Hello friends of the Connecting to Children to Nature through American Literature blog.  As you have noticed we are taking a break this holiday season and will be returning with new moderators in January 2012 and look forward to new conversations in the new year.  At this time we invite you to please return to some of the older postings to deepen those discussions.  We have only touched upon some of the selections in the exhibit so stay tuned.

Happy Holidays !!!

Celebrating Nature Through the Eyes of Byrd Baylor - by Kathy Parra

First I want to express it is an honor to share with Connecting Children to Nature Through American Literature 1890-Today. Like many of you, there are books that touch the spirit-soul so deeply that you sit back on the porch swing, sipping that last bit of tea at the bottom of your cup, then as you raise your eyes you gaze to that of natures scene in your own backyard, the awe-beauty and wonderment it beholds as your inner essence is forever changed and has now taken a photographic snapshot as if you are the photographer, photographing an image now imprinted in your mind’s eye forever!

This is how I describe the Author/Naturalist Byrd Baylor in her book I’M IN CHARGE OF CELEBRATIONS.



The opening line of this book is sometimes people ask me, “Aren’t you lonely out there with just desert around you?” (Byrd lives in Arivaca, Arizona, population 909 as of 2000 and where much of nature is untouched in its purest form) Byrd goes on to share that each day is a celebration as she is with-within nature saying, “How could I be lonely? I’m in charge of celebrations.” She shares that each day she is with nature is a celebration and that she writes many of them down, oh but she is choosy she explains, last year I gave myself one hundred and eight celebrations….. besides the ones they close school for. And you can tell what’s worth a celebration because your heart will POUND and you’ll feel like you’re standing on top of a mountain and you’ll catch your breath like you were breathing some kind of new air. In the book she shares just a few of the wondrous celebrations she has wrote down.

Byrd Baylor love for nature is in the purest form in my opinion; she is one with the natural world as she speaks of seeing a triple rainbow while a rabbit watched with her, August ninth is Rainbow Celebration Day. And Coyote eye glances to one another, I saw her eyes and she saw mine. That look held us together. Because of that, I never will be the same again. So on September twenty-eighth I celebrate Coyote Day! Byrd celebrates with horned toads and ravens and lizards and quail…. So to those who ask “aren’t you lonely out there with just the desert around?” to that she says I have to laugh out-loud. 


So next time we are in nature let us all bring a little Byrd Baylor to our spirit and be in charge of our own celebrations through the intrinsic splendor of natures gift to us! 

Byrd Baylor Selections:




http://www.carolhurst.com/titles/everybodyneeds.html






http://www.carolhurst.com/titles/guesswho.html







New! Morgan Academy Discussion Blog on connecting children to nature through literature.

Don't Forget to Check Out America's Wild Read !



A Guest Book from Overseas - The Little Prince and Our First Explorations !


“What makes the desert beautiful,” said the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well…”

 

The first time I read The Little Prince, years ago, I finished it and said ‘what was THAT about,’ noted that I had read it, and put it away.  The second time I read the book, about 5 years ago, I said ‘what was THAT about’ and immediately began reading it again.  Since that time, I have read it several more times.  I’m still not sure what it is actually ‘about,’ but it is an amazing book.

The story is narrated by a pilot who has crash landed his airplane in the desert.  He meets a small person that he names ‘the little prince’ who wants the narrator to draw a sheep.  The little prince came from another world (Asteroid B-612) which is quite small.  Through the narration, we learn that there are 3 volcanoes (2 active), 1 flower that is being nurtured by the little prince, and the asteroid is in danger of being overrun by baobab trees.  There are also 44 sunsets every day!

The little prince runs away from the  flower and leaves his planet with the help of a flock of birds.  He visits other asteroids where he finds a king who rules over mostly nothing, a conceited man who needs to be admired, a tippler (drunk) who is ashamed, a businessman who is consumed with counting his possessions, a lamplighter on a tiny asteroid who is continually lighting and then putting out his lamp and a geographer who writes about the subject, but never explores. 

Finally the little prince comes to earth where he meets a snake, a vain flower, a fox, and the narrator.  The rest of the book involves the little prince’s interaction with these and culminates with the snake biting the little prince so that he can return home.



Whether you have never read the book and are going by my description or have read the book and are still confused, it doesn’t matter!  As the little prince says, “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves.”  Certainly with nature, this is true.   How much more exciting is nature when we see it through the eyes of first exploration!  And “first exploration” can come every day if we are exploring with a child.  Just recently, leading a nature hike in pouring rain, I was reminded that adults are aware of how wet they are getting and children are aware of how much more wet they can get! 

Somewhere along the way of growing up, adults lose a sense of discovery of nature and replace it with fear.  The narrator of the story says, early in the book, “…I would never talk to that person [adult] about boa constrictors, or primeval forests, or stars. I would bring myself down to his level.”  Adults need children as companions in order to explore nature or we risk staying at a low level of discovery and adventure.  Even adults who have made nature study a life-long career, like the renowned biologist E.O. Wilson, approach nature with the soul of a child even as they are collecting research for academic tomes.  Otherwise, they would collect only facts (as the businessman did) and never interpret those facts to give others a glimpse into the wonder of nature’s patterns and rhythms.  

 A study of nature always begins with the words ‘look’ and proceeds from there.  It is the observation that leads to the questioning of what is happening that leads to more observations that reveal answers to the original questions. On a hike, I listened with amusement to two 2nd grade boys who were explaining to me why they knew about everything in the woods.  And to my chagrin, I now realize I was listening with half an ear because I knew they didn’t know everything.  Perhaps I should have kept “listening  with my eyes” more closely to see what they could have helped me discover. 

“The Little Prince” is such a multi-layered book, that it may take you time to digest things.   To make it easier, think about how children have helped you discover nature and share your thoughts here.   “The little prince, who asked me so many questions, never seemed to hear the ones I asked him.   It was from words dropped by chance that, little by little, everything was revealed to me.”





Hatchet : The story of a city kid's survival out in the wild - By Ellen Murphy

Hatchet is one of those adventure books that you either love or hate. There’s much in it that can be considered implausible (see the final note), but there is also plenty that keeps you from putting the book down until the last page is turned. For adults, it’s an easy read; for early teens, it is an adventure story that is capable of pulling the reader into the story and challenging them to think how they would stack up in the same situation.




The story is pretty basic: Brian’s parents have split up and he is sent by his mother to spend time with his father in northern Canada, on a small airplane. The pilot suffers a heart attack, the plane goes off course and eventually crashes into a lake. The pilot dies, but Brian survives the crash landing and figures out a way to survive in the wilderness. After the initial shock of the crash wears off and Brian realizes he has to use his brain and his one limited resource (his hatchet), he learns little by little how to survive from one day to the next. For a city-kid without survival training, he does an amazing job!


After 54 days, he is rescued, and returns home a changed person: more thoughtful, slower to speak, and more appreciative of modern amenities.

The book is popular with boys and girls, and is especially important because there is a need for good “teen guy” fiction if boys are expected to develop any love of reading. I suspect its popularity comes from the likable character as well as a believable characterization of an average teen boy. Brian’s thoughts and actions after the crash are not heroic, but a great example of inner strength overshadowing panic—inner strength that Brian did not know he possessed. In a culture where parents are often accused of being too involved in their children’s lives and over-concerned with keeping them safe and risk-free, it’s refreshing for teens to relate to a character that demonstrate what many older adults have learned with age—you can do a lot more than you ever thought if you have to!

Comparisons of Hatchet with other books is probably inevitable. My Side of the Mountain has similar survival themes, but there are glaring differences between Brian and Sam. Brian is confronted with the wilderness and a need to survive without any preparation while Sam approaches the wilderness as a challenge he feels he is well prepared for. Brian is an unlikely invader and Sam is a willing participant. Other books that have a similar adventure feel are Treasure Island and Huckleberry Finn, both of which have a more difficult reading level, but make use of the wilderness as a partial backdrop. Does anyone even read them anymore? If not, it’s a shame as they are both exciting adventure books, although of a different time and place.


Most often, the themes that are explored in Hatchet are those of emotions and survival, but the wilderness backdrop can present an entirely different focus. There are 12 different plants, 33 animals (mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, insects, and aquatic animals), and 13 natural phenomenon mentioned in the book. It seems a shame that we overlook ways that that book can be used to excite students about nature and the diversity waiting just off the paved road. If we would read Hatchet with an eye for what it can reveal about the natural world rather than for the emotional angst of teens, we might discover an entirely different way to connect children with nature. I’d like to see this discussion go in that direction.

Two final thoughts— although there are a number of sequels to Hatchet, one of which is actually an alternative ending in which Brian must survive a northern Canadian winter, there is a certain curiosity in me that wonders how the book might have ended differently. What if Brian had been “beaten” by the wilderness or even not survived? That plot would be much darker, and perhaps not suitable for its intended audience, but might encourage more discussion about the place of wilderness in our inner fears. (If Brian had not survived, how would he have met his demise and when/if/how would he have been recovered.

Secondly, throughout the book, there are scenarios that seem real and exciting and some that are just plausible, but there are also a couple of things that just don’t work. The biggest error is that the plane is described as a small, 2-passenger Cessna 406. The Cessna 406 which is a big, twin engine plane. It would more likely have been a Cessna 120 or 140 and, while that is not really important, it is annoying to me. The lake is BIG—big enough so that a crashed plane did not leak enough gas and oil (much less the pilot’s decomposing body) to kill many fish or pollute the water. The plane’s emergency transmitter doesn’t go off on impact as it is designed to do, (which certainly happens), but miraculously begins to work after being in water for 2 months. Technically, that’s annoying, but it’s necessary for the plot to work.


Compare these books to Hatchet


As we continue this online discussion about Hatchet, think about how you might use the book to connect children, especially teen boys, to the natural environment. How would you compare the themes in Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain ? And how would you compare Hatchet to Lord of the Flies (or would you!?)












New! Morgan Academy Discussion Blog on connecting children to nature through literature.

Don't Forget to Check Out America's Wild Read ! Featured book is The Thunder Tree

Thank you Ellen Orleans!

Many thanks goes out to Ellen Orleans, your moderation on the books FLOTSAM, A Tree is Nice, and The Giving Tree are great resources for children and teachers who are connecting to nature through literature.  We hope to see comments by you in the near future.

Morgan Academy Comment Corner


Please go to the Morgan Academy Comment Corner and join this private school from Shepherdstown, WV discussion focusing on selections from this exhibit.  They will be entering Journal Entries made about Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, coming this weekend.

The Giving Tree and A Tree is Nice, Different Sides of the Story

For my second entry as guest moderator, let’s leave the ocean behind and look at two books about trees.

Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, simply drawn in black-and-white, is visually compelling and, at times, playful. It tells the story of a boy’s relationship with a personified tree. As a child, the boy enjoys climbing the tree, gathering its leaves, and sitting in its shade. He gathers its fallen leaves, makes them into a crown, and parades around as king of the forest. The tree and boy keep each other good company.





As the boy grows older, though, he spends much less time with the tree, returning only to ask things from it (“Can you give me money? Can you give me a house?"). The first time the boy returns, the tree gives him its apples to sell; the next time, its branches from which to build a house. Finally, the tree gives up its trunk, so that the boy, now an old unhappy man, can build a boat to sail far away. All this giving, according to Silverstein, makes the tree happy. It isn’t until that the tree reduces itself to a lonely stump, that it admits it isn’t really happy.

Years later, the boy reappears, tired and weak. The tree offers up the only thing it has left, a stump to sit upon. The boy sits. Silverstein tells us that the tree and boy are, once more, happy.

Open to a range of interpretation, The Giving Tree has been touted as a Christian tale of unconditional love as well as a Buddhist lesson on non-attachment. Some have called it a fable about a mother’s ultimate love while others label it a warning about over-indulgent parenting and selfish children.

However, after re-reading The Giving Tree with a focus on children and nature, the book takes yet another slant: an allegory about man’s destruction of nature for his own short-term desires. Yet, “allegory” isn’t the right word here. I never get a sense that Silverstein sees the tree as connected to the natural world. He never mentions the affect of wind, snow, or sun on the tree, or mentions any squirrels, birds, or insects who are disturbed when the boy cuts its branches and trunk. At the story’s end, when it’s just the boy grown old and the stump, Silverstein indicates no regret for the tree’s destruction.


The best that can be said about the problematic The Giving Tree is that it makes an excellent teaching tool. Ask children who read it if they think the boy or tree make good choices. Ask them, “If you were the boy or the tree, what choices would you have made?”

Janice May Udry’s, A Tree is Nice, is a 180° turn from The Giving Tree. I hadn’t remembered reading this sweet book until 12 pages in, when I came upon illustrator Marc Simont’s dense autumn rendering. Filled with silver and red maples and piles of fallen leaves—jumped on, trampled through, and neatly burning—this two-page spread is so vibrant I could smell the burning leaves. Seeing it, I remembered reading this book as a child, or more likely, it being read to me.

Published in the mid fifties, A Tree is Nice sports illustrations that alternate between deftly-rendered black-and-white and lush full-color. They are marvelously vintage, focusing on rural settings.

At the same time, there’s a forward-thinking quality. One of my favorite pages (another 2-page spread) accompanies text that reads in part:

We can climb the tree and see over all the yards.
We can sit on a limb and think about things.
Or play pirate ship up in the tree.

Above this text, Simont has drawn ten children playing in a huge tree. What struck me was the different races and genders of the children. The child playing pirate ship looks to be a girl! This feels advanced for the mid-50s, a bold message for a time when women were being urged out of the workplace and into the kitchen and laundry room.

Beyond its striking illustrations, however, what is A Tree is Nice about? There is no storyline here, no obstacles to overcome, no characters, unless you count the trees. And you should count them, because ultimately, A Tree is Nice is an engaging catalogue of just that: why trees are nice. For the most part, it’s a human-centric approach, largely focused on how trees benefit people; still Udry remembers the birds, horses, cows, and domesticated pets who also benefit from trees.

Unlike Silverstein’s tree, the Udry’s trees connect to the larger world.

Cats get away from dogs by going up the tree.
Birds build nests in trees and live there.
Sticks come off the trees too.
We draw in the sand with the sticks.



The language and even the title of A Tree is Nice, at first feels stilted. Isn’t “nice” one of those words that your fifth grade teacher said to avoid for its vagueness and overuse? Yet the more I read the simple, declarative sentences—[Trees] go up besides the river and down the valleys. They live up on the hills.”—the more convinced I became that “less is more.”

There’s a hint of objectivist poetry here, with sincere, straight-forward language that doesn’t tell the reader how to feel. Even better, there are unexpectedly delightful sentences: “[Trees] fill up the sky.” “Trees make the woods.”

Librarians have told me that A Tree is Nice is often a big hit during story hour. Reading its somewhat disjointed wording, it occurred to me that this book emulates the style in which younger children often write: short sentences that lack elegant transitions but contain surprising truths and insights. It’s almost as if Udry gathered ten young children, asked them why trees are nice, and wrote down their answers verbatim.

In the book's last three pages, Udry adds an appealing twist, moving away from description to a short narrative as she explains “A tree is nice to plant.”

You dig the biggest hole you can and put the little tree in. Then you pour in lots of water and then the dirt. You hang the shovel back in the garage.

Every day for years and YEARS you watch the little tree grow. You say to people, “I planted that tree.”

They wish they had one so they go home and plant a tree too.

This ending is a wonderful way to empower children to actively take part in the natural world, to observe(watching the tree grow) and to cultivate patience (for years and YEARS).

For older readers, this ending is an opportunity to talk about the way trees propagate (naturally vs. being planted by humans) and the difference between native versus introduced trees. For younger readers, the discussion might be as simple as “Have you ever planted a tree?” or “Do you have a favorite tree you like to watch grow?”

For any age, this compelling book asks of us all a question that is lovely to ponder: “Why do you think a tree is nice?”

A Tree is Nice Curriculum Link





Mind's Eye - by Ellen Orleans

I was immediately drawn to David Wiesner’s FLOTSAM not by its splendid watercolors and ocean themes, but—right on the story’s first page—by a drawing of an LBI beach badge pinned to a canvas tote.


As a long-time summer visitor to Long Beach Island (that is me at the beach on the right), I know these badges well, and thereby also knew, through this level of accurate detail, that this section of the Jersey Shore must also be close to the author’s heart.






The beach badge is just one example of the marvelous minutiae that fills Flotsam (its inside covers are also not to be missed.) From dune grass and rocky jetties to brightly colored beach umbrellas, Wiesner’s pages are chocked with alluring detail—both highly accurate and highly (we assume!) whimsical (who does that tentacle venturing out of the boy’s pencil box belong to, anyway…?). Wiesner not only captures the look of the beach (I can hear waves crash and seagulls squawking!), but—and here’s the first take-way—demonstrates the value of close observation.

And observe his protagonist does. In the opening (un-numbered) pages of this textless story, an inquisitive boy peers through a magnifying glass at a crab, binoculars and even a microscope (neatly sealed in a large Zip-lock bag) at his side.

When the boy walks closer to the water to look at a larger crab, he is tumbled by a rouge wave which washes up a Melville Underwater Camera (Wiesner named it in honor of Herman Melville.) When developed, the photos in reveal a fantastical underwater world of an octopus’ living room (a submerged moving truck seen just in the background), bands of tiny space aliens surrounded by dominant seahorses, islands atop starfish, and shell towns atop the backs of turtles. The world, Wiesner playfully reminds us, is a splendidly mysterious place.




The final photo in the camera roll depicts a girl, holding a photo of a boy, who’s holding yet another of another girl, each smaller than the rest. Ever resourceful, the boy examines this photo first with his magnifying glass, then with the microscope, revealing increasingly smaller images that cross oceans and travel back in time. Here, Wiesner underlines both our connection to the larger world and our responsibility to future generations.



After his parents pack up their beach chairs and walk home, the boy remains at the beach, where he takes a picture of himself holding the photo of the children who came before him, then tosses the camera back into the ocean for the next starfish, sea turtle, or squid to find, for the next child to discover.




While I’ve never seen mechanical fish while swimming in the Atlantic Ocean or spied octopi reading in sea floor living rooms, I have experienced a lot of beach magic: burrowing sand crabs, barnacle worlds clinging to rock jetties, tight flocks of {terns} Sanderlings that appear and disappear as they wheel in the sea air. The vastness of the sea amplifies my sense of wonder; Wiesner’s microscope and magnifying glass the perfect metaphors.


Another running, unsaid (well, everything in this story is unsaid) commentary in FLOTSAM is that adults often miss the magic. When the boy brings the mysterious roll of film to the clerk at the one-hour photo shop, she never gets off the phone while helping him, and hence misses the story of a life time. And while the boy’s parents support his curiosity, they are in their own worlds while he discovers new ones.



Even the title, FLOTSAM, another word for debris or refuse, begs the question: What do we value? Sunday afternoons in box stores instead of box canyons? Netflix instead of night sky? More video games? Fewer state parks?

As a staffer and volunteer for Boulder’s city and county Open Space, I lead hikes for children and adults. While I love learning the names of birds, trees, and flowers, on my hikes I emphasize something else: close observation. Sometimes we sketch pages in nature journals, other times we take photographs. Another activity includes a pack of color swatches from a book of abandoned paint samples. I generally pass out all the samples, allowing participants to choose whichever they want as they try to match their color to flowers, lichen, rocks, or other objects that pass as we hike.


For a recent kids’ hike, though, I handed out only greens. Initially, I was concerned that limiting the color selection to four dozen shades of green would be too challenging to the early-elementary kids who comprised this “Five Senses Nature Hike.” But the children loved it, carefully comparing pine, emerald, kelly, pea and sea green the grasses, pine needles, stems, and leaves they saw.


Another event I developed is simply called “The Magnification Hike,” and I thought of it when I re-read Flotsom and saw the boy’s bulging eye through the magnifying glass. For this hike, I’ve devised and borrowed several “looking activities,” but really, the big hit of the hike is the magnifying glass. I put on in every child’s hand and off they go. They are thrilled by things we usually step right over: Ants in dirt! Bugs on a rock ! Tiny, tiny hairs on a flower stem.

Consider Flotsam an invitation to take a closer look. And please, let me know what you find.






Thank you Greg Traymar for moderating!

We would like extend our appreciation and gratitiude for discussing with us the beauty of connecting children to nature through the activities in the Sharing Nature with Children book by Joseph Cornell.  This classic book can be used by parents and teachers on their collective journey in the world of environmental education.

Your Encounters with Sharing Nature with Children

Greg Traymar from the Sharing Nature Foundation is our moderator from August 7-27. He will discuss environmental education through his experience teaching "Flow Learning" which is inspired by Joseph Cornell's book Sharing Nature with Children.

Years ago, during an Outward Bound trip in Utah’s Desolation Canyon, Greg Traymar was resting comfortably on the sandy banks of the Green River, enjoying the magnificent canyon scenery, when he was overtaken by a profound peace and calmness. From this life-changing experience, he realized that his life’s work would be helping others find the same inner renewal and love for nature. [from Sharing Nature Worldwide website]

In 1979 a “worldwide revolution in nature education” was launched with Joseph Cornell’s book, Sharing Nature with Children. An instant classic, this book has been translated into 20 languages and is used in every part of the globe. With the writing of this book, Joseph wanted to give others more than “mere exposure” to nature, but rather, profoundly moving experiences.
Each of the activities in this book are windows through which others can see nature in fresh and creative ways. If you connect with nature through more of a scientific bend, you might enjoy “Bat and Moth” where you learn the concepts of Predator-Prey relationships through play. If you are an artist, you might enjoy “Recipe for a Forest” where you draw your own dream forest, complete with all the ingredients needed to allow it to thrive.
The classic activity that most people associate with Sharing Nature is “Meet a Tree.” With a partner, you are guided with a blindfold to a nearby tree and explore it using all of your senses (except for sight of course!). You feel the bark….is it smooth or rough? Can you wrap your arms around the tree? Is there any moss on the tree? How tall is the tree? Are you able to reach its highest branches? Once you’ve experienced your tree, your partner leads you back, takes off your blindfold and then you must find your tree. There have been children who have come back several years later to a location and were able to find their exact tree!
Nature touches each one of us deeply. Whether it is the wind blowing gently over our skin or a sunset that leaves us breathless, there is a power in nature that can transform our lives. Unfortunately, these moments are too few and far between for people. How often when we are in nature, our minds are on our job, our worries, on any amount of things….but not on the glorious beauty before us. By awakening enthusiasm and focusing people’s attention directly on nature using innovative and creative methods is the genius of this Sharing Nature books and is something that will never go out of style.
What is your most memorable childhood nature experience? What were the elements that made it so profound? How has that experience shaped your love and commitment to nature?
What has been your most profound experience using one of the Sharing Nature activities?
Please share experiences here and on the curriculum website if you have come up with ones related to this book with your students or family.
Look forward to hearing your thoughts and encounters.
Visit the Sharing Nature Foundation to learn more about Greg's work and Sharing Nature with Children.

Thank you Gail Gleeson !

We would like to thank Gail Gleeson for taking us on a journey through a small, small, pond, getting to know the enchanting Miss Rumphius, and encountering Calpurnia Tate a naturalist in the making.  Thank you for time reintroducing us to these classic tales, connecting children and families to nature.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Moderator Gail Gleeson

In my third and final week as guest moderator I would like to discuss the children’s novel The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, a Caldecott Honor book.

This chapter book, which would appeal to children in upper elementary and middle school, is a story of self-discovery experienced by twelve year old Calpurnia Tate, living in Texas at the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth century. Calpurnia’s mother wants to turn her into a young lady and tries to school her in the tasks expected of twelve year old girls, such as cooking, embroidery, knitting and playing piano. However, independent minded Calpurnia’s interests lie elsewhere: in observing the natural world of her Texas environment. She spends her time watching frogs, spiders, grasshoppers and all the other creatures living nearby. Calpurnia’s grandfather has always been for her only a stern but removed presence at the dinner table, who has rarely taken an interest in Calpurnia or her six brothers.


However, when she approaches him with a question of a scientific nature, he begins to take an interest in her, suggesting she read Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, and taking her with him on his many investigative journeys through the woods.


Calpurnia learns to observe things close up, record her observations, note changes in the environment, and most importantly, to engage in serious reflections about the natural world. At a time when the role of a girl on the cusp of womanhood was highly constrained, Calpurnia longs to expand her mind and her horizons through science. When she and her grandfather work toward an important scientific discovery of their own, she not only develops a strong relationship with her grandfather, but also reveals a glimpse of the strength of character that will help her challenge stereotypes and make her way into the twentieth century.


Students reading this book will learn about how different society was during Calpurnia’s time. They will also learn a little bit about Darwin’s theories of evolution and natural selection. Although most of us can’t travel to the Galapagos Islands to study tortoises and observe how these majestic creatures have adapted to the specific island on which they live, we can observe animals in our own environment and note the different characteristics that animals have developed to help them survive. Check out the squirrels, lizards, frogs, beetles and other critters in your neighborhood. What about them helps them thrive?


If your young reader wants to learn more about natural selection, watch this video:




Making the World a More Beautiful Place by Moderator Gail Gleeson

A book that celebrates both the beauty of nature and the joy of travel is Miss Rumphius, written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. Ms. Cooney, who died in 2000, was the author and illustrator of over 100 books for children, two of which were awarded the Caldecott medal.



Her illustrations contain vibrant color and exquisite detail that pulls the reader in for closer examination. Miss Rumphius reflects Ms. Cooney’s love of the Maine coast where she spent her summers as a child. Two other books, Island Boy and Hattie and the Wild Waves complete the trilogy of life in Maine that Ms. Cooney felt were the closest she came to writing an autobiography.




The story begins with an introduction by the great-niece of Miss Rumphius, who once was a little girl named Alice. Alice lived by the sea in Maine where her grandfather had a woodworking and painting studio. In an illustration rich with warmth and family comfort, we see Alice’s grandfather giving her the advice that will guide her life: she must do something to make the world more beautiful.





Years go by and Alice works as a librarian (hooray!) but longs for travel. She travels to a tropical island, visits mountains, jungles and deserts. Eventually she injures her back riding a camel, and decides to return to her home by the seas to convalesce. She still must heed the advice of grandfather by doing something to make the world more beautiful.


As she lies in bed in springtime, she notices the pink, blue and purple lupines that she had casually planted the previous fall. She wishes she could plant more, but is still too weak, however, to her surprise, the wind and birds do the work for her, and the next spring lupines are blossoming all over the hillside near her home.



Thereafter Alice/Miss Rumphius plants lupines wherever she goes, and the whole area where she lives, including near the school and church, is brightened with their peaceful pastel colors. In the end of the book, the young narrator reflects that she too must find a way to make the world more beautiful.


Lupines are a hardy plant that grow primarily in the northeastern part of North America, and they can survive in rocky, sandy soil. However, I discovered on my trip to California, they also grow abundantly in Yosemite.




Lupines in the moonlight.

Enjoy Miss Rumphius with children who are old enough to follow a storyline and discuss ways in which they can make the world a more beautiful place. Help them to start today by growing something, cleaning up trash, or even painting a picture of something in nature just as this celebrated author, Ms. Cooney, did. Perhaps buy a packet of wildflower seeds and see what turns up in your yard next spring!

Check these lesson plans, activites, and pdf of a drawing and writing response for students. Post your answers that you have done with your family on the Share Curriculum Blog from the Philosophy for Kids website featuring Miss Rumphius.

References:
Bader, Barbara. The Hornbook . Sept/Oct 2000, retrieved July 25, 2011 from: http://www.hbook.com/magazine/articles/2000/sep00_bader.asp.

Otis, Rebecca. Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site, retrieved July 25, 2011 from: http://www.carolhurst.com/authors/bcooney.html.


Curiosity Inspired by Tall, Tall Grasses and Small, Small Ponds by Moderator Gail Gleeson

Hello readers! My name is Gail Gleeson and I am an elementary school librarian in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. I have three children: a thirteen-year old daughter and twin sons who are eleven. My family just returned from the most amazing trip to California where we enjoyed so many astounding aspects of nature, from walking among ancient Sequoias in Yosemite Park, to viewing mountains and the San Francisco bay from the top of the Golden Gate Bridge to kayaking among sea otters, sea lions, and cormorants in Monterrey Bay. These experiences are a reminder to me that I need to incorporate more outdoor activities into my own daily life. We are diminished as humans if we are missing out on the sense of peace and curiosity inspired by the beautiful natural wonders of our planet.



All of this brings me to the first book that I would like to discuss for children and parents, and it is a book that is a perfect introduction for little ones to begin exploring nature. In the Tall, Tall Grass, by Denise Fleming brings young children to eye level with the creatures of the meadow. Although the cover illustration shows a young face peering into the grass, humans are absent from the illustrations on the inside pages of the book. The book begins with a caterpillar, crawling through a meadow and the simple words, “crunch, munch, caterpillars lunch.“


On subsequent pages, the caterpillar guides us in viewing a variety of insects, small mammals, reptiles and birds busily going about their day. The caterpillar is on each page, in a size proportionate to the other featured animal. The book contains teaching angles: it contains rhyming words, and it progresses from mid-day to nighttime. However, children will mainly delight in the brightly colored illustrations of the creatures that inhabit the grassy meadow. As the book ends, night has fallen and the fireflies are out. Fireflies speak of summertime and bring out the child in all of us. Sit outside with your child, watch the fireflies, and maybe catch a few!

In the Tall, Tall Grass provides an opportunity to introduce very young children to the idea that even when we are not noticing what animals are doing in nature, they are all around us, and we should slow down and pay attention. A parent might even begin to discuss the concept of an ecosystem with children at a very basic level, such as on the pages where toads zip their tongues out to catch flies. For parents who want their children to get out of the stroller or car seat and take a look around, sharing In the Tall, Tall Grass may present just the motivation needed.

[Blog Editor: See also the In the Tall, Tall Grass activity]


Denise Fleming has also written a similar book for exploring pond life, In the Small, Small Pond. On days when it is too hot and humid to explore a meadow, children can get close up to a pond or creek to see what is going on in that environment.




[Blog Editor: See also the In the Small, Small Pond activity]

Loving Nature/Caring About the Planet by Moderator Jennifer Emmett

[Blog Editor: Thank you Jennifer Emmett for your informative and lively moderation these past few weeks! Many of the books mentioned throughout the thread of posts would inspire anyone at any age. ]

I have greatly enjoyed guest blogging for this exhibit on the theme of Connecting Children with Nature Through American Literature, and I look forward to continuing to participate in the discussions guided by future moderators. For my last post, I’d like to address another category of books that help connect kids to nature: books that promote environmental stewardship. At National Geographic, our mission is to inspire people to care about the planet, so we are always looking to incorporate conservation themes in our books where appropriate and relevant.

When taking on environmental topics for kids, we try to keep the issues positive and hands-on, so that kids feel like they can be part of the solution and don’t end up feeling stymied or daunted. And we try to avoid being overly didactic, which is almost always a turnoff to a young audience.

Two of our recent titles have had a strong environmental focus, seriously addressing the issues but with a positive spin: Earth in the Hot Seat: Bulletins From a Warming World, and True Green Kids.

In Earth in the Hot Seat, author MarfĂ© Ferguson Delano clearly explains the threat of global warming, but doesn’t leave kids with a sense of gloom and doom. Instead she offers concrete solutions for how kids can help, and she also gives lots of examples of people who make a difference for the health of our planet.




















True Green Kids is a high-energy practical approach that offers up 100 Things You Can Do to Save the Planet, including creating a worm farm or growing an “edible garden” for snack-time.






As a mother, I know kids are very open to being responsible caretakers of the planet. My second-grade daughter picks up trash at the park, monitors water usage in our house, and says one of her favorite activities is recycling. It is encouraging to see conservation enthusiasm from the youngest generation. And, of course, the impulse toward environmental stewardship is almost always rooted in a love of nature. Connecting kids to nature in order to inspire that love, be it through books, or in other ways, benefits them, naturally, but goes beyond that. Ultimately, it helps create a generation who will benefit the Earth.

What books do you think help inspire kids to care about the planet? Do you see the link between a love of nature and conservation? How are kids you know participating in environmental stewardship?

Be Prepared by Moderator Jennifer Emmett

Rich Louv in Last Child in the Woods has noted that one reason people aren’t out in nature as much as they used to be is that nature for some people seems to have taken on a scary face. Mosquitoes, ticks, and birds carry sinister diseases such as Lyme or West Nile. In an age of increased parental supervision, the idea of setting kids loose in the woods may seem dangerous. One thing that books can do in helping children connect with nature is to inform and demystify. Kids are better able to cope with the challenges nature offers if they can follow the Boy Scout motto, and “Be prepared.”


In Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George, Miyax/Julie is alone and lost in the wilderness, struggling to survive. Her Eskimo heritage has given her the expertise she needs to survive. But first she must harness her fear in order to succeed. As she does, she connects even more deeply to nature and to herself: “Out here she understood how she fitted into the scheme of the moon and stars and the constant rise and fall of life on the earth.”




National Geographic’s book, How to Survive Anything, takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to survival. Middle-school age kids who read this book will be prepared to survive more than just nature’s challenges. With this book, they can take on life. The subtitle says it all, How to Survive Anything: Shark Attack, Lightning, Embarrassing Parents, Pop Quizzes, and Other Perilous Situations.





Humorous art that shows right and wrong situations (for example, on “How to Survive Lightning,” Right: get out of the pool; Wrong: talk on the phone in the bathtub while flying your kite out the window) reinforces the survival tips.



Information is power. Julie used her knowledge and self-confidence and survived one of the wildest places on Earth. Kids who read her story will be inspired to have their own nature adventures, and when armed with information that helps them know how to meet their own challenges, their comfort level in nature will improve.


Have you read Julie of the Wolves? What’s your take on it? Tell us your favorite part. Do you have a good nature survival story? Please share your thoughts and comments!

Enchanted Nights by Moderator Jennifer Emmett

We’ve had a bumper crop of fireflies in our East Coast backyard this year.

In the Outdoor Exploring section of National Geographic’s Classic Treasury of Childhood Wonders, author Susan Magsamen shares an activity: “Make a Firefly House.”

Have you been seeing lots of fireflies? Have your kids or kids you know been out catching fireflies this summer?



Nature Near and Far by Moderator Jennifer Emmett

The Classic Treasury of Childhood Wonders by Susan Magsamen and One White Wishing Stone by Doris Gayzagian encourage children to connect with nearby nature. Having the sense that nature is accessible is clearly the best way for kids to feel inspired to make their own nature connections. But at NGS we also like for kids to connect with nature in an aspirational way. We are fortunate to work with many explorers who spend time in the world’s wildest places.

In African Animal Alphabet by Beverly and Derek Joubert (NGS 2010), kids can see the wild through the eyes—and lens—of Beverly and Dereck Joubert, a writer and photographer team who live in Africa studying and photographing wild animals. Their book gives kids a window into a world filled with warthogs, dung beetles, and baboons. It is a wonder of childhood to know there are places on Earth where kids can spot lions and leopards instead of squirrels or slugs. And Dereck and Beverly bring this world to the kids who can’t see it for themselves. But hopefully someday will!

Do you seek out wild places for your nature experiences? Or do you find nature in your own backyard or nearby park or vacant lot? What do you think of the Indian saying quoted in Last Child in the Woods: “It is better to know one mountain than to climb many”? What books about remote wild places have fueled your or your children’s imagination and sense of wonder?

The Wonder of Nature by Moderator Jennifer Emmett

I am delighted to be a guest moderator for Connecting Children to Nature Through American Literature for the dates of June 26th - July 16th. I am the editorial director for children’s books at National Geographic, where we work hard to inspire kids to care about the planet. I'm also a mother of three nature lovers, ages 8, 5, and 4, and I love seeing my kids make their own nature connections, often with the help of books.


Over the next three weeks I’d like to discuss how books can help kids connect with nature in three ways: by inspiring wonder, by sharing information and modeling expertise, and by promoting stewardship.


This week's topic: The Wonder of Nature.


Crawdad Creek, by Scott Russell Sanders, illustrated by Robert Hynes (NGS 1999 & 2002), is a wonderful example of kids connecting with nature. Lizzie and Mike enjoy exploring the creek behind their house where they see animals of many kinds, find fossils and arrowheads, and hear the beautiful music of the wind and the creek. They try panning for gold. Lizzie says, “We never found any gold, at least not the kind you wear on a ring around your finger. But I felt rich all the same.”


Lizzie sees it clearly. Nature enrichens kids’ lives. Richard Louv, in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder (Algonquin 2005 & 2008), has comprehensively demonstrated how much poorer a childhood can be if it is deprived of contact with nature. At National Geographic, we think books can be tools to inspire kids to get outside, by engaging their sense of wonder.




Two examples from our list. In One White Wishing Stone, by Doris K. Gayzagian, illustrated by Kristina Swaner (NGS, 2006), a mother and child share a day at the beach. With poetic language and magical illustration, the child is shown observing or collecting natural treasures, starting with one white wishing stone and counting up to ten tiny sandpipers. I like how this book models one lovely way in which a parent and child can discover nature together.



Another book that promotes family nature experiences is The Classic Treasury of Childhood Wonders, by Susan Magsamen (NGS, 2010), an absolute gem of a book. A collection of poems, stories, nursery rhymes, photographs, and art that embody childhood wonder, it also includes hands-on, practical activities that show kids how they can connect with nature in simple but powerful ways—building a snow family, or a sand castle, for example. One of my favorites is “Ideas for the Nature Wanderer,” where the child is encouraged to use his or her senses to listen, look, smell, touch—and think about nature.


In Last Child in the Woods, Louv quotes Rachel Carson who rather concisely explains why we need the wonder that nature brings us (at any age, but especially in childhood): “From wonder into wonder existence opens.”


So let’s all read up. And then go outside.


What stories can you share of how you or your kids have found wonder in nature? Did a book help capture that sense of wonder, or prompt the seeking of it? Have you read any of the books mentioned above? What do you think of them? What’s your take on nature deficit disorder, as identified in Last Child in the Woods?


Please share your stories and thoughts!