Archive for category Kids
The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America, by Bill Thompson III, Houghton Mifflin Company (www.hmhbooks.com), 2012, 368 pages, $15.95.
With the publication of The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America, Peterson’s Field Guides has added yet another title to their growing list of natural history guides targeting budding naturalists. But this is no beginners guide to birdwatching; it is a beginner’s birdwatching guide. Unlike Peterson’s Young Naturalists Guide Series, First Guides Series, and Field Guide Color-In Series, author Bill Thompson III has designed this stand-alone guide with his children in mind – for fifth graders, by fifth graders. Given it’s target audience, the guide is indeed easy enough for young birders to navigate. Handing it to my 1st-grader son, for example, he easily picked out the (California) quail, (tundra) swan, (Canada) goose, and (belted) kingfisher in a matter of seconds, just a few of the species he’s become familiar with from day trips and nature books.
Comparing Thompson’s The Young Birder’s Guide… side-by-side to Peterson’s now-outdated A Field Guide to Western Birds (1990), the discerning reader can see that the core material in each species account is fundamentally the same. Sure, Peterson may describe the western scrub jay’s vocalizations as a rasping “kwesh… kwesh….” in contrast to what Thompson describes as a harsh “kressh… kressh…“, but the prevailing difference between the guides is presentation.
In The Young Birder’s Guide…, each page – clearly labeled with the species’ common and Latin names together with a representative color photo – is devoted to one of over 300 North American birds and includes an informative species profile describing field marks, bird song, habitat preferences and seasonal distribution; a b/w sketch illustrating characteristic behaviors; a range map; ID tips; and fun facts. The photographs and illustrator Julie Zickefoose’s playful sketches are high-quality, while the range maps are industry-standard issue. Compared to the typical “which-one-was-it?” clutter of so many look-alike birds flocked on an illustrated plate sandwiched against a facing page of lifeless text, The Young Birder’s Guide… is instead linear, concise, predictable, practical, and most importantly, kid-friendly.
Over the last few years, staff at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Western Ecological Research Center have been distributing coloring sheets at outreach events featuring California’s native herps. Among those species featured are natives – the western pond turtle, the California newt, and the mountain yellow-legged frog, and non-natives – the red-eared slider and the American bullfrog.
The mountain yellow-legged frog is one species on the brink of extinction. With wild populations numbering in the low hundreds, the federally endangered species suffered a setback in late 2011 after 104 frogs died mysteriously in the middle of a captive breeding program at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. Only two frogs survived. What that means for the future of the species is still unclear.
Red-eared sliders and bullfrogs are both among the culprits responsible, in part (among other factors), for the declines in western pond turtle and mountain yellow-legged frog populations: sliders for their role in introducing disease and out-competing native western pond turtles, bullfrogs for their likeness to a black hole, eating anything that could conceivably fit into their mouths, frogs and hatchling turtles included.
The sheets give kids an opportunity to not only learn about California’s native herps, but also which herp species are invasive non-natives. The entire collection of coloring pages can be found at the USGS-WERC website here.
Cheery: The True Adventures of a Chiricahua Leopard Frog, by Elizabeth W. Davidson, Five Star Publications, Inc. (www.fivestarpublications.net), 2011, 24 pages, $15.95
The Chiricahua leopard frog (Rana chiricahuensis) – a species known for its distinctive bedtime *snore* call – is in danger of extinction like so many amphibian species today. With a range limited to parts of Arizona and Mexico, its populations have dwindled over the years (vanishing from more than 80% of their former range) due to amphibian decline’s usual suspects: invasive predators (bullfrogs and crayfish), the Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis chytrid fungus, habitat loss, and drought.
Despite this doom and gloom, scientist-turned-children’s author Elizabeth Davidson introduces hope with Cheery, a tadpole on the rise to frogdom. From her inauspicious beginnings as one of hundreds of eggs to her curious bucket-abduction trip to the zoo, Cheery emerges as an amphibious ambassador for both the Chiricahua leopard frog and the recovery efforts currently underway to protect the species spearheaded by Arizona Game and Fish, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Throughout the adventures of Cheery, Davidson infuses the narrative with subtle science, teaching children about the food chain ["...tiny green plants called algae (al-jee) grow soft and slimy on the rocks..."] and hibernation ["It's getting colder... I crawl out of the pond and find a safe place to hide under a big log..."], and introduces young readers to a frog’s-eye view of the captive breeding recovery effort under way at the Phoenix Zoo. Meanwhile, artist Michael Hagelberg unravels Cheery’s pond-hopping exploits through a palette of blues and greens draped in simmering sunsets and smokey shadows, using angles that transport you onto the pond bottom, furrowing into the leaf litter, and ultimately into the life of Cheery the Chiricahua leopard frog. With this winning combination of engaging story, playful art, and a hopeful outlook on the species’ future, from cover to cover Cheery is good to the last hop.
The Singer in the Stream, by Katherine Hocker and Mary Willson, Cinclus Press (distributed by Bored Feet Press www.boredfeet.com), 2008, 32 pages, $10.95
American Dippers: Singers in the Mountain Streams, by Mary F. Willson and Katherine M. Hocker, Cinclus Press (distributed by Bored Feet Press www.boredfeet.com), 2010, 64 pages, $12.95
Anyone familiar with the American dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) knows without a doubt that looks are indeed deceiving. These nondescript grey birds are mountain-stream specialists that breed and nest around waterfalls, plunge pools, and stream-side cliffs and boulders. But what makes these aquatic songbirds so curious is their talent of diving, swimming, and walking underwater for as long as 30-seconds in search of caddisflies, fish, and salmon roe. Given that dippers are more closely related to either thrushes or starlings, they’re no shorebirds, ranging instead roughly the mountain zones from northern Alaska to Panama. The great John Muir was enchanted by dippers (what he called “water ouzels”), deeming them the “darling” of mountain streams. The high esteem Muir paid these water-winged warblers (as vocalists, not the Sylvioid or Passeroid “warblers”) is reflected in two new dipper publications, a reference guide and a children’s book, by retired ecology professor/researcher Mary Willson and naturalist/artist Katherine Hocker.
The duo’s first collaborative effort in 2008 brought us The Singer in the Stream, a children’s book authored by the pair with illustrations by Hocker. The story is a simple one, following the life of a pair of dippers and their offspring to recount the specie’s life history. Hocker’s illustrations are perfect for this endeavor: interactive, vibrant, colorful, and life-like. The beads of water on the cover seem about to trickle off the bird’s back into your hands, while the alternating flap- and unflappability of grounded fledglings or the near-miss-haste of a goshawk ambush are captured flawlessly. My only real complaint here is a missed moment; although there’s a page depicting a dipper porpoising through the water in search of bugs, I had really hoped for an image that portrayed the actual wing-swimming, underwater-walking spectacle that makes dippers so unique.
Their second collaborative effort, American Dippers: Singers in the Mountain Streams, synthesizes the natural history of the species in a concise reference guide for Cinclus connoisseurs. Although I feel inclined to call it a reference guide rather than a field guide due to the glaring omission of a range map, Hocker and Willson nevertheless weave a thorough yet trim natural history account that, together with a collection of (mostly) sharp color photos accented with Hocker’s diagrammatic sketches, canvasses the dipper’s life above and below the water’s edge. Especially humbling is the “Where’s Waldo?” photomontage on page 61 that challenges you to find the nest or bird camouflaged in each of six different images. By the time you’re done nest-searching, you’ll wonder who’s the bigger dip?
Mother Goose in California, by Doug Hansen, Heyday (www.heydaybooks.com), 2009, 40 pages, $16.95
In this new collection of classic nursery rhymes, illustrator Doug Hansen has set the goose loose in the Golden State. From A to Z, each page pairs Hansen’s detailed illustrations with the good Mother’s superior stanzas. The result plays out in an alphabetical Animalia-esqe adventure where children and adults alike can challenge themselves to identify California’s landmarks and native species.
From the Basque shepherd dog tending flock in the Owen’s Valley (“L”: Mary had a little lamb) to the giant salamander and California tiger salamander wending their way through mushroom morsels (“R”: Rain, rain, go away) to the “Maid Marian” Sierra Nevada red fox in a mission garden amidst a wreath of monkey flower blooms (“G”: Mary, Mary, quite contrary), each alphabet plate is rendering in painstaking detail. The pages run wild with spotted skunks, California quail, and water ouzels, all inset with borders limned in garlands of stinking gourds, black oak leaves, sea shells, and jimson weed.
Two favorite plates of mine are the prospecting California Grizzly bear paired with a wizened donkey, assaying a desert landscape of prickly-pear cactus and Joshua trees (“D”: Donkey, Donkey, old and gray) and the Twain-inspired “Celebrated Jumping Frog” plate featuring a California red-legged frog draped in forty-niner attire gamboling in fields of gold (“Q”: Jack be nimble).
Hansen’s attention to detail is apparent in the California red-legged frog’s characteristic dorsolateral fold and tympanum (no mistaking it for an American bullfrog) and the San Joaquin kit fox’s trade-mark traits (oversized ears, leggy legs, black-tipped tail). The only real short-comings I found were when Hansen breaks the fourth wall in rare occasions where domestic animals were chosen in lieu of any number of natives. Take for example the champion barnyard black hen of “E” standing in for such species as a sage grouse or quail, or the domestic tabby cat (“F”) and kittens (“K”), two clearly unfortunate scabs for their seemingly obvious alternatives, the mountain lion and sabertooth cat.
Although these missed opportunities caught my eye, Hansen’s rich illustrations nevertheless do Granny good, making this tribute to Ma’ Goose well worth a gander.