Tuesday, May 21, 2013

National Endangered Species Day

To mark National Endangered Species Day (my source said it was May 21, but upon further investigation, it looks like it's actually the 3rd Friday in May, so it changes every year), I'd like to tell you about some remarkable children's books that will educate children about this important topic, but without an abundance of doom and gloom.  While the subject of endangered animals is a sobering one, the books I'm drawn to include success stories that bring hope for some species:

Almost Gone: The World's Rarest Animals comes to us via a giant in children's naturalist books.  While Steve Jenkins's marvelous books often contain a good dose of humor, humor is aptly non-existent in this offering.  Rare species are introduced via Jenkins's customary inviting text and illustrations, including the Miami Blue Butterfly (fewer than 50 left), the Bactrian Camel (fewer than 500 left), and the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat (fewer than 60 left).  While there is hope for some species, such as the California Condor (fewer than 200 left, but scientists are having some success with birds raised in captivity and later released), others are in dire straits, such as the Javan Rhinoceros (fewer than 60 left, and none in captivity).  Jenkins includes a small "Coming Back" section featuring species such as the Whooping Crane (while there were only 22 whooping cranes left in the 1940s, today they number more than 300) and the Alpine Ibex (fewer than 50 in 1900, but captivity programs have increased their numbers to over 10,000!).  

I profiled Can We Save the Tiger back in April 2011.  Although the title and cover feature a tiger, Martin Jenkins features a number of animals in trouble.  I haven't looked through this book since April 2011, and I'm reminded of how extraordinary this book is--from its sensitive writing to the extraordinary illustrations by Vicky White.  Through directly addressing the reader, Jenkins explains the various reasons animals become endangered (hunting, loss of habitat, etc).  In his introductory pages, Jenkins explains that some people hunt tigers because they threaten their livestock, upon which they earn their livelihood, or because their skins can earn poverty-stricken people more than several months salary; this is something that is rarely expanded upon in other endangered species books, which adds sophisticated shading and maturity to Jenkins's book.  Jenkins also focuses on the hard work scientists have undertaken for decades in order to save species.  It's a beautifully written and illustrated book that will captivate children and adults. 

Gone Wild is a brilliantly illustrated alphabet book about endangered species.  Each letter is drawn in the shape of the species it represents.  The layout of the book is impressive; black letter illustrations are set against a white background, with the information about the animal contained in a box with red lettering.  The animal's common name and scientific/Latin name, its class, usual habitat and range, specific threats against its survival, and its official status (endangered, critically endangered, vulnerable, etc) are included.  Back matter includes  further information about each species, including specific numbers and characteristics, as well as print and online resources for additional information.  This is a remarkable work of art.

The Kids' Guide to Zoo Animals is not specifically about endangered species, but since many animals are kept in captivity because they are endangered, I include it here.  It's an attractive and superb guide to many animals found in zoos, complete with not just information about the animal's physical traits, diet,behavior, and habitat, but also includes information about threats to its survival and its official status (vulnerable, endangered, common, etc).  An extensive glossary is included, as are books and websites for further information. 

There are many excellent books that focus on one specific endangered animal: 

The Eagles Are Back (Jean Craighead George also wrote The Wolves Are Back and The Buffalo Are Back; all are excellent positive stories about animals that have come back from the brink of extinction)

Face to Face With Manatees (National Geographic's Face to Face series is awesome)

Gone Fishing: Ocean Life by the Numbers (one of the few books specifically focused on endangered marine life)

Gorilla Doctors: Saving Endangered Great Apes (one of the titles in the wonderful Scientists in the Field series)

The Race to Save the Lord God Bird (Philip Hoose's Moonbird: A Year on the Wind With the Great Survivor B95 is also extraordinary; The Race to Save the Lord God Bird is actually about an extinct species)

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot by the terrific Sy Montgomery, who is the author of not only several titles in the Scientists in the Field series, but also the recent middle grade biography of Temple Grandin.  

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