Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Last week I had the good fortune to be able to attend a Rosemary Wells talk. She spoke to a packed house of people of all ages at the oldest independent bookstore in my area. (Remember to support our few remaining independent brick-and-mortar bookstores.) She introduced her newest Max and Ruby book, and answered many questions. I am a big Rosemary Wells fan, and even more, I am a lover of children’s books. My last few posts have been about children’s books, and I’m going to do it this one more time. Today I am writing about children’s books that support a connection with nature and the environment. So here are 10 stories to foster connectedness and caring in your young children with the natural world.
The Lorax by Dr. Suess has to be on this list! Published in 1971, long before “going green” was a fad, the Lorax spoke for the trees and warned of the dangers of exploiting the environment. In classic Dr. Suess rhyming style, we meet the Once-ler, who comes to the valley of Truffula Trees and Brown Bar-ba-loots. The Once-ler sets about harvesting the trees and destroying the forest.
Wildflower Tea by Ethel Pochocki and illustrated by Roger Essley.
In this lovely book, we meet an old man who lives alone. Through spring, summer and fall, he is out in nature gathering berries, blossoms and herbs. When November rolls around, he knows it is time to brew his “special tea” from all the gleanings and he sits by his window and watches the snow fall.
Ethel Pochocki developed her passion for books and writing while working at the New York City Public Library. While raising her eight children, she did her writing in the early morning hours.
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr
A girl and her father go out to try and see owls on a moonlit winter night. Dressed warmly, they trudge through snow. The hidden animals watch them pass. Pa makes the Great Horned Owl’s call and they wait for a reply. This story tells of a nightime adventure in wintry nature of a father and daughter. It is told simply, not too many words, and it evokes the feel of a snowy night. Wonderful for the wee, little children.
The Girl in the Golden Bower is another wonderful story by Jane Yolen and is suited for older young children. This fairy tale-like story is suited for the 6 and older crowd. Beautiful illustrations by Jane Dyer add to this wonderful story. I highly recommend this one!
Herman and Marguerite by Jay O’Callahan and pictures by Laura O'Callahan. I first heard this story on the car radio one day. My niece and nephew and I were spellbound. Jay O’Callahan was telling and he quickly became one of my favorite storytellers. He turned this story into a book.
A shy earthworm and a lonely caterpillar become best friends. Through learning how to believe in themselves, and working together, they sing their dying orchard back into life.
The Dragon and the Unicorn written and illustrated by Lynne Cherry. Ms. Cherry gives us a story of a princess who learns about the important natural co-dependance in the life of the ancient forest from her friends, a dragon and a unicorn. These two friends love their forest and the peace that abides there. That peace is shattered by men cutting down trees and destroying habitat on behalf of the princess’ father, the king.
The pictures accompanying this story are extremely detailed, and the beautiful borders are filled with even more details. And the characters are depicted with brown skin, an unusual feature that I wish was more common!
The Land of the Blue Flower by Frances Hodgson Burnett The author of The Secret Garden, and many more classic chapter books also wrote a ‘fairy tale’ suited to 6-and-ups. This longer picture book tells us that there is much to learn from the beauty of nature, from the stars and the earth.
Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep by Eleanor Farjeon with pictures by Charlotte Voake. Elsie Piddock is a natural rope-skipper. By the time she’s seven years old, she can even outskip the fairies. When she is 107, she returns to her home town to try and save the children’s beloved skipping grounds from the greedy, factory-building villain.
River Song by Steve van Zandt with the Banana Slug String Band, illustrations by Katherine Zecca. This story is a song set to pictures. It describes the cycle of water from snow melt into streams, and rivers and eventually to the sea. And it is accompanied by a cd recording of the song.
Two books that I have included in previous posts deserve repeat mention here. In Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, we meet the ‘Lupine Lady.’ who traveled the world, and to make it more beautiful she planted lupines wherever she went.
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema describes the interconnectedness of life on the African plains, and the mutual dependance on water. This cumulative story is perfect for the little ones!
How about you? Do you have any suggestions for stories that nurture our connection with nature? Please let me know.
and yours truly.
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Sunday, September 7, 2014
Story works to help us through challenging life situations. Stories can live in our soul and accompany us through the various ups and downs of our life. Stories speak to the heart, and eventually work their way to the head.
Over the years I have been asked many times how to help young children either prepare for, or deal with, death and illness. Death is a subject our culture tries to avoid. We just don’t want to talk about it. And yet, it is inevitable and simply a part of our life’s cycle. My advice to parents is to speak about death openly when it comes up. Young children certainly do not need details of someone’s illness or passing, but the acknowledgment of death and illness is important in helping the child begin to embrace these aspects of life.
An effective tool for helping people of any age begin to move through grief and towards a grasp of death is story. For young children there are many wonderful stories depicting life endings and illness in imaginative ways. I think these stories can be read to children at any time, not only when there is a death in the family. That way the child is internalizing the picture or the idea of the cycle of our lives and more prepared when the inevitable occurs. And when there is a loss, these stories can support the grief process. Additionally, a story might offer a vocabulary that you can use with your young child when discussing death and illness - a vocabulary that allows them to live into the pictures rather than an intellectual explanation of what is occurring.
There are tree stories that speak to this theme. Our Tree Named Steve by Alan Zweibel is the story of a beloved tree in the yard of one family that they name ‘Steve.’ “Yes. right there in the center of our yard, this weird looking tree grew to become the center of our outdoor life.” Steve participates in their family life over many years, gets ill and has a visit from the tree doctor and finally comes crashing down in a big storm.
Gentle Willow by Joyce C. Mills tells the story of a tree that develops a sickness that even the Tree Wizards cannot cure. Beautifully done in language young children can digest, this is a must read for anyone wanting to find ways through the serious illness and dying of loved ones toward an embracing of life and love and change.
Another one is The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia. Freddie’s questions and fears about dying are answered by his wise leaf friend Daniel until he eventually feels the peace of being part of nature’s cycle of the seasons and life and death.
At my local public library I found a wonderful book called Thank You Grandpa by Lynn Plourde, illustrated by Jason Cockcroft. It tells the story of a girl and her grandfather who enjoy many walks in nature together over years as Grandpa and the girl get older. He teaches her about gratitude and accepting death as it comes to the creatures of nature. And when Grandpa dies, she walks alone in the forest and knows just how to be thankful for what she and her grandfather shared. This book has beautiful images of nature. It shows the joy grandfather and granddaughter share and their acceptance that death is part of the natural cycle of life. This one is a simple story, not too wordy, that is perfect for young children.
Butterflies offer us a great opportunity for observing and experiencing transformation. Their life cycle is widely used to help develop a grasp of metamorphosis and renewal, probably because caterpillars are earthbound crawling things, and butterflies are beautiful flying creatures. The difference between the two stages is extreme.
Prince of Butterflies is written by Bruce Coville with amazing watercolor illustrations by John Clapp. This book seems made with slightly older young children in mind, perhaps 6-years-old and up. It tells the fictional and fantastic story of a boy who loves butterflies and grows up to be a scientist who tries to preserve their habitat. There is a wonderful scene when butterflies come en masse to the then elderly man and take him away on a flight.
A wonderful tale of aging and dying is The Clown of God by Tomie dePaola. It is a retelling of the legend of a Renaissance era juggler who gets old and eventually gives one last performance - his best ever - and dies knowing the gift of his last performance had made a difference.
There are many more picture books that I think could be helpful on this theme. I’ll just mention a few more:
Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaolo
Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst
The Story of Jumping Mouse by John Steptoe
A great online resource is the Healing Story Alliance. HSA explores and promotes the use of storytelling in healing. Their goal is to build a resource for the use of story in the healing arts and professions. On their website is an article related to the theme of this post called Seeds, Mirrors, Hands and Keys: Stories to Support Mourning by Gail Rosen. Ms. Rosen takes us through the stages of grief accompanied by story suggestions. Read her article and remember to adapt her suggestions to the developmental level of your young children.
What other books are out there for young children to begin to grasp death and illness? Please comment with your suggestions. This can be so much help for families in need of support during times of grief.
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