Appreciating clouds for Earth Day

Early in March I posted a selection of books for children on the theme of rain – with the assumption that Spring would be wet…  Well, we seem to be having the same kind of Spring as last year, which ended up being a drought.  Here in Sheffield, we’ve had hardly any rain to speak of for at least a month: it’s been glorious and every day Spring has been even lovelier.

But, if you are keen on plants and the animals that live on them, you might be getting concerned about the lack of rain and hoping that we might have a couple of days with a good long and gentle dowsing, so that the soil can absorb the rainfall and be able to provide the slow release of water that plants (and their insects) need.  We can at least be making sure that there are sources of water for birds, small mammals and insects available around the outdoor environments we care for.

Yesterday was Earth Day (22nd April each year).  Inspired by Juliet Robertson’s post in 2012 about celebrating this important event, I wrote a post for Earth Day 2012 about Britain’s best plant, the Dandelion, and its irrepressible optimism and solution-focused resilience – just what is needed and is indeed rapidly growing now in the face of the climate-biodiversity-oceans crisis we have at long last realised we are in.

So, combining our wildlife’s current need for a good few of days of rain with this year’s Earth Day theme Restore Our Earth, focusing on natural processes and restoring the world’s ecosystems, I want to celebrate Earth Day 2021 by drawing attention to the sky and the water it holds and cycles, in all the fascinating cloud formations we are treated to.

In this post I offer 15 great books for encouraging appreciation of our sky and its clouds.  Forget the idea of giving them the scientific names and typology: just make plenty of time for really looking, really noticing and really enjoying them together.

The Cloud Appreciation Society’s Manifesto states: We believe that clouds are unjustly maligned and that life would be immeasurably poorer without them.  We believe that clouds are for dreamers and their contemplation benefits the soul. Indeed, all who consider the shapes they see within them will save on psychoanalysis bills.’  Do take a look at their fabulous website and activities.  Juliet also of course has a great blog post on the Creative STAR Learning website, 10 ideas for exploring clouds.

As the Cloud Appreciation society says to all who will listen, “Look up, marvel at the ephemeral beauty, and always remember to live life with your head in the clouds!”  What more perfect gift could we give our children?

1. Cloud Dance by Thomas Locker (2000 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Journey across the heavens through thick cumulus clouds, wispy cirrus clouds, and wide stratus clouds as they dance through every season of the year.  Thomas Locker introduces young readers to the basic science of our natural world with brilliant illustrations and poetic prose.

2. Wind Blown Clouds by Alec Finlay (2005 Rizzoli International Publications)

Hundreds of people from all over the world, young and old, amateurs and professionals, contributed images of their personal skyscapes. Wind Blown Clouds is a simple and stunning collection of the wind blown cloud, featuring 170 of these works, complemented by a thoughtful selection of haiku and poetry. From small, fluffy, white clouds to roiling masses of cumuli, and from skyscapes and sunsets in silver and gold to more imaginative photos of clouds reflected in puddles, glass, and airplanes, Wind Blown Clouds captures the indefinable brilliance of this inspiring natural phenomenon. With the brightening of skies after the dark winter months, Wind Blown Clouds is springtime’s reclamation of the outdoors, and a beautiful reminder that we are all living under the same sky.

3. The Book of Clouds by John A. Day (2003 Silver Lining Books)

This spectacular portfolio of pictures captures a variety of cloud forms and shapes, ranging from cottony-soft cumulus clouds to frightening, whirling funnels, as well as a number of optical effects seen in the heavens above. Rainbows, halos, coronas, flashes: all these and more elements in nature’s magic show appear on the page, including the incredible “Parhelia” or sun pillar, shafts of bright light that stretch from the ground right up into the sky.

4. A Cloud A Day by Gavin Pretor-Pinney (2019 Batsford)

A Cloud A Day is a beautifully illustrated book containing 365 skies selected by the Cloud Appreciation Society. There are photographs by sky enthusiasts around the world, satellite images and photographs of clouds in space, as well as skies depicted by great artists over the centuries. The clouds are accompanied by enlightening explanations, fascinating snippets of cloud science, poetry and uplifting quotations.

5. Clouds That Look Like Things from The Cloud Appreciation Society (edited by Gavin Pretor-Pinney)

Clouds in the shape of dolphins, elephants, UFOs, even Alfred Hitchcock and Andy Murray . . . they’re all here in this beautiful and hilarious collection of clouds photographed around the world by members of The Cloud Appreciation Society, selected and wittily captioned by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.  Creator of The Cloud Appreciation Society, Gavin’s mission is to fight the banality of blue-sky thinking and encourage us to love and understand clouds.

6. A Pig With Six Legs and Other Clouds by Gavin Pretor-Pinney (2007 Sceptre)

This is a glorious collection of clouds that look like things, including dragons, skateboarders, pasta, witches and poodles. It is a proud celebration of the carefree, aimless and endlessly life-affirming pastime of cloudspotting.

7. Tomie dePaola’s The Cloud Book by Tomie dePaola (1975 Holiday House Inc)

Some people see animals and pictures in clouds. The ancient Greeks believed that Hermes, the messenger of the gods, once stole the sun’s cattle, which were clouds.  In this unique picture book, Tomie introduces some of the most common types of clouds, as well as the myths and legends inspired by their shapes. Simple, whimsical illustrations show the variations in shape and color that herald changes in the weather.

8. Little Cloud by Eric Carle (2001 World of Eric Carle)

The clouds drift across the bright blue sky–all except one. Little Cloud trails behind. He is busy changing shapes to become a fluffy sheep, a zooming airplane, and even a clown with a funny hat. Eric Carle‘s trademark collages will make every reader want to run outside and discover their very own little cloud.

9. Cyril The Lonely Cloud by Tim Hopgood (2020 OUP Oxford)

It is sad but true that no one is ever pleased to see Cyril the cloud. He’s always being blamed for ruining everyone’s fun: casting shadows over everywhere he goes, and making things look dull and miserable. So, one day, Cyril drifts far, far away in search of a friendly face: over farmland, towns, and an ocean . . . Eventually he arrives in a new land whose ground is baking hot. Here everyone welcomes the shade Cyril gives. This makes Cyril so happy that he cries big glorious tears of joy. And his tears soak the land and everything seems to smile. And that is all Cyril ever wanted – to look down on the world and see a happy smile.

10. Little Cloud by Anne Booth and Sarah Massini (2019 Egmont) – also available in Welsh Cwmwl Bychan (2021 Atebol Cyfyngedig)

Once there was a dream of a cloud, waiting, hiding, in a blue sky, which became a whisper of white and grew and grew . . .  Everybody loves looking at the little white cloud as it makes all sorts of interesting shapes, but one day the little cloud becomes bigger and darker and heavier. As the raindrops patter down, everyone runs away and no one is happy to see the little cloud anymore . . .  Or are they?

11. When Cloud Became a CLOUD by Rob Hodgson (2021 Penguin USA)

The lifecycle of our protagonist, Cloud, is delightfully and sparsely narrated in nine short chapters that follow the stages of the water cycle. Young readers will immediately fall for this wide-eyed puff, and welcome facts along with humor and personality as they bask in the accomplishment of breezing through each chapter.

12. The Cloud Spotter by Tom McLaughlin (2016 Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

Have you ever looked up at the sky to see a whole new world developing in the clouds? You have? Then you’ll love this book about Franklin. There isn’t a single cloud that Franklin can’t spot – big ones, small ones, silly ones, sneaky pretend-they-can’t-see-you ones. But when Scruffy Dog comes along, things begin to change for Franklin. How can he concentrate on cloudspotting when Scruffy is such a distraction? And what’s more important – his hobby or his friend?

13. Cloudland by John Burningham (1999 Red Fox)

Albert and his mum and dad go walking one day in the mountains. Unfortunately, Albert slips and disappears over the edge of a cliff; his parents are very upset. Albert is lucky though – the Cloud Children see his fall and speak the magic words that make Albert light enough to float among the clouds, with them. Albert sleeps that night drifting in the sky. The next day, Albert and the Cloud Children have lots of fun: jumping off tall clouds, making as much noise as they can in the thunderstorm, swimming in the rain, painting pictures next to the rainbow and walking on the filmy traces left by passing aircraft. 

14. The Book of Clouds by Juris Kronbergs and Anete Melece (2018 Emma Press)

A mix of dreamy fantasy and scientific fact, this is the perfect gift for any child with their head stuck in the clouds – and for anyone who has ever wondered what’s up there in the skies above. This book is ideal for children to use as a starting point for their own imaginative creative play. It is full of playful poems, inspiring, anarchic illustrations, and guides to all of the different aspects of clouds that you could want to know about.

15. Cloud Spotter: 30 cards to keep you looking up by Gavin Pretor-Pinney and Marcel George (2021 Laurence King Publishing)

Pause for a moment and look up at the skies. There is ever-changing beauty to behold in the cloudscape. Learn the difference between common cloud types (do you know your cirrostratus from your cumulonimbus?) and find out which is most likely to herald the arrival of the rains or approaching fair weather.

Featured image is copyright Bryn White and must not be used without written permission from the photographer or Early Childhood Outdoors.  Book covers and descriptions are sourced from Amazon.

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