Today, I’m going to try something a little different. The sky looks grouchy, and the forecast tells me that it’s a nice day to snuggle up with a good book. If you know me well, you might know that I am an avid reader, collector and aspiring author of children’s literature.
A study in the journal Sociological Inquiry showed that the use of nature in children’s books is decreasing. “There have been significant declines in depictions of natural environments and animals while built environments have become much more common.” (Williams et al. 2012) How sad!!
My childhood was filled with talking animals “messing about in boats,” rabbits making off with lettuce, and a little girl with red hair revelling in an apple-blossomed “White Way of Delight.” So, while it may become a little more difficult to use this medium to help children connect with nature through the written word, there is still a wealth of material out there.
Here is a list (in no particular order except I saved the best two for last) of classic (and what I think should be classic) books, both old and new, that feature nature in different ways. While some authors specifically address environmental issues, most simply celebrate the beauty of the natural world through their writing. (As usual, I apologize for the photo quality, I did this quickly.)
This book combines stunning photography with a simple, but beautifully written story of a fawn learning about the winter. As the fawn communicates with a variety of animals, he gradually learns that “All creatures must prepare and be ready to follow their heartsong.”
9. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame (Illustrated by Robert Ingpen)
“There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
8. Fairy Houses – Tracy Kane
This series of books talks about and gives instructions for building fairy houses. This entails taking natural fallen materials and constructing small buildings. This is such a fun activity for kids to try, and the books really bring the idea to life. http://www.fairyhouses.com/
7. On the Day You Were Born – Debra Frasier
If you find this book in board-book format, it makes a beautiful gift for a new baby. It introduces the concept of the beautiful network of life on earth, and welcomes a baby to join it.
“The Earth and her creatures,
With the sun and the moon
All moved in their places
Each ready to greet you”
6. Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter
I’m sure you all remember naughty Peter, who lived with his brothers and sisters and his “mother in a sand-bank underneath the root of a very big fir-tree.” Do you remember him squeezing under the gate, and munching Mr. McGregor’s carrots, beans and radishes? Sometimes when I look at our vegetable garden, I can’t help but imagine a little blue coat snagged on the fence (however, rabbit stew is not in our cooking repertoire!). I love the classic illustrations!
5. Our Family Tree – Lisa Westberg Peters, (Illustrated by Lauren Stringer)
This book is a more recent find. With its colourful paintings and simple flowing story, it is a perfect first introduction to Evolution. It is a fantastic way to help children understand where we came from, and how we are all connected to the earth.
“Slowly…slowly…one step at a time, some cells joined together, and became plants. Our cells joined together and we became animals.
4. The Secret Garden – Francis Hodgson Burnett
A lonely little girl finds a beautiful but overgrown hidden garden, and finds happiness and friendship while restoring and caring for this magical space. This book beautifully illustrates the healing power of nature.
“I’ve stolen a garden” she said very fast. “It isn’t mine. It isn’t anybody’s.”
3. The Umbrella – Jan Brett
I have to admit, this is a book I absolutely judge by its cover. The illustrations pop with colour and detail. A host of Costa Rican animals jump one-by-one into a leaf-umbrella. The book celebrates the diversity of the rainforest, playfully introducing a number of species.
“A little puddle appears in the green umbrella. Froggy slides down the handle and slips into the water.”
2. Anne of Green Gables – Lucy Maud Montgomery
Lucy Maud Montgomery is one of my all-time favourite authors. Her books have enticed travellers from all over the world to come and discover the simple but beautiful natural landscape of Prince Edward Island. I have read her books over and over, and have a well-worn complete collection of her works on my shelf. The illustrated edition is actually a new addition.
“Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.”
1. The Lorax – Dr. Seuss
Another favourite author of mine is Dr. Seuss. I believe he was one of the most brilliant writers of children’s literature. With its perfect rhyme, playful illustrations, and important message, the Lorax has stood the test of time, and remains one of the best examples of environmental literature for children.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. “
The recent movie edition of this story took quite a bit of creative license, but I loved it just the same. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. http://www.theloraxmovie.com/index.php
Those are just ten of my favourite examples of children’s books that celebrate nature.
What are yours?
Williams, J. A., Podeschi, C., Palmer, N., Schwadel, P. and Meyler, D. (2012), The Human-Environment Dialog in Award-winning Children’s Picture Books. Sociological Inquiry, 82: 145–159.
Sams II, Carl R.and Stoick (2007). First Snow in the Woods.Friesens of Altona, Manitoba
Grahame, K. (2007 edition). The Wind in the Willows. Blue Heron Books, Vancouver, B.C.Kane, T. (2001). Fairy Houses.Light Beams publishing, Lee, NH. Frasier, D. (1991). On the Day You Were Born. Harcourt Brace, Orlando, FL. Potter, B. (2006 edition). Beatrix Potter: The Complete Tales. Frederick Warne & Co. London, England. Westberg Peters, L. (2003). Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story. Harcourt Books, New York, NY. Burnett, F.H. (). The Secret Garden. Candlewick Press. Somerville, MA.
Brett, J. (2004). The Umbrella. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, NY.
Montgomery, L.M. (2000 edition). Anne of Green Gables. Tundra Books, Toronto, ON.
Dr. Seuss (1971). The Lorax. Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto, ON.