Nature Books

Into the Wild

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Taking young readers to the ends of the earth in A Life in the Wild (Farrar Straus Giroux, $21.95; ages 10 and up), Pamela S. Turner offers an absorbing introduction to a scientist in the field -- and in the savannah, the forest, the mountains and any other remote animal habitat you can think of. George Schaller may be less famous than Dian Fossey (who studied Central Africa's mountain gorillas after him) or Peter Matthiessen (whose trek through the Himalayas with Schaller led to the acclaimed book The Snow Leopard), but his career has been at least as far-flung as theirs.

Readers are doubly blessed: Turner had the full cooperation of Schaller, and Schaller had the full cooperation of wild animals. Through his pioneering method of habituation, he got them used to his presence and discovered how they behaved when they didn't feel threatened. Each chapter covers Schaller's work in a different area of the world, including the Jungle Book setting of Central India, where Schaller made the first detailed study of tigers and their prey, and central China, where he was the first outsider permitted by the government to study pandas in the wild. Maps, photographs and Turner's clear explanations help kids understand what these endangered species are up against.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand is the sky king of photography, and Our Living Earth (Abrams, $24.95; ages 8 and up) turns his aerial images into a lesson about the impact of humanity on the planet. Organized into eight interrelated sections and punctuated with bold-face statistics, Our Living Earth is aimed squarely at tween and teen readers accustomed to surfing the web. The text, written by Isabelle Delannoy, highlights pressing issues as well as possible solutions. The plentiful photographs are in gorgeous full color, but their power comes from how they illustrate ugly problems, like the effects of dam-building and the environmental costs of producing beef.

Husband-and-wife team Steve Jenkins and Robin Page create picture books that celebrate the wondrous variety of animals. In How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly? (Houghton Mifflin, $16; ages 4 to 8), lovely torn-paper collages depict familiar and unfamiliar creatures cleverly arranged so that, in one instance, the sticky pink tongue of a Jackson's chameleon extends over a spread on which a net-casting spider, a rainbow trout, a chimney swift, an assassin bug and a slender loris all are busy catching flies. The book also reveals some of the many reasons that animals dig holes and the ways that they hatch an egg, use a leaf, eat a clam and snare a fish.

-- Abby McGanney Nolan regularly reviews children's books for Book World.

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