a Hermit Thrush flying past a dusky Chicago skyline, it highlights the delicate juxtaposition of humans and wildlife. And the corresponding story of turning off skyscraper lights during the birds' migration season reiterates the message that there is plenty we, non-scientists, can do to assist our wild neighbors and protect their places.
These are solid non-fiction books written and illustrated to appeal to the widest range of readers. They gently remind us that our wild neighbors need us, that there is plenty we can do to help them, and that the entire planet benefits when there are safe places for birds and frogs to live.
(Thank you to Peachtree Publishers for providing me with copies of the books for review.)