Most kids love to laugh. They love nature and stories. It’s no different in the inner city, palm huts along the river Paraguay, or cement buildings with dirt floors in Kenya. Of course, not all students around the world have equal access to literature, but writing books that spark their interest is the first step. If you can make a child giggle, inspire a question about nature, or entice them to disappear into another time and place–then you’ve done it. You’ve begun to save the world.
Bringing nature to my inner city students in the Los Angeles area has been the most rewarding part of teaching in the States. Digging in the cool earth of our community garden became a way to lower a child’s stress. Searching for earthworms was like finding buried treasure. And caring for animals like green tree frogs and ball pythons in our science lab taught them compassion and responsibility. As an author of many non-fiction books, I never tire of watching fascination about nature motivate even the most reluctant reader of any age.
The kids I taught in Paraguay were tri-lingual, bright, and curious. In a village of eight families and one textbook, traditional education was not a priority. Survival was. Even though they didn’t have formal reading and writing skills, we spent many important hours discussing the native animals. We laughed at dancing fireflies and marveled at giant, praying mantises. We spotted capybaras paddling through the river and shivered at the growl of the crocodiles at night. These are the books these kids would read, if they had access to them.
In Southeastern Kenya, I worked with students full of eagerness, pride, and determination. With an unemployment rate of over 85%, most of their families had made huge sacrifices to pay for their child’s schooling. It didn’t take long to connect us through the universal language of story. We giggled about a caterpillar that couldn’t tie his 12 shoes in one of my own books, Too Many Legs. As I read from Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree house Series, they students fell in love with Peanut, Jack and Annie’s pet mouse, and wanted to talk about dinosaurs, rainforests, and traveling to the moon. They couldn’t get enough. These kids need books.
No matter your pinpoint on the map, our future depends on books about science and animals and the environment. Learning about the natural world connects us to our own lives and helps us to reach out to other perspectives across the globe. These stories make us invest in the world. They can be told by writers and teachers and parents alike. Through our words, we make children laugh and inspire them to question or soar to new places. Our stories matter, and they are desperately needed to take flight across the globe.
Lori Polydoros is not only a children’s author with many titles to her credit, but a SCBWI/OC volunteer, teacher, and traveler. She is developing a non-profit organization called Connect the Kids, which connects students and teachers in Kenya to those in the US. Learn more about Lori’s books and work at her website: www.loripolydoros.com and follow her travel adventures at: http://encuentrodecuentos.blogspot.com/.