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Multimedia Bibliography: Ecosystems

Purpose and Scope
This bibliography is intended to serve as a resource for elementary school teachers or librarians working with a student population between fourth and fifth grade.  The expected age of children should range from approximately nine to eleven years old.

In Texas, teachers follow the Texas Administrative Code which specifies knowledge and skills to be taught as part of the curriculum. Beginning in the 4th grade, students are expected to learn about ecosystems as part of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills(TEKS).

According to TAC Chapter 112, the  TEKS dealing with ecosystems in the fourth grade are as follows:

(9)  Organisms and environments. The student knows and understands that living organisms within an ecosystem interact with one another and with their environment. The student is expected to:
(A)  investigate that most producers need sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to make their own food, while consumers are dependent on other organisms for food; and
(B)  describe the flow of energy through food webs, beginning with the Sun, and predict how changes in the ecosystem affect the food web such as a fire in a forest.

The TEKS in TAC Chapter 112 states fifth grade students will learn the following about ecosystems:

(9)  Organisms and environments. The student knows that there are relationships, systems, and cycles within environments. The student is expected to:
(A)  observe the way organisms live and survive in their ecosystem by interacting with the living and non-living elements;
(B)  describe how the flow of energy derived from the Sun, used by producers to create their own food, is transferred through a food chain and food web to consumers and decomposers;
(C)  predict the effects of changes in ecosystems caused by living organisms, including humans, such as the overpopulation of grazers or the building of highways; and
(D)  identify the significance of the carbon dioxide-oxygen cycle to the survival of plants and animals.

The materials discussed in this bibliography address the TEKS as well as other relevant material useful for creating a holistic understanding of an ecosystem, and are organized first by media type and then alphabetically within the type divisions. Where possible, annotations include information on how well each item meets the criteria of factual accuracy, elimination of stereotypes, concept clarifying illustrations, encouragement of analytical thinking, clear organization, and interest stimulating style.


de Rothschild, David. Earth Matters: an Encyclopedia of Ecology. 256p. Dorling Kindersley Limited, c2008. ISBN 9780756634353.

Factual Accuracy: As a publication of DK Books, the company’s reputation as a source of non-fiction is well known and widely accepted.

Stereotypes: Material is presented across a wide range of subjects with an eco-friendly bent but few human subjects to stereotype.

Illustrations: This one volume encyclopedia follows DK Books long standing tradition of mixing crisp photographs with clear diagrams and text.

Analytical Thinking: The wide variety of subject matter will open reader’s minds to exploration of topics new to them and introduced by the book.

Organization: Organized topically into subjections by biome, with a foreword,

introduction, connection to helping the earth following the biome discussions, and index

Style: A supremely organized explosion of facts arranged on each page to present information in an eye catching and visually interesting way.

Gibbons, Gail. Coral Reefs. illus by author. 32 p. Holiday House, c2007. ISBN 0823420809 (lib. ed.).

Factual Accuracy: Written by non-fiction author extraordinaire Gibbons, this book is well researched.

Stereotypes: Objectively scientific in presentation

Illustrations: Bright bold colors, and clear delineations between sections draw the reader into a vibrant underwater world.

Analytical Thinking: Gibbons encourages connections to be made between her drawings which show the diversity even within coral reefs. Additionally, words defined will allow students to be active learners of vocabulary.

Organization: Written in a progression, Gibbons leads us from the basics of coral reefs, through different layers, sections, types, and then to the human impact. Masterfully organized.

Style: While factual, Gibbon’s style is warm and suitable even to younger readers, while the content is complex enough for an older reader to learn something new.

Green, Dan. Oceans. diag. Kingfisher, 2012. ISBN 9780753468210.
A mini encyclopedia on oceans for young readers,

Factual Accuracy: While the content is accurate, playful terminology may lead to confusion.

Stereotypes: Extreme use of anthropomorphism – factual vignettes are told by sea creatures – this could possibly create personality associations that are non-factual or skewed.

Illustrations: Fun, crisp, clear colors and bold lines make this a very young reader friendly book.

Analytical Thinking: Despite the possible confusion, the vignettes personalize the elements of oceans leader young readers to build a stronger sense of connection to nature.

Organization: Contains table of contents, seven chapters by ocean region, index, and glossary. The sections are color coded, and each page follows the same structure of element name, section title, general facts, two paragraph vignette either told by narrator or in first person by character, and then fun facts at bottom with an illustration on the right.

Style: Playful and whimsical – section titles include “Water World, Ocean Motion, Shoreline Gang, Deep-down Dandies.” This book is a good introduction to encyclopedia or reference format for younger children.

Kelsey, Elin. Not Your Typical Book about the Environment. illus. by Clayton Hanmer. Owlkids Books Inc., 2010. ISBN 9781897349793.

Factual Accuracy: Expert consultants are brought in on side panels to talk about their subject specific areas, and the author thanks the dozens of scientists she consults as well as the staff at Monterey Bay Aquarium in her acknowledgements. Despite that, bibliographies for her statistics would be helpful.

Stereotypes: The author breaks stereotypes by bringing in unexpected experts and taking an out of the box approach to thinking about the environment.

Illustrations: Clean lines and illustrations provide a backdrop to floating text blocks. Cartoonlike-characters increase appeal for children.

Analytical Thinking: Kelsey’s unusual approach to ecology, such as asking readers to thinking about all the components that go into one’s clothes, will have children extending their understanding of how the world is connected.

Organization: Separated into subject sections, each double page spread is on a different aspect of the topic. These sections are interspersed with alternating  “Elin Explains” sections, new findings, and expert testimonials. An index at the end helps readers find content within the ordered chaos.

Style: Alternates between sensational reveals and calmly, but interestingly, presented expert vignettes. At times, this feels like a comic.

Kudlinski, Kathleen V. The Seaside Switch. NorthWord Books for Young Readers, c2007. ISBN 9781559719643.
This picture book is best used as a read aloud for the classroom, and would be an excellent book to introduce or conclude a unit seashore ecology unit. Less factual and more atmospheric, the language is simple and poetically rhythmic while illustrations follow the sunset and sunrise color palette. The paintings have a warmth to them due to these colors and the vague outlines created lend to a dreamlike atmosphere. A young boy is seen exploring the tide pools and various areas on shore as the tide comes in and out, but we never see his face – allowing him to stand in for every child. Children can be asked to predict actions and the animals being discussed in this quick read.

Lasky, Kathryn. The Most Beautiful Roof in the World: Exploring the Rainforest Canopy. Photographs by Christopher G. Knight. Harcourt Brace & Co., 1997. ISBN 0152008934

Factual Accuracy: The author follows tropical botanist Meg Lowman who has dedicated her life to studying the rainforest. Half biography and half discussion of the rainforest biome, this text is clearly supported by the activities, observations, and discussions made during the author’s time with the scientist.

Stereotypes: Strong female scientist and explorer representation

Illustrations: Photographic essays allow the real world of the rainforest to be brought to your home.

Analytical Thinking: Students will consider how humans impact rainforests and how studies benefit survival of this delicate ecosystem.

Organization: Episodic vignettes, we are introduced to the scientist and her work, and then to life in the canopy.

Style: Journalistic and biographical.

Lerner, Carol. A Desert Year. illus. by author. Morrow Junior Books, 1991. ISBN 0688093833 (library).

Factual Accuracy: This takes readers through living creatures that appear during the desert throughout the four seasons, animals and plants are described in factual blurbs.  Names of animals are bolded and presented as authoritative.

Stereotypes: No human stereotypes come into play as this is primarily a discussion of animals.

Illustrations:  Illustrations are on the right side of each two page spread and show the animals in the location where they would be found, making this a good representation of each ecosystem and occasional foodweb.

Analytical Thinking: Presenting the plants and animals within a cycle lends itself well to discussions of why certain things must happen at certain times in the natural world.

Organization: Starts with winter, proceeding through spring, summer, and autumn. Each season contains the same progression from birds to mammals, reptiles, insects, and plants. Each organism type is presented in a two page spread with the left page being very text heavy and the right containing an illustration that could serve as a diagram. The predictable and regular organization allows readers to navigate and find things easily.

Style: Because this is so fact heavy, it is a rather dry read.

Lunde, Darrin. After the Kill. illus. by Catherine Stock. Charlesbridge, 2011. ISBN 9781570917431 (reinforced hardcover).

Factual Accuracy: In addition to being factually accurate in its portrayal of the food web, life of the African savannah is described with little factual blurbs in the corner of each page.

Stereotypes: Only animals are portrayed, and while they may be exaggerated, characteristics are supported by fact.

Illustrations: Bold sweeping painting style reinforces the actions in the text while the rough lines created by a combination of watercolor and gouache in the paintings allow some of the more gruesome details to be left to the imagination.

Analytical Thinking: A great book to use to  bring up decomposers and food webs.

Organization: Chronological with facts in corner of page.

Style: Aggressive bold statements are matched by the paintings. This is a good book for those who are not squeamish and who like a little blood and gore.

Morrison, Taylor. Wildfire. illus by author. Houghton Mifflin, 2006. ISBN 9780618509003. 

Factual Accuracy: This discussion of how wildfires are essential to forest ecology is very explanation and terminology heavy – terminology is defined, illustrations are detailed and are clearly representative of real equipment and cycles.

Stereotypes: While attempts have been made to keep the language surrounding firefighters gender neutral, the illustrations and mini-biographies are still dominated by male figures. However, it might be worth noting that these illustrations may be representative of the current statistical distribution.

Illustrations: The author uses a blend of comic-paneled illustrations, diagrams, and two page spreads to explain what is happening in the text. While the illustrations are helpful, labeling could be clearer and use of small Times New Roman font makes this visually less exciting and appealing.

Analytical Thinking: This book takes an element that is usually presented as dangerous to elementary school students and paints it in a positive light without detracting from its dangers.

Organization: Framework style, starting with present day fire situations and switching to provide the historical background and context of firefighting and the development of tools used to combat fires. Contains detailed acknowledgements and bibliography.

Style: While written in a dense and dry style, information presented is mostly clear.

Ring, Elizabeth. What Rot!: Nature’s Mighty Recycler. Photographs by Dwight Kuhn. Millbrook Press, c1996. ISBN 1562946714 (lib. bdg.).

Gr. 3-5, younger for reading aloud. With an eye-catching cover showing a rotten jack-o’-lantern with new pumpkin plants sprouting inside, this combines a topic of keen interest to children with spectacular photographs. Using a sprightly tone (“Now the pumpkin wears a weird grin” ), Ring talks about the ways that fruits, flowers, and leaves decompose and discusses some of nature’s “rotters,” such as bacteria and beetles. Following the decay of a log, she describes a variety of molds, fungi, mosses, insects, and animals that help the decomposition process along. The explanations are clear, and Ring includes a glossary that provides additional information without burdening the main text. Crisp, colorful, and thoughtfully selected close-up photographs taken by Dwight Kuhn add interesting, sometimes funny touches throughout. Appealing to kids and an invaluable resource for primary-grade teachers doing units on composting.

— Reviewed in Booklist by Susan Dove Lempke



Disneynature: Earth. DVD. 1:30 hrs. with tchr’s. guide. Disney Educational Prods.2009. ISBN 1-59753-238-X. $49.95.

Gr 3–9—The resonate voice of narrator James Earl Jones and majestic music complement this stunning photographic journey through the Earth’s climates and animal inhabitants. Emphasis is placed on a polar bear family, a family of elephants, and a humpback whale and her child as they are followed through a season of life. Many other species are pictured, but not named. Most geographic locations are not identified. While the camera does not dwell on bloody scenes, younger children might be upset at the sight of a pride of lions attacking baby elephants and a starving polar bear who lays down to die. The majority of the film footage originated in BBC’s Planet Earth series. This title, correlated to National Curriculum Standards, will enhance science units and research activities.— reviewed in School Library Journal on March 1, 2010 by Patricia Ann Owens, Wabash Valley College, Mt. Carmel, IL

Disneynature: Predator and Prey. DVD. 25 min. (close captioned). with tchr’s. guide. Disney Educational Prods. 2009. ISBN 1-59753-240-1. $49.95.

Gr 3–6—High quality nature photography highlights this introduction to the concepts of prey and predator in nature. Showing a variety of both land and sea animals in their search for food and their battle to survive, the biological imperatives of hunting and being hunted are explained. The need for culling the weak and old in order to strengthen the gene pool is explained as well as the various tactics used by animals to escape capture. Camouflage, refined senses, herd instincts, and a variety of adaptations are introduced using wolves, cheetahs, sharks, and other familiar animals as examples. Except for one scene involving a baby flamingo, the camera follows the chase but does not show the kill. The female narrator’s tone is soothing, and the accompanying music builds tension. The teacher’s guide is informative, but one section is a lengthy promotion for Disney’s Wild Kingdom. A good choice for units on the natural food chain.—reviewed in School Library Journal on March 1, 2010 by Eva Elisabeth VonAncken, formerly Trinity-Pawling School, NY

Exploring Desert Biomes. video or DVD. 14 min. with tchr’s. guide. Visual Learning Co. 2009. video: ISBN 978-1-5923-4426-0, DVD: ISBN 978-1-5923-4425-3. $79.95.

Gr 3–5—The characteristics of deserts and the plant and animal adaptations that allow them to survive in that environment are explored. Chapters cover: “What Is a Desert?,” “Where Can You Find Deserts?,” “Soils in Deserts,” “”How Do Plants and Animals Survive in the Desert?,” “Plants in the Desert,” and “Animals in the Desert.” The narration is clear and well-paced, and excellent film footage features deserts from around the world. A world map highlights the location of the Mojave, Sonoran, Sahara, Gobi, and other deserts. The teacher’s guide includes objectives, the video script, a pre- and post-test, a video review, and several writing and geography activities. An excellent classroom resource.—reviewed in School Library Journal on March 1, 2010 by Stephanie Farnlacher, Trace Crossings School, Hoover, AL

Oceans. 3 DVDs. Produced by BBC Worldwide. Distributed in the USA by Warner Home Video, 2010. ISBN 9781419884900 (DVD set).

Gr4 and up.

Overview: This DVD series takes viewers on an expedition through many of the world’s major oceans, exploring the ecosystems contained within each as the team researches the impact of humans on the oceans over the last 25 years.

Factual Accuracy: The research team is composed of experts in the field as follows: Paul Rose, explorer and expedition leader ; Dr. Lucy Blue, maritime archaeologist ; Tooni Mahto, marine biologist and Philippe Cousteau Jr., conservationist.

Stereotypes: Both females and males are represented on this team, as well as a broad range of ages.

Illustrations: Footage is visually breathtaking, and the experts do a good job of illustrating the topics of their discussion.

Analytical Thinking: Questions posed by the team in the course of their research will inspire students to reflect on societal and individual impact on the earth. Additionally, the day to day realities presented during the course of the expedition show the hard work involved in research, and the process these researchers utilize to come to their conclusions. Especially impressive is the section where Tooni combs through sea lion excrement to find otoliths (fish ears) to determine what adaptations the species has made to survive.

Organization: The DVDs are divided eight episodes with each episode focusing on a different ocean region. Episodes proceed chronologically.

Style: Investigative reporting and research is conveyed through narrative dialogue and reflective comments from each researcher. Comments and interviews convey personal excitement or sadness at the moment of discovery and create investment and engagement in the viewer.


Only One Ocean. CD. 60:04 min. Banana Slug String Band. 2011. ISBN unavail. $15.

K- Gr 6-The award-winning Banana Slug String Band (Doug Greenfield, Larry Graff, Steve Van Zandt, and Mark Nolan) performs 14 original songs about ocean ecosystems and animals. Four ocean-focused organizations co-sponsored the recording, and the band’s goal is to share with children knowledge and beauty of the ocean, and to call them to action in protecting the ocean. The band is joined by guest artists George Winston, Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet, Victor Wooten, Brett Dennen, Tim Carbone, Zach Gill, and an enthusiastic youth choir singing in several musical styles, including rock, funk/rap, jazz, zydeco, sea shanty, klezmer, reggae, bluegrass, and country. The musicians give outstanding performances on a variety of instruments, such as guitar, violin, mandolin, dulcimer, ukulele, saxophones, flute, piccolo, trombone, piano, electric keyboards, accordion, washboard, and more. Several songs emphasize the importance of the ocean to life on earth: “Only One Ocean,” “Ocean Everywhere,” “Ocean Flow,” “The Living Sea,” and “Too Hot.” Other numbers focus on ocean creatures: “Kingdom of the Crab,” “Standing on My Head” (barnacles), “Cetacea,” “Coral Reef,” “Turtle Ate a Jelly” (too many plastic bags polluting the ocean), “Plankton Soup,” and “Jellies Ballet.” “Going Down, Down, Down” describes the ocean floor and “Mountain in My Hand” celebrates all kinds of sand. This excellent album would be a great resource for science classes as well as for library music collections.-reviewed in School Library Journal on June 14, 2011 by Beverly Wrigglesworth, San Antonio Public Library, TX

Online Database (subscription based)

PowerKids Life Science

PowerKids Life Science is for students in grades 3–6.
Cost Pricing is tiered based on the number of students per school, starting at $595/year for schools under 1,000 students. Call (877) 381-6649 for a price quote. Visit online for a free 30-day trial.

Overview – PowerKids Life Science is an online resource with over 400 articles covering a wide range of natural science topics for students in grades 3 through 6. Students can find facts about animals, as well as habitats and ecosystems, the human body, life cycles, food chains, and more topics correlated to state and (for the Canadians in the house) provincial standards.
Aside from articles, Life Science contains a section dedicated to student projects and hands-on activities, as well as interactive games and quizzes to reinforce and extend learning. Teachers have their own section with a state standard correlation tool, training documents, lesson plans, and content for facilitating student research.

Look and Feel – A large part of the success or failure of a student database is the interface, and PowerKids makes a good first impression. Bold without being distracting, each section of the home page is clearly defined and kid-friendly.
How It Works – There are two ways for students to find what they’re looking for—via the search box, or by using their mouse to browse visually.

Content – While most of the content focuses on creatures, Life Science also highlights some conceptual topics that connect well with content typically taught in grades 3–6. Adaptation, Ecosystems, Life Cycles, and more all have dedicated categories. Each is impressively detailed. Selecting the Life Cycles category, for instance, brings up the option to focus on plants or animals. When Animals is chosen, a list appears with articles on the life cycles of six specific animals. Curiously, the most common animal used for teaching this concept, the butterfly, doesn’t have its own entry.

Verdict – PowerKids Life Science is a resource with some weight. Substantial information is presented in a way that isn’t overwhelming for kids. High-quality multimedia elements are seamlessly integrated. The interface is kid-friendly in both look and function. Overall, Life Science is a well-crafted resource that will enhance student research.
– excerpted from School Library Journal Review
Jonker, Travis. “SLJ Reviews Rosen’s PowerKids Life Science: kid friendly, quality content.” School

Library Journal. Web. 1 April 2011. http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/printissuecurrentissue/889601-427/slj_reviews_rosens_powerkids_life.html.csp


Maps are particularly useful in showing where biomes and ecosystems exist and how the physical design of our planet creates niches that cater to particular species and habits.  Graphical representation by topic can be used to illustrate a multitude of issues and interactions such as which areas have the greatest the need for conservation and where ecological boundaries have fluctuated. Additionally, when maps are archived, their collections can demonstrate changes over time.

Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance. map. 2004. OCLC 56018007.
Perfectly suited for an upper elementary classroom in the simplicity of its content. This map was produced by a group trying to raise awareness about Edwards Aquifer, its influence, and its interdependence on surrounding areas. In addition to the general location of the aquifer and geography of the surrounding area, this map names and shows the rivers from which it draws its source water. The back side of the map gives the history of the area, as well as tips on how to preserve and prolong the life of the aquifer.

National Geographic Maps. Africa: a Storied Landscape; Africa: the Human Footprint. 2005. OCLC 61333664.
This double sided map from National Geographic presents two perspectives: the human and natural physical environment. In addition to showing regions of development, it also emphasizes where humans have clustered and how their activities have impacted the various ecosystems that make up the African continent. While it gives an overall impression, with a few side blurbs, more specific location information would be helpful to orient the younger viewer.

National Geographic Maps. Diversity of Life. map. 1999. OCLC 40692539.
This color-coded map shows where the different biomes occur across the globe. It would be a good resource to give an overview of biomes and the distribution of different regions around the world. In addition, each region has a brief paragraph highlighting species that are special and unique to that biome or locale.

Thorson, Thor D., U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, et. al. Ecoregions of Oregon. 2004. ISBN 0607972661.
One of a series of maps created by the U.S. Department of the Interior, this collection is best used with older children due to its advanced vocabulary. Regardless, it’s clear graphical representation of regions by geographic location and climate is valuable and the sheer volume of information may be useful for an environmental studies unit or teacher.


Nature Conservancy of Canada, Wildlife Conservation Society, et.al. “Earth Rangers.com.” 27 Nov. 2012. <http://www.earthrangers.com>.

Kids saving the earth is cool! This website makes eco activism easy.  Produced by a Canadian non-profit, the content on this website is skewed towards conservation efforts. Nonetheless, it contains engaging, factual information on ecology presented through text on website pages, blog posts, games, contests and videos. Bright bold colors, thoughtful design, clear presentation, and a variety of activities make this a fun site for students to explore ecological consciousness.

New Hampshire Public Television. “Ecosystems – Natureworks.” 23 Nov. 2012. <http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/nwepecosystems.htm>.

This is an excellent resource for learning about ecosystems. It contains not only web content, but DVDs and other resources created by New Hampshire Public Television for educational use. The website is clean and well organized.  Text content is presented on a white background and content is not too cluttered or busy. Images that are used are helpful, and the progression of information builds logically from simple to more complex ideas. The site also includes a teacher guide.

PBS Kids. “Eekoworld |PBS Kids Go!” Accessed 26 Nov. 2012. 

Eeko the monkey guides you through this site which presents a series of facts in panels, panes, and an interactive house. Students will learn ways to save and go green as they figure out ways to reduce waste in their own home ecosystem. Children also get the opportunity to build creatures from elements and compete for high scores. At times, the sound effects may be off putting and Eeko’s voice is somewhat grating, so educators and librarians may want to turn the sound off or make sure that users are wearing headphones at their computer terminals.

Thinkquest. “Library : Thinkquest.” Accessed 23 Nov. 2012.


In addition to superb student created content, this searchable database of webpages also includes contests to motivate student creativity and problem solving. A real cash prize creates additional incentive for students to figure out the best way to present information. Several useful webpages on ecosystems and related topics can be found through searches from the main library page. Layout and content vary from page to page as it is produced by a different student or team.

Windows to the Universe. “Biomes and Ecosystems.” Accessed 27 Nov. 2012.


This site created by the National Earth Science Teachers Association is very content rich, sometimes too much so in an attempt to be comprehensive. Ecosystems represent only a small percentage of the information to be found on this website, but information on biomes is particularly helpful. In terms of organization, primary subject material is located in the middle of the page and navigation takes up a significant chunk of the top and left of the page. The rest of the site contains busy advertisements, which can be distracting but do not take away from the value of the scientific information on earth’s systems. A few games are hidden away in the tabs, but overall information is conveyed through text and links. Some special features include the ability to change the difficulty level of content on the page from Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced and the option for text to be presented in Spanish.

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