Three ForestsUno's Garden by Greame Base (2006).
Greame Base is one of Australia's favourite author/illustrators, and this book helps us see why. Fantastic, fascinating pictures draw us in to a world that seems very much like our own, but decidedly different and alien on many levels. Each page comes with a list of what animals and plants can be found on that page - and readers paying attention will notice the numbers are working in equations (9 x 9 = 81 plants). Eventually, the hidden equation becomes apparent: more buildings = less plants and animals.
But there is another side to the story - it is not the fact that the people are there that is the problem, but rather how they are using the environment. As they grow and generations pass, they learn to live in harmony with the world around them. They learn to keep the numbers balanced (although, it may be too late for the snortlepig).
This book is a little bit of maths, a little bit of ecology and a little bit of hope. Well worth a read.
Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker (1987)
This is a classic Australian children's book, and arguably Jeannie Baker's best known and most loved work. Using mixed media collages, Jeannie Baker creates fabulous images that seem palpably three dimensional - it's almost a surprise to find the paper is flat and smooth. She tells the story of a boy who travels with his father to a point where the Daintree Forest, in far North Queensland, comes all the way down to the sea. Through the boy and his wanderings, she weaves a magical world were humans are only visitors, and the forest is filled with ghosts from the past.
At the very end of the book, however, the forest is overlaid with a ghost from the future - the pristine beaches taken over by apartment buildings and vehicles, the forest replaced with hotels and high rises.
The message is subtle, but there: people need to leave some places where the forest can meet the sea - places where humans only visit, and never come to stay.
The Hidden Forest by Jeannie Baker (2000)
The Hidden Forest is another book that showcases Jeannie Baker's eye-catching mixed media collages. The pictures have a strange, photograph like quality that offer a rich visual feast. You often feel like you are looking into the picture - following a real sense of depth.
The story is pretty good, too. Ben likes to fish, but doesn't particularly know much about what lies beneath the surface of the water - he's the kind of kid who is happy to let fish die if they are too small for his liking. When his friend insists on taking him diving one day, he discovers an incredible underwater forest - the kelp forests off the coasts of Tasmania. Ben is entranced by this new world, and comes back feeling more respect for the creatures who live beneath the surface of the sea.
Watch out for an imaginary octopus and a real whale - both make their appearances in the book.
Two WaterholesThe Waterhole by Graeme Base (2001)
Down to the secret waterhole the animals all come,The Waterhole is actually the story of many waterholes, scattered across the globe. It tells of the cycle of water in the wild - as the year wears on, the waterhole(s) begin to shrink, until the land dries out almost completely, waiting for the next rain to bring everything back to life again.
As seasons bring forth drought and flood, they gather there as one.
United in their common need, their numbers swell to ten,
But hidden deep amongst the trees lie ten times that again!
In the meantime, the usual "hide and seek" game that can be enjoyed in most of Graeme Base's books is brilliantly executed. Each page features animals from a different part of the world, and on each page there are a list of animals to find hidden in the leaves, rocks and branches surrounding the waterhole (and, sometimes, within the waterhole itself).
This book is unique amongst the collection offered here as it is the only book in which humans do not appear (except for a few buildings in the distant background to set the scene). This is a book that looks at what the natural environment is like without human interference - but it also tells a story about habitats worth hearing: water is a precious resource with cycles of plenty and drought - it should not be taken for granted.
The Pond that Turned into a Puddle by Jeanette Morris and Gail Rogers-Perazzo (1980)
This is a book that doesn't pull any punches. In fact, the story couldn't be more in-your-face if it tried.
A fish, a duck, a water-lily and a frog are the best of friends, and have a lovely life in an unspoiled pond. Then a careless, but well meaning boy discovers the pond and tells his friends. Soon people are picnicing near the pond and fishing for yabbies, upsetting the balanced ecosystem and causing the four friends much angst. Not long after that, they start dumping rubbish in the pond.
From there it's only a matter of time until everyone is miserable. All four of the friends must leave the pond (which is now little more than a dirty puddle) in one way, shape or form. One of the friends dies, the others face an unhappy future.
It's a miserable story, although beautifully illustrated, and definitely brings home the message: don't use nature as a dumping ground.
A River, A FlowerCry Me A River by Rodney McRae (1991)
"Cry me a river!" the boy calls to the mountain, and the mountain obliges. The river flows down from the mountain, fostering life, encouraging growth and bringing coolness and moisture. Then the river reaches the places where mankind has been busy - places stripped of trees and treated with fertiliser, places where weeds have been allowed to gain a foothold, places where factories pour sludge into the river and force the river to carry the poison to the sea.
The mountain can only do so much, so she turns to the boy with the same request: "Cry me a river!" And the boy decides to dedicate time and energy into being part of the solution.
So I cried me a riverThe Story of Rosy Dock by Jeannie Baker (1995)
and I cared for my river
and I ran with my river to the sea
This is a simple story of a flower which was brought into Australia to add colour to a garden, and ended up painting large swatches of land red.
The book shows how easily the seeds from an imported flower can get out of control when added into an environment in which they do not belong. Baker's illustrations are, as usual, fascinating, and she captures the wild and unpredictable nature of the weather in the Central Australian desert regions.
The message is as simple as it is clear: when you bring something new into a habitat, it's likely that the habitat will be changed as a result.
...And a Tiger-wolfI Saw Nothing (2003), I Said Nothing (2003), I Did Nothing (2004) - all by Gary Crew & Mark Wilson
Mark Wilson's pastels evocatively illustrate three stories by Gary Crew.
These three books act as a kind of call to action - asking their readers to do a better job of protecting animals while they are still in existence. The books look at three Australian animals that became extinct in the 20th Century: the Thylacine (Tasmanian tiger-wolf), the Paradise Parrot and the Gastric-Brooding Frog.
In each book, there is a character who had the opportunity to do something for at least one specimen of these species. If they had acted, they might have helped to save a species from extinction. However, because they didn't act, the species is probably lost forever.
In I Saw Nothing a girl could have freed a trapped thylacine. In I Said Nothing a boy could have saved a breeding pair of parrots by telling his father not to run his sheep in a particular paddock. In I Did Nothing a boy could have stopped his companions from killing a frog.
Would the species have been saved if these children had acted? It seems unlikely, but the idea is worth fostering - if we all did something to save the individual animals we encounter in our lives, perhaps we wouldn't lose so many animals to extinction.