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Children’s Books for Earth Day 2023

 

A ROUNDUP OF CHILDREN’S BOOKS 

FOR EARTH DAY 2023

 

 

 

The Tree and the River cover bucolic river scene with industry reflectionTHE TREE AND THE RIVER
by Aaron Becker

(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

Starred Reviews – Horn Book, Foreward Reviews, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Connection

Aaron Becker’s wordless picture book, The Tree and the River, shows how humans impact a specific plot of vibrant land. The time-lapse process he uses is fascinating and powerful. Some of the imagery is fictionalized yet this doesn’t take away from the understanding that people’s cities, industry, and war wreak havoc on the land.

I like how the almost totally destroyed landscape can, with a simple acorn, reestablish itself, giving the book (and our world) the possibility that we can recover from damage inflicted.

Beyond the stunning illustrations, Becker did so much more: he prepared by constructing a scale model which he then slowly transformed with clay and wood over many months. The book was inspired by “the rich history of layered civilizations” in Granada, Spain. Be sure to peek under the dust jacket for an alternate image.

 

The Forest Keeper cover Jadav Payeng in forestTHE FOREST KEEPER:
The True Story of Jadav Payeng

Written by Rina Singh
Illustrated by Ishita Jain
(NorthSouth; $18.95, Ages 5-9)

Rina Singh’s picture book, The Forest Keeper, introduces us to a tribesman from Majuli named Jadav Molai Payeng who labored in isolated anonymity for thirty years, growing a forest on an abandoned sandbar in a remote corner of northeastern India. He began in 1979 when the river burst its banks and left hundreds of water snakes to perish in the hot sun. When he sought help from elders and the forest department, he was told “trees don’t grow on sandbars” and was given a bag of bamboo seedlings. His diligence and dedication created habitats for a number of creatures in this 1,359-acre oasis—larger than New York’s Central Park.

The soft-focus illustrations by Ishita Jain bring India’s beauty alive. I particularly like the tiger, elephants, and dramatic trees filled with birds in the twilight.

This book reminds us that Earth Day truly is every day, and that one person can make a huge difference. Be sure to look under the dust jacket for a bonus image that reinforces this story’s humble beginnings. Read an exclusive interview with illustrator Ishita Jain here.

 

Water: How We Can Protect Our Freshwater cover children in village pumping waterWATER: How We Can Protect Our Freshwater 
Written by Catherine Barr

Illustrated by Christiane Engel
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

Catherine Barr’s picture book, Water: How We Can Protect Our Waterways, is broken down into easy-to-follow sections from “The First Water on Earth” through “It’s Water Action Decade!” The facts are thorough yet explained simply. It’s mind-blowing that only 3% of all water on Earth is freshwater; three-quarters of it exists in glaciers and polar ice sheets. I like how each section has an item that relates to a specific place: “These girls in sub-Saharan Africa can go to school because they have a water pump and tap in their village.” This makes the issues feel real and connects us all around the planet.

Christiane Engel’s detailed illustrations bring the world and its water sources to life such as the polluted rivers in India and salmon leaping up a fish ladder in Scotland (because their migration path has been dammed). The brightly colored art is something kids can look over again and again, finding new things each time.

The “How Can I Use Water Wisely?” section at the end is conveyed in a fun, wraparound style. Suggestions include realizing that most everything we use takes water to make and visiting local lakes or rivers to discover the animals and plants living there—if we care about something, we’re more likely to want to help protect it. Taking a few minutes to better understand our water is time well spent.

 

Something Happened to Our Planet cover kids cleaning trashSOMETHING HAPPENED TO OUR PLANET
Kids Tackle the Climate Crisis (Something Happened series)
Written by Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins 
Illustrated by Bhagya Madanasinghe
(Magination Press; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

In Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins’s Something Happened to Our Planet: Kids Tackle the Climate Crisis (Something Happened series), a young girl is worried about the far-reaching effects of plastics in our waterways. Encouraged by her family, she decides one person can make a difference so she starts an Earth Control group at her elementary school to make improvements in the cafeteria.

I enjoyed the illustrations by Bhagya Madanasinghe, especially the facial expressions of the unnamed main character. We feel the ups and downs these kids experience as their desire to help is met with setbacks.

Truly remarkable is the information provided in the Reader’s Note: facts beyond what’s found in similar texts, including a Q&A section to help parents answer hard questions posed by kids. While this section is huge, it’s manageably divided and the possible steps we can all take to mitigate climate change are surprisingly doable with suggestions such as reducing food waste, eating less meat, and using “art and music to give hope and remind others about the importance of nature and a sustainable planet.” This book is a must-have in classrooms, libraries, and at home. The publisher’s website contains several helpful downloadable pdfs.

 

Total Garbage cover kid sitting on trash pileTOTAL GARBAGE:
A Messy Dive into Trash, Refuse, and Our World

Written by Rebecca Donnelly
Illustrated by John Hendrix
(Henry Holt BYR; $21.99, Ages 8-12) 

Starred Reviews -Hornbook Magazine, Kirkus Reviews

Being able to “talk trash” in a way that’s engaging and even funny at times is quite an accomplishment. Rebecca Donnelly succeeds in her middle-grade book, Total Garbage: A Messy Dive into Trash, Refuse, and Our World. It is messy because we’re talking about the mountains of things we cast aside.

The text is guided by simple questions: “What is garbage, where does it come from, where does it go, why do we make so much of it, and how can we do better?” For such an overwhelming issue, the underlying message is hopeful yet does not shy away from the massive scope of this problem, acknowledging there’s no quick solution. Something we can all do is to buy less and use less, keeping in mind what it took to make that item and understanding that things don’t just go away because there’s not such place as “away.”

The book’s blue font is appealing and illustrations by John Hendrix add some levity. I would love to see informative and optimistic books like this one being used in classrooms because being oblivious about the garbage problem really stinks.

 

 

the day the river caught fire cover children watch flames on riverTHE DAY THE RIVER CAUGHT FIRE
Written by Barry Wittenstein
Illustrated by Jessie Hartland
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

In award-winning author Barry Wittenstein’s eye-opening narrative nonfiction picture book, children are brought back in time to the year of a moon landing, Woodstock, the Vietnam War, and the Stonewall Rebellion. But do they know that this was also the year before Earth Day was founded? Or that a big event that led to its creation was the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland catching fire?

Yes, the river caught fire and it wasn’t the first time! “Since 1886, it happened thirteen times.” Pollution from big industry covered the water in “a thick, gooey layering of sludge, oil, and sewage …” So when KABOOM! flames rose in what would ordinarily have been rather frightening, most citizens viewed it as no big deal. Only it was a big deal! Rivers are not supposed to burn. However, since the Industrial Revolution, rivers around the world were treated as dumping sites with no concern for the health of their inhabitants in the water or nearby.

Thankfully, Cleveland’s Mayor Carl Stokes made his voice heard. The “exploding river” even made it to the cover of Time magazine, but Cleveland was not alone. Fires on rivers were happening in other cities too. Ultimately, Congress passed the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, though these are still under attack today.

Not long after, on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day took place and more people made their voices heard. It was time to start caring for the planet we all call home. Earth Day is now celebrated around the world with a billion or more people taking part in hundreds of cities. The history of the fire and the lead-up to the first Earth Day is illustrated by Jessie Hartland in colorful gouache. The folk art style spreads will especially resonate with young readers with their warmth and whimsy. I cannot pick a favorite scene since there were multiple spreads I loved, particularly due to her depiction of people (Note: big hair lady on riverboat cruise).

53 years on, this important global movement continues with efforts to curb climate change and all forms of pollution. Seven pages of back matter include a compelling author’s note, a time line, reads and resources, and a black and white photo of an earlier Cuyahoga River fire in 1952. And though the Cuyahoga River eventually got cleaned up, and fish returned, that can easily change if enforcement of environmental laws grows lax and restrictions that help the environment get lifted. Wittenstein’s informative prose is a call to action that none of us can ignore.

 

Another Band's Treasure cover recycled instrument orchestra on landfillANOTHER BAND’S TREASURE:
A Story of Recycled Instruments
by Hua Lin Xie
Translated by Edward Gauvin
(Graphic Universe; $14.99, Ages 8-12)

Xie’s graphic novel debut was inspired by the true story of Favio Chávez, a musician and educator from Paraguay who founded the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura in 2006. To me, this quote at the end speaks volumes, “The world sends us its garbage. We give it back music.”

The story’s main characters are Diego, a musician and music instructor, his friend, Nicolas, a carpenter, and Ada and her younger brother Daniel. They come from a single-parent home, and they, like many of the residents in this poor village likely live hand to mouth. The kids find entertainment treasure hunting on the landfill while their mother would like them to contribute to the household. There is little excitement or motivation in the children’s lives. That is until Diego puts out a flyer offering music lessons. In hopes of helping the kids grow emotionally by exposing them to music and self-expression, Diego and Nicolas also hope this will keep local kids out of trouble.

The graphic novel is divided into seven chapters as the relationships with the students, Diego and Nicolas develop. At first, it’s only Nicolas who scavenges amongst the discards of the landfill for usable items to turn into instruments. Before long, as the kids’ pride in what they’re a part of blossoms, it’s wonderful to watch them start searching for potential musical instruments. Maybe this could be a drum, or maybe a violin.

When Diego receives an invitation from the mayor for the orchestra to perform at a musical event in Asunción, everyone is not only thrilled for a chance to visit the capital but honored at being recognized. So much so that Ada and Daniel tell every single person they meet heading home and shout it from the top of the landfill. “Hey, clouds! We’re going places!!” Of course, they’re a hit and so begins a journey to play concerts all over the world! In an epilogue, Daniel has grown up and now, when he is on summer break, he and other children from the first class come back to Diego’s new class to help out new students and return the kindness that changed their lives.

Seamlessly translated from the French original, this English version has almost no color. Executed in muted greyish-black tones, the art looks like pen and ink but may have been created digitally. The choice of color or lack of it conveys the dullness of life alongside a landfill. The only time color appears apart from the cover is when a guitar is made from an orange-striped paint can. This middle-grade graphic novel is a hopeful story and a beautiful tribute to the dream and dedication of Favio Chávez. Find out more at www.recycledorchestracateura.com.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Additional Recommended Reads for Earth Day

 

No World Too Big cover children holding up EarthNO WORLD TOO BIG: 
Young People Fighting Global Climate Change
Written by Lindsay H. Metcalf 
Written by Keila V. Dawson
Written by Jeanette Bradley
Illustrated by Jeanette Bradley
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

 

Climate Warriors coverCLIMATE WARRIORS:
Fourteen Scientists and Fourteen Ways We Can Save Our Planet
by Laura Gehl

(Millbrook Press; $24.99, Ages 9-14)

 

 

 

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An Interview with Ishita Jain – Debut Illustrator of The Forest Keeper

 AN INTERVIEW WITH ISHITA JAIN

ABOUT HER ILLUSTRATOR DEBUT

THE FOREST KEEPER:
The True Story of Jadav Payeng 

(NorthSouth; $18.95, Ages 5-9)

 

the forest keeper the true story of jadav payeng cover Jadav in forest

INTRO:

I’m honored to have been invited to host this NorthSouth Books interview exclusively in the U.S. Elena Rittinghausen, Zurich-based editor of NordSüd Verlag/NorthSouth Books recently spoke with Ishita Jain, debut illustrator of The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh, (on sale April 18 and available for preorder now), and the timing couldn’t be better as we approach Earth Day 2023.

 

INTERVIEW:

Elena Rittinghausen: What part does nature play in your life? How would you describe your relationship with nature? For you personally, what is the main lesson we can learn from this true story?

Ishita Jain: I consider myself a part of nature, all humans are, even though it’s easy to forget it in our fast-paced lives. I grew up in New Delhi and now live in New York, both of which are big, urban cities, yet I have been fortunate to spend a lot of my childhood and my present days in the midst of greenery.

 

The Forest Keeper endpapers
Endpapers by Ishita Jain from The Forest Keeper by Rina Singh, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

When I moved to NY, I was often homesick, and trees and parks became a source of comfort to me. I love going on long walks and it is fascinating to watch the seasons turn in my neighborhood. The same tree that is lush green turns to a fiery red in the fall and is then almost unrecognizable in the winter. Watching all these visceral changes in natural things around me has made me far more open to change and evolution within myself.

I am often told that individual acts matter very little when it comes to changing the world- that it all comes down to corporations and government policies. I don’t entirely agree, and this story is a reminder that no matter how small you are, you matter and even if you can’t change the world, you can change your world around you.

 

The Forest Keeper wholebook Page 05
Interior spread from The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh and illustrated by Ishita Jain, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

ER: You’ve lived in the US for some years now. Did it feel special to go back to illustrating a story set in India?

IJ: It’s interesting, the longer I live in the U.S., my sense of identity of being Indian and thinking of India as my home only grows stronger. So, in some ways, it didn’t matter where I was when I illustrated this book. Though I did illustrate some of the trees for the endpapers while I was in India, and to be drawing a neem tree when there is one right outside your window makes the process so fun!

 

The Forest Keeper wholebook Page 11 Jadev watering plants
Interior art from The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh and illustrated by Ishita Singh, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

ER: What was your first thought when you received our e-mail asking if you wanted to illustrate for a Swiss publisher?

IJ: This is my first picture book and when I got the email from you, I thought it was wild that someone was asking me to do this because I have very few drawings of kids, or even people in my portfolio! I am so grateful that you took that chance because I enjoyed the process, and it was a huge learning curve for me.

Funnily, the first time when I traveled outside of India was to Switzerland. I was 10 or 11 and my grandparents took me with them to Lucerne and I have very vivid memories of that trip. I used to spend all the loose change from the day on ice creams and for years, if anyone I knew went to Switzerland, I would jokingly ask them to bring me an ice cream. I was very close to my grandfather and I think he would have been thrilled to know that I got to work with a Swiss publisher!

 

The Forest Keeper wholebook Page 16 hungry elephants smashing huts
Interior spread from The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh and illustrated by Ishita Jain, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

ER: How did you approach the illustrations? Which technique did you use? Did you look for specific references for your images?

IJ: I love working analog and all the pictures are done in ink and watercolor. For this book, I also did my thumbnails as loose little paintings. It was important for me to get a sense of the color, texture, and mood in the sketch phase to be able to proceed to finals. I also made a tiny dummy to flip through to get a sense of the page turns and the visual pacing of the story.

 

The Forest Keeper Ishita Jain's thumbnails
Ink and watercolor thumbnails by Ishita Jain from The Forest Keeper by Rina Singh, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

In some illustrations, all the elements are painted separately and then stitched together digitally. This gives me the flexibility to make changes without having to start from scratch.  Other times I just go for it and love embracing the unpredictability that comes with watercolor.

India is huge and very diverse in terms of its people, its culture, and its geographies. I am from Delhi, which is quite far, and different, from Majuli. I did extensive research and referenced movies, news, documentaries, and the work of photographers from Assam and the northeast to make sure that I understood the flora and fauna, the physical features of the locals, their attire, and the visual geography of the region. I also looked for videos about the Brahmaputra floods, time lapses of bamboo growing, and travelers’ videos of Majuli to get a sense of the overall environment.

Ishita Jain's Studio
Studio of The Forest Keeper illustrator Ishita Jain

 

ER: Would you like to illustrate picture books in the future?

IJ: Without a doubt, yes!

Thank you Elena Rittinghausen and NorthSouth Books for this exciting opportunity to introduce Ishita Jain and her artwork to readers here in the U.S.

 

Click here to order a copy of The Forest Keeper today

Click here to read an interview with The Forest Keeper author Rina Singh

Get a teacher’s guide here.

 

Jain Ishita ©Anirudh-Garg 2021 sRGB
Photo of illustrator Ishita Jain ©Anirudh-Garg, courtesy of NorthSouth Books

ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Ishita Jain is an illustrator from Delhi, India, though she is now based in New York. She is an alumnus of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India, and the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Program at the School of Visual Arts, New York. Ishita loves to draw on location and enjoys documenting the people, places, and stories that surround her. Her work is inspired by day-to-day moments and the wonder that comes from being around nature. The Forest Keeper is Ishita’s first picture book. Find her on social media here: @ishitajain24

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