Blogstitute Post 7: Nurturing Future Stewards of the Earth

July 7th, 2014

This is the last week of our Blogstitute and we end our summer PD event with this great post by Laurie Rubin, author of To Look Closely: Science and Literacy in the Natural World. Laurie provides a great list of resources about animals, nature, and scientists to inspire all budding readers to take a closer look at our environment and to find peace and inspiration under every rock. Be sure to leave a comment or ask a question for a chance to win a package of 8 free Stenhouse books! Last week’s winner is Patricia Maia.

Last week I noticed an old rock pile on my way back from a birding walk near our country home. Feeling lucky to find a new supply of flat rocks for my perennial garden, I picked one up to carry back with me. When I turned it over, I was even more delighted to discover two light-brown furry cocoons. Eager to know what kind of insect would emerge (I was thinking moth), I positioned the rock at the edge of the deck, planning to examine it every day.

I wish I could report that I have been turning over rocks from a young and tender age. Not so. Instead it was only in my fifties that I embraced the natural world with all my senses, alert to the ever-changing landscape of trees, flowers, insects, and birds in my neighborhood. Perhaps that is why I became passionate about connecting my second-grade students to this same world, hoping to give them the head start I never had.

As I watched my students’ connection to the natural world gradually transform into concern, I looked for opportunities to nurture future stewards of our planet. When I searched for biographies for an annual study of peacemakers, I included books about conservationists and environmental activists. I wanted to provide models of real people working to preserve our natural heritage. I read aloud picture books about Rachel Carson, Harriet Hemenway, and Marion Stoddart, who worked, respectively, to ban DDT, outlaw trade in wild bird feathers, and stop paper mills from polluting our nation’s rivers.

Recently I was looking for a picture book to read to my five-year-old granddaughter about Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who—after witnessing the deforestation of her homeland—launched the Green Belt Movement, which mobilized women to plant trees. I discovered many more stories about women scientists and activists, which in addition to promoting respect for the natural world provide a powerful resource to inspire girls to enter careers in science.

Two books about Maathai emphasize her activism. Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter (Harcourt, 2008; grades K–2) tells her story in simple text while Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson and illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler (Lee & Low Books, 2010; grades 2–5) recounts a more detailed portrayal that highlights her extraordinary path to education and activism as a woman. Both have colorful, engaging illustrations. Read these books to inspire stewardship of the natural world and peacemaking.

“‘Once you are aware of the wonder and beauty of the earth,’ she scribbled in her journal, ‘you will want to learn about it.’” This is one of the many direct quotes Laurie Lawlor includes in her book Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World (Holiday House, 2012; grades 3–5). Carson’s book Silent Spring exposed the detrimental effect of pesticides and inspired our modern environmental movement. The warm tempera and ink illustrations by Laura Beingessner will draw your students into the wonders of the deep sea and the authenticity of soup kitchens and DDT trucks. Read this book to inspire persuasive writing and stewardship of the natural world or to illustrate the use of primary source documents.

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian, by Margarita Engle with pictures by Julie Paschkis (Henry Holt & Company, 2010; grades 1–3), is written in the first person and tells the story of how Maria Sybilla Merian, born in Germany in 1647, used her observations of insects, flowers, and amphibians to reveal the natural process of metamorphosis. She helped disprove the prevailing belief in “spontaneous generation”—that butterflies (called summer birds), moths, and frogs were formed from mud. Ahead of her time, through her notes, sketches, and vibrant paintings, she became a significant contributor to the field of entomology. Read this book to accompany a unit on insect life cycles or to introduce nature journaling or the inquiry skills of observation and questioning.

Another book about a woman ahead of her times is The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. Katherine Olivia Sessions grew up in southern California and became the first woman to graduate with a degree in science at the University of California in 1881. She researched trees that can grow in the desert and developed a plant nursery that ultimately established San Diego’s Balboa Park, known today for its enormous variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers. Read this book for a unit on trees or deserts, or a companion read with Wangari’s Trees of Peace. (Beach Lane Books, New York. 2013. Grades 1-3.)

Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists, written by Jeannine Atkins and illustrated by Paula Conner (Dawn Publications, 2000; grades 4–8), is a chapter book that chronicles the lives of Anna Botsford Comstock, Frances Hamerstrom, Miriam Rothschild, and Jane Goodall, as well as the aforementioned Carson and Merian. Comstock started a movement to bring nature study into public schools when she wrote The Handbook of Nature Study. Hamerstrom’s studies of prairie chickens showed that the conservation of habitats was crucial to the survival of animal species. Rothschild was a world authority on fleas and planted 120 species of wildflowers to bring back the butterflies that were dying out. Goodall, known for her work with primates, still lectures around the world in support of animals and their habitats. This is an important read, especially for girls, about women throughout the ages who have made significant contributions to science and conservation. Use this book for literature groups focusing on biography or environmental activism.

P.S. Pleased as I was to join the community of “girls who look under rocks,” by day two my precious cocoons were gone, most likely eaten by one of the many birds that come to our feeder each day. What was I thinking? The more I learn about the natural world, the more there is to know!

Entry Filed under: Blogstitute,Content Areas

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tanya Braybrook  |  July 7th, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Kids are naturally drawn to nature and it’s one of the things I love about working with kids! For the past few years I’ve done a mini unit about peace using “Wangari’s Trees of Peace” with my grade three students. What was really cool was then sharing this story and related activities with grade three students in Kenya, when I worked there for a couple of weeks last summer. It became very apparent to me that kids are much more alike than they are different. Thanks for sharing this post and including this book, as well as others, that I now will find and read to my students.

  • 2. Kristie W  |  July 7th, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    I have been looking everywhere for some great titles to share with my 7th grade science students. Most things I find are either too low or too complex– thank you for this list of books that are appropriate for middle years!

  • 3. Rhonda P.  |  July 7th, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    I love to see my students faces when they see something in the natural world! They are so curious about everything!

  • 4. Shirl McPhillips  |  July 7th, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Takes me back to the 70s when my husband and I (and our 1-year-old baby) “dropped out of society” to live on a dairy farm in upstate New York. No we weren’t hippies. Just folks who wanted to be closer to nature and the land and to bring this mind/heart set into the life of our child. It has never left us, nor him.
    What you’re doing is so important, especially in today’s world. It will go with the children where they go and nurture them in ways we can only imagine.
    Good stuff.
    Shirl McPhillips

  • 5. Deb Frazier  |  July 7th, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    “I looked for opportunities to nurture future stewards of our planet.” – This is something we should all encourage in our young students. The curiosity is there and ready to be developed.

  • 6. Jill  |  July 7th, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    This is exactly where I want to take my first graders next year. We are an Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound school so we are outside a lot challenging ourselves individually and in groups. I want to be sure to add in some observation, noticing and wonder while we are outside.

  • 7. Tracy Mailloux  |  July 7th, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    Such inspiring words, not only for my future students but for me! Summer Birds is officially on my books to buy list. Thanks for the great suggestions. A great list of female role models to hook girls (and boys) of all ages into science and nature. Its easy to find biographies and stories about male scientists and naturalists, but much harder when looking for women. By teaching all kids to look closely we model that everyone is a scientist.

  • 8. Erica Cromer  |  July 8th, 2014 at 8:44 am

    The natural world is something I am passionate about, and I would love to open the eyes of my students to it!

  • 9. Monica Horn  |  July 8th, 2014 at 9:11 am

    The books about Maathai are wonderful. Thanks for the suggestion of other books.

  • 10. Amber garbe  |  July 8th, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    Thanks for reminding all of us that it is never too late to start looking closely at nature. As a literacy specialist, I can’t help but hypothesize that one’s ability to look closely at nature would provide a solid foundation for looking closely at text. After all, the process of looking closely is rooted in curiosity. I can’t think of a more natural way to develop curiosity than to closely observe nature.

  • 11. Jennifer Mutch  |  July 10th, 2014 at 10:26 am

    I’ve been able to bring my students to our local National Park over the last few years for hikes and field trips focused on biodiversity, conservation, and preservation. These field trips are where my students thrive and are most engaged. My school is a Title 1 school with most of our students being English language Learners. I have used “Girls Who Look Under Rocks” in my classroom and will add the other titles to my classroom library. My students also love looking through nature guidebooks. Thanks for an informative post.

  • 12. Tammy Petty Conrad  |  July 10th, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Love the book suggestions, thanks!

  • 13. Jen Cullerton Johnson  |  July 28th, 2014 at 7:51 am

    This is a wonderful blog post! I loved reading about so many important and valuable women who stood up to protect the natural word while others. Thank you for mentioning, my book Seeds of Change. My hope is that as young people read about the life of Wangari Maathai that they understand behind every great person or in this case woman there is a whole gathering of others, like the young girls and women in the Green Belt Movement.

    Again, many thanks for sparking inquiry and environmental justice awareness.

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