THE SMALL THINGS by award-winning children’s author Miranda Paul

As a picture book writer, I have days where I only write one sentence or change a few words. At the end of the day, what I’ve completed seems so…small. But day after day turns into year after year of those small steps. Those small words soon become polished drafts of manuscripts that go on to become published books. And look! Now I have a whole career built out of small steps!

Because several of my books are educational, linked to environmentalism, or tied to science and social studies issues, I often get introduced as an activist, environmentalist, or a community leader. Sometimes, I feel it’s too generous of a title for me. But if I step back, I see that little things I have done to carve out a greener life. I can see that the impact, or reach, has been far greater than I ever imagined.

Many of the students I have visited across the United States and the world, especially those who have read One Plastic Bag—a book about environmentalist Isatou Ceesay—realize that one person can make a difference. Students and activists start small and consistently and persistently work toward a goal. Over time, and together with others, small acts of environmentalism, kindness, or bravery add up to better realities for people and planet.

So what stops us from trying something new, even something small? When it comes to environmental issues, we can be overwhelmed by all that we aren’t doing. Our guilt or fear can cause us not to try; we feel like we’ll never be doing enough.

But instead of dwelling on what we’re not doing in our classrooms or homes, let’s look at every little task of the day and find opportunities to do! That’s right—every small thing we do from taking a shower to getting dressed to making a Facebook post becomes an opportunity to do good. Here are some examples:

1. Pour small amounts of cereal or milk into your bowlyou can always refill if you’re hungry!
2. Choose organic clothing materials instead of synthetics or buy from second hand stores
3. Watch a YouTube video to learn how to fix something rather than buy a new one
4. Make a special waste bin for hazardous items such as batteries or expired medicines, and learn the best method for disposing of them within your community
5. Skip the strawwhen you go out to eat, order “water, no straw” for example
6. Bring utensils with you or keep some in your vehicle or purse
7. Ask for a box at the grocery store or bring reusable bags instead of taking new ones at stores
8. Pack your school lunch in containers rather than throw-away bags or wrapping
9. Wash and reuse any plastic ware or baggies that come home with you or your children
10. Unplug your TV, video games, toaster, or other appliances when not in use
11. Put your cell phone on Airplane Mode to save battery life
12. Eat more vegetarian meals
13. Dress in layers so you can use less A/C or heat, or aren’t limited to staying indoors
14. Check out books from the library that are environmental – libraries make purchasing decisions based on what gets checked out, and they withdraw books that don’t get read
15. When you see a company making a good environmental choice, Tweet and share it
16. Support environmentalists and scientists by sharing their research, findings, and news on Facebook and other social media

Just during my Authors for Earth Day events in the past two years, I’ve spent time with more than 1,000 students and teachers. Imagine the impact if each did just one of these things every single day? Wow. And what other small things would you add to this list? Let’s get started turning small into BIG!

Miranda Paul is award-winning author of several picture books, including of One Plastic Bag and Water is Water, both named Junior Library Guild selections. Her titles have received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly in addition to being named to several recommended and “best of” reading lists. Learn more at www.mirandapaul.com.

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Raising Monarchs by award-winning nonfiction children’s author Steve Swinburne

I’m raising monarch butterflies. I bought an $18 mesh butterfly habitat terrarium from Amazon this summer. As of September 1st, I am hosting 10 chrysalises and 12 feeding larvae. Why am I growing monarch butterflies?

Because this insect may be headed for the Endangered Species List. Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are the only North American butterfly to make an awe-inspiring migration. They fly from their overwintering grounds in Mexico and California to as far north as Canada, some travelling nearly 3,000 miles. This large, fast-flying orange and black butterfly used to be a common sight along roadsides, fields and gardens of America. But over the last 20 years, numbers of monarchs have decreased by 80%. Pesticide use is one culprit. And roadside mowing of milkweed and other wildflowers is another. Milkweed is the critical plant in a monarch’s life cycle. Adult butterflies lay eggs on the plant and monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed leaves. Less milkweed, less monarchs.

By mid to late August in New England, the fourth generation of monarch butterflies emerges from their chysalises. These butterflies are in what as known as “reproductive diapause.” These are full grown adults but they’re not ready to reproduce. What they are ready to do is migrate. This is the migratory generation of monarchs. Their job is to fly south to the high elevation oyamel fir forests of Mexico, a trip that will take about 2 to 2 1/2 months. There they overwinter, and by mid-February will mate and begin a new generation of monarch butterflies. These popular butterflies play a key role in the ecosystem by helping to pollinate flowers and by providing a food source for creatures, such as birds, spiders, lizards, and small mammals.

terrarium, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly

So I’ve cleared a little patch of ground in my backyard and planted milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). I’ve been watching and learning about monarch butterflies for many years. I even wrote a book about them for young kids called A Butterfly Grows. And I might write another one someday about raising them.

No matter where you live you can help. Find out what milkweed and nectar plants are native to your area. In the fall, go out and collect mature milkweed seedpods. If you grow them, they will come. I’m enjoying my role as a citizen monarch butterfly scientist! I’m monitoring milkweed stands and monarchs in my little town in southern Vermont. I’m turning my neighbors and friends on to these awesome insects. The monarch butterfly is in trouble, but if we all do our part, we can help the population of this most American of butterflies!

Stephen Swinburne is an author, photographer and musician. He has written many books for children about nature, including A Butterfly Grows. To research his nonfiction topics, Steve travels the world. Learn more about his interesting life and books at www.steveswinburne.com.

Read Steve’s other A4ED blog, about endangered sea turtles, here.

 

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Two-time National Book Award Finalist Eliot Schrefer explores the rainforest for his upcoming middle-grade series

My eyes lit up when I saw it—after a long hot day spent trekking in the Amazon, ant bites up and down my arms and sweat pooling in my clothes, I’d reached the lodge. It was constructed in the ancient style, on stilts to protect it from flooding, with the sides completely open to the outside to maximize whatever rare breezes come up in the rainforest. It makes the lodge as cool as possible without electricity for air conditioners or fans, but leaves it fully exposed to whatever wildlife decides to come visit. I was hoping to see a panther, but maybe not on the way to the bathroom.

No panthers invaded the lodge while I was there, but I did get to know a pair of macaws very well indeed. The magnificent, muscular red birds would wander the lodge, fully and completely habituated to humans—that’s a nice way of saying they were a little bratty. They’d invade my room, fly my e-reader to the roof and then drop it, poop on my dresser, make off with my socks.

I was in the Amazon to research animals for my new middle-grade fantasy series, The Lost Rainforest, but the lodge that was hosting me is also home to a long-term macaw study—tens of thousands congregate at the clay lick nearby, seeking out salts to neutralize the toxins present in all jungle greenery. I asked one of the scientists working there what the story was with the tamed parrots.

He explained to me that macaws will lay clutches of 2-4 eggs, but only the first two to hatch get any food whatsoever. The third and fourth eggs are there for insurance, but are ignored by their parents and left to starve. The pair of macaws at the lodge, he explained, were the third and fourth eggs of a clutch. They’d been rescued by soft-hearted researchers who had been with the project, and now the humans at the lodge were stuck with them.

The Lost Rainforest is about five young animals banding together to save their magical rainforest home, and one of the characters is a macaw. I knew right then that I’d base him on one of those local macaws at the lodge; in my story he’s the third to hatch, and owes his life to his rescuer—for good and for bad.

Beyond giving me a character study for my book, the story of those macaws also complicated one of my rainforest assumptions. I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of one of those gruff researchers, breaking the scientific mandate not to interfere, hand-feeding a baby parrot, in a jungle lodge days from civilization. I tend to think of human interference as the enemy for the rainforests, that we can only bring suffering when we come into contact with a place like the Amazon. But the story of those two prankish macaws was the opposite. For those two birds, at least, human intervention was a source of good, of life itself.

Eliot Schrefer is the acclaimed author of nearly a dozen books for readers from middle-grade to YA to adult. Among his honors: two of his novels about great apes, Endangered and Threatened, were National Book Award Finalists, and his series Spirit Animals made the best-seller lists of both The New York Times and USA Today. Learn more about Eliot’s work at www.eliotschrefer.com.

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HELPING THE PLANET, ONE REUSABLE BAG AT A TIME by JoAnn Early Macken, the author of more than 130 books for young readers

Many people know that producing plastic bags requires petroleum—a nonrenewable resource—as well as water and energy. While researching an educational book I wrote about plastic, I found some other disturbing facts:

  • Most plastic bags are not biodegradable. If they are exposed to sunlight rather than buried in landfills, they can break into smaller pieces. But they never completely decompose.
  • Although plastic bags can be recycled, most are thrown away after one use. Many end up blowing down streets, caught in trees, or washed into waterways.
  • Countless birds and animals die after becoming tangled in plastic bags or mistaking them for prey.

Because I knew that many people already relied on reusable shopping bags, reducing and eventually eliminating disposable shopping bags seemed like a practical goal. Through our village’s Conservation Committee, I met several women who agreed. Together, we formed Bring Your Bag Shorewood.

Wisconsin state law prohibits local ordinances that restrict packaging, so we decided to focus on education first. We posted reminders in stores, gave away reusable bags and stickers, and connected with our neighbors through a Facebook group.

Then we discovered Boomerang Bags, a brilliant idea that started in Australia and is spreading around the world. Boomerang Bags are reusable shopping bags, handmade from donated fabric and displayed in stores. People who forget their reusable bags can borrow one and bring it back for someone else to use.

When we first checked the Boomerang Bags Communities map, we found only one group in the United States. Now ours is one of at least 25. More than 300 groups around the world have already made nearly 100,000 reusable shopping bags! Following the Boomerang Bags model, we’re collecting slightly used and leftover fabric, silk screening the boomerang logo on patches, and making reusable shopping bags.

More than 40 people took part in our first Sewing Bee. Some of them brought portable sewing machines, some brought ironing boards and irons, and some brought fabric, scissors, or thread. We set up cutting, ironing, pinning, and sewing stations around the large room we reserved in our Community Center. For a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, we stitched up a storm—and had so much fun! Several of us brought unfinished bags home to finish. Since then, we’ve held three more Sewing Bees and stocked more than 100 Boomerang Bags in a local grocery store. Most of them disappeared within a few weeks.

We need a larger inventory, and we hope to expand to more stores, so we’ll keep sewing. Every reusable bag we make can help reduce the number of single-use shopping bags on the planet. At the same time, we’re keeping leftover and unwanted fabric (including gently used tablecloths, sheets, pillow cases, and even clothing) out of landfills. And we’re raising awareness of a serious environmental problem that we all can pitch in to help solve.

JoAnn Early Macken is the author of Baby Says “Moo!” and other picture books, the poetry instruction guide Write a Poem Step by Step, and more than 125 educational books for young readers. Her poems appear in numerous children’s magazines and anthologies. JoAnn contributes to the Teaching Authors blog, and she speaks about poetry and writing at schools, libraries, and conferences. Visit her at www.joannmacken.com. And learn more about Boomerang Bags.

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BATS ARE NOT SCARY! by (very) creative nonfiction author Conrad J. Storad

conrad-with-story-monsterI’ve been blessed during my career as a science journalist. I’ve had the chance to write and edit thousands of articles for newspapers and magazines. Best of all, I’ve had the opportunity to write and edit more than 50 books about science and nature topics, mostly for young readers.

Every new story is a new learning experience. One of the best things about being a science writer is getting the chance to share what I learn. Best of all is sharing directly with readers, some young, some not so young, during my visits to schools and libraries across the United States. Sometime during a 2017 school visit I will reach my long time goal of reading stories for 1 million kids. It’s humbling and gratifying all at once.

I learned a lot while writing my newest book, The Bat Book (Afraid of a bat? What’s up with that?). I was privileged to get great information from scientists working at Bat Conservation International, based in Austin, Texas. The most important message I learned is conveyed in one simple sentence. And it is very easy to remember. Are you ready?

Bats are NOT scary!

bat-bookAnswering questions. That was an important reason to write about these amazing but very misunderstood creatures. But the real inspiration for The Bat Book came from the illustrator, Nathan Jensen, an Austin-area native and University of Texas graduate.

Nathan and I have worked together for many years on lots of books. He brings my words to life on the page with brilliant, vivid, and witty illustrations. This time, he wanted to illustrate AND write the story himself. He asked me to be his editor. I agreed.

Why bats? Location, location, location, of course. At the time, Nathan lived in Austin, home to one of the world’s most famous bat colonies. More than 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats live under the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin. The bats are part of Austin’s culture. Visitors from around the world love to stand on the “Bat Bridge” at sunset. The tornado of bats exiting from under the bridge for a night of insect eating is always spectacular to witness.

After almost a full year of effort, Nathan called me again. He had the skeleton of a story and some great ideas. But the writing was just not his thing. “Let’s go back to the regular way,” he said. “You write the story. I’ll illustrate.”

Nathan’s superb idea was to tell the story from the perspective of one small bat who lives under the bridge. The bat overhears human kids saying nasty, mean things about his kind. What to do? A teaching moment is born.

The solution: On suggestion from Mama, the young bat will create a book about bats and leave it for humans to find so that they might learn the facts.

Little Boy Bat does part of the writing and illustrating within our book. Nathan put his 8-year-old son, Tristan, to work to render Little Boy’s artwork.

Little Boy teaches us that bats do NOT build nests in your hair.

brookes bat shot 2All bats are not infected with rabies.

Bats are not flying vampires just waiting for the opportunity to suck your blood. Scrape those myths out of your brain right now.

The truth is that bats are mammals, just like us. Only, bats can fly, and lots more. That’s very cool.

For teachers, we added a story within the story that explains the process of creating a book for young readers — from idea to first draft to rewriting to final illustrated copy. We think the final product is our best work to date.

Still afraid of bats? If so, what’s up with that?

Conrad J. Storad has authored dozens of books for young readers, including a USA Book News Best Book Winner Fang and Stinger (An Arachnid Story). He also writes a monthly science/nature column called “Conrad’s Classroom” in Story Monsters Ink, a national-award-winning magazine launched in 2014. Learn more at www.fivestarpublications.net/conradstorad.

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CHEERS and CONGRATULATIONS to our 2017 Authors for Earth Day Participants, who brought us to nearly $75K

The enthusiastic applause of hundreds of young readers roaring through the school! That’s what our A4ED authors & illustrators hear every year as we announce the conservation organizations that win our students’ votes. It’s quite a thrill!

This year we supported 34 events across the United States and in Canada, a couple of which were in the news. Along the way, we celebrated 16 new participants and 11 participants who have joined us for at least 3 years. And with an average donation of $700, our annual total reached $22,560!

That brings our grand total to nearly $75K!!

Such a feat could never be accomplished without the extraordinary generosity of our 2017 Team. And what a prestigious line-up it was: KUDOS & THANKS to Stuart Gibbs (who actually did two events this year), David Lubar, Joann Early Macken, Peter Catalanotto, Lili DeBarbieri, Jeramey Kraatz, Darcy Pattison, Ken Keffer, Alyssa Satin Capucilli, Linda Crotta Brennan, Sandy Asher, Miranda Paul, Rebecca Stead, Yolanda Ridge, Debbie Dadey, Elissa Brent Weissman, Kim Norman, Deborah Lee Rose, Kate McMullan (who also enjoyed two events), Jeff Kinney, Wendy Mass, Andrew Clements, Nancy Castaldo, Sarah Mlynowski, Barbara Gowan, Jody Feldman, Steve Swinburne, Dan Gutman, Brooke Bessesen, Linda Bozzo, Heather Alexander and Peter Lourie.

Dozens of organizations received our financial support. From cleaning up waterways, to replanting forests, from protecting endangered species and preserving wild spaces, to instituting ingenious advances in human sustainability, every beneficiary plays a role in the global conservation effort. A full list of donation recipients, now totaling more than 80 organizations, can be found here.

While our participants are grateful to be able to contribute to so many important charities through the voices of our readers, Authors for Earth Day is exponentially greater than the sum of our donations.

We engage today’s youth with encouraging words, empower them with fact-based knowledge, and cultivate social responsibility and environmental stewardship. After students research the most pressing environmental problems, every educated vote they cast is a vote for solutions. Most importantly, their experience is shared with parents and peers. Knowledge gained grows and spreads—seeding new soil, nourishing new minds.

We love that our program is a win-win-win for everyone involved. And in this time of political unrest, we love bringing hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Please help us celebrate on Facebook. And share our links with all the authors and teachers you know to help us grow.

2018… here we come!

Brooke Bessesen, A4ED Executive Director

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TREES WE TREASURE by Andrea Alban, children’s author and writing coach

andrea-alban-blogKeep a green tree in your heart and perhaps the singing bird will come.  Chinese proverb

The flatbed truck loaded with tree trunks passed my car in Golden Gate Park. I was struck by the contrast of an evergreen-lined boulevard and the dozen redwoods felled by chainsaws, lying in a sad heap on their journey to a lumber yard.

My chest tightened and I tried, but was unable, to hold back tears. In my imagination, the tree sprites whispered their wish for a tree guardian to stop the clear-cutting of land. I pondered how trees provide beauty, shelter, fuel, food, and clean air. Trees inspire art and poetry, by arousing emotions and filling our senses. Trees stand for our best qualities such as peace, courage, compassion, generosity and happiness.

That moment, the seed of a tree poem sprouted into a little sapling. These lines poured from my mind without a single edit:

Everything good begins with me,

the acorn told its mother tree,

and drifted on the dancing breeze.

to find a cloak of golden leaves.

I worked at my writer’s desk for months on my ode to the forest. On the wall above me, was a bulletin board tacked with photos of trees I grew up with. There was the Ponderosa pine at our summer lake home that I measured my height by, the cherry tree I climbed which provided enough sweet fruit to fill a pail (and my belly), and the white pom-pom tree I lay beneath as it shed in the wind and sprinkled me with fairy petals. (My father preferred a pristine lawn so he vacuumed up the “mess” with a Hoover upright every Sunday.)

HTcoverEighteen months later, Feiwel & Friends, an imprint of Macmillan, published The Happiness Tree on recycled paper using soy ink. We included in the back matter an index of state trees and information about how to plant trees through the Arbor Day Foundation. I visited schools with my puppet, TREEna and taught the students—the next generation’s tree guardians—this pledge:

I promise to care for the birds, chipmunks, squirrels, and wildlife nestled in the branches of trees.

I will protect the trees in my community.

I will water my trees.

I will sit beside my trees.

I will start with my heart and my own little patch of earth.

From seed of hope to forest of happiness, I invite tree-huggers of all ages to celebrate Earth Day every day. Adopt a tree in your neighborhood and watch it thrive through the seasons.

Andrea Alban (a.k.a. Andrea Gosline) is the author of three picture books, including The Happiness Tree, currently traveling with the OUT ON A LIMB exhibit through children’s discovery museums in the U.S. and Canada. Her debut novel, Anya’s War, is an A.L.A. honor book. Visit her at www.andreaalban.com

 

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THREE POEMS FOR EARTH DAY by April Halprin Wayland (April is National Poetry Month and Earth Day is the 22nd)

I love this photo of my dad by the Feather River that ran beside our farm

I love this photo of my dad by the Feather River that ran beside our farm

My father was a farmer. He worked and wrote all his life to protect the people,  animals, land and waters of our world.

He farmed acres and acres of walnut trees, but Daddy also planted experimental rows of peanuts, to see if they would grow in our sandy soil. When rabbits began eating the young plants, Daddy wouldn’t poison the rabbits. He figured out another way to protect those peanuts.

PROTECTING THE PEANUTS

“The rabbits,” my dad said,

“are eating the peanut plants

in our garden.”

 

He puzzled over this on the hot tractor,

dragging the disk up and back

thinking about jack rabbits.

 

“One thing we know,”

he said, chewing a peanut butter sandwich,

“is rabbits are afraid of people.”

 

So, he made a scarecrow—

a scarerabbit.

Even gave it his old straw hat.

 

But the next morning

he wrinkled his brow.

“Those darn rabbits,” is all he said.

 

He pondered all morning on the tractor.

“One thing we know,” he said, sipping ice cold ginger ale,

“is rabbits are afraid of the smell of people.”

 

So, he ripped up pieces of his old khaki shirt,

tied them to sticks, and stuck those sticks between the rows of peanut plants.

Looked like a little parade.

 

Who cares,

said the rabbits that night.

We’re not scared.

 

Back disking those long rows in the morning,

Dad deliberated, contemplated, meditated,  ruminated, and speculated.

About rabbits.

 

Then, he took a

big aluminum bucket

and peed in it.

 

Added some water

and dribbled a line of demarcation

around the peanuts.

 

The rabbits

got

the picture.

 

“One thing we know,” he said with a wide smile,

“is that people can be as smart as rabbits.

Just give us time.”

Copyright © 2017 April Halprin Wayland. Used by permission of the author, who controls all rights.

========================

When he was a boy, Daddy said he stood in awe each fall as a massive wave of birds migrated over our farm.

ENDANGERED

My father says

that every fall when he was a boy

the sky blackened like some huge dark tongue

sticking out over our farm

as hundreds

 

no thousands of wood ducks or terns

flew overhead

in one great flock

hour after hour

all day long.

 

On the haystack, I am between my mother and my sister

On the haystack, I am between my mother and my sister

I am standing in this field searching the sky

waiting for that huge dark tongue.

I haven’t seen thousands

I haven’t seen hundreds

I haven’t seen

 

one bird.

Copyright © 2017 April Halprin Wayland. Used by permission of the author, who controls all rights.

======================


Like my father, I love this earth and work to protect it. Sometimes all it takes to begin is one small action.

LISTENING TO OUR OAK TREE

Do you flip your paper over

when you draw or make a list?

I do—our oak tree tells me to—

she’s gentle but insists.
“See this twig?” she asks me.

“A teensy weensy limb.

If you use the back of every page,

you’re saving one of him.
And his sister and her sister

and another limb until

one day you’ll save a grove of trees!

You’ll do it if you will
just use each paper’s blank side

april-waylandso saplings live for years.

You’ll grow up and you’ll change the world;

they’ll have long tree careers.”

Copyright © 2017 April Halprin Wayland. Used by permission of the author, who controls all rights.

=================

April Halprin Wayland is the author of seven books, including More Than Enough—a Passover Story, which has been praised by the New York Times, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly, the gold medal-winning picture book, New Year at the Pier, and the award-winning novel in poems, Girl Coming in for a Landing. When she is not writing, April plays the fiddle, hikes with her dog, and advocates for world peace. Learn more at www.aprilwayland.com.

Her father’s name was Leahn J. Halprin.

 

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BREATHING WITH THE SEA by Bruce Balan, award-winning children’s author and sailor of the seven seas

bruce-balanThere was a moment—an exact moment—when the docklines were cast off.

Twelve and a half years ago I wrote those words when I left Long Beach, CA aboard my 46-foot sailboat Migration to sail “around” the world. The quotes are there because the intention wasn’t to circumnavigate the earth, but to meander about, visit different cultures, share, and learn.

So far, across 40,000 nautical miles and 26 countries, I’ve done just that… and also discovered facets of my own country, the USA.

There are times when Migration is coasting over the swells, her sails drawing silently, her bow wave singing—the sky is blue, the wind ideal, and I marvel at the immense beauty of the world, and that my home can travel across the sea in such harmonious concert with nature. My heart expands.

There are times when storms rage and life is uncomfortable and wet, and I cower away from the sea and the wind, longing for calm, and my heart contracts to wait for better days.

trash defaces a remote beach in Malaysia

trash mars a beautiful beach in Malaysia

And there are the times when what could be joyful is blighted by scenes all too real: fishermen dynamiting reefs, tour boats casting anchors on pristine coral, bloated bodies of dead seabirds…, and trash. Trash of all kinds: flip-flops are popular, fishing nets and floats, light bulbs (how do they survive?), styrofoam boxes. But the king and queen of trash are plastic bags and water bottles. We find them everywhere: on remote islands, lonely reefs, floating a thousand miles from nowhere. My heart withers.

I fly to the USA every so often to visit family. Because I have been away for a spell, I notice changes. One year, every time I went into a restaurant, my glass of water was served with a straw. This was new. I found that Americans had decided a glass washed in a high-temperature dishwasher might still have germs. That false perception creates a demand for 500 million plastic drinking straws every day. Yes, day. Because we think we might get sick. The same way we mistakenly think drinking water bought in a plastic bottle is somehow healthier.

Our bodies are remarkable. Take care of them and they last a long time and keep all sorts of harmful substances on the outside.

Our planet is remarkable, too. But hardly any of our world is on the outside of our planet. What we seem to have forgotten is that protecting our bodies (or cars, homes, phones, toys, etc.) at the expense of our earth, achieves the opposite. When our mother earth gets sick, so do we. Plastic—including micro-plastic—permeates the sea. It is in turtles, birds, sharks, whales, fish… the fish we eat.

Migration at anchor in the teal waters of Indonesia

Migration at anchor in the teal waters of Indonesia

My heart shrinks at the thought.

Then… I sail, dive, snorkel, meet fascinating people from other lands. My heart expands. Plastic bottles slide along Migration’s hull. My heart shrinks. The wind and sea carry my home gently forward. My heart expands.

We must breathe. The sea must breathe. The earth must breathe.

The immensity of the Big Blue is as overwhelming as the size of the environmental problems we face. But we breathe, ask the waiter to hold the straw, don’t buy plastic bottles, avoid plastic bags, breathe again. Learn. Share. Breathe again. Expand our efforts. And when we are ready, cast off the docklines and venture out into the blue.

Bruce Balan is the author of many books for young readers including The Magic Hippo and Buoy, Home at Sea—a Parents Choice Gold Medal book. You can learn more about his books at www.brucebalan.com and follow his voyage on the occasionally updated site: migrations.brucebalan.com.

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THE POWER OF NATURE BOOKS by children’s author and professional development guru Barbara Gowan

barb-gowan-desertI heard it on a Levi’s jeans commercial when I was in high school and it has become my motto ever since—Do not be afraid to touch the earth and let it touch you.Following those words has been a guiding force in my life offering me respite from a busy world, bringing comfort and rejuvenation. It’s as if my body clock tells me it’s time to take a walk in the desert, to listen to the songs of the birds, to marvel at the beauty of a cactus flower— to let the earth touch me.

Several years ago I attended the Highlights Foundation workshop, Writing from Nature. We waded through Calkins Creek catching aquatic creatures, walked the woods with a forester, and photographed spring wildflowers peeking through the leaf litter. It rekindled childhood memories of making mud pies and watching clouds float by. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, claims that “children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and therefore, for learning and creativity.” Current research demonstrates that unstructured, outdoor play in nature is fundamental to childhood and that it is as important as food and sleep. But, look at children today. They are spending half as much time outdoors as children did twenty years ago. Louv feels that many are suffering from nature-deficit disorder.

I wondered what I could do to change this? How could I help children learn to love the natural world enough to protect it? In my career as a naturalist with the Cleveland Metroparks, I learned that the first step to conservation of our natural resources is awareness; followed by understanding, appreciation and ultimately, conservation. desert-digitsAs an author, I want not only to inspire and inform young readers but to give teachers the tools to bring nature awareness into their daily routine. Writing books like Desert Digits allows me to contribute to education in a powerful way.

In my professional development workshops, I suggest simple activities. Is there space in the classroom for a Wonder Table displaying an assortment of shells, flowers, seeds or feathers with hand lenses for a close-up view? The Looking Closely book series by Frank Serafini and Look Once/Look Again by David M. Schwartz complement this investigation. Could the class adopt a tree on school property, photograph it every week and write diary entries in its voice? Is there an opportunity to watch clouds drift by changing shapes and igniting the imagination?

As literacy lovers, we all know the power of a picture book. Exploration of the natural world can begin in the classroom with lushly illustrated books and good read-alouds. Can a child learn empathy from a book? The Just for a Day series by Joanne Ryder allows the reader to become a chipmunk, Canada goose, or even a humpback whale experiencing their life for a day. Author Jim Arnosky suggests that after reading his book Arnosky’s Ark, children select an animal to put in the classroom ark and explain why it needs to be cared for. When I asked my adult daughter why she chose to specialize in environmental law, she immediately responded, “Because of The Great Kapok Tree.” Reading Lynn Cherry’s book as a child moved her to action as an adult.

I challenge you to be moved into action, to share nature books and activities with the children in your life and to let the earth touch you.

Barbara Gowan lives in the Sonoran desert and is the author of G is for Grand Canyon, Desert Digits and D is for Desert – a World Desert Alphabet recognized as an Outstanding Science Trade Book. As a teaching artist with the Arizona Commission of the Arts, Barb is known for her outstanding professional development workshops for educators. Look on her website for more nature activities and a Sharing Nature through Picture Books bibliography: www.barbaragowan.com.

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