Show Me a Story

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

"Mommy, look! They're toasting marshmallows just like we did!" my 4-year-old daughter said, pointing to a picture in a book. "Can we do that again sometime?"

Literature is a great way to encourage youngsters to enjoy the outdoors. Since my daughter was born, I've been on the lookout for books that we can share together.

In the book we were looking through, Toasting Marshmallows - Camping Poems, author Kristine O'Connell George tells the story of a family's camping trip. Reading this book to my daughter helped us recall experiences from our week-end in the outdoors and inspired her to fill her backpack again soon after we turned the book's last page.

I wish I had found the book Sophie's Knapsack, by Catherine Stock before I took Rose on her first camping trip. I told her how we'd go hiking in the woods, cook food over a campfire, and sleep in a tent outside. Her 3-year-old mind was a twist of delighted anticipation and apprehension, but I believe she would have been even more excited if she could have seen herself as the character Sophie, a young girl having an outdoor adventure far from their city with her parents.

"As we walk, the trees come close to me."Rose and I have a special trail, tucked in the middle of our small city, where we meet in-sects, wade through leaves, and taste spider webs. One of her favorite books to extend the memory of our walks is Sarah's Questions. In it, author Harriet Ziefert has her mother and daughter characters play "I Spy" as they wander through their rural neighborhood.

"Why does a squirrel have a bushy tail? Why do bees buzz?" The mother tries to answer a stream of questions from her inquisitive toddler. If you have a budding naturalist who asks the "why" of everything, you might appreciate the eloquent answers that Sarah's mother provides.

In contrast to the talking and walking that Sarah and her mother share in the country, a father and daughter speak in hushed voices as they take The Listening Walk in the city. Author Paul Showers describes a father and daughter moving silently through the city, soaking in a variety of sounds, from noisy cars and people to the softer sounds of ducks, leaves and breezes in the park. The phonetic spelling of the sounds makes the book a natural read-aloud.

Although picture books appeal to almost everyone, some youngsters want to read a story on their own. Katy Did It!, by Victoria Boutis, is a novel for young readers about a girl who, despite her lack of confidence, goes hiking with her dad. She learns that it's not easy hiking in the rain, cooking outdoors and understanding that death in the wild means life to others. When she reaches the summit of the mountain, she feels accomplishment as she thinks over the past few days' experiences.

"I measured the walnut board, my father sawed it, and both of us fitted the pieces together."In Meeting Trees, by Scott Russell Sanders, a father shares with his son his woodworking skill and his respect for the trees he harvests. The book begins with a boy and his father in their workshop making a walnut stool for the boy's grandmother. It ends with the father "introducing" his son to a walnut tree on their property. This is a wonderful book to teach children about the value of trees as renewable resources.

Do you have a family tradition of bundling up and venturing into the cold to bring home a live Christmas tree each year? In Christmas at Long Pond, by William T. George, a father and son venture through the snow on Christmas Eve to harvest a Yule tree from a stand of spruce that the boy's grandfather planted years ago. During their walk, the two see many signs that the out-doors is still very doors is still very much alive in winter. George has written an entire series of enjoyable books about the family's life at Long Pond.

Whether you have a real or manufactured tree in your home, you can enjoy decorating a tree for wildlife like the family did in Night Tree, by Eve Bunting. For their annual trek into the woods, this family brings fruit, seeds, nuts and strings of popcorn to adorn the same tree they decorate every year. After decorating, they all gather on a blanket, drink hot chocolate and sing Christmas carols. Much to her brother's dismay, the young girl chooses to sing "Old McDonald."

Back at home, warm in bed, the boy imagines all the creatures that will be having a Christmas feast at their tree in the forest.

"...the owl shadow hooted again.'"Have you ever taken someone owling? Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, has award-winning illustrations of a dark snowy night when a father takes his young daughter out owling for her first time. In the shadows of the night, the two unknowingly pass other wildlife creatures that only the reader can see.

In contrast to Owl Moon's rural scenery, a young boy finds that even in the middle of the largest city you can find a Secret Place to observe wildlife. In this story by Eve Bunting, a boy finds the nesting place of a duck in the concrete caverns of a city river.

Grandparents are also a very special link between children and nature. The Birdwatchers, by Simon James, is a tender and funny book about a very enthusiastic bird watcher who tells his granddaughter outlandish bird stories. When she finally accompanies him to a wetland bird blind, she gets caught up in the excitement.

"'Gone fishing,' signed my daddy and me."Whether you're taking your child out fishing for the first time or on a repeat trip, Gone Fishing, is a delightfully fun book to read to your toddler. Earlene Long's simple, repetitive text compares big/little things through-out the book during a successful fishing trip for "big daddy" and "little me."

A little girl shows us that a canoeing trip involves much more than paddling when she spends 3 Days On a River in a Red Canoe, with her mom, Aunt Rosie, and cousin Sam. Vera B. Williams' book reads like a scrap-book decorated with colored pencil illustrations of their adventures. Along the trip she describes and draws in detail the fish they see and how to tie up a canoe, cook outdoors and set up a tent.

"Lowering his head, he stuck his neck straight out and let go with such an explosive gobble that I thought it would shake the very leaves from the trees."Home, At Last, is the Hunter, by W.H. Gross, is an excellent book for young adults who might be interested in or already enjoy turkey hunting. The details of 12-year-old Jeff's turkey hunting trips with his Grandpa, and later on his own, make you feel as if you're sitting right there next to him not moving a muscle as that old tom gets closer.

"...bats flutter and turn in midair, looping and crossing..."

Going outside at night with a child can be a rewarding adventure. In Fireflies for Nathan, by Shulamith Levey Oppenheim, a young African-American boy spends the night at his Nana and Poppy's house catching fireflies. Nana passes the tradition to her grandson when she digs out the same jar that Nathan's dad used to catch fireflies when he was a boy.

Some families are lucky enough to have bats near their houses to eat some pesky moths and mosquitoes. Leila's parents have taught her to appreciate bats, and she anticipates going out on her back deck to enjoy watching their aerobatics. The book is called Bat Time, by Ruth Horowitz.

"...And they fished happily ever after"If you search the bookstores, you'll find other wonderful books about outdoor adventures for young readers. The stories in them fascinate children and get them interested in creating some adventures of their own.

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