Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods nurtures art, nature and discovery. One of our favorite ways to do this is through great books. As the holiday season approaches, many of us are seeking quality gifts for children. In this post, our good friend and book expert, Sue Boucher, recommends children’s books that cultivate a love of nature and of learning.
Sharing Nature with Children
by Sue Boucher
Many years ago, before I had children, I was a Girl Scout leader for girls in middle school. Our troop met a wizened older woman who knew every spring wild flower and became so excited about seeing a Jack-in-the-Pulpit for the first time that year. Many years later I am that woman (not wizened I hope). I am thrilled to find the Jack-in-the-Pulpit in the same place every year in the forest preserve near my home.
During that time I was introduced to the book The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson, a lovely book about Rachel sharing her love of nature with her young nephew, Roger. This book really made me think about the importance of sharing my love of nature with children and has served as a guide for me.
As Rachel Carson says it’s not really about identifying everything.
“It is possible to compile extensive lists of creatures seen and identified without ever once having caught a breath-taking glimpse of the wonder of life.”
She goes on to say:
If a child asked me a question that suggested even a faint awareness of the mystery behind the arrival of a migrant sandpiper on the beach of an August morning, I would be far more pleased than by the mere fact that he knew it was a sandpiper and not a plover.
Here is a picture of my old copy that was published by Harper and Row in 1956.
Words and pictures to help you keep alive your child’s inborn sense of wonder, and renew your own delight in the mysteries of earth, sea and sky.
While that version is out of print there is a beautiful newly illustrated edition.
Here are some new picture books about nature for children:
By Christie Mathison
An innovative, refreshing debut picture book about the changing seasons and the magic and true interactivity of turning a page. Matheson invites the reader to tap, rub, touch, and wiggle illustrations to make an apple tree bloom, produce fruit, and lose its leaves.
Ellie’s Log: Exploring the Forest Where the Great Tree Fell
By Judith Li, illustrated by M.L. Hering
Oregon State University Press $16.95
With help from her parents, a forest manager and a wildlife biologist, and in the company of new friend Ricky, eleven-year-old Ellie Homesly fills a field notebook with sketches and notes about nature in the woods near her home. Includes suggestions on how to keep a field notebook.
By Jean Penziwol, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
In this exquisite lullaby, a parent paints a picture of a northern winter night for their sleeping child, describing the beauty of a snowfall, the wild animals that appear in the garden, the twinkling stars, the gentle rhythm of the northern lights and the etchings of frost on the window pane.
By Virginia Brimhall Snow
Gibbs Smith $16.99
Beautifully illustrated and with rhyming narrative, the storybook teaches children to identify 24 different kinds of leaves by their shapes and fall colors. From maple to mulberry and peach to pecan, kids will have fun learning about common and fascinating trees and their leaves. And at the end of the day, they learn how to press the gathered leaves in a book and make a leaf rubbing.
By H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurray
Beach Lane $16.99
Unearth the true story of green-thumbed pioneer and activist Kate Sessions, who helped San Diego grow from a dry desert town into a lush, leafy city known for its gorgeous parks and gardens.
And some older ones that I love:
By Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
A little girl, out cross-country skiing with her father, thinks about the various ways familiar animals survive the harsh winter weather.
By Lindsay Barrett George
The woods are cold and desolate as Cammy and William hike through the snow, yet signs of animal life are everywhere. Help them find the clues and join in guessing, “Who’s been here?”
By Lindsay Barrett George
A boy and girl in the autumn woods find an empty nest, a cocoon, gnawed bark, and other signs of unseen animals and their activities.
And for older children, books that involve nature:
By Susan Cooper
A story of adventure and friendship between a young Native American and a colonial New England settler. The intertwining stories of Little Hawk and John Wakely offer an eye-opening look at the history of the nation.
By Gary Paulsen, illustrated by Drew Willis
Simon and Schuster $17.99
I love this anniversary edition of the classic outdoor survival story, great illustrations and additional information.
Hoot, Chomp, Scat and Flush, ecological thrillers
By Carl Hiassen
Yearling $8.99 each
Laugh out loud adventure stories about kids trying to set right the wrongs done to the planet by adults as well as touching scenes of young people enjoying nature.
Sue Boucher has enjoyed the out-of-doors her whole life. An avid hiker, biker and cross country skier, she has enjoyed the Lake County Forest Preserves for all the years she lived in Illinois. She owned the Lake Forest Book Store for eighteen years and has enjoyed sharing books about nature and the out-of-doors with parents and children. She has recently sold the book store and moved to Northern Michigan right in the middle of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore where she is busy enjoying her favorite pastimes and helping out in another wonderful independent book store.