Friends with the Animals

J has been very interested in jobs lately, shuffling between the idea of being a scientist or a librarian or, as he told his Grammy this week, a crocodile conservationist. As a three year old he swings back and forth between being loving and tender with animals and wanting to chase the chickens or stomp the bugs. I try to continually encourage him to protect and care for the creatures around us, because I think it is such an important part of his developing relationship with the world. Also, I hate to see a little creature mishandled or frightened by my little creature. I keep a look out for books that emphasize a healthy relationship with animals and their world, so I bring you three of the good ones.

Each Living Thing by Joanne Ryder and illustrated by Ashley Wolff is one of my favorite books period.  It has just about everything I want a children’s book to have: a lovely poem, beautiful pictures, a message of gentleness toward all life, and as an added bonus a cycle of seasons as the book progresses. I am a sucker for a book about seasonal changes, anyway, but when it is built into the illustrations without being ham-fisted about it, I love it. The part of the poem that gets me a bit misty-eyed at the end says, “Watch out for every living thing, for all beasts fine and free, who grace the earth and ride the skies and glide within the sea.”  The pastel drawings are colorful and intricate, with hidden ladybugs and small fish. Each poetic stanza has a different child watching and being gentle with some creatures in their own habitat, adding to the depth and thoughtfulness that went into the creation of this book.

This week we got the book The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter from the library. It has sweet drawings to accompany the simplified life story of one of my all-time favorite scientists. Jeanette Winter has written a number of biographies that are appealing to a three year old and his mama, but this one inspired him to spend a few days wanting to be a watcher like Jane Goodall when he grows up. I appreciate the way the author uses words from the actual person the biography is about blended seamlessly into the rest of the story.  This book is especially fun since there are pictures with chimps hiding in the trees, just out of sight of Jane, but easy enough for the reader to pick out. Even though I have been trying to avoid too many heavy-handed environmentalist propaganda books (not that I am opposed to environmentalist propaganda, I just want to make sure J grows up with a sense of hope for the future) this book balances the realities of the dangers to Gombe forest and the drive Goodall has to protect the Chimp’s habitat without creating a desperate feeling of hopeless destruction.

The last of the three is the classic The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer, Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. Written in 1991, it was in heavy rotation around our house when my brother was little and interested in catching a keeping an array of tiny animals. It is the conversation between a mother and her son as he tries to explain how he will change his room in order to provide a good home for the salamander he wants to keep. He, charmingly, sees no problem whatsoever in bringing in rocks and trees and taking off the roof to let the birds and the light and the rain in. I love the beautiful descriptions and illustrations of the starry moss and the stones with holes for water for the salamander to play in. I also really appreciate that even though he is clearly describing lengths that would be impossible to go to in order to keep his salamander, the book ends with him asleep in a bed in a forest room with the salamander asleep nearby.

Winter, J. (2011) The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s life with the chimps. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books.

Ryder, J. (2000) Each living thing. San Diego: Gulliver Books.

Mazer, A. (1991) The salamander room.  New York: Alfred A Knopf.

One thought on “Friends with the Animals

  1. Caleb Groos says:

    Thanks for the great book tips. I’ll definitely check out Every Living Thing soon. My toddler won’t get it all yet, but I’m constantly amazed at her natural interest in animals. I know the two dogs she’s grown up with have something to do with this, but she just gravitates toward any animal she sees — particularly cats, squirrels and horses in addition to dogs. Her favorite books now consist of just about anything that has a picture of cats in it. It has been hard to teach her to be gentle all the time — she just get so excited — which is why I want to check out Every Living Thing even if she’ll only get bits and pieces right now.

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