Three important nonfiction picture books teach about wildlife and conservation

Nonfiction picture books for children are an essential way of emphasizing the importance of reading informational text to learn about the world around us. Most children are fascinated by animals and the environment they see every time they venture outdoors, whether it’s a city environment, like the cougar encounters in “Cougar Crossing: How Hollywood’s Celebrity Cougar Helped Build a Bridge for City Wildlife” or a coastal environment such as those in “Chase the Moon, Tiny Turtle” and “Beneath the Waves.” These three picture books span a wide reader audience from the simply rhyming story of turtles hatching and trying to reach the sea to the much more complex National Geographic Kids book about myriad creatures who live on, under, and near the ocean.

Early readers will enjoy “Chase the Moon, Tiny Turtle: A Hatchling’s Daring Race to the Sea” by Kelly Jordan and Sally Walker. This book features simple rhyming text and bright, engaging illustrations to describe what happens when a turtle baby emerges from its egg under the sand on a beach and struggles on the dangerous journey to the relative safety of the water. The dangers and the predators are hinted at, appropriate for a younger age reader, and we do not see the coyote, the crabs, or the hungry owl actually snatch the youngster from his desperate trek to the water. But while we don’t actually see the death at the hands of predators, the inference is clearly there for the adult readers to point out to the young listeners. In a gentle, nonviolent kind of way. At the end of the book is some information about the loggerhead turtles and their long journey back to the place of their birth to lay their eggs. There are suggestions about how to be a “hatchling helper,” and we can hope that reading this book will inspire youngsters to learn more about endangered ocean creatures like loggerhead turtles. This book is appropriate for readers from infancy through kindergarten. (Page Street Publishing)

“Cougar Crossing: How Hollywood’s Celebrity Cougar Helped Build a Bridge for City Wildlife” by accomplished children’s author Meeg Pincus and illustrated by an artist who actually lives at the edge of Griffith Park, where this story takes place, is a tale of perseverance, dedication and luck. P-22 is the name given to the 22nd puma caught and collared in the Los Angeles area. By some miracle, he crossed two huge freeways and twenty lanes of traffic in Los Angeles to make it to a small park located below the famous Hollywood sign, Griffith Park. Although the park was much smaller than the usual territory for a mountain lion (also called cougar), he hid during the day and hunted at night. When he was seen on wildlife cameras, the naturalists couldn’t believe it. Because of the collar they were able to place on him, they were able to keep track of him, and when he got sick after eating a poisoned rodent, they were able to save his life. (Note: don’t poison rodents because if predators eat them, then the predator dies. That kills owls and hawks and even eagles.) One morning, P-22 was found in the basement of a home that backed onto the park. After humans tried to get him to leave and finally gave up, P-22 left that night on his own terms and returned to the wild of his park. Because of his celebrity status and fame, LA is finally getting enough donations to build a wildlife crossing for animals like him to be able to safely navigate the freeways of Los Angeles. It probably won’t help P-22, who is no longer a young male ready to start a family, but it will help future cougars and others who will no longer be killed by traffic on the busy highways of Los Angeles. At the end of the book is information about LA’s mountain lions and “More about Cougars and Crossings,” including the heartbreaking information that just in the US, approximately 1 million wild animals are killed by cars daily.  That’s every day. 100 cougars are killed each year just in California. There is also a double page spread with labeled illustrations of the wildlife of Southern California. The illustrations feature a lot of dark blues and browns because cougars are nocturnal, so we see P-22 at night. There are also insets with two humans, one in a uniform, discussing P-22 and giving additional information about the people who work tracking the famous cougar and making sure he is healthy. This is a book that’s appropriate for everyone. Young readers will enjoy learning about cougars and appreciate P-22’s fame while older readers will be fascinated by the information about wildlife that live among us — even deadly predators — who need a wildlife bridge for safety. One can hope that this book will inspire the next generation to help protect our wildlife and our environment. (Beach Lane Books; Simon & Schuster)

“Beneath the Waves: Celebrating the Ocean through Pictures, Poems, and Stories” by Stephanie Warren Drimmer, is a National Geographic Kids book, so it’s a given that the illustrations are magnificent, the information is accurate, and every aspect is well thought-out in terms of the text and the artwork. Opening the cover, I wondered if I had spilled water on the book because even the endpapers are imprinted with a textured watercolor wash. To emphasize the marriage of art and reality, the page before the title page is a photograph of beautiful shell with the crab peeking out. The title page is, appropriately, a photograph of the waves coming into a beach with gulls flying overhead as the sun glints on the water. The table of contents, meticulously organized by parts of the ocean life (from “On the Beach” to “Deep Down” and “Extreme Ocean”) is in a white font against an underwater photo in beautiful dark greens and blues. The combination of watercolor illustrations, full-page photographs with text, and smaller photographs with captions carefully set against a watercolor showing the rough texture of the paper and washes of loose color is just one example of the fine detail with which this compilation was collated. The breadth of the information is stunning, with details about leatherback sea turtles who cross the Pacific in search of food and to reproduce, that only one in 1,000 hatchlings make it to adulthood, and that because of human-caused degradation to their environment, their numbers are in a rapid decline. From humpbacks to harp seals, orcas to octopuses (even a Dumbo octopus!), polar bears to penguins to parrotfish and plankton, there’s a plethora of information about all kinds of underwater and over-the-water life. And scattered through the pages are poems glorifying the environs of the coast and the deep by beloved poets. The nonfiction text features make this an excellent choice for school libraries and classroom study, but any child (or adult) who is fascinated by the ocean will spend hours perusing this brilliant, colorful, and informative book. (National Geographic Kids)

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.