Monday, March 5, 2012

Nature Images on Your Bookshelf

The New York Times recently commented on a study of Caldecott books that featured a natural setting or wild animals. KJ Dell'Antonia writes:

"What they found probably doesn’t surprise any parent or child for whom the world of “Blueberries for Sal” is completely alien: where once children’s books offered essentially equal illustrative doses of built and natural environments, natural environments 'have all but disappeared' in the last two decades."

Take a look at your own bookshelves—what images are you offering your children? It's an interesting thing to think about, isn't it. Starboy's favorite books feature trains and cars. He loves to read a model airplane magazine. Although I'm glad to say that new interests include a tomten who guards a farm, a hedgehog and a knit hat, and flower fairies.

I would guess that maybe 40 percent of our current shelf features strong nature images, but some of those also have buildings and "development." And do we read those books 40-50 percent of the time? Sometimes yes—sometimes no.

I do look for books with beautiful illustrations, preferably those created by hand, rather than computer. They are getting harder and harder to find. Nikki McClure's "Mama, Is it Summer Yet?" uses a beautiful scherenschnitte technique, but those bold paper cuts are scanned and color is added digitally.

I think it's important to balance kids' reading experiences with what they are interested in, what is familiar, and what they need to see and learn about – or, in the case of fairies and tomten, just wonder about. Are we, as a society, limiting our children's reading experiences only to the familiar? Or is that just a symptom of urban sprawl overall? How has the decrease in family farming as a lifestyle contributed to what we see and imagine in stories?

Families that embrace Waldorf philosophies at home often host a seasonal Nature Table, to bring the outdoors inside. To some extent this seemed silly to me: We have plenty of the outdoors outdoors, why should we have it indoors as well? Ah, to keep in touch. To feel its texture. To remember the sweet scents. To be inspired by life's rhythms and cycles.

And so it should be with reading. Or we will sterilize ourselves with the unmindful wandering that obligations and "progress" enticingly encourage.

Can you recommend books that your family enjoys, whose stories touch on nature?

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