My preliminary commando raid of research (via Amazon.com) offers the following food for thought. The bestselling children's book in the category of Environment & Ecology is Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. It comes in at #1,207 of all Amazon.com titles, a respectable ranking indeed (and of course it's not even nonfiction). But the long tail quickly thins with nonfiction books. Many of the books in this long tail have an admonitory tone to their titles, a sort of "turn off the lights before another polar bear dies," sort of tone. Ouch. Are these books inspiring love of the natural world, or an unwelcome feeling of moral burden? The Lorax may be selling well thirty-some years after its publication, but it's not clear that it has inspired families to go outside and romp around in the Lorax's forest.
Coming at this from another angle, we find The Dangerous Book for Boys, which has been going strong since its publication in spring of 2007, and which currently stands at #421 overall, another very respectable showing. Not exactly beside it, at #966 overall, is The Daring Book for Girls. Both of these present outdoor activities, skills and games that used to be the common currency of childhood as nostalgia. A chapter on snowballs? On skipping stones? Is outside now so outlandish that children need instructions for even its most casual use? Does this presentation imply that although outside may have been the playground of long ago, it is too quaint to be taken very seriously now?
Books about nature abound -- books about monarch butterflies and manatees and rain forests and every conceivable topic -- and many of them are amazing, many written by my colleagues here on this blog. But where are the books for children that are sending them outside to collect the bugs and gaze at the clouds and build forts? Are there books that do this? Is it appropriate to ask books to do it at all? Do we not, as nonfiction writers, hope to inspire wonder and excitement over the natural world in our readers? What are we not saying? Why are the children not running outside to play after they read our wonderful books? Why are they not engaging directly with the natural world?
As I said, I am only just beginning this investigation. I welcome your comments and leads.