“The water you drank today may have rained down the Amazon rain forest five years ago… A hundred thousand years ago, it may have been frozen solid in a glacier. And a hundred million years ago, it may have quenched the thirst of a dinosaur.”
Rochelle is a museum designer and science aficionado. One of her main interests is bringing a message of conservation to children. She recently sent me her two books, One Well and Tree of Life: the Incredible Biodiversity of Life on Earth. The books are beautifully illustrated (by Rosemary Woods and Margot Thompson, respectively), and their clear and concise language reflect their target audience. Rochelle writes for kids of 8-14 years old, but her books can resonate with any of us.
Both books have an underlying theme: how everything is interconnected. In Tree of Life, the author emphasizes how all organisms (plants, lichens, plankton, mammals, and insects) are part of the same web. In One Well, she explains how water cycles through our planet, and highlights our fresh water consumption.
Tree of life offers a great notion of diversity of life. The pages show increasing number of species, leading toward complexity. At the same time, the author never loses track of the species relationship in the tree (almost like the “you are here” type maps). I can see Rochelle capturing a child’s attention by telling us of biggest or smallest species inside a tree “branch”. She tells us that “the largest butterfly to flutter by is the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly. Found in New Guinea, …it is bigger than a dinner plate.”
In my work I write a lot of content for young audiences, specifically to high schoolers. It can be tricky to communicate science to such a young crowd. One of our solutions is to use concrete, vivid examples that describe science research. Rochelle Strauss does just that over her pages. She uses examples that reach young minds and impress older ones too. Rochelle tells us that a birch tree “drinks” 300 liters, or two bathtubs, of water. Or that there’s more water in earth’s soil and atmosphere than in all rivers combined. In an email, she wrote me that “as for the water usage facts – I know they are quite incredible aren’t they? I actually had so much fun researching and then finding equivalencies to help kids grasp the magnitude of some of the numbers.” I had a lot of fun reading them too.
The books also carry a powerful message of conservation. That dinner plate butterfly above is endangered due to habitat destruction. We use a lot of potable water for mundane activities (e.g., “it took 130 liters of water to make your bike”) in comparison to other countries without as much water for their disposal. One of the most alarming facts depicted in the story is that North Americans use 55 buckets of water per day, while Indian use seven, and Ethiopians, one.
Rochelle offers solutions (there is a “notes to parents, guardians, and teachers” section on how to help), but above all, she offers a stimulating account of our natural world.
In my favorite excerpt, we learn that “the average white cloud weigh about twice as much as a blue whale”. A blue whale is a good indicator of scale. That kind of analogy not only makes the topic more approachable, but memorable. “The water you brushed your teeth today may have been the spray of a beluga whale 10 years ago.” I believe these vivid images, more than facts, are what sparks a child’s interest in science.