Eve Bunting’s books tend toward social justice and environmental messages. I find that her books treat subjects sensitively and give kids a real window into the subject at hand. Secret Place is focused on the issue of increasing urbanization and the loss of habitat for water birds and was a big hit with my students. After reading this book, we fell into a thoughtful discussion about the author’s message and how it connects to our city, Oakland, California.
Ted Rand’s beautiful water color illustrations take us through a city scape with traffic on freeways and a river running through a concrete bed. Written in first person, a young boy talks of a secret place he and his neighbors have found in the concrete river. It’s a place where all kinds of water birds like white egrets, teals, ducks, buffleheads and coots live. This secret place, where the birds live, has its own noises. Later, at night, a coyote and possum come to drink at the river side.
The child realizes that all the city was once wilderness and that it’s important to protect the last places where wildlife live in the city. He knows that he needs to keep this place secret and special.
It was wonderful to talk to my students, many of whom do not regularly leave the city, about all the wildlife that lives here in Oakland. I was able to talk to them about Oakland’s Lake Merritt, which became the nation’s first official wildlife refuge in 1870. We talked not only about the many birds that roost in the refuge at Lake Merritt, but also the other wildlife in Oakland, including racoons, skunks, possums and on the outskirts of town, coyotes. A great read for Earth Day.