A terrible thing happening to our planet is the slow, but sure, destruction of the wilderness. One of the many endangered areas is the Daintree Rainforest in North Queensland, Australia, where fewer than 300,000 acres remain. This "wet" tropical forest grows down to the waters of the Great Barrier Reef and is the only one of its size remaining on the continent.
Where the Forest Meets the Sea (ages 3-6) is a realistic series of collages made from assorted materials, many the author gathered from the Daintree itself. The story is as much a lesson in environmental awareness as it is one of discovery. It begins with a boy describing an outing with his father who takes him to a deserted cove, reachable only by boat, where there's a prehistoric forest. As the boy explores, he enjoys imagining ancient crocodiles and aboriginal children.
But at day's end, he worries that when he returns, the Daintree Rainforest won't be the same. The final pages are unsettling. Superimposed over the original picture is another collage showing the boy's worst fears--but a developer's dream: beach-front hotels, power boats, roads and poolside TV. This book can help youngsters learn the importance of protecting, rather than abusing, nature. " . . . (K)indness to creatures of the wood still wild" is the theme of A House in Town (ages 3-7), a beautifully written story about a fox family whose den is torn up by bulldozers. In their search for a new home, they are chased by a pack of city dogs, and the cubs are separated from their mother. It's an exciting, worrisome adventure as the foxes wind their way through town with the yapping hunters in close pursuit. Children will experience a range of emotions from fear to cheer as the tale evolves toward its satisfying end. Illustrations are lovely with their lifelike details.
Mousewing (ages 3-7), also by William Mayne, tells about a mouse family out for its evening stroll and the owl that pursues them. It is worth mentioning because the writing is so evocative, a bonus in picture books: "(The mice) eat both seed and leaf, crust and crumb, steam and stalk. They watch for footfall, feel for wingfall, test for trap, beware the pounce, the swoop, the snap. . . . Owl crosses the garden once. His moonlight eyes swing from side to side. Owl crosses the garden twice. His wings gather silence." No one is maimed or eaten and the ending is happy.
If you were to stare at the Andromeda Galaxy, which has a monstrous black hole in its center, and try counting the stars, one per second nonstop, it would take you more than 9,000 years. This is one of the fascinating details in Galaxies (ages 6-9), a large-type, easy-to-read study. Computer-colored photographs show minutiae not seen in regular photos, most of which here were supplied by the National Astronomy Observatories. This is no fault of the author's, but after a while, all the blurry stars look alike and as a result, the photos aren't as captivating as the text.
A moving tribute to those who died or were missing in action during the Vietnam War is brought down to a child's view in Always to Remember: The Story of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (age 10 up). Dozens of black-and-white photos show the various stages of construction and the 56,156 names that have been engraved on the polished black granite. Since its dedication, more than 8 million children have visited the wall and many are pictured here, reading America's "social history." This book reminds us, among several things, that it's important for kids to understand the consequences of war.
AND FOR FUN: Bright, enthusiastic illustrations show how dog and cat pals such as Digby and Kate (ages 4-7) survive while painting, cooking and playing. Six mini-stories in big type will be applauded by early readers.
Sleepers (ages 2-5) rich with humorous drawings, captures the joie de vivre of a child who does not like to sleep and all the people in her life who do. This book is the size of a piece of toast and ideal for a small, fidgety lap.
The Park Bench (ages 3-6), written in Japanese with an English translation, is about a day in the park and all the children, animals and grown-ups who gather by this bench. A charming story perfect for a bilingual family or a pair of friends from both cultures.