Nature as a Foreign Land
Like many suburban-raised kids, I grew up as if Nature was a foreign land. Except for a small patch of front lawn, which we were supposed to stay off, and a scrappy backyard where we had a sandbox and jungle gym, “outside” was mostly paved. We played running bases on the driveway, and we climbed onto the garage roof so we could jump off. Bugs were things we killed on purpose, except for the lightning variety, which we put jars with perforated lids. Nevertheless, they died.
Falling in Love with a Snail
My cousin Susie is different. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and found nature in the sliver of wild land between her garage and her neighbor’s fence. There, she befriended an earthworm. She spent summers in Vermont as a child, and moved to New Hampshire as an adult. There, she fell in love with the a snail that was eating the carrots she’d planted.
For more than a quarter century, Susie’s been a naturalist at the Harris Center for Conservation Education, helping people of all ages fall in love with the natural world. And now, people far and wide can experience Susie’s warm and endearing approach to wild animals from her newly published non-fiction book for children, The Animal Adventurer’s Guide: How to Prowl for an Owl, Make Snail Slime, and Catch a Frog Bare-Handed (Roost Books).
An Animal Adventurer’s Guide
This softbound activity book, with friendly illustrations by Becca Hall, includes 50 activities for exploring the animal world with curiosity and compassion. And not just any animal world, and certainly not the animal world of charismatic mega fauna whose photographs grace calendars and postcards, but the world of ordinary animals that inhabit parks, ponds, gardens and other tiny, wild, places in and around the built environment where we live.
The animals Susie teaches us to observe include birds, small mammals, “herps” (short for herptiles, aka reptiles and amphibians), arthropods (insects and spiders), and other invertebrates (worms, snails, slugs and stars, as in “starfish”). “Observe” is the operative word.
Observing in the wild is so different from watching nature on a screen. These activities take us outdoors and bring us up close and personal with the small beings we may have previously only noticed as pests—if we noticed them at all. Other skills include designing habitats to attract animals, using a magnifying lens, and making cardboard binoculars that focus the user’s attention, even if they don’t magnify.
Adults Can Be Animal Adventurers, Too!
Susie has made the activities easy for children to peek into the world of small, living things, including how to touch, catch, and release these tiny creatures. One of the reasons I bought the book is to use it when my granddaughter comes to visit next month. But the book is a wonderful guide for adults, too. An Animal Adventurer’s Guide has already shown me how to be more observant of the insects that eat in my garden. Some of them are stunning! And most of them eat so little, there’s plenty for us both. Learning more about the small animals who live around me is humbling. It helps me be mindful that humans are just one species that inhabit our planet. We’re the ones who have damaged it the most, and we’re the ones who can fix it. Learning about the natural world is an important first step.
Susie Spikol: Writer, Naturalist, Educator
Susie is a kind and gentle educator, one who teaches people of all ages about the wonders of the natural world. (Watch this video!) She’s also a fabulous writer. You can read her blogs and find out why she’s called the Princess of Poop at www.susiespikol.com, and you can purchase An Animal Adventurer’s Guide wherever books are sold.