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.
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!
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.
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
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
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?
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!
This is not a nature book. In fact, it’s not a book I would recommend to everyone. You’ve probably seen at least one of the poems in the book. Magic has been disseminated all over the internet, mostly without credit. It took me a bit of digging the first time to figure out it was not by Shel Silverstein, but Bo Burham. Burham is pretty similiar to Silverstein with his clever wordplay and irreverent humor. Sometimes, though, it feels a bit like Burham is American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman channelling Silverstein. So if you’re offended by things normal humans are offended by, I feel like I need to add a trigger warning for pretty much everything.
Still, when Burham isn’t making his readers uncomfortable, he’s making them laugh out loud at his verbal dexterity and delighting them with his wit. So, if you don’t mind dodging a few jabs to find something great, pick up Egghead by Bo Burham.
P.S. I took these pictures in the park behind our library. I had to fight a gaggle of birdwatchers in my path, but I love this part of the park.
UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
-The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss-
(The photo is from last night’s Earth Day Family Night performance of The Lorax. Today is also Jr. Ranger Day. There are more events happening today, and it’s a fee free weekend in honor of Earth Day and National Park Week.)