Monday, March 23, 2009

Nature, Toddlers, Books--Connecting the Dots

This month I am still traveling in Southeast Asia visiting international schools and speaking at an education conference in exotically named Kota Kinabalu (in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo), and I have asked my friend Nancy Raines Day — an environmental educator, bookseller and author of both fiction and non-fiction for children — to write a guest post for me. I will be back in April.
David Schwartz

Thanks, David. I feel lucky to be in touch with this community! After spending the last couple of years working on California's new environmental curriculum, I’ve been ruminating on how best to hook kids into nature right from the start, and how books might help do that.

Many of you know the book, The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. In it, Richard Louv makes the point that children and nature are and must be connected for the health of our children and our planet.

It worries me that American children probably spend less time in touch with nature today than ever before. Especially city kids may have trouble relating to living things in environments they have no personal connection to. Of course, the more outdoor experiences—walks in the park, camping trips, or days at the beach—they can get, the better.

In between such opportunities, putting the right books in their hands can be a great way to connect kids with nature. As Louv wrote, “People who care about nature often mention nature books as important childhood influences.”

Many fine nature books are out there for school-age children. Nature books at the earliest (0 to 4-year-old) level can help build a base for later understanding. Rachel Carson has said, “It is not half so important to know as to feel when introducing a young child to the natural world.” Below, I’ve rounded up some books that help the youngest audience feel their connection to the natural world.

My favorite “young” books new for spring are In My Nest and In My Pond, written by Sara Gillingham and illustrated by Lorena Siminovitch (Chronicle Books, 2009). These tiny books are a tactile delight, allowing little fingers to delve through layers of thick pages while wiggling a baby bird--or fish--in the midst of its family. In My Nest shows the twigs, leaves, and feathers that go into building the nest. When a child later sees a real bird carrying a twig in its mouth, he or she will feel such satisfaction knowing why!

Also perfect for spring is Kevin Henkes’ Birds, a large book with appealing illustrations by Laura Dronzek (Greenwillow, 2009). Kids everywhere see birds in their daily life, so feathered friends are the perfect wildlife ambassador. The imaginative text engages all the senses. You have to see the illustrations to get a sense of the utter joy conveyed in this passage: If there are lots of birds in one tree and they all fly away at the same time, it looks like the tree yelled. . .

S U R P R I S E !

Another great intro to birds and other animals for toddlers is the whimsical, geometrical art in Charley Harper ABC’s and Charley Harper 123’s (Ammo Books, 2008). He captures each creature's essence with warmth and humor. Harper said of his bird art, “I have never counted the feathers....I just count the wings.”

To introduce very young readers to environments they may not know firsthand, try Over in the Ocean in a Coral Reef by Marianne Berkes, illustrated by Jeanette Canyon, (Dawn Publications, 2004). Based on the traditional rhyme, “Over in the Meadow,” the bouncing, joyous text and colorful clay art will delight young listeners and lookers with the wonders of life on a coral reef. Likewise, Over in the Jungle (2007) enfolds young readers in the splendor of the rain forest. Both luckily come in board book editions.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with these or other books that strengthen young children’s nature connection!


Meghan said...

These are some great picks! I know the new Henkes birds book, which I love, but am looking forward to checking out the Gillingham titles. As a librarian in New York, I know how important it is to help young children foster a connection to nature.

Lynn said...

Thank you very much for the suggestions. I just put a hold on the Birds book (our little guy loves birds). I wish our library had the Gillingham titles; they sound perfect for our 15 month old; we'll have to keep an eye out for them.

Unknown said...

Jeanette Canyon’s clay illustrations are incredible in Over in the Ocean in a Coral Reef and her other books. Should inspire some fun clay play with young readers.