The best craft store may be right outside your door. This summer, take time in the cool mornings to gather together pieces of nature to work into craft projects in the afternoons. That way you’ll have a remembrance of summer to keep all year long. Rocks can become patterned pictures. Leaves can make delicate prints. Everything in nature can inspire your arts and crafts.
Beginning-to-be-eleven-year-old Portia and her little brother Foster are excited to be visiting their relatives in the countryside for the summer in Elizabeth Enright’s Gone-Away Lake. Besides seeing their favorite aunt and uncle, there is Katy the boxer dog who has just had a litter of puppies “with flat faces like pansies, and ears that felt like pieces of silk, and claws like the tips of knitting needles”—but best of all for Portia is having time to hang out with her cousin Julian, he of the hundred-thousand freckles. Closer than a friend and nicer than a brother is how she thinks of him. Julian is interesting and interested in everything that goes on around him.
It’s time to gather friends and family and head to a national park or national historic site. How does the National Park Service provide fun, memorable, and inspiring experiences? Camping, fishing, hiking, history, grand vistas, and horseback riding - there are so many possibilities in our national parks. Head to a local national park or even plan a longer trip for an end-of-summer big adventure! If you are traveling with children, be sure to check out the Junior Ranger program, available at many parks.
If your young child likes vivid photographs with lots going on and lots to think about, your family will enjoy sharing Spectacular Spring: All Kinds of Spring Facts and Fun, by Bruce Goldstone. Like many of the Dorling-Kindersley books, this one has two ways to read it.
For example, one headline reads, “Days Get Longer." You might prefer to just go from headline to headline for the youngest listeners. As your children grow and their interest levels in the details of the world around them increase, bring in the rest of the words on the page. Below "Days Get Longer," you'll see, “Spring begins on the vernal equinox. In the Northern Hemisphere, that’s a day near March 20 when day and night are both 12 hours long.”
For older readers/listeners, there are also pages devoted to some of those how-and-why questions, with their own bright illustrations, such as, “How Do Umbrellas Work?” and “Seeds Travel in Many Ways.”
One morning, the old wooden dam on the Rappahannock River went up in clouds of smoke. It was a huge thing—ancient and strong, built in layers to tame the river so that the power of the water pushing against it could provide electricity for the town. But it had been years since anyone tapped that power. Now, the dam was falling apart, and it was decided that it had become dangerous. So the Army Corps of Engineers blew it up one morning, and the river was flowing freely again—just as it had in previous centuries. By getting rid of the dam, the river had a chance to go back to being more like it once was. There would be more fish, which would mean more birds, and, really more of everything.
A boy and his mother are canoeing on a pond in the Adirondack Mountains. It is peaceful place, maybe even dull. Or, is it? The boy asks his mother, “What’s down there?”
So many things! His mother tells him about them, from the minnows, crayfish, and bullfrogs to beavers hunting “delectable roots” found in the mud and otters clawing for freshwater mussels.
And, over the pond? A great blue heron catches one of those minnows for his dinner. A moose munches a mouthful of waterlilies. As the sun sets, mother and son paddle back to shore and head for home. In the dark, life goes on at the pond. Raccoons come out to prowl, and catfish glide as they seek their suppers in the cool of the night.
Kate Messner’s Over and Under the Pond does several things very nicely. First, it tells a soothing story, perfect for bedtime. But it also introduces an ecosystem, making the science of living things and the secrets found below a pond’s surface very accessible, and it manages to do so without sounding like a textbook.
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Are you looking for books on animals and insects? Check out these fun non-fiction and easy readers below.
Animalogy: Animal Analogies by Marianne Collins Berkes
Uses analogies to teach the similarities and differences between animals, including their sounds, physical adaptations, behaviors, and classes. (catalog summary)
Animals: A Visual Encyclopedia by James Buckley
Animal Planet Animals: A Visual Encyclopedia profiles the seven major animal classes—mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, arthropods, and other invertebrates—and features more than 1,000 stunning color photographs of animals in action. (catalog summary)
This bright picture book is a great introduction to how nature works for rather young children. If You Love Honey traces the connections between the wild world and its inhabitants from honey to honeybees to dandelions to ladybugs to goldenrod to . . . well, you get the idea.
Cathy Morrison’s detailed illustrations give kids a friendly look at the natural world. The animals and plants that rely on each other to thrive might be found every day in your neighborhood park, but the vivid colors and sharp lines put them in the spotlight for story time.
When Nancy Tafuri began her illustrating her own marvelous stories, she had a hard time at first finding a publisher who would believe in her work. Fortunately for the many, many children who have been delighted by her books, Nancy persisted, learning more about her craft while waiting to be published. Her books were successful, and they definitely found their young audiences. Eventually, the New York Times would call Nancy Tafuri “the Queen Mother of Warmly Soothing Animal Bedtime Stories.”
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to help astronomers learn about the Universe. You don't need a degree in biology to help track bird populations. Interested in what whale songs mean? You guessed it—you don't need to be an oceanographer to help scientists figure it out. All it takes is an interest and computer access and you can join the growing ranks of Citizen Scientists. Most projects provide tutorials or clear instructions on their websites. You don't even have to be an adult!