Books available in the Northern Woodlands Shop
What could be better than helping a child find delight in the natural world? Here are three books that can make that happen.
Eggs, by Marilyn Singer, illustrations by Emma Stevenson, is an outstanding picture book about the fascinating world of eggs and the parenting styles of those who lay them, from earwigs to owls and snakes to partridge. You won’t find all of these creatures in your backyard or your woods (the alligator, for instance), but that doesn’t matter – the information clearly pertains to the hidden, egg-related miracles that go on in our corner of the world.
The author presents her explanations in an easy narrative style that is nonetheless packed with information: a bullfrog’s eggs are covered with a clear jelly that swells upon contact with water and helps them rise to the pond’s surface; the female python, wrapped lovingly around her clutch, shivers to make them warm; an owl’s eggs are bright white so Mom can see them in the dark of her tree hole or burrow.
This book will make you and your child want to go outdoors and pry into the secrets of nature. The section on nests (not necessary for cockroaches-on-the-run, who cart their eggs around in a kind of backpack) is fun, but the section on the challenges and acrobatics necessary for hatching out of an egg is truly exciting. What could be more interesting to a child than reading about the wonders of being born?
And there’s a bonus: if you have been putting off that Power Point presentation for your kindergartener on the mysteries of conception, Eggs can offer an easy intro to the subject. (Holiday House, 2008)
Shelterwood, by Susan Hand Shetterly, illustrations by Rebecca Haley McCall, is a fictional story about a girl and her grandfather, a landowner and logger who wants her to know about the woods she will someday inherit. Some of his neighbors have been clear-cutting, “as if they thought they were cutting hay,” he says. Sophie goes to spend some time with him at his house on a hill, where she hears his stories about logging with oxen. In the morning, they slip outside before sunrise and surprise an owl, “a dark shape skimming just above the field.” At the broken window of an abandoned cabin, they wait in silence for the deer that will move out from the trees at dawn.
Sophie’s grandfather shows her how to recognize different species of trees and how he decides which ones he will cut and not cut. Together they work in the woods, where he explains that he’ll leave certain trees as shelter for small ones while they are starting out (hence, the title). On the way home from a visit to a mill, they stop at a local ice cream shop, where they calculate the price they can expect for a load of maple. All of this workaday business filters through McCall’s dreamy, light-filled illustrations, which add to the remarkable feeling of silence that pervades this beautiful story of quiet trust between a young girl and her grandfather as he goes about teaching her what he loves about his woods. Ages 7-12. (Tilbury House, 1999)
My Side of the Mountain was written in 1959 by Jean Craighead George and has been continuously in print ever since. Even if your 8- to 12-year-old has encountered this novel in school, you will want to read it as a family or else steal away to read it by yourself. You will quickly remember your own childhood fantasies about learning to be self-sufficient in the woods.
This isn’t a realistic or dramatic story of survival but rather a how-to book with a whole different twist: how to be courageous and inventive; how to observe animals and inspire their trust; how to keep your spirits up; how to keep still for a very long time; how to thoroughly enjoy the woods. With only a few supplies, 12-year-old Sam Gibley takes a train northward from New York City, aiming to live alone in the Catskill mountains. Not much is said about what his parents are thinking in allowing him to do this, but the more time we spend with Sam, the more we admire them for their confidence in him. He’s not abused, neglected, or unhappy. He just wants to see if he can do it. And he does.
Sam is truly afraid in only two kinds of situations: bad storms coming on, and the imminent arrival of humans, heralded by his falcon, Frightful (Sam steals him from the nest as a chick), and The Baron, the weasel who loves to hassle him. After the book’s great success with children, the author continued on with a series about Sam and his beloved woods, all still in print. (E. P. Dutton, 1959)
Choosing three great children’s books about nature for Northern Woodlands’ readers was a challenge made pleasurable by the many wonderful librarians who contributed their suggestions.