GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY! by Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park

photo by Sonya Sones

One of my favorite things to do is eat. I have a lot of favorite foods, but at the top of the list are the things I’ve grown myself.

I’m NOT a good gardener. In fact, I’m a terrible gardener—I have the opposite of a green thumb. A brown and shriveled thumb, maybe? Even so, I’ve managed to grow tomatoes in several places: in my back yard, in a raised bed, in a tub on the small deck of a city apartment. The tomatoes I’ve grown myself are the best I’ve ever eaten, red and ripe, sweet and tangy, juicy and sometimes still warm from the sun.

My other favorite thing to grow is raspberries. Picking raspberries is like a treasure hunt. There are thorns guarding the berried treasure (berried treasure, get it?), and the fruits themselves are like rubies. Better than rubies, really, because they’re just as beautiful, but so good to eat!

What does this have to do with Earth Day? By growing my own food, I’m learning a lot about plants—and animals (squirrels, birds, worms, bugs…). I’ve gained respect and admiration for the farmers who grow our food. Most important, I’ve learned that for us human beings, healthy soil is the start of the food chain: Without soil that’s free from harmful chemicals, we don’t get delicious and healthy tomatoes or raspberries.

Or burgers or fries or pizza! Those foods start out as plants that grow in the ground: potatoes (fries), wheat (the flour for burger buns and pizza crusts), the grass and corn that feed beef cattle. All of it begins with good healthy dirt! In fact, I’m so interested in healthy dirt that I wrote about it in my book PROJECT MULBERRY—see Chapter 11.

Many fruits and vegetables, like raspberries and tomatoes, need good soil, room to grow, and plenty of sunshine, as well as a gardener who will watch over them and water them when they need it. Maybe you don’t have the space to grow these kinds of plants, but there is a food that you can grow no matter where you live: Sprouts!

Sprouts are easy to grow. There are many different kinds, some mild, some spicy, all delicious in salads and sandwiches. All you need is a plastic food-storage container, paper towels, water, and seeds. Look up ‘growing sprouts at home’ on the internet, and you’ll find many sites that give you detailed instructions. Easier still, you can grow sprouts on an ordinary sponge: http://www.pbs.org/parents/crafts-for-kids/sponge-sprouts/ Best of all, it doesn’t take long: You’ll be eating sprouts in just a few days.

Growing your own food, even something as easy as sprouts, is FUN. I hope you’ll try it!

Linda Sue Park is the author of both picture books and novels for young readers. She has written many award winning and best-selling titles, including A Single Shard (2002 Newbery Medal), When my Name was Keoko (PW and SLJ Best Book of the Year) and A Long Walk to Water (NYT’s Bestseller).  Enjoy exploring www.lindasuepark.com.

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FINDING NATURE IN A BOOK; FINDING A BOOK IN NATURE by best-selling children’s author, Alyssa Satin Capucilli

This photo of Huckleberry and me was taken by Jennifer Parris, Celebrity Parent Magazine

Growing up in an apartment in Brooklyn, NY, it was not always easy to be in touch with nature. Sure, there were the billowing roses that a neighbor let us smell on the walk to school, there were the summers spent in “the country”—(actually New Jersey)—where hour after hour was passed creating magical worlds and stories as we romped unattended over steep paths and through tall grasses. Closer to home, there were Sundays spent in the rolling green grass of Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.

But for me, I can honestly say that a simple book from my childhood led me on a path to eventually appreciate the world around us in a way I never had before. That book, was Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary. When Henry carried Ribsy home in a cardboard box (I’m sure it was recyclable) that read, Don’t let ‘em call you baldy, I was sure I had met my soul mate. Oh that lucky Henry— if only I could have a dog follow at my heels like he did.

Fast forward to nearly 20 years ago when after living in a small village outside of NYC for over a decade, I wrote my first story about a young girl and a small yellow puppy who loves nothing more than to follow at the heels of his owner, no matter where their adventures take them. Of course, I couldn’t let my character have all the fun, so I convinced my not-so-sure husband and my totally-on-board children that we should rescue a pup of our own. Huckleberry, a loving Chocolate Labrador Retriever, thrust me into the heart of the natural world with all four enthusiastic paws. His energy and love of the outdoors brought us to a quiet woods near my home where we would walk, no exaggeration, 365 mornings a year. How, I wondered, had I not walked these trails before?

In the fall, I discovered the awesomeness of the foliage as Huckleberry romped through a carpet of gold and yellow leaves from birch, hickory, and poplar trees, the red and maroon leaves of the red oak, dogwood, ash, sweet maples and sumacs, and my favorite, the glorious orange stars of the Japanese maple.

When the snow and ice fell, I strapped on my “Yak Trax” and headed over the hills and paths. As Huckleberry gleefully discovered the joys of stepping out onto the frozen pond and rolling with abandon in the snow, I noted the tracks of squirrels, raccoons, deer, and the occasional quiet trickle of water running over the rocks. I learned that metamorphosed gneiss with bands of quartz were brought into the area during the Wisconsin glacier, some 10,00 to 13,000 years ago.

In the spring we sat at ponds edge and listened to the song of the migratory birds—okay so Huckleberry did go for a splash and a swim every now and then with the ducklings! We admired the brilliant yellow forsythia, the tulip trees and the sweet cherry trees. And in the summer, we visited the now dry Vernal Pond, where the deer stood silently, looking at their once full watering spot, and the summer hare sat quietly nibbling in the grass.

Day after day, year after year, we walked through over one hundred species of trees, ferns, grasses, herbs, sedges, and rushes. Why hadn’t I walked these trails before? It didn’t really matter. I was walking them now, with Huckleberry, or I should say, thanks to Huckleberry, most joyfully at my heels.

People often say that writers are observers, and I believe that is true. And whether watching a chrysalis miraculously cling to a leaf somehow becomes a story of a dancing duck cast in the recital as a caterpillar who emerges as a spring butterfly, or a stray cat passed on a walk becomes an “alphabet of cats” rescued by a woman with a very big heart, well…you get the idea. In some way, every day is Earth Day for this author. We just have to discover our place in its wondrous story. And it’s never too late.

Alyssa Satin Capucilli is the author of two beloved children’s book series: the romping Biscuit, (with 17 million copies in print) and the dancing Katy Duck. Alyssa herself was a professional dancer and her love of movement shows in joyful frolicking of her characters. Follow the author and her books at alyssacapucilli.com

 

 

 

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Best-selling Frindle author Andrew Clements strives to help the environment and live more sustainably

We hear a lot these days about how bad the environment is getting.  Sometimes it can feel like it’s all so overwhelming that nothing I can do will matter, that nothing I can do will end up making enough of a difference to really help—but that simply isn’t true!

Good old Mother Earth appreciates every little bit that each one of us does to help make the air better to breathe, to help make the waters better for drinking and swimming, and to help make our forests and farmlands safer and cleaner.

It was our own children who helped my wife and I understand this.  Almost fifteen years ago our sons were very upset about pollution—particularly about how much bad stuff regular cars spit out into the air.  We told them that good people all over the world were really working hard to make things better, and our oldest son said, “Yeah, but what are you doing?”

We needed a new car at that time, so in 2001 my wife and I traded in our old minivan and bought one of the first hybrid cars ever available in the United States—a car which traveled three times farther on one gallon of gas than the minivan had!  We saved money, and our driving put much, much less pollution into the air.  Since then, we have bought only hybrid cars.

Another even simpler thing our family did about fifteen years ago was to get serious about recycling paper and glass and metal.  All it took was setting up some bins in our garage.  And since then I know we have kept many, many tons of waste from being dumped into landfills and incinerators.

So the next time you feel like you can’t do anything to help the Earth out, think again.  I know you’ll be able to find new and interesting ways to use less energy, conserve water, and keep the air cleaner.  And remember, every little bit truly helps!

Andrew Clements is the author of more than 75 books for young readers. His incredibly popular title Frindle has garnered 16 state book awards, sold over 2.5 million copies, and been translated into several languages. Learn more at www.andrewclements.com.

 

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FINE FEATHERED FRIENDS by Caldecott Honored illustrator-author Molly Idle

A new family recently moved into our neighborhood… a family of woodpeckers.

Living in the middle of a city, that is in the middle of a desert, this family’s arrival came as something of a surprise… albeit a pleasant one.

They are fun to watch, these birds are. Their movements, their mannerisms, their seemingly effortless flight.  And one morning, a few weeks ago, while watching them covertly (like any good nosy neighbor) over the rim of my morning coffee cup, I thought…

“Birds! I should make a book about birds!”

Then I stopped. And I thought.

“Um…. Wait a sec.”

Because, you see, I’ve already made Flora and the Flamingo, and Flora and the Penguin, AND I am currently working on Flora and the Peacocks

Birds!

Birds!!

And more birds!!!

But the thing is, it had never occurred to me before that, that I was making books about birds.

I thought I was making books about relationships.

To me, the winged characters in those books, are just like people. Like friends… who just happened to have feathers.

So the realization that I was already making books about birds, came as much of a pleasant surprise as my new fine feathered friends, who have taken up residence in our neighborhood.

I’m glad they’ve moved in.

I hope they’ll stick around.

Maybe I should bake a them a coffee cake, take it over, and introduce myself. You know, make them feel welcome.

Or better yet, maybe I’ll plant them another tree in our yard, so their family has room to grow. Then, I’ll eat the coffee cake, whilst enjoying the company of our new neighbors over my morning cuppa joe.

It is for my neighbors (avian and non) that I participate in A4ED. One book, one school, one neighborhood at a time we can all help make a difference for the better.

Friends of a feather flock together!

Molly Idle began her art career as an animator for DreamWorks Feature Animation Studios, where she earned film credits on movies like Spirit. She is now the illustrator-author of over a dozen books for young readers. Her fresh illustrative style has garnered broad attention, winning her a 2014 Caldecott Honor for her picture book Flora and the Flamingo. Find more at idleillustration.com.

 

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THE GREAT WHALE RESCUE by multi-award winning ecologist-author Carl Safina, who wrote a delightful chapter book for young readers

I recently traveled to Hawaii to lead a writer’s workshop. We went to the Big Island to see the volcanoes, then to Kaua’i for the workshop—which was wonderful—and then Honolulu for another workshop and university talk. All around the islands at that time of year (winter), humpback whales who have spent the summer feeding on herring, sandeels, and other small-size, high-volume prey along the coast of Alaska and British Columbia are very much in evidence. They come to Hawaii to breed and give birth. Males sing and display. Their song is unique in all the world. All males sing the same song. But the song changes entirely, year-to-year.  Males and females mate. Females watch over their infants. It is the circle of life on a grand scale.

The circle had nearly been broken.

Whale hunting’s havoc very nearly emptied the Pacific and the world of humpback whales. Each spout, each breaching individual, each set of diving flukes, is a whale that represents survival from an industrial-scale extermination campaign as ruthless and soul-less as any other mass murder of the Twentieth Century. In some ways even more soul-less than the mass murder of humans, because the whale killers and those enabling the hunting saw nothing at all wrong with it.

It is happy that things are better now and we in the United States at least leave the whales to their peace, and they have known what to do. They do what we all do: try to live, attempt to stay alive, and try to protect our children.

The main threats to them now are far less vile, but in some ways no less thoughtless. In 2005 off San Francisco a humpback whale had gotten near-fatally tangled in crab traps weighing thousands of pounds, with miles of rope. Like many that get tangled in our fishing gear and the debris of our times, it certainly would have died. This time though, divers were called and they were able to rescue the whale. I based my children’s book, Nina Delmar and the Great Whale Rescue, on the event. Nina is a fictional girl. But what the whale did is a matter of factual record as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle.

It stayed still for over an hour while the divers worked to free it, seeming to understand that aid was being given. And then it did not swim away. It swam to each diver in turn, nuzzling each with its huge head. The divers said it fully seemed that the whale was expressing thanks. And then, finally, yes, it did swim away.

Dr. Carl Safina is the author of six highly-acclaimed books—including Song for the Blue Ocean, Voyage of the Turtle and Nina Del Mar and the Great Whale Rescue—and more than a hundred scientific and popular publications. He is the founding president of The Safina Center (formerly Blue Ocean Institute) and has been name among “100 Notable Conservationists of the 20th Century” by Audubon Magazine. Carl is also the creator-host of the PBS series Saving the Oceans with Carl Safina. Follow his adventures at www.carlsafina.org.

 

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IT’S NOT EASY BEING GREEN by 2012 Newbery Award Winner, Jack Gantos… who has also won the Scott O’Dell Award, Michael L. Printz and Robert F. Sibert honors, a Newbery Honor… and is a National Book Award Finalist. (Holy cow!)

Some time ago I made a dinner announcement to my wife and daughter that I had come up with a grand idea for my final resting place (not that I’m anticipating one just yet). I had been reading about Walt Whitman’s mausoleum in New Jersey and so I thought I might plan for my own mausoleum, and did just that. So at dinner I removed a folded up sketchbook page from my pocket and unfolded it onto the table in front of a platter of my home grown summer tomato salad with arugula. “This,” I announced with great authority, “is a work of genius.”

As the two of them looked on I explained. “My tombstone will be a six foot high granite book. It will have a keyhole on one side, as the book also doubles as a door. You two,” I explained, pointing to both my wife and daughter, “will have a key.”

I continued to outline my plan. Either of them could unlock my tombstone book and it would swing open and reveal a set of stairs they could climb down and enter a chamber lined with all my publications and then they could press a button that looked like the Newbery Award and I would appear as a hologram and read my books to them. I went on to point out all of these details in my drawing and so much more. It was truly brilliant. Just the type of high-tech-digital-meets-low-tech-stone final resting place.

“Well?” I concluded, “what do you think?”

They were not impressed.

I expected they would ask about the price of this fancy final resting place, but I was wrong. Cost was not the issue.

“Well,” my wife began, “I’ve been doing some research on what to do with you when that final day occurs.”

I was all ears. Perhaps a small Grecian style temple? Perhaps a massive, brutalist style bust of my head where you could walk into my open mouth and tickle the synapsis of my brain to create fancy surrealist word couplings.

She continued. “I’ve found the perfect resting place. It is a sock of sorts, a body sized sock that is prepared from natural fabric and is seeded with aggressive mold spores that will slowly consume your body. The idea is that you are put into the sock—it is tied at the top with a drawstring—and you are inserted into a vertical slit in the ground and covered with nutrient rich soil. What will happen is that the spores will feed off of your body and you will be entirely consumed and returned to the earth and after a time there will not be a trace of you except that the ground in which you have been buried is made more fertile.”

I listened to this with utter horror. The idea of not leaving a monument to the fertility of my ego was a crushing blow.

“What happens if I outlive you?” I said to my wife. “Then I can do as I wish.”

“Not so fast,” said my daughter.

“You’ll support me? Won’t you?” I cried.

“No,” she replied. “I’m afraid that green is the new black. You’ll go into the sock with the spores and fertilize the earth. As for your books—well, I can digitize them and we can pulp the paper editions.”

“Even the first editions and first printings?”

She shrugged. “Who cares,” she said. “The library at Alexandria burned many times and people are still alive and functioning.”

For a moment I thought I had been trapped in some sort of Orwellian-Bradbury nightmare. “Do you really feel this way?” I asked.

My daughter looked at me. “Think about what you would have wanted when you were a kid,” she said. “And be honest with yourself.”

I suppose I sat there in some sort of inanimate numbness. I thought my mausoleum was such a good idea. Finally I stood and cleared the table and began to wash the dishes with biodegradable soap.

As I washed I began to think of growing up in old Norvelt where I was from. It was a farm and garden community in Western Pennsylvania. My grandmother repurposed everything. The eggshells were crushed up and sprinkled around her tomato plants as they liked calcium. She dusted the furnace ash across the garden to enrich the soil and retard the weeds. Off to the side of the garden she composted all the organic dinner leftovers along with the chopped up garden clippings. In her kitchen everything had a nourishing purpose for either the people who ate food, or the earth that provided the food. I was always her garden helper and she had taught me well. But somehow I had gone astray. Now I wanted a granite mausoleum when I should be satisfied with becoming a little circle of happy mushrooms. Was “dust to dust, ashes to ashes” not enough?

I guess not. Sure, I want everything green. I want old time winters up north where it should snow before Thanksgiving. I want the ice caps to stay put and not slip around like my own kneecaps. I don’t want the water temperature to rise. I love animals. I loathe warfare. I despise guns and violence of all kind. I want people to have a life of dignity with good work and family and community and hopes and dreams. I am for everything GREEN. And yet, what is it about the ego? Why do we want to leave our mark on history in the most concrete way? Is it the species marking its historic territory? Is it art in the form of archives? Is it leaving a human record for those who come after us so that we are better understood? Is it the pure pleasure of being alive and wanting an ‘X-marks-the-spot’ place to be remembered?

I can’t say for certain. But I write all my books in a library—the Boston Athenaeum—which has saved so much from destruction. We have vast treasures on paper—so many wonderful books and written records, and letters, and deep newspaper collections, and lithographic prints, and early photographs, and great, great archival stuff. Yes, the library digitizes many of the collections and will continue to do even more, but those paper records need to be saved, and I’m grateful that they have been saved.

As for me, I write my books out by hand on paper in notebooks. Who knows, my fifty books may have felled a few trees just in the notebooks—not to mention the millions of printed books. (At least I don’t write them with pencil and contribute to wiping out the cedar reserves).

I do know that like many of us, I float somewhere in the middle of the muddle between being purely green and being practical. I suppose I must say that I’m unsatisfied with how I live. I don’t fully know what to do because my entire life involves some aspects of my contributing to Global Warming. At the moment I write this I’m on a flight from Tulsa where I spoke to students and teachers and parents about books and writing and creativity. How bad could that be? But now, as I leave Tulsa on a jet, I leave behind a trail of foul carbon emissions that probably spell out, Baaad Jaaaack, like toxic sky writing that pollutes the air you are presently breathing.

I do try, however, to make a difference, however miniscule. Perhaps I’m on a pace that is slow, like reading a book, my progress is always one page at a time. My family and I recycle. We try not to waste water and electricity. We use recycled paper for our cat’s litter boxes. And yet, every day I feel slightly guilty, as if being born was my original sin to polluting the earth.

It’s not easy being green. But I put my eggshells around my tomatoes. I grow lettuce. I harvest my radishes and beets. Then again, I have a car. But I walk to work. But my cell phone requires the mining of metals that pollute the earth. Only my thoughts, my absolute flights-of-fancy, my mental cloud watching is pure. Dreaming doesn’t ruin anything. In fact, it may be the first step toward a magnificent solution, for maybe some dreamer somewhere will dream up solutions to save the planet.

I wonder if ghosts pollute? Does artificial intelligence pollute? I am very eager for beings from another planet to come help us work out this issue. I’m desperate. Maybe if I was consumed by a shark I’d feel pure again.

Jack Gantos has written books for readers of all ages, from picture books and middle-grade fiction to novels for young adults and adults. His works include Dead End in NorveltHole in My Life (a memoir) and Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. His final Joey Pigza novel, The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza, released in September. Follow Jack at www.jackgantos.com.

 

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GRANDEUR IN THIS VIEW OF LIFE by National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, Deborah Heiligman

My family: Benjamin, me, husband Jonathan, and Aaron.

When I was writing Charles And Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith, a friend said to me, “Charles Darwin must have been one awful guy.” “Why?” I asked, shocked. “Well, survival of the fittest and all that,” she said. I explained to her that Charles was, in fact, an incredibly nice man. I told her that he took more than fifteen years to write The Origin of Species because he didn’t want to offend anyone, especially not his wife, Emma, who was religious, and whom he cherished. Emma was his first reader, his editor, his comma and spelling corrector. She helped him make his arguments about evolution by natural selection clearer and stronger, even though she was worried, as many would be when it was published, that he was taking God out of the process of creation.

But Emma knew that Charles was writing not only from a place of science (oh the research he did!) but also from a place of love for our planet, and the life on it. He studied specimens in his study at home, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of his children. And every day he walked outside and reveled in nature. In the last lines of The Origin he wrote,  “It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner,  have all been produced by laws acting around us.…”

I love it that Darwin observed nature all over the world—from Galapagos to his own back yard. One of my very first books, written 22 years ago, was about just this. I modeled From Caterpillar to Butterfly on what my son did in class, and which many children still do: watch up-close the miraculous metamorphosis of a butterfly. And at the end of their study (and of the book), the children let the butterflies go, out into the world, where the cycle will start again.

Life on Earth depends on us humans to keep it safe. The more we know about the creatures and plants on the tangled banks, and in the ocean depths, on the mountaintops, and underneath our feet, the more we will treasure our planet. The harder we will work to save it. Science points the way to truth. Love and respect point the way to action.

“There is grandeur in this view of life,” Darwin wrote at the end The Origin of Species.

We must keep this planet healthy and full of that grandeur.

Deborah Heiligman has authored 28 books for young readers, from picture books to middle grade to YA. Her title Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith is a National Book Award Finalist. It also earned a Michael L. Printz Award and was an YALSA-ALA “Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction” Winner. Learn more about Deborah’s broad body of work at www.deborahheiligman.com.

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MY BOY SCOUT ROOTS by Bruce Hale, author-illustrator of many books, including the beloved Chet Gecko series

Now I can confess it: The Boy Scouts turned me into a tree-hugger.  Not that I had zero appreciation for the great outdoors before I joined.  As a suburban kid, I played with friends in the odd scraps of wild land scattered about our town, and sure, I appreciated a day at the beach.

But I didn’t understand the whole “stewardship of the Earth” thing until about age 12 in Boy Scouts.

This was in 1969, back before the first Earth Day celebration.  My scoutmaster dad was the furthest thing from a peace-loving, crunchy-granola hippy — in fact, he was so far right, he made Attila the Hun look like a liberal — but he had a connection with nature that he passed on to me and my fellow scouts.

I’m in the middle, elbows on the rail, with my scoutmaster dad standing behind me.

Our troop did the occasional community service project, picking up trash and so forth, but one particular project made a difference to me.  My dad and the troop leadership decided we should beautify a tumbleweed-strewn, trashed-out little canyon near my middle school.

One Saturday morning we showed up in our olive green uniforms, bearing buckets, fertilizer, shovels, hoses, and a number of potted California redwood trees.  Now maybe redwoods weren’t the most practical trees to plant in hot, dry Southern California, but practicality rarely troubled my dad when he was in the grips of a Big Idea.

All day long, as the sun climbed, we dug and dug and dug.  We cleared rocks and pulled tumbleweeds.  (And how I wished I’d brought some work gloves!)  Was I completely sold on the whole altruistic, save-the-planet thing?

To be honest, I was not.  I would much rather have been goofing off with my friend Billy the Kid, riding our bikes around and stirring up trouble.

But when your dad is the scoutmaster, that sort of limits your options.

We worked, we dug, we sweated.  Blisters sprouted on my hands.  My back got sore. Finally, late in the afternoon, we completed our project, and the canyon was beautified.  About ten redwood saplings stood in cleared ground, with wooden logs laid here and there, so that nearby residents could sit and admire the trees.  (Assuming they actually survived.)

We ran hoses to the neighbors’ faucets and drenched the trees with water.  Every weekend for the next six months or so, someone (often Billy and I) would go water the redwoods.  And a funny thing happened over those six months.  Somehow, the chore turned into something more.

As Billy and I saw the trees take hold and flourish, we started feeling a real sense of accomplishment — but more than that, a connection to these ancient trees.  And when at last our troop erected a wooden sign that read Coronel Canyon Forestation Project – Conservation by Troop 276, we felt a real swell of pride to see how our work transformed that arid, scraggly little canyon into something beautiful.

The end result?  Many of those trees still grow in that canyon, decades later.  And me?  I’ve become a card-carrying tree-hugger.  Blame it on the Boy Scouts.

Bruce Hale is the author-illustrator of over 30 books for young readers, including Clark the Shark, Big Bad Baby, and the popular Chet Gecko Mysteries series.  You can find him online at: www.brucehale.com and www.brucehalewritingtips.com

 

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Award winning nature author Sy Montgomery is fueled by a childhood passion that has led her to write almost 20 books exploring the realms of animals

I was sent home from school on my first day of Kindergarten.

My mother was appalled. A southern Belle, she wanted to raise a daughter who was quiet, well-behaved and girlish. Alas, her wish would go unfulfilled. My offense?  I had bitten a little boy.

But at the time, I felt I had little choice. He was pulling the legs off a Daddy Longlegs. I had to stop him.

Today, I don’t bite little boys. I write books for them—and little girls, too. And grown-ups as well. I also write articles for magazines and newspapers and the web, and sometimes scripts for radio and TV. Although I have refined my technique, my efforts serve the same purpose as that well-aimed bite in kindergarten: to protect, defend, and celebrate the creatures of this sweet, green Earth.

My work has taken me to some of the most spectacular places on Earth, meeting exciting and sometimes elusive animals. I’ve been deftly undressed by an orangutan in Borneo. I’ve held wild tarantulas in my hand in French Guiana. I’ve hiked up into the cloud forest of Papua New Guinea to help radio collar tree kangaroos and camped in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia’s Gobi searching for snow leopards.

Everywhere I go, I find incredible teachers to help me bring my message to my readers. Sometimes they’re scientists. Sometimes they’re shamans. But most often, they’re animals: pink river dolphins in the Amazon. Emus in Australia’s outback. From the giant Pacific octopuses I’ve met (and who recognize me) at the New England Aquarium in Boston, to the 18,000 snakes with whom I worked in a pit in Manitoba, Canada, I’ve been blessed to discover that everywhere, I find wisdom and courage, strength and beauty—inspiration to deepen our wonder and love for the natural world, and our respect and affection for the creatures with whom we share the planet. After all, animals love their lives as much as we love our own.

I love writing for adults, love the flexibility and depth that writing for 250 pages affords. But writing for children is especially important. Children are not just the leaders of tomorrow: they are the leaders of today. Children may not yet be able to vote or command vast sums of money, but they do powerfully influence important decisions made in their homes, decisions that affect animals and their habitats. Kids, I’ve heard from educators, are their parents’ SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT source of information about the environment—more important than radio, TV, print or internet.

Children don’t buy the lie that only people matter and animals don’t. They haven’t been hoodwinked into believing that money and status and stuff is the point of our lives.  They naturally recognize that the real world—the world where we find joy and renewal and inspiration and peace–is the sweet, green, breathing, alive world around us.

So I am super proud and grateful that 11 of my 19 books published so far are for young readers. They are hungry for news of animals’ lives. Most kids already know that animals think and feel. But in addition to this, I’m eager to show kids how animals are also endowed with superpowers like spinning silk, as spiders do, or seeing sound like dolphins or smelling time like dogs. I’m delighted to introduce them to cool scientists who are discovering the secrets of these animals while working to protect them.

Children have the courage and imagination to see their way out of disasters that might make an adult just give up. True, there’s always going to be some kid who thinks it’s fun to pull the legs off a Daddy Long Legs. Sometimes you just have to bite them. But sometimes, all it takes to turn even that kid around is a good book.

Sy Montgomery is a naturalist, author and scriptwriter, described by the Boston Globe as “part Indiana Jones, part Emily Dickinson.” She has written numerous books for adults and children, including Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea, which  received an Orbis Pictus Award and was selected as an Honor book for the ALA Sibert Award. Visit www.symontgomery to learn more about her important work.

 

 

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ECO-MOWERS by Dan Gutman, author of 117 books, including the uber-popular My Weird School series

I like to think that I’m not mowing my lawn—I’m giving it a haircut.

That’s what it feels like with my push mower.  When I used to have a power mower, I felt like I was annihilating each blade of grass.  Now I just feel like I’m giving each one a trim.

I made the switch about a dozen years ago.  My yard isn’t very large, and the gas-powered mower always felt like overkill, like I was using a bazooka to swat flies.

But more than that, I was becoming more aware of climate change and other environmental and political issues.  I became conscious of the fact that every time I mowed the lawn, I was burning gas. Gas that took millions of years to be created.  Gas that probably was pumped out from under the ground and sold to us by Saudi Arabia or some other country we’d have to defend if their oil fields were invaded.  Gas that would pollute the air and heat up the atmosphere.

And for what?  So I would have a lawn as pretty as my next door neighbor’s?

So I got the push mower.  It was cheap, easy to use, took up less space, worked great, and it ran on a renewable source of energy–muscle.  No burning gas.  No fumes.

I know I’m not going to save the planet by using a push mower instead of a power mower.  But I figure every little bit helps.  It’s the same with riding a bike instead of taking my car.  I feel good about myself for keeping a little gas unburned.  And I get some exercise. Not only that, but when I’m out in the fresh air sweating over a hot push mower, I come up with some of my best book ideas.

Sure, some of the neighbors think I’m a little weird.  But I think they also think it’s cool and retro in a sort of hipster kind of way.

In fact, just last night, my next door neighbor Art told me his gas mower broke and he replaced it with a push mower.  He said I “shamed” him into it.

Well, good!  Whatever it takes.  Now there are two of us.  Maybe soon there will be four…and eight…and sixteen…

What I really want to do is move out of the suburbs entirely and go back to New York City, where I used to live before my wife and I had kids.   We’ll get rid of our cars, and my lawn will be Central Park.  I won’t have to mow at all.

Dan Gutman is the author of the My Weird School series, The Genius Files series, and the baseball card adventure series.  You can visit his web site at www.dangutman.com, check out his Facebook fan page, and follow him on Instagram and Twitter @dangutmanbooks.

 

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