Monday, April 12, 2010

Celebrating Spring - Books for Young Naturalists

One of the most delightful characters in the history of natural sciences was a Frenchman, Henri Fabre, who explored the riches of the universe all in his own untamed backyard. As an elderly man he fathered three children. They called him  Pere and helped with his many experiments. Fabre loved to observe insects and designed intriguing tests to see how they would behave, and if they could think for themselves. His youngest child Paul especially shared his passion for learning about cicadas, caterpillers, and the other "children of summer." The book Children of Summer is lots of fun for boys and girls and adults to read, with stories of Fabre's shooting a cannon to test cicadas' hearing and the family's eating a meal of - oooooohhh - grubs (nicely cooked, of course).

The season of spring is all about new life everywhere, a single walk in the woods reveals dozens of treasures. There are endless wonderful books to share with kids that add to the meaning and joy of sounds, smells, creatures and new green growth. Some of my favorites are the One Small Square books for children ages four to eight. This is a great description of the Woods volume: The woods are full of puzzles to be solved, clues to be found. Inspired by this book's hints and fun-filled experiments and activities, and using only simple equipment, young readers unlock the closely guarded secrets of the woods­­from the strange meetings of lazy butterflies, to the miraculous "walking" of a twig, to the riddle of why the leaves turn color and fall. One small square at a time, these "detectives" plunge deeper and deeper into ancient mysteries­­without ever getting lost. Beautifully illustrated, Woods offers a picture field guide, a glossary-index, and a resource list.

A great reference book and guide for the family is The Amateur Naturalist, by Gerald Durrell, one of the most charismatic and enthusiastic nature writers ever. In this book, rich with gorgeous artwork and photographs, Durrell takes you on nature walks. You learn much about many different habitats and how to explore, what to look for, how to interpret what you see, and how to set up all sorts of exciting experiments. I've heard of people waking up at night just to read this and other books by Durrell because he had such love for animals and wildlife -everyone gets swept up in his enthusiasm.

One of my other favorite treasures is A Guide to Night Sounds, by Lang Elliott, a cassette tape with a small book, out of print but available second-hand. Elliott's soothing voice takes you into a beaver's den where you can listen to the tender cooings of baby beavers. You also get to hear raccoons arguing, porcupines munching, frogs and owls of course, the lovely calls of loons, and much more. An unlikely and enriching hour of things that hoot and hiss and thump in the night.

Last treasure of the moment is not a book but a lovely website all about wildflowers: Look up any single flower and be prepared for fine photos and precise information. It has a kid's section, and some great teacher/parent resources - beautiful pages for classrooms and homeschoolers. Enjoy, and happy spring!

These books and audio are available through libraries, or you may purchase them new or used right here:

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