The Kenwood Press
: 12/15/2016

Books about nature make great gifts

Sharon Ponsford

My Christmas list always has books on it. I love to read, and because of my interest in wildlife and nature, be it nonfiction, biography or even fiction, my bookshelves are burgeoning with books about the great outdoors and the creatures that inhabit it.

It's been a long time since my kids were little, and I have no grandchildren, but I do love children's books! I recently discovered two gems, both featuring foxes, and would highly recommend them. The first, Faraway Fox by Jolene Thompson and illustrated by Justin K. Thompson, is about a subject near and dear to my heart - wildlife crossings. It is a story of a little fox that gets separated from his family because of human encroachment into the forest where he has lived. He finds it difficult to survive in what is now an urban area. This is a lucky fox though, as humans have come to his rescue and built a wildlife crossing enabling him to reunite with his family. As we have a wildlife crossing right here in Sonoma Valley, I think this picture book would make a great gift for children aged 3-7.

For older children (8-12, but I loved it too), another book about a fox: Pax by Sara Pennypacker with illustrations by Jon Klassen. This is a powerful and moving story about a boy called Peter who raises an orphaned fox he names Pax. Peter and Pax are as close as a human and wild animal can be. When Peter's father goes off to war, he tells his son that he must go and live with his grandfather and that Pax must return to the wild! Peter is devastated and Pax, who was raised by a human, has no idea how to be a wild fox. Told in alternating chapters by Peter and Pax, this story of love, loyalty and conflict, will keep one riveted right up to the last page. Pax is heavy reading, but the messages delivered are good ones.

For the bird lover in your life, there is a beautiful new book called Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds, edited by Billy Collins, paintings by David Allen Sibley. With a team like Collins, a former Poet Laureate of the U.S., and Sibley, America's foremost bird illustrator, this has to be a winner and it is. Featuring a vast array of poets, from Alfred, Lord Tennyson to Gary Snyder, this is a book to be kept on the coffee tables for easy access. Such a pretty book.

I confess to not yet having read The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben, but that is only because I can't get it away from my husband who is reading it now. Wohlleben's book became a surprise bestseller in Germany, where he had been a forest ranger. Since then it has been translated into 19 foreign languages, and has become an international bestseller, including here in the U.S., where it appears on The New York Times list. My husband, already a tree hugger, tells me that he is looking at trees through a whole new set of eyes. In an interview with the author that I read, he says that “trees are social beings that can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network, and keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots.” I've always been in awe of trees and can't wait to read this book.

Who knew that octopuses were so fascinating? I have read several interesting articles about them over the years, so when I was browsing at the bookstore, The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery caught my eye. Among other things, I discovered that octopuses - yes, this is the correct plural of octopus, not octopi - are invertebrates, they are intelligent, can solve problems, can change colors, have blue blood, three hearts, two eyes, and four pairs of arms. This book isn't for scientists, although it's written by one. It is much more personal, almost a love story, as the author describes her encounters with various octopuses while going behind the scenes at the New England Aquarium in Boston. It's no wonder that this beautifully written book got rave reviews. I loved it.

Award winning actress, author, conservationist and former chairperson for the National Endowment for the Arts, Jane Alexander gives us her personal look at the vastly changing world of wildlife in her new book Wild Things, Wild Places: Adventurous Tales of Wildlife and Conservation on Planet Earth. Her book succeeds on many levels, i.e., her descriptions of wildlife (especially birds), her empathy with the local people she encounters during her travels, her thoughts on environmental problems, and personal anecdotes. Wild Things, Wild Places is loaded with photos and has a great bibliography.