Why I Write Books about Nature
I was a free-range kid before “free-range” was a thing. Rain, snow, wind, or shine, my siblings and I were outside most every day leaping in puddles or leaf piles, flying kites, picking dandelions, sailing maple whirligigs, and building snow forts or sand castles. “Go outside and play” was the chorus to our childhood. In fact, outdoor play was our parents’ cure-all for almost every emotional upset or domestic problem we encountered. Tears? Boredom? Disagreements? Fights? A stressful school day or impossible homework? Outdoor play was the remedy. I admit there were limitations to my parents’ sometimes singular approach to child-rearing, and they met with resistance at times. However, I can honestly say that 95 percent of the time, outdoor play actually was the right medicine for me.
Today, writing about nature and outdoor play just feels as natural and right to me as breathing. All my happy memories of chasing frogs, climbing trees, and splashing in summer lakes easily inform the stories I write. But more importantly, even though I no longer live in a body that can leap and climb, I still love the experience of being outdoors, close to nature and then translating that experience into words that leap, climb, or even fly.
Nature (if only the birdsong I hear on a stroll around the block) brings me back to center. Trees and flowers, fireflies and foxes, snowflakes, sunsets, the smell of fallen leaves and rain wake up my spirit and my senses. They cheer me when I am sad. They anchor me when I am anxious. They fill my imagination with color and motion and mischief and memories.
When I am in nature, I am never lonely. I am never bored. All the parts of me that hurt stop hurting. All the things I cannot fix or make sense of cease to overwhelm me. Nature, wherever I can find it — a pocket of trees in the city or vast valleys of green — is where I am happiest and most whole. Nature feels like home, and it’s a home that’s filled with friends.
It’s also comforting to know that amid our private joys and sorrows — amid our human constructs and conflicts — the Earth goes on beating and buzzing and blossoming. With or without us, oceans ebb and flow; birds fly; weather swirls across the sky; and everywhere, even in the most improbable places, life grows. The vastness of nature reminds me of my smallness, and rather than making me feel inconsequential, it is a relief. I am one small animal on a magnificently complex planet — no more or less important than the sparrow or the oak tree. I have my purpose, but then again, so do the ant and the acorn.
So if I have a secret mission (and I suppose that I do) it’s to share my love of nature — the magic and beauty and freedom and joy — with the children and adults who read my books. I hope my books will be doors to a wider and wilder world. Most especially, I hope they will be doors that open — hearts, minds, imaginations, passions — and doors that swing wide enough to pull readers through them into (literal) backyards, neighborhood lots, city parks, and to beaches, marshes, seashores, or forests. I hope my books inspire more play and curiosity, more muddy boots and ripped jeans and fresh air. I hope readers will look through these book doorways and delight in each lovely, adventurous page and then head outdoors to splish-splash barefooted in the rain or follow the wild, eternal call of “frogness” and have adventures all their own.
What my parents knew implicitly (like many parents before and since) is now well documented in psychology. Nature grows happy kids. During this Earth Week, as we consider how to mend and sustain our beautiful and delicate planet, it is also good to remember that nature grows environmentalists. Children, and adults of all ages, who feel genuine connections and kinship with trees and frogs and owls and egrets, with fish in clear rivers and butterflies in clean skies naturally become good stewards to the Earth we share. Ultimately, environmentalism is more about love than reason.
So I hope (and I know it’s an enormous hope) that my books play some small role in growing happy children who know and love nature enough to take care of it — enough to feel as I do that nature is home. We are in it and of it. It is ours to cherish and explore. And it is healing and hope-filled and wondrous.
While there are many beautiful picture books which illuminate plants, animals, and ecology the following books are some child-centered favorites that highlight the joy, freedom, and wonder of being outdoors, in and of nature.