Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Celebrating Earth Day: Developing an understanding of ecosystems & endangered species (ages 7-12)

I have always been fascinated by the interdependence of species within an ecosystem. As we celebrate Earth Day with our students, I want to highlight two books that help children understand the complex interdependence within ecosystems and our role in help ensure their sustainability. There are no easy answers, but we must help our children understand the factors at play.
When the Wolves Returned
Restoring Nature's Balance in Yellowstone
by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
photographs by Dan Hartman and Cassie Hartman
Walker & Co., 2008
Your local library
ages 9-12
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent explains in clear text the changes that have come about in Yellowstone after the reintroduction of the gray wolf population. The Hartmans' photographs are bold and compelling, illustrating the environment and range of animals that live in this complex ecosystem. The design of this book makes it particularly successful for 4th through 6th graders interested in reading about more complex issues, but without lengthy text. The photographs always take center stage, but the text provides depth and understanding.
Can We Save the Tiger?
by Martin Jenkins
illustrated by Vicky White
Candlewick, 2011
Your local library
ages 7-11
Using straightforward but compelling language, Jenkins starts by introducing the concept of what makes animals extinct.
"Some of the other animals and plants that we share the Earth with have coped with the changes very well. But some haven't. In fact, some have coped so badly that they're not here any more. They're extinct. This means we'll never see a live dodo... or a Steller's sea cow, or a marsupial wolf, or a great auk..." (pp. 6-8) 
With clear writing, an almost conversational tone, and large print size, this book makes a great choice for 3rd through 5th graders reading nonfiction on their own. Jenkins next turns to species that are barely hanging on: tigers, Asian elephants, sloth bears and the partula snail. He helps children understand the pressure that humans put on large animals like the tiger, who need plenty of room and prey for hunting. Fierce tigers usually eat deer and other wild animals, but when human developments spread into tigers' territory, conflicts arise.

These environmental issues are complex and still hotly debated. Just last month, the New York Times ran a passionate, thoughtful piece in the op-ed section called "Is the Wolf a Real American Hero?" I would point interested students to a range of resources on the subject, so they can see the complexities and the biases involved. In particular, I found these interesting:
Text to Text: 
Is the Wolf a Real American Hero?
Hunting Habits of Wolves Change Ecological Balance in Yellowstone
New York Times: The Learning Network
Wolves at the Door
Audio & reporting by Nathan Rott
Photography by David Gilkey
National Public Radio
After Major Comeback, Is the Gray Wolf Still Endangered?
by Elizabeth Shogren
National Public Radio
Wolf Restoration
Yellowstone National Park
National Park Services
The review copies came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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