7 Books For The Love Of Nature
And lessons learned by a birthday girl
Hello! I'm Sri Juneja and this is my children’s book recommendation newsletter. You can subscribe by clicking on this handy little button:
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For those of us in the US, I hope you gobbled 'til you wobbled and enjoyed the holiday weekend! We returned from Portugal last week and two days later hosted Thanksgiving. It’s been a whirlwind and I felt like I couldn’t possibly eat anymore, except…
It was my birthday a few days ago (I wasn’t kidding when I said November is a jam-packed month!) and there’s no way I was going to turn down birthday cake. Although I didn’t have anything planned to mark the occasion, I did make an impromptu decision to head into New York City solo.
The last few times I’ve been to a museum have been with a child in tow and while it’s great to expose your kid to culture, history, and art, it’s also exhausting and the opposite of relaxing. So I grabbed a museum pass from my library that gave me free entrance to the Museum of Modern Art and spent a few glorious hours meandering through its galleries taking it all in at my own pace.
The best part of the day was the freeing ability to just think. It felt indulgent to let my mind wander uninterrupted and unhastened. It allowed me to reflect on the past year in a way that I haven’t had the energy to since pre-pandemic. I thought about what I’ve learned over the past few years and here are some things I’ve come up with…
Three things I’ve learned:
How to walk—it turns out that for several decades I’ve been walking all wrong. Didn’t know that was even possible, but alas, here we are. Fortunately, I’ve figured out where I’ve been going wrong (oh the puns!) and it’s alleviated much of the pain in my toe-thumb (big toe?). If you’re wondering how I’ve been walking, here’s a wonderfully hilarious video of Jamie Dornan explaining what we’ve been doing wrong (thank goodness, I’m not the only one in this club).
Sleep is EVERYTHING— the generally accepted pillars of good health are eating well, exercising, low stress, and good sleep. There’s so much noise around the first two and historically that’s what I’ve prioritized. But I began to notice that if I didn’t sleep well, I’d be more likely to eat sugary things to boost my energy. I was more likely to binge. Less likely to exercise. It became obvious that sleep was the tipping point to better health. I’ve invested time in developing a sleep routine and, lo and behold, it’s been a huge game-changer.
“Anxiety is paying interest on a debt you don’t owe”— This is something I heard for the first time only a few weeks ago but it’s helped me reframe anxiety. I was the weirdo who rabidly believed that the perk to my anxiety was that it caused me to be more prepared and ahead of the curve. Maybe that’s true but it came at the cost of mental peace and running myself ragged. Jury’s out on the success of repeating this mantra but this is an area I do need to keep working on.
As I look upon this list, it’s pretty obvious that it’s written by someone who isn’t in the first blush of youth. That person wouldn’t be thinking about toe pain, knee clicks, or getting stressed about stress. I’m in the chapter of my life where my health is at the forefront and I’m kind of glad. The social worries of my twenties are at least a thousand miles behind me and I couldn’t be happier. I love that I’ve come to the point in my life where my work is internal (and somewhat physical).
These were some of my musings as I left the museum a few hours later, my cup full after having been slowly siphoned off from a crazy month. And then, just as I was making my way past the holiday display at Saks, I felt dampness on my nose. I looked up and there it was—the first pinch of snow of the season. The snowflakes danced merrily with the shivering wind. It was cleansing and magical just like the day itself had been.
Have you had any deep thinks about your birthday? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Is all about loving and appreciating nature! A lovely reader requested children’s books about climate change and I thought it was a wonderful idea. But it’s a big topic and I wanted to go deep on the different aspects. So this will be my first post on the subject—more to come throughout 2024—and I wanted it to be rooted in why we should care about climate change. So to begin this critical discussion I wanted to share some books to get kids thinking about seeing nature and how they interact with it. This isn’t my first time talking about nature but it’s a topic that I think is so important, especially in light of the times we live in. Keep reading for some of my favorite books!
BTW, MoMA has an excellent exhibition right now (one of the reasons I decided to visit it in particular) on how architects creatively approached environmentalism in the 1960s and 70s. Some of the architecture envisioned reminded me of a cross between The Jetsons and Star Wars. It was fascinating and I highly recommend it.
For the babies and toddlers…
What A Wonderful World
Written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss and Illustrated by Tim Hopgood
Recommended Ages: 0-3 years old
You can’t help but sing as you read aloud this (literally) lyrical board book. Serving as a neat introduction to the iconic Louis Armstrong song, this book is all about excitement and reverence. Excitement for all there is to discover and reverence for all the world’s magic. We all have sentiments attached to this song and the feelings it gives us. For me, the song is steeped in a nostalgic, rosy glow of moments passed. For kids, with its bright, ebullient artwork this song/book serves as an invitation, beckoning them to explore, reminding them about the delights that await them.
Nature: Early Learning at the Museum
Compiled by The Trustees of the British Museum
Recommended Ages: 0-3 years old
What if you could explore the natural world through the eyes of an artist? That’s what the British Museum sets out to do in this board book that uses art to depict the natural world. On each page is a word or two (think: sky, sunflower, snow, etc.) rendered on pictures of world-renowned artwork in the British Museum collections. The “illustrations” in this board book are diverse and include artists from different parts of the world. (Hardly a surprise considering it’s the British Museum). It’s a lovely way to introduce the little ones to both good nature and art.
For stories about nature…
5-Minute Nature Stories
Written by Gabby Dawnay and Illustrated by Mona K
Recommended Ages: 5-7 years old
A series of ten 5-minute stories, each story features an animal, insect, or natural phenomenon. Written in a soothing, lilting rhyme that turns what could be a dry lecture into a vivid, engrossing story. Kids will learn about mushroom spores, a stag beetle’s life (this was a great read; I was completely captivated), amongst many other things. At the end of each story is a simple explanation of the topic featured in the story. Many of these stories build on each other, so what you see in one story may pop up in another (but they don’t need to be read in order) which demonstrates nature's interconnectedness. All of these stories are paired with exquisite gouache and pencilwork illustrations that are rife with just the right amount of detail to bring each scene to life.
For a wood full of life is a world full of calm.
A World Full Of Nature Stories
Written by Angela McAllister and Illustrated by Hannah Bess Ross
Recommended Ages: 5-8 years old
Can you tell I’m a sucker for a good compendium? This one veers in a slightly different direction than the 5-minute nature stories above. In this one, beautiful folk tales with a nature theme are brought to life with handpainted artwork. Broken into sections (wind and weather; sun, moon, and stars; leaf and tree; etc.) each folktale is sourced from all over the world. I love that we can learn about human follies from these tales and honor the core tenet of learning from Nature. For lovers of Norse mythology (or Marvel characters), there’s even a folktale about Odin and Loki. The illustrations are lush paintings interspersed throughout each story. My only beef with the book is there are some classification and grammatical errors. Despite these minor irritations, I’d still recommend this as a wonderful book to have on hand to give flight to a kid’s imagination.
To marvel at nature…
Written and Illustrated by Micha Archer
Recommended Ages: 3-7 years old
It’s clear as day why this book is a Caldecott Honor recipient. Two kids are looking out the window when one suggests that they go out on a “wonder walk.” And so the story begins as we reimagine the way we view the world. It invites the reader to really look at what they see in nature and then fantastically connect what they see to their understanding of other things. For example, “Are rivers the earth’s veins?” Each gorgeous collage-rendered page shows how these two kids reinterpret what they see. It’s a great book to open the door (literally and figuratively) to viewing the world in a new way.
Written and Illustrated by Alison Farrell
Recommended Ages: 4-6 years old
Three little besties head off on a hiking adventure eager to reach the top of a mountain. Verdant scenes capture details about various little creatures scurrying about as they make their way on the trail. While there’s overall narration of what is happening, it’s the characters’ speech bubbles that capture their personalities and the essence of their friendship. Each girl records nature observations in her journal which is fun to read. This book is a reminder of all the remarkable joy that can be found when you commune with nature in the company of good friends.
Written and Illustrated by Marie Dorléans and Translated by Alyson Waters
Recommended Ages: 7-10 years old
This is a big book. Not in length but in size. And for good reason. It’s meant to pull you, Jumanji-like, into the story. It forces you to tag along invisibly behind three friends as they head off to their secret fort. As this trio makes its way through the grassy fields of the French countryside, you feel the tall grass sway around you as you move silently, trailing behind. When the trio is besieged by a summer storm, you feel pelted and pummeled by hot, angry gales. Reading this book is a visceral experience and a lot of that can be attributed to the minute, incredibly fine pencilwork illustrations. I’ve seen a lot of beautifully illustrated picture books but this is going to the top of the list as one of a few that evokes a physical response. It acknowledges the fickle, powerful temperament of nature.
Questions for you…
If you’ve grappled with anxiety, what’s helped you manage it?
What books are you reading before bedtime (I’m adding mine to the comments!)? What does your sleep routine look like?
How do you feel when your birthday rolls around?
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