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Saving Turtles: A Kid’s Guide to Helping Endangered Creatures

by Sue Carstairs

How to Save a Species

by Ellen Butcher; Jonathan Baillie; Marilyn Baillie

Saving the planet’s endangered and threatened species evokes equal parts urgency and wonder in two new non-fiction books that will have young animal lovers starting petitions.

First-time author Sue Carstairs – a veterinarian and executive and medical director at the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre – writes with passion and clarity about wildlife conservation. In Saving Turtles: A Kid’s Guide to Helping Endangered Creatures, she sets a friendly tone in her introductory note but quickly gets down to business, stating: “turtles are in trouble all over the world.”

Although there are at least 300 species of turtles roaming the Earth, more than half are threatened with extinction. As humans encroach on turtles’ ecosystems with big-box developments and subdivisions, we create pollution and limit the creatures’ ability to survive beyond the egg stage. The message is dire but Carstairs is in there swinging – throughout the book she’s pictured working with turtles in the lab and field, incubating and raising young ones, wading through a swamp on a research mission, and smiling as she releases a rather cumbersome snapping turtle back into the wild.

Readers are told of the many threats to turtles’ survival, and it doesn’t take long before we are given visual proof with the help of images showing the damage done by boat propellers and cars, nets and fishing lures. (We even see images of head trauma and an ensuing emergency ophthalmologic surgery.) If the squeamish make it through to the end, they’ll learn how to properly handle a wayward roadside turtle, and will be encouraged to volunteer locally or at the OTCC.

Shifting focus from the local pond to more far-flung locales, How to Save a Species takes us on a biodiversity adventure among showy and exotic endangered creatures. The expert editorial team – composed of Marilyn Baillie, a revered children’s author and former ChickaDEE magazine editor; her son Jonathan Baillie, conservation programmes director at the Zoological Society of London and founder of the EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered of Existence) program; and Ellen Butcher, a former program support officer at the Zoological Society of London – has shaped a meaningful story by featuring 17 animals and plants in need of rescue.

The book serves as a great introduction to conservation biology, and will hook readers with its fascinating images. We see the elusive Javan rhino, captured via photo trap; the wide-eyed greater bamboo lemur; and the bizarre meat-eating pitcher plant. Accompanying the glossy images and well-presented text are doodles, giving the book the feel of a thorough field-guide, with stats on the numbers of remaining animals and plants (some of them in the single digits) and quotes from scientists working in the field, including leading naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

It’s worth attempting the Latin names in the list of “the world’s 100 most threatened species,” and readers are given the chance to match creatures to their homes on the adjacent world map.

Both books get readers thinking about the connection between wildlife conservation and human activity, and, ultimately, the power one individual wields if he or she is dedicated to making change in the world. The message is serious, but also conveys hope: Saving Turtles includes the story of a tortoise who lived to be 100 thanks to conservation efforts. A memorial sign at his former home reads, “let him always remind us that the fate of all living things on Earth is in human hands.”