As I write this, a bucketful of tadpoles lives in our garage, awaiting metamorphosis. Alas, there has been one casualty: a large bullfrog tadpole (a "whopper," according to Junior) did not survive being lovingly transferred from neighborhood pond to bucket and is now buried in the yard. His grave is marked by a tombstone. I believe there was singing at the funeral, but I was not invited, as the interment was private.
If the whopper had lived to froghood, he would have looked like the guy on the cover of Doug Wechsler's Frog Heaven: Ecology of a Vernal Pool. (I'm linking to Boyds Mills, the publisher, so you can see it.)
In the glossary, Wechsler, who also took all the photographs in the book, explains exactly what a vernal pool is: "a shallow seasonal pond that is wet for at least several weeks most years, has no major inlet or outlet, and usually has no fish." What it does contain is awesome: frogs, salamanders, damselflies, fairy shrimp, ribbon snakes, and more.
Frog Heaven concerns one vernal pool in Delaware, but this kind of pond exists all over the country. Wechsler takes the reader (age 8+ for independent reading, younger for read-aloud) through the seasons, beginning with autumn when marbled salamanders begin their life cycle. We've really enjoyed reading about food chains and how fish are the mortal enemies of frogs and how vernal pools are "not just big puddles in the woods. They are part of the forest. The ponds are nurseries for many forest creatures."
At 45 well-written, beautifully photographed pages, the book is like a National Geographic article for children, with some environmental advocacy stirred in, too. Wechsler writes,
"It took thousands of years for this vernal pool to become what it is today. It took millions of years for the vernal-pool animals and plants to blend their cycles together. It takes a bulldozer a few minutes to destroy a pool forever."
Our neighborhood pond is not a vernal pool, as it contains plenty of frogs' mortal enemies and is connected by outlets to other ponds, but we found lots of information here that applies to our pond, too. Wechsler even provides a web address for the Vernal Pool Association: www.vernalpool.org.
I'm surprised that Frog Heaven did not make the outstanding science trade books list published by the National Science Teachers Association. Like Loree Griffin Burns' Tracking Trash, it presents science in an intelligent and child-friendly way and would be a great addition to the young naturalist's bookshelf.