There was a time when we had no technology and people had more time to explore the world around them. That’s when some of our most amazing scientific discoveries occurred. What is amazing is that many of these discoveries were made by women and young girls. I love the notion of encouraging our boys and girls to explore the world around them. I have watched as my younger daughter is fascinated with the natural world around her. Until they started building on the lot across the street from us, she was known to spend large chunks of time making up her own world and seeing what there was to see in her own personal forest. Much of our focus these days seems to be about encouraging children to create the next computer breakthrough, but there is still a world of nature around us for them to explore.
Maria Merian was one of the first naturalists to study animals that underwent metamorphoses. One that she was particularly taken with was the butterfly. In Margarita Engle’s beautiful book, Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian, children can learn about the work she did to advance our knowledge of the life cycle of the butterfly. At the time that she lived (late 1600s), it was the common belief that insects like butterflies came from mud, as if by magic, and were therefore also seen as evil. At the tender age of 13 Maria secretly studied caterpillars and butterflies. She watched as caterpillars were born from eggs laid by butterflies, that each caterpillar ate specific types of leaves, and that after creating and resting in a chrysalis they would emerge as butterflies. She documented everything that she saw and wanted to publish her findings so that people would stop calling them evil. The book is quite simple in its story, but astonishing in all that this young girl accomplished at a time when it was possible to think that butterflies were something to fear.
Another woman who made a huge difference in how we consider our environment was Rachel Carson. In Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World, by Laurie Lawlor, we are introduced to young Rachel and her passion for studying wildlife. Rachel Carson once wrote,”Once you are aware of the wonder and beauty of earth, you will want to learn about it.” From a very early age, she loved being exploring the outdoors and while at college preferred the local natural history museum to parties and dances. While at college she also came home to rural Pennsylvania and saw pollution impacting her once pristine landscape and wound up studying biology to learn all that she could about plants and animals. She had great struggles being a female scientist during the Depression, but she always found a way to persevere. Her biggest contribution to our society was in the publication of “Silent Spring,” a book that made specialists and the layperson more aware of the dangers of chemicals on our natural surroundings, and how the pervasive use of chemicals could pollute our environment. This book does an awesome job of showing how she got to the point of writing that book and encouraging kids to be aware of the world around them and protect it.
Kate Sessions was also a woman who loved natural science in a time when that was highly unusual. Her story gets told in The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever, by H. Joseph Hopkins. The Tree Lady tells the story of how Kate Sessions always loved getting her hands dirty, studying science, and from a very young age was completely enamored with trees. Kate was the first woman to ever graduate from the University of California (my alma mater) with a science degree in 1881. She had grown up in Northern California surrounded by trees and lush nature, but after college moved to San Diego, which was void of trees. She left her job as a teacher and became a tree hunter trying to find trees that could grow and thrive in San Diego’s dry climate. She not only discovered trees and brought them to San Diego, but she helped encourage those living in the area to plant the trees themselves. Her biggest achievement was the work that she did in the City Park.
All along, Kate Sessions believed that San Diego had the potential to become a beautiful desert oasis. She believed in herself and in her dreams and through hard work and determination, her dreams became reality. The illustrations in this book are the perfect companion to the moving story.
I love finding new non-fiction picture books to encourage my girls to learn and grow. I find a number of them as part of the non-fiction picture book challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. I haven’t done a great job of staying on top of this challenge, but that doesn’t keep me from trying to be a part of it. Check out the posts on her site.
I enjoyed the Rachel Carson book and Tree Lady, have not seen Summer Birds-looks beautiful. There is great value in letting kids explore nature. They notice much in the early years, things we adults might pass by. Thanks for sharing that too.