When looking over the list of observance for May, I was super pumped to see that May is American Wetlands Month. As a Louisiana native, wetlands preservation has been on my conscience since I was young (wetlands are natural protectors against hurricanes; they drag down the speed and intensity of storms before they hit populated areas, and the Gulf Coast has been losing them at an alarming rate for some time). The Great Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia is not only an important ecosystem, but it also served as a refuge for slaves escaping to freedom on the Underground Railroad. The Chesapeake Bay is also an extremely important wetland in our area, with preservation and revitalization being a long-standing concern. Let's look at stories and illuminating nonfiction reads that educate and entertain young readers and listeners about these special ecosystems:
Babies in the Bayou is rich in illustration and sparse in text (although vivid), which makes it perfect for sharing with toddlers as well as preschoolers. We observe a mama alligator as she protects her baby from the other animals in the bayou. The illustrations feature predator-prey relationships on each page, which you can either comment on or ignore. Arnosky includes a brief note about the pronunciation of bayou: if you live in/are from Louisiana, you will say bye-yoo, but if you are from other states in the Gulf Coast region (he specifies Texas, which is definitely my experience as well), you will probably say bye-oh. (If you're rhyming it with "blue," as Roy Orbison and and Joe Melson did in "Blue Bayou,", you will use the Louisiana version. If you're rhyming it with "gumbo" and "me oh my oh," as Hank Williams Sr. and Moon Mullican did in "Jambalaya (On the Bayou), you'll use the Texas version, even though the tune was taken from a Cajun song and is practically the unofficial state song of Louisiana. (Both Orbison and Mullican were native Texans, to boot!)
Carl Hiaasen is known for his chapter books set in Florida; most have an environmental theme running through the story. Chomp features the host of a reality show set in the Everglades (think Steve Irwin) who goes missing after a torrential rainstorm.
A Frog in the Bog has been one of my favorite read alouds since I first became a youth services librarian nearly twelve years ago. The rapidly growing frog seems to be quite content on his log in the bog....or is it really a log? This is also a great read aloud that incorporates counting.
Need a bright and engaging book for a seasonal (spring to autumn) story time? Denise Fleming's In the Small, Small Pond should be on your list. This is an exploration of animals that frequent a small pond throughout the year; I've used Fleming's books with infants and toddlers; they are drawn to the bright, large, bold, and clear illustrations.
Life in an Estuary: The Chesapeake Bay is a comprehensive and eye-opening look at the many animals and plants that call the Chesapeake Bay home.
Mama Don't Allow is one of the most rollicking and rhythmic read alouds you might ever experience. Miles and his Swamp Band have a romping good time making music with the alligators....until they discover that the alligators intend for them to be very special guests of honor at their dinner!
If you're more interested in facts rather than fanciful stories set in wetlands, Marshes and Swamps: A Wetland Way of Life or Wetlands (part of the True Book series, which is aimed at 3rd-5th graders) should be perfect for you.
For more information:
The Great Dismal Swamp
Chesapeake Bay Program
Everglades National Park
Audubon Nature Institute's Hurricane on the Bayou teacher resource guide, which includes activities for classroom investigation.
National Geographic: Bayous
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library