“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” ~Albert Einstein
Have you noticed? Nature is disappearing from children’s picture books: A recent study of illustrated award-winning children’s books revealed that, “By 2008, images of natural environments had decreased to just 25 percent, while built environments were the primary setting for 55 percent of the images. Pictures of both wild and domesticated animals reduced drastically over the years as well” (http://www.scpr.org/blogs/environment/2012/02/28/4873/nature-animals-are-endangered-species-world-childr/).
Man-made worlds inhabited by few if any animals—these are places books create for children these days. And if you factor in school time, lesson time, computer time and television time—it could be that our children are often completely disconnected from the wildness and exhilaration of the world outdoors. Below are four books that can reconnect kids to nature, and maybe parents, too:
Jane Drake’s and Ann Love’s GET OUTSIDE: THE KIDS’ GUIDE TO FUN IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS is a celebration of everything outside. With Heather Collins’ sunny, detailed drawings this guide will entertain even reluctant readers, and inspire kids of all ages and interests. GET OUTSIDE spans the seasons and explains everything: how to throw a Frisbee, how to construct an Inuit inukshuk (rock sculpture), how to compost, make art with ice, play hiding games, gaze at stars, catch bugs, build a bird house, play cards, do math tricks, or play Capture the Flag according to the rules. There are even indoor activities for inclement days. The whole family will love this book. Text geared to readers 6 and up, but appealing to all ages.
The bright and lovely SECRETS OF THE GARDEN: FOOD CHAINS AND THE FOOD WEB IN OUR BACKYARD by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld with illustrations by Priscilla Lamont will captivate readers 5 and up. This simple story of one family’s garden from spring planting until the autumn harvest provides complex information (how plants grow and how living things are connected) through bright, happy, watercolor illustrations. Children will return to this book again and again—when they’re not outdoors in their own gardens.
Kids 3 and up will have fun with Marianne Dubuc’s ANIMAL
MASQUERADE, a sweet picture book showing animals wild and domestic assuming disguises for a masquerade party. As each animal pretends to be another, children will contemplate the qualities that make each of us who we are and make each species unique.
VIRGINIA WOLF by Kyo Maclear and Isabell Aresenault demonstrates nature’s power to restore the spirits of even the littlest among us. Kids will miss the clever allusions to Virginia Woolf and her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, and Bloomsbury, their home, but will understand what Virginia means when she says she feels “wolfish,” irritable and depressed:
“DO NOT WEAR THAT CHEERFUL YELLOW DRESS . . . DO NOT BRUSH YOUR TEETH SO LOUDLY . . . STOP THAT RACKET!”
Vanessa helps her disgruntled sister by painting flowers, “a field with a big roaming space,” birds, butterflies, a snail, and a mountain: Soon Virginia is feeling human again, which means that she’s ready to go outside and play. 5 and up.
Jo Perry has a Ph.D. in English, taught literature and writing, and worked as a college administrator and as a television writer and producer. She is a reviewer for BookBrowse.com and is an ongoing contributor to kidsLA Magazine for which she writes about the city, children’s books, and conducts interviews. For two years she wrote the Kids’ Book Club column for the L.A. Times’ Kids’ Reading Room page.