• Happy birthday William Jay Smith (Birds and Beasts), Paula Fox (The Slave Dancer, One-Eyed Cat), Ron Koertge (Shakespeare Bats Cleanup, Stoner & Spaz), Eileen Christelow (Letters From a Desperate Dog, Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed), and Kathy Stinson (Red is Best, 101 Ways to Dance).
  • It’s the birth date of Henry Fielding (1707-1754) Tom Jones, and Kurt Wiese (1887-1974), Five Chinese Brothers, The Story of Ping.
  • In 1993, the Holocaust Memorial Museum is dedicated in Washington, D.C. Read The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: America Keeps the Memory Alive by Eleanor H. Ayer.

Since 1970 Earth Day has been celebrated worldwide on April 22. With an emphasis on the resources of the planet and renewable energy, Earth Day reminds us to take a closer look at the world around us. Suggested activities and local events can be found at the Earth Day Network.

Today I’d like to take a look at two books that focus on the environment and the creatures of the earth. Since Denise Fleming’s In the Small, Small Pond, a Caldecott Honor book, first appeared in 1993, I have always thought it one of the best ways to explain an ecosystem to young children, ages two through eight. In bold, graphic double-page spreads, Fleming shows a small boy examining all the life forms that can be found in a freshwater pond. She uses light verse —“waddle, wade, geese parade”—and vibrant artwork to bring the inhabitants of this world to life. Tadpoles, dragonflies, turtles, herons, and beavers all strut across the stage, showing their shapes and movement.

Fleming created the art by pouring colored cotton pulp through stencils—the resulting images are both childlike and child-friendly. Although the book allows the young to enjoy the sounds of language and the activity of the creatures, it also shows the life forms in this contained ecosystem. Anyone wanting to present a small lesson on Earth Day about the ponds now beginning to teem with life can do no better than to pick up this classic book for the preschool set.

A decade later, in 2004, Steve Jenkins set out to show young readers several exciting creatures, in their exact size. In Actual Size, Jenkins renders every object in exact scale, meticulously re-created in cut-paper collages. The title page displays a pygmy shrew, two inches long in real life and in the book itself. Like an expert cameraman making a movie, Jenkins brings us into a close-up of a Siberian tiger or pulls the lens back out to reveal the entire body of an Atlas moth. In the center of the book, the pages fold out to display a crocodile’s head, along with a full-size goliath frog, looking so real it might just leap off the page. Ostriches, brown bears, spiders—all come to life. The handprint of a gorilla naturally draws children to place their own palm against the art.

On a visit with his son to the San Diego Zoo, Steve watched the boy compare his own hand to a metal cast of a gorilla’s hand. He knew immediately that he wanted to incorporate this idea into a book. The resulting title, with information about all the creatures included in the book, helps children gain a better understanding of some fellow travelers on the planet. In short, it makes some of the wonders of the earth much more real.

On Earth Day I hope all children have a chance to think about our planet, our need to preserve it, and its fabulous inhabitants. Happy Earth Day.

Here’s a page from In the Small, Small Pond:

Originally posted April 22, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Award Winning, Caldecott, Nature, Seasons
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for In the Small, Small Pond


  1. Jean says:

    Great authors today, Anita! I use them all quite frequently. As always thank you for reminding me of them. Earth day EVERY day!

  2. Vicki says:

    Happy Earth Day, Anita! I’m glad to see you featuring authors and illustrators who do so much to keep everyone thinking about this precious Earth.

  3. Laura says:

    Thank you for the website “Earth Day Network” I followed your link and took the quiz and was surprised that there are several things that I need to do to reduce the size of my footprint on Earth. It takes a good 15-20 minutes to take the quiz but is well worth it.

  4. M Gudlewski says:

    I’ve been a fan of Denise Fleming since opening the first page of IN THE SMALL, SMALL POND years ago. Her book is a perfect match for preschoolers and Earth Day. Steve Jenkins’ book ACTUAL SIZE sounds fascinating – I will be on the lookout for it.

  5. Vicky says:

    Ahh! Two of my favorite books together! What a treat. I love these books for their profound respect of the animals they show – they haven’t been subject to anthropomorphizing, but as a reader, you still feel related and invested in their lives. Plus they are both simply wonderful to look at, which always helps!

    When I read your discussion about ecosystems, I thought I’d throw in a plug for a favorite that doesn’t any attention – Trout are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre. It’s a fabulous text.

  6. Erica S. says:

    Actual Size is fantastic. I think it’s a great entry into the “what a book can provide that the Internet can’t” debate – although you can minimize/maximize a picture online, you really don’t get a sense of true size like you do in Jenkins’ book. It’s a great hands-on experience for kids and adults alike.

  7. Sarah Tuttle says:

    I love “In the Small, Small Pond” so much! I feel like it not only gives a base for learning about how ponds and ecosystems function, but it also celebrates the wonder children (and hopefully adults) approach nature with. The illustrations are bright and colorful, and every page turn reveals something new and exciting. I love it when books about the natural world are fun, because that’s how nature really is!

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