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Fireside Read: One Night In The Everglades

Author : Laurel Larsen
Published : 2012-06-16

Much time is spent wondering how to connect today's youth with national parks, how to instill a life-lasting bond between these wondrous places and younger generations, to give them places to enjoy and appreciate while also nurturing tomorrow's stewards.

Laurel Larsen, with the help of Joyce Mihran Turley, makes great strides in cementing that connection with One Night In The Everglades. This insightful book, carried by Ms. Larsen's simple yet colorful words and Ms. Turley's wonderful illustrations, takes young readers (recommended for ages 8-12) through one night in the Everglades so Ms. Larsen, a research ecologist, can gather data that can help with the restoration of the river of grass.

For adults, the 32-page book is a quick, enjoyable read, one replete with the colorful artworks of Ms. Turley. For younger readers, this is an engaging adventure, one that mixes science with learning.

The story covers a night that Ms. Larsen and a colleague spend on a floating platform deep in the Everglades so they can collect samples from the river of grass and conduct experiments to better understand how the Everglades functions.

Deep in the Everglades a speeding airboat zips across the water. It races by an alligator as he slides into the water and disappears under a trail of bubbles. A flock of wading white ibises see the boat approach and scatter from where they had been fishing for dinner with their long, curved bills. Among the palm trees in the distance, a rare Florida panther perks up its head at the sound of the roaring engine.

This is the Florida Everglades, home to many animals and plants -- some of which can be found nowhere else in the world. That's because there's nowhere else in the world quite like the Everglades,with its miles and miles of shallow marshes, deeper sloughs of freshwater, and surprising tree islands that can free float before anchoring in a final spot.

Each page of text is complemented by a companion page illustrated by Ms. Turley; you'll come across both ibises and Florida panthers, deer and alligators, and even crayfish under water. Within the text are words in bold that are defined on the side of the page so children can better understand what they mean. For instance, sawgrass is defined as a "marsh grass with razor-sharp edges that look like the blade of a saw. From the soil to the tip of its blades, it can grow to be taller than your parents!"

Ecosystems are defined as "a community of plants, animals, microscopic organisms, people and their habitat." And endangered is defined as "a type of plant or animal present on Earth usually in such small numbers that it is in danger of disappearing forever, especially if its habitat is threatened by development or pollution."

The story itself is set in the context of efforts to restore the river of grass to a fully functioning ecosystem. To that point, Ms. Larsen explains too many diversions have threatened the flow of water through the Everglades, and that lack of water is threatening the many species that call the Everglades home.

The restoration of the Everglades still has a long way to go. It is the biggest restoration project ever attempted, and the world is watching south Florida to see if it will be successful. It's important to do what we can to save all the wild areas of the world, whether it's the ice cap of the Arctic, the rain forests of South America, or the Everglades of Florida. Each has something special to offer the world.

... Hopefully you will have the chance to visit the Everglades someday and learn about its unique wildlife and landscapes. Share with your family and friends what you learn. The more people who know about this beautiful natural treasure, the more people there will be working to save it.

This book arrives just in time for summer, the season when kids go outside to climb trees, feel mud squish up between their toes, and net butterflies and catch frogs. It's a season of exploration and learning, and One Night In The Everglades offers great context for the value of that learning.

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