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.

Bader, Barbara. The Hornbook . Sept/Oct 2000, retrieved July 25, 2011 from:

Otis, Rebecca. Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site, retrieved July 25, 2011 from:

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?