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!

Geography in Motion: Holling C. Holling's "Paddle-to--the-Sea" by Moderator Dr. Linda Tate

I’ll close out my stint as guest blogger with a consideration of Holling C. Holling’s 1941 classic Paddle-to-the-Sea, which won the Caldecott Honor in 1942. I am a bit embarrassed to report that this is the first time I’ve read this wonderful book – but it certainly won’t be the last (and I expect that my nephew will be making its acquaintance on his seventh birthday this summer – shhh…don’t tell!).

Written and illustrated by Holling, the book follows the journey of Paddle-to-the-Sea, an Indian figurine paddling a foot-long wooden canoe. An Indian boy in Canada’s Nipigon Country – eager to travel the world but unable to do so – carves the figure in the canoe and sets him on a snowbank so that, come spring melt, he can begin his long float to the sea. Each of the book’s 27 chapters carries Paddle-to-the-Sea farther along his journey, until finally the news reaches Nipigon and the now grown-up carver that Paddle has made it to France.

I loved the way the book brings the Great Lakes region to life – from the natural world (including animals) Paddle encounters along the way to the industrial activities he sees up close (including a saw mill where he nearly meets his end). I was especially intrigued by the wonderful hand-drawn maps, each showing Paddle’s location on his journey.

Recently, Nipigon established an interactive Paddle-to-the-Sea Park, where visitors can read quotes from the book (in Ojibwe, French, and English) on “displays that include waterfalls, sawmills, beaver dams, grain elevators, lighthouses and more.” Though Holling had visited the small town, why he decided to start the book there remains an unanswered question.

Aside from the marvelous book itself, my favorite discovery from this week’s exploration is the Google Lit Trip dedicated to the book. Once you’ve downloaded the necessary software, you can follow each chapter on Google Earth – and access discussion questions, lesson plans, and related websites. This is a must for any teacher using Paddle-to-the-Sea in the classroom, but it’s great for other readers as well. Also available is the Ohio Sea Grant curriculum package, which emphasizes that Paddle-to-the-Sea is more than the content of its individual chapters – it is instead, as a whole package, a fantastic introduction to the Great Lakes ecosystem.

If you were going to carve a figure and set it on a journey, what would you carve and where would you send your creation? What worlds would you like to experience?

Re-experiencing Awe: Rachel Carson's "The Sense of Wonder" by Moderator Dr. Linda Tate

This week, we return to coastal Maine, where environmental writer Rachel Carson spent her summers from 1952 until her death in 1964. In fact, so compelling was Carson’s study of the Maine coast that the Fish and Wildlife Service's wildlife refuge in Wells, Maine, was renamed the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in honor of the great naturalist.

Most people know Carson from Silent Spring, her 1962 indictment of pesticides, or from her studies of coastal, Under the Sea Wind, The Sea Around Us, and The Edge of the Sea.

Less well known, perhaps, is her wonderful book, The Sense of Wonder, which celebrates children’s awe as they experience the natural world around them.

Strictly speaking, this isn’t a children’s book – it’s not a book most children would read themselves. Rather, it’s a book for adults who want to nurture “the sense of wonder” in children – and who perhaps want to reinvigorate that sense of wonder in themselves.

The book began as “Help Your Child to Wonder” – a 1956 essay for Woman's Home Companion magazine. After Carson’s death in 1964, the essay was published as a book and dedicated to her nephew, Roger, the child who inspired her reflections.

Near the middle of the book, Carson defines the “sense of wonder”:

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder, so indestructible that it would last throughout life. . . .

Carson believes that, while this sense of wonder is innate, a birthright for every child, adults can and should play a key role in nurturing this delight at the natural world. She describes her outings into the natural world with Roger – and it is clear that, even as a seasoned naturalist, she perhaps gains as much from these outings (perhaps even more so) than Roger does. Both are (re)connected with the profound experience of being alive.

“If a child is to keep alive is inborn sense of wonder,” writes Carson, “he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” How to be such an adult is the lesson of this wonderful book.

So powerful is this book – and its invitation to share multigenerational wonder about the natural world – that the Environmental Protection Agency runs an annual “Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder” contest, in which a team of two or more persons – one a young person, the other an older person – submit a poem, essay, photo or dance video that expresses the sense of wonder the contestants share. The deadline for this year’s contest just passed (it was Friday, June 10), but it’s not too late to share your stories here.

How have you nurtured a child’s sense of wonder? What stories can you tell about rediscovering the “joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in”? Share your tales!

Kuplink, Kuplank, Kuplunk!: Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal by Moderator Dr. Linda Tate

I’ve spent most of my career studying and teaching literature, but this is the first time I’ve been asked to comment on children’s literature. I am honored to do so – and thrilled to start with Robert McCloskey’s 1948 classic, Blueberries for Sal. The book was awarded the Caldecott Honor in 1949. McCloskey is also the author of Make Way for Ducklings, One Morning in Maine, and six other children’s books.
Based on McCloskey’s wife, Margaret, and daughter, Sarah, Blueberries for Sal joins two of my other favorite Maine novels – E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs. Who doesn’t love a Maine summer, and who doesn’t revel in the lush taste of ripe blueberries? As the School Library Journal review said, the book is full of “all the color and flavor of the sea and pine-covered Maine countryside.”

What heaven to be on Blueberry Hill, where Sal and her mother find themselves picking berries to can for the winter. (Well, Sal picks the blueberries and eats them now . . . planning for winter isn’t foremost on this little girl’s mind!)

Also on Blueberry Hill are Little Bear and his mother, eating as many blueberries as they can, also preparing for winter. And in the mix-up that results as the two little ones get separated from their mothers, they encounter a crow family and a partridge family also eating their fill of blueberries. Seems everyone’s gorging on the luscious Maine berries, each family preparing for winter in its own way.

The natural world is inviting to these humans – a place where Sal and her mother at home, where they find nourishment, Sal blissfully eating berries in a clump of bushes. But it is also a place that demands respect: Sal’s mother has a healthy fear of bears, even small ones like Little Bear. McCloskey’s narrative is brisk, friendly, funny, and easy to follow – preschool children will enjoy hearing the story of Sal and Little Bear. Blue-black line drawings (blueberry stained?) bring thestory to life, making it easy for young readers to imagine the summer world of Maine.

Mothers and their children working together to prepare for the long, cold winter ahead, taking sustenance from the bounty of the earth . . . a perfect story to share with young ones! Read Blueberries for Sal to your favorite preschooler – and see if you don't find yourself drooling for blueberries and for a summer on the coast of Maine.

Tell us your thoughts about Blueberries for Sal!

Build Community: Be a part of the conversation about the power of nature literature to inspire our community of readers, writers, educators, students,naturalists, and family members.

Share Activities: Share how children's nature literature connects your child, family, classroom, and community to each other and to nature through learning activities and citizen action.

Connect to the Future: Remember what you read as a child. How did emotional connections grow for you? Was your career choice and future vision for the earth grounded in any way by your early access to children's nature literature?

Featured Exhibit Books
Seed Babies (1898); Wild Animals I Have Known (1899); Among the Meadow People (1901);Old Mother West Wind (1910); Blueberries for Sal (1948); Paddle to the Sea (1946); A Tree is Nice (1956); The Sense of Wonder (1956); The Giving Tree (1964); Ranger Rick Magazine(1967); Julie of the Wolves (1972); Sharing Nature With Children (1976); Owl Moon (1987);Hatchet (1987); Flotsam (1988); Joyful Noise (1988)

Note: Click on each book title page to be a part of the conversation and share your curriculum ideas on the companion Share Curriculum Blog.

Blog Authors:

Jan Hummer has been the guest exhibit curator at the Conservation Library in Shepherdstown, WV for over a year. She has extensive background in teaching young children, young adults, and children living with special needs with an emphasis on their connection to the natural world.

Anne Post is the National Conservation Training Center’s chief librarian. She is very interested in further exploring how children's nature stories inspired some of our early conservation heroes and how such early exposure to nature literature might influence career choices.