Earth Day: Sharing Nature with Children

30 Apr

Read Green 6.

As I mentioned earlier, children benefit greatly from exposure to nature. If you want more information, I would recommend starting with Richard Luov’s Last Child In the Woods or The Nature Principle. But I’ll be honest, I haven’t actually read either of these books cover to cover, and that’s not exactly the topic I wanted to talk about for my last Earth Day post.

Instead I’m going to assume that you already have a vested interest in sharing natural places with a child in your life, but don’t know how to get started. Maybe you are the parent of the child in question, or lead a scout or youth group. Or maybe you are the cool and/or crazy aunt or uncle who just wants to teach the little nugget to appreciate the outdoors. The good news is that you don’t need an advanced degree in ecology to create meaningful experiences for children in nature. All you really need is a healthy dose of common sense when it comes to safety and some basic knowledge of how to reduce your impact in your natural areas of choice. Once you’re armed with those, feel free to dive into these resources:


The first, Joseph Cornell’s Sharing Nature with Children is such a classic that I couldn’t help but steal it’s title for this blog post. More than thirty years after its first publication the activities in it are still pure gold, even for a generation of kids who grew up being amused by computers and video games. I challenge you to find a child under the age of eleven who doesn’t enjoy playing Camouflage, Bat and Moth, or Meet a Tree.

The activities are divided into three categories. (And in true outdoor educator form each category is named after an animal. That is how you know this book is really legit.) Bear activities are calm and often introspective, crow activities encourage observation and physical activity, and otter activities encourage playfulness.


Another great book that uses a slightly different approach is Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young, Ellen Haas, and Evan McGown. The first part of this book is geared more towards expanding the skills and perspectives of the mentor, (that’s you,) and the second half dives into activities. It is definitely intended to be more of a curriculum guide than a collection of stand alone activities but don’t let that scare you away. It also focuses more on tracking and survival skills than Cornell’s book, but includes meaningful activities about awareness and community building.


When my friend Sal described this last book to me, I thought it was too good to be true. There was no way a book existed that connects children with natural places using outdoor activities and books. And yet it does. The book is called A Sense of Place by Daniel A. Kriesberg. While this book is definitely more geared towards teachers, I don’t think the activities are too complicated or difficult to be useful for the rest of us. Plus, if you’ve stuck with us all the way through the month of April you clearly have an interest in books and the environment; it would be kinda great if you could pass those on to the next generation.

Those are just a smattering of the resources I know and love. If you want more ideas I am happy to chat about it. Leave a comment or send us an email.


Thanks also to everyone who read along with our annual month-long Earth Day celebration. Thanks especially to Mara for writing a guest post, commenting, and also for always being awesome. To Lisa and Rebecca for their proof-reading rescues. To Bethany and Jamie at the El Portal Library who helped me find and check out a huge mountain of books. To Sal, Rebecca, Ayla, Becky, and everyone else who told me about awesome books I should read.

<3 ~Robin


Earth Day: A Tale of Two Upcycling Books

29 Apr


If you want to hear Robin speak passionately for awhile, there are a few topics that are guaranteed to get her talking.

  1. Bats
  2. Music with fiddles in it
  3. Birdwatching
  4. People who incorrectly use the word “upcyle”

While it may be true that I only recall having one or two conversations about number four, I do know she is my go-to person to complain about said topic with.  That’s why this post will be formatted as though I’m addressing her.

Ahem.  Robin.  Hi.

Remember how at the beginning of the month I thought it was a good idea to review some green crafting books?  Maybe even do a couple crafts?  Well, big surprise I didn’t get to the doing part, but I don’t have to actually make anything to review a craft book.  Anyway, I pulled all the eco-craft type books out of my library.  One evening I went through them all and was mostly pretty “meh” about the whole lot of them.  Until I came to one.  God, I wish I could show you the pictures.  I think the neighbors heard me yelling at this book.

Here’s the offender:

So, I looked up Danny Seo and apparently he’s a pretty successful guy in the crafting and home dec world.  His Facebook page claims he’s a “green living expert”.  So maybe I’m missing something.  Feel free to argue, but I think you’ll agree with me.  I kind of felt bad about panning this guy until I looked at the book again.  Immediately the regret evaporated.  I remember the rant you had about Michaels selling brand new mason jars to “upcycle” with.  Pretty much every project in this book fills me with that kind of frustration.

Some of the projects are just not that great of ideas.  The main contender for that category is the Painter’s-Tape Privacy Screen.  Said screen actually upcycles old window or door frames, but then lines those with criss-crossed painter’s tape.  First off, who wants a painter’s tape covered square in their home?  It’s ugly.  Second, none of that painter’s tape is being recycled.  Now it’s no good for its intended purpose and knowing me, I’d have gotten wasted a roll and a half trying to keep it from sticking to myself.  You know that.  You’ve seen me in action.  Finally, this project could have been slightly altered to actually upcycle.  Why not use fabric strips?  That’s just one thought.  If I was writing a book that I hoped to publish I’d probably think a little harder, which he did not.

Other ideas are baffling.  For the Electronic-Cord Organizer (all these hyphens are his), you take a couple wine corks, put a pipe clamp around them and literally stick a fork in them.  You are then supposed to use this contraption to wind your electric cords around them, apparently while they are still plugged to the wall, in order to keep them out of the way.  Would you do that?  No, you wouldn’t.

But here’s my favorite one of all time….  You’re not going to believe this and just imagine me shaking the book in your face and yelling this whole next part.  There is an actual project where you take plastic water bottles, fill them with concrete, then REMOVE the plastic bottle and recycle it.  You do not paint these bottles.  You are just stuck with ugly concrete two liters.  You’re supposed to use them for door stops or some bs.  Here’s the thing though, if you just recycled the plastic bottle you would have less waste.  Now you have concrete blocks which I guess you could recycle if you knew where you could do that?  UGH

Now if I were actually talking to you, you know at this point we’re going to be flipping out about these projects and thinking we could do so much better. I would have to put the book away so I wouldn’t keep pointing at new confusing ways to go green.  Since you’re not here and I’m too worked up to come up with some solutions myself, I’d like to bring things back to the bright side of life by introducing you to a second book.

The book is eco craft by Susan Wasinger and I can already feel my blood pressure dropping as I leaf through it.  Her projects are mostly classics, like using old sweaters to knit rugs or fusing plastic bags together to make lunch bags.  Not too out there, but still useful, interesting and actually upcycled.  Even though her creativity as far as techniques leaves something to be desired, her simple instructions and minimal use of new supplies makes this an excellent green crafting book.

Oh, I forgot she had this one… It’s a privacy screen, just like Seo’s except she uses those plastic six-pack can holders instead of painter’s tape.  I’m still suspicious that it would look good in person, but yes, Susan, that is an actual upcycle.

I feel bad going on so much about the book I don’t like and so little about the one I do, but looking through eco craft makes me want to actually go make something.  So I’m going to go do that.  Or at least think about it.

It was nice talking to you.  This Earth Day blogging thing is always more fun than I think it will be.

~ April

Earth Day: The Wild Trees

28 Apr


Rebecca recommended The Wild Trees to me a few years ago. I picked it up and was immediately sucked in. It tells the stories of a team of researchers who endeavored to learn more about the coast redwoods….by climbing them.

Don’t worry, it’s not a research paper or an expedition report. It’s a wonderful story about the personalities and the lives of the people who were drawn to these trees. My friend Kim recently read this book, but had one complaint: it was keeping her awake because she couldn’t put it down to go to bed. My roommate Ayla saw the book lying on the table last week and she has already finished it. It really is that good.

I don’t know how else to convince you to read it, other than saying that reading it fills me with the same sort of wonder and reverence I feel when I watch this video:

Seriously, go read it.


P.S. It’s also just happens to be the book that I reached for when I needed a chunk of text for the Read Green artwork that’s been plastered all over this blog for the past month.

Earth Day: Books in Nature

26 Apr


Everyone in Yosemite is slightly relieved that we finally got some precipitation this past week. It isn’t even close to enough to relieve the drought, but every little bit helps. We’ve seen the effects of the rain most dramatically in Crane Creek, which runs smack through the middle of the burned area from the El Portal fire last summer. With no plants to hold the soil back the deluge of water has filled the creek with sediment.

The book in the picture is Your Water Footprint by Stephen Leahy. It provides a good overview of current water use issues, and includes a pretty extensive section on the water footprints of everyday products. It also provides several suggestions for how to reduce your individual water footprint, and well made visuals accompany the information.

In truth, I wanted to review more books about reducing water footprints, and after scourging the local libraries, the shelves of Barnes and Noble, the collections of other Central Valley libraries, and even the library of the environmental organization I work for, I was disappointed by how little I found. You would think that in a place in such a dire state of drought, resources like this would be in high demand. Friends, this does not bode well for us.


Read Green 4

Earth Day: Quote Saturday

25 Apr



Earth Day: Nature Journaling

24 Apr

Read Green 6.

You may have noticed that I’m a big fan of dragging art supplies out into the woods. Nature journaling gives me an opportunity to practice my art skills and refine my observations of the natural world, but that’s not why I do it. I really just enjoy hanging around outside and seeing where my eyes and my paintbrush will take me.

Sage Flowers

The only hint that I can really offer about nature journaling is that it’s more fun if you don’t pressure yourself to create a masterpiece. Make sure you’re having fun even if your painting of Tissiak ends up looking like an inbred armadillo.


For everything else I’m going to refer you to a few books on the subject:


I would start with Keeping a Nature Journal by Charles E. Roth and Clare Walker Leslie. It takes the “no pressure” approach to nature journaling. It focuses mostly on tips and techniques for seeing and observing the world around you, and only scratches the surface of technical drawing skills.


If technique is what you want, The Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature by Cathy Johnson will deliver. It includes techniques for drawing and painting in a variety of mediums.


Grinnell journaling is a technique that incorporates science into the journaling process through methodical recording and observation. I was blown away by How to Keep a Naturalist’s Notebook by Susan Leigh Tomlinson. She managed to write a book that seamlessly incorporates science, art, and outdoor ethics.


Maybe you still can’t imagine why someone would ever want to make a nature journal, or you just want inspiration. You should pick up Barbara Bash’s True Nature. It’s a little hard to read, but that’s only because every time I try to sit down with it, I find myself wanting to go outside with my paints instead.

Grab your art supplies and get out there and color!


Earth Day: A 51st Children’s Book for the List

23 Apr


I’ve been doing a lot of posts on overviews of different types of book, but there’s been one book this week I’ve found myself carrying around and recommending to everyone that comes within a few feet of me.  Piggybacking on Robin’s post yesterday on children’s books, this is also a picture book.  I found it on our new books cart this week amongst many other earth and spring related titles.  The first time I read it, I got a little teary eyed.  It reminded me a bit of Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. I immediately started thinking of parents I might be able to foist this upon.

You Nest Here with Me is a sweet bedtime story by the wonderful Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.  Robin recommended Yolen’s Caldecott-winning Owl Moon in her post.  In Yolen’s new tale, a mother tells her child about all the places that birds live, in rock, ledges, tall trees and sandy dunes, but reminds the child that while the birds nest all those places, “You nest here with me.”  She goes on the explain that the mother birds keep their babies safe and teach them all they need to know until it’s time for them to leave, but until then, they stay in the nest with Mama Bird. I don’t even have kids and I almost need tissues just thinking about it.

At the end of the book, there’s a description of all the types of birds Yolen mentioned throughout.  The beautiful illustrations will introduce children to species of birds both familiar and strange and may spur a new generation of birdwatchers.


Earth Day: 50 Children’s Books to Read on Earth Day

22 Apr

Read Green 5

There are many good reasons to sit down with a child and read a book with them. Children also benefit greatly from spending time in nature, specifically unstructured time to play freely. As adults we have a great opportunity to build literacy and help them forge or reinforce their connection with the natural world through reading.

Fortunately, there are many well written and beautifully illustrated earth conscious children’s books. At the beginning of April I started making a list of books that I wanted to feature here for Earth Day, and had no idea what I was getting into. After a few weeks of looking through the library, rifling my shelves and asking friends I had a long list, and it’s still growing. A handful of books fell into clear and concise categories; you will find them at the beginning of this list. All the ones that defied easy categorization are at the end.

Books About Animals

Animalia by Graeme Base


Antlers Forever by Frances Bloxam and Jim Sollers

Bats at the Beach by Brian Lies

Blue Berries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

The Family of Earth by Schim Schimmel

Living Color by Steve Jenkins

Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

The Mixed Up Chameleon by Eric Carle

Mossy by Jan Brett


Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr

The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer, Steve Johnson, and Lou Fancher

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

There’s a Hair in my Dirt! by Gary Larson and Edward Osborne Wilson

Ubiquitous by Joyce Sidman and Beckie Prange

Very Hairy Bear by Alice Schertle and Matt Phelan

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Books About Environmental Heroes

Life in the Ocean by Calire A. Nivola


Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli and Kadir Nelson

Manfish by Jennifer Berne, Eric Puybaret

Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnel

Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor and Laura Beingessner

She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head by Kathryne Lasky and David Catrow

Books About Stewardship

The Earth and I by Frank Asch

Hawk I’m You’re Brother by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall

The Lorax by Doctor Suess

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Books About Specific Habitats or Places

The Desert is Theirs by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall

In a Small, Small, Pond by Denise Fleming


Letting Swift River Go by Jane Yolen and Barbara Cooney

A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry

Song of the Water Boatman by Joyce Sidman and Becky Prange

Everything Else

All the Water in the World by George Elly Lyon, and Katherine Tillotson


The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales by Dawn Casey and Anne Wilson

Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse

Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? by Carmela LaVigna Coyle, Theresa Howell, and Mike Gordon


The Earth Book by Todd Parr

Flotsam by David Weisner

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstien

The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry

The Green Mother Goose by Jan Peck, David Davis and Carin Berger

One Well; The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss and Rosemary Woods

The Princesses I Know by Ayla Mae Wild

Re-Cycles by Michael Elsohn Ross and Gustav Moore


Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost and Susan Jeffers

There Once was a Sky Full of Stars by Bob Crelin and Amie Ziner

A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry and Marc Simont

Water by Frank Asch

Where Do Mountains Come From, Momma? by Catherine Weyerhaeuser Morley

Where Once There Was a Wood by Denise Fleming

You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim

Happy Reading!


Earth Day: Environmental Villains of Literature

21 Apr


We’ve been exploring great books about people who love nature and want to protect the earth, but in any good story there’s also a villain.  It’s a cliche for any villain to say they want to destroy the world, but there are certain ones that are doing their best through environmental degradation.

Let’s take a break from the books and talk about three fictional characters that are the big bads of environmental destruction.

Serena Pemberton from Serena by Ron Rash – Serena is a cold-hearted killer.  She and her husband run a timber company in 1920s North Carolina, but let’s be honest, it’s Serena that calls the shots.  Nothing can stop her ambition to turn all the lumber in the Appalachia forests into pure profit.  One of her primary conflicts is with the real-life founders of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  In the midst of allowing her employees to work themselves literally to death harvesting logs for her lumber empire, she’s also nefariously blocking the preservation of the forest.  The book will be made into a movie this year, but all reviews suggest to avoid it.  Stick to the gothic environmental novel instead.

Saruman from The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien – If the hobbits are peace-loving, living-off-Middle Earth, nature-dwelling hippies, then Saruman is their antithesis.  He turns against the people he has sworn to protect and instead starts messing with nature by creating Uruk-hai and destroying the ents.  The scenes of underground smelting pits in the movies pretty much sums it up.  There are lots of images of the Industrial Revolution woven throughout the trilogy and Saruman is the best example of Tolkien’s criticisms of the era.

Kurtz from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – Like many of our villains, Kurtz is a representative of another entity.  In this case, he represents an ivory trading company.  In any analysis of Heart of Darkness, you’ll see Kurtz bandied about as the epitomization of European imperialism.  That imperialistic bent reflects his role in the subjugation of nature as well as people.  Kurtz uses his superior technology to secure the area’s resources at the expense of the local inhabitants.

The Once-ler from The Lorax by Dr. Seuss – The poor Once-ler will always be remembered for the destruction of the Truffula trees.  To be fair, he did allow his greed to destroy a pretty Utopian place and turn it into a polluted wasteland.  Unlike the other villains, he finds redemption at the end by turning over the last of the Truffula seeds to our young protagonist.  Let’s all hope this child with no horticultural experience manages to keep this one seed alive long enough to revive a whole species of trees.  I know if the Once-ler gave it to me, the Lorax wouldn’t be returning anytime soon.

There are hundreds more titles with even worse environmental villains.  I haven’t read much Dickens, but since my images of his novels are always populated with smokestacks and street urchins, I imagine he has some worthy contenders.  I also considered Captain Ahab from Moby Dick since he was on a one-man whale killing mission, but decided his anger was too targeted at a specific whale.  Michael Crichton (the author) almost made my list for his climate change-denying ways, but I felt too much guilt at including a real human being.

Who are your favorite (or least favorite) environmental villains?


Earth Day: Overdressed (and a Refashion)

20 Apr

Read Green 5

A few months ago, Mara came to me with a dress she wanted to refashion. While we worked on the dress she kept starting sentences with the phrase “In this book I’m reading called Overdressed she talks about how (insert something we were working on) changed because….” After a few sessions of this I finally got the hint that Mara wanted me to read it. So I checked it out of the library, and it was great. I spent most of the book thinking that Jillian the ReFashionista would love it. Then I found myself reading about her in chapter eight! When Earth Day rolled around I knew I wanted Overdressed to be among the books we featured but it only seemed fair that I let Mara tell you about it since it all started with her.



I am honored that Robin has asked me to write a guest blog for Earth Day. She asked me specifically to write about a book I shared with her: Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline.

This book made me realize that my perception of clothes becoming cheaper and less well-made was not just “back in my day…” thinking and was actually true. Not only are the clothes in stores getting worse, but the world has totally changed for garment workers.


But my edification is not why Robin asked me to write. It’s because this book, combined with Robin’s amazing creativity and sewing skills, inspired me to rework my Mom’s vintage blue velvet dress. Here is a before shot of me in the dress about 16 and a half years ago. (That toddler graduates this year!) The dress fit OK back then.

After reading Overdressed I realized that this was the perfect dress for a remake. It no longer fit, had seams rather than serged edges, and a long hem that I was happy to cut shorter. So I brought my dress to Robin’s house.


At first she did not want to cut up a 1950’s cocktail dress, but then I started spouting from Overdressed. She was convinced, or, at least no longer quite as reticent. Then she found out it was my mom’s dress and then we had to go through it all again. I assured Robin that my mom would be impressed if we made it wearable, and besides, she gave it to me. It was mine now!

After a couple of weekend afternoons with Robin’s coaching, I had a brand-new dress with a shorter hem, shorter sleeves, and a stunning new back to go with my now short hair. I debuted it at a fundraiser for Mountain Crisis Services.


When my mom saw the dress on Facebook she picked up the phone to tell me what a spectacular job Robin and I had done with the makeover. Thanks Mom!

I am now inspired to take one of my step-mom’s hand-me-downs and have Robin coach me through another makeover. This sort of sewing fits in with my Reduce-Reuse-Recycle (in that order) lifestyle.

I was bitten by the “makeover for clothes” bug several years ago when I came across Stephanie Girard’s Sweater Surgery: How to Make New Things From Old Sweaters (Domestic Arts for Crafty Girls) and have had fun reinventing sweaters as all sorts of new items. You may be able to get Sweater Surgery or Overdressed from your library. Because Earth Day is everyday!




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