23 May 2010

Finding a place for birds and frogs: non-fiction by Melissa Stewart

The close-quarters relationship between humans and indigenous wildlife has not always been neighborly. Whether intentionally or not, humans have impacted their environment in ways that adversely affect the lives and habitats of the animals living there. Birds and frogs, which are among our most common and plentiful wild neighbors, are the subjects of two books by author 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.

As for the frogs, the fact that there are thousands of species worldwide, with more being discovered on a regular basis, is a testament to how intricately they are knitted into the fabric of life on Earth. Frogs are everywhere, and it doesn't take much to infringe on their places. Often the victims of unconsidered consequences (pesticides, the introduction of domestic animals, Global Warming,) frogs need advocates, too. Examples of concerned citizens monitoring busy roads during mating season (Wood Frogs) or realizing that caves don't make good dumps (Puerto Rico Rock Frogs,) have helped to protect frogs in the face of man-made hazards.

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.)


The1stdaughter said...

I LOVED these books! I recently review them too and the illustrations just blew me away! Also, I loved that my one year old and my three year old both enjoyed them for completely different reasons. I'm sure that even older readers will love them just as much.

Fantastic review of some really great books!

Kara Schaff Dean said...

Thanks for the compliment and the comment. I like the two-level text, which I have seen in other NF series (I'm thinking in particular of the "About....." series written by the Sills, also published by Peachtree.) It helps to make the books accessible to a wider audience and also encourages discussion.

Peachtree Publishers said...

Aw Shucks guys! You're making us blush! They have been fun books to work on. There are more books in this series in the works (Fish, Bats and Turtles!). The Sills About... Series has some new installments too, starting with About Raptors this Fall. We posted about it on our blog today (www.peachtreepub.blogspot.com). Thanks so much for such a thoughtful review. You've been great to work with!

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