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“The Parking Lot Will Crack and Bloom Again” in Children’s Books February 20, 2012

Filed under: Books,Environmental Education — explorergarden @ 6:53 am

A recent study, posted at journalism/media  watchdog group,, and referenced by the nonprofit organization Children and Nature Network, (read the article here: suggests that illustrated children’s picture books are increasingly focused on the built world, rather than the natural world. The study examined nearly 300 Caldecott Award-winning children’s books written from the 1930s to 2008, categorizing 8000 images as depicting natural or built environments.  From the 1930s to the 1960s, the images were equally divided — natural and built. Starting in the 1970s, however,  the balance began to shift, with each subsequent decade seeing a decline in the depiction of natural environments, animals — even domestic animals. Today, the study says, it is rare to find the natural world depicted at all.

Those of us who write books for children, and care about the environment, like to believe that creating beautiful books that depict the wonder of nature can have a tremendous influence on children’s view of the natural world.  Plenty of books beautiful books come to mind that depict the natural world with beauty and grace. In particular, Marla Frazee’s illustrations in Liz Garton Scanlon’s 2010 book  All the World show a natural world reminiscent of The Little House, and Snippy and Snappy, and Caps for Sale, all written in the 1930s. The natural world is not dead in children’s books. Perhaps it is dormant, springing to life again in books such as this. Here’s a book trailer for this beautiful book

Those of us who write — and the publishers who put our books out in the world — may need a wake up call. Perhaps all it takes to reverse this trend is for us to notice and appreciate the beauty of the natural world ourselves. In the words of Dana Lyon’s beautiful song, “Willy Says,”  “The parking lot will crack and bloom again. There’s a world beneath the pavement that will never end. The seeds are lying dormant, it will never end.”


Where do hummingbirds go in the rain? February 16, 2012

Filed under: Animals,Environmental Education — explorergarden @ 5:59 am

The little hummingbird has been sitting on her nest in our Butterfly Bush for a week and a half now. Surely her eggs are ready to hatch! But tonight is a blustery night. We went out with a flashlight to see how she was faring, and there she sat, her eyes closed, her long beak pointed up slightly. She seemed to be shivering slightly — or maybe it was some tiny hatchlings underneath her feathers. A few leaves sheltered her head, but for the most part she was exposed to the elements, sleeping in the rain, fluffed up as much as she could fluff in her tiny nest, waiting out the storm.


February 10, 2012

Filed under: Gardening — explorergarden @ 5:49 am

Gophers again. In some spots, my yard looks like swiss cheese. But  since I haven’t actually seen the gopher, I ‘m kind of pretending it’s not happening.  Yes, I am in denial. But I am also gathering information.

This is what folks tell me:

Rick says: You have to get tough with them! You have to think of yourself as a farmer. Either they get your crops, or your family does.

Jiminy Cricket (in my head): Oh, my!

The California Native Plant Society  list serve: Don’t use chemicals to get rid of them  — no surprise there. Poisons get into the food chain and kill everything around — all our lovely hawks and owls. The CNPS members sometimes suggest using gopher traps, setting up owl boxes or posts for hawks.

So, that may be what we do next. Owl box. Hawk perch.

I actually did buy a trap, but they are not so easy to use. First you have to find where the gopher’s tunnel goes. That means digging up your yard. Then you find where the tunnel makes a T in different directions — more digging. That’s where you are supposed to put the trap. Then you dig the tunnel wider so the trap will fit, and figure out how to prop up a trap without hurting yourself. Then you tie a string to the trap, and tie the other end to a post so it doesn’t get pulled into the hole by a tricky gopher (this trick  courtesy of Rick). Then you wait. Needless to say, I haven’t gotten through all these steps yet. I think the owl box, or the hawk perch sounds easier. We already have hawks around as I mentioned in a previous post.

I’m beginning to feel like Elmer Fudd — which was, prophetically, my first Halloween costume, when I was four years old — a giant Elmer Fudd head with my legs sticking out the bottom. Who would have guessed I’d still be after those Wascaly Wodents so many years later.




Wild Wind February 8, 2012

Bracing, invigorating wind today, and 14 middle schoolers out in the park with a puzzle for science class. Their job? Find the evolutionary history of plants, right in our own backyards. They looked for nonvascular and vascular plants. Gymnosperm — “naked” seed — plants. Angiosperm plants — plants that bear fruit — in the form of monocots — plants with parallel leaf veins and flowers with petals in multiples of three — and dicots — plants with with branching veined leaves and flowers with petals in multiples of four.

What did we find? Wild wind! Silliness! They were like puppies playing together, enlivened by being outside in the cool, wet wind.

AND we found moss — nonvascular plant — trees — vascular. Gymnosperms — pine trees. Angiosperms in the form of  dicots == trees and bushes — and monocots — grass. I could see what they had learned, just by what they could find and identify outdoors.

And what did I learn? I learned that if I want to wake up the enthusiasm, minds, and bodies of my students — take them outside, even if it’s only for a few minutes! There is healing power in the wild wind!


Listening…Shhh, busy mind February 7, 2012

Filed under: Books — explorergarden @ 6:03 am

I’ve been struggling with two manuscripts lately, trying to revise them. Both have been reviewed by mentors I respect, and I’ve gotten some wonderful feedback that requires me to rethink the very premise of my stories. So, I struggle.

As a writer, I can get passionately involved in an idea. I write my first draft from this outpouring of passion and love for a topic. But revision — revision requires something very different. It’s like I have to let infatuation die out, and a maturing process to take over, without losing the deep love I have for the topic. It’s kind of like marriage that way. I have to be willing to really, deeply love and understand my topic and my manuscript.

I spend a lot of time head-butting my topic at this stage — whamming into it headfirst as if I can change my manuscript by force. I am a bully, and the manuscript retreats like any reasonable, caring, self-respectng person would.

Then comes a long process of courting the manuscript again. OK, I say, I can’t make you reveal yourself to me. But maybe, if I am quiet enough, and open enough, often enough, I will hear your voice. But often, I am so upset by this time, so full of self-recrimination — WHY  CAN’T I FIX THIS MANUSCRIPT????  — that I just have to give it all up and focus on other things and wait.

And wait.

And listen.

I went on a long, long bike ride into Torrey Pines State reserve on Saturday, trying to reconnect with my topics. What does it have to say to me? What is his voice in the world? If I am  to speak for another person or object, what would they want me to say?

I am waiting. And part of me knows, at some point, I will hear that voice again and know what to do. I just don’t know YET. Sigh.


Life, Death and Birth in the Front Yard

Filed under: Animals,Gratitude — explorergarden @ 5:45 am
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A hawk — red shouldered, most likely — sat in our driveway Friday afternoon eating a mourning dove.  When my husband arrived home, he was clutching the plump, struggling dove in his claws, beginning to dig into his meal. By the time I got outside, they were both gone, leaving behind a pile of feathers with chunks of flesh attached. Probably the dove was one of several pairs that lives up near the top of our giant Brazilian Pepper tree. We hear them squeak as they flap by, but rarely see them when they are up so high. Obviously the hawk did not have that problem — had probably been eyeing their nest from up high for a long time and seized the moment.

A few yards away in the front yard a few days ago, I was hose-watering our drought-tolerant, neglectful-me-tolerant, plants in the front yard when I heard the whirr of wings near my head. An Anna’s Hummingbird landed on the Butterfly Bush near my head. She was sitting so still and carefully, it took me a moment to realize she was sitting on a tiny nest exactly the same color as her chest feathers. I had just been thinking of dead-heading that bush! I will leave it until the eggs hatch and the babies fledge. Oh! Gladness! She was grey with just a touch of green. She sat so still I would not have seen her but for the whirr of her wings.


World Book Night February 6, 2012

I often read more than one novel per week. In the last two weeks I read a whole lot of amazing books —  Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, Wendy and the Lost Boys — a biography of Wendy Wasserstein, and, The Devil in the White City, a National Book Award finalist about the 19th century world fair in Chicago. As I read, the world of the book rolls out before me in my mind, like a film. For many people, that is not the case. I clearly remember the book that helped me turn the corner, at age 8, from reluctant reader to voracious reader. It was Annie Oakley, Little Sure Shot, from a series of biographies of the childhoods of famous Americans. I still own that book. For me it is a book of magic — it changed my life and transformed me into a reader.

What if you had the power to turn a reluctant reader into a voracious reader? World Book Night gives us all the power to change a person’s life in that way. It is a free program that gives books to readers so they can give them away to people who haven’t yet caught the book bug.

I just signed up! I’m so excited, and hope that I am chosen to give books away. For more information on World Book Night, follow the link below!


Susan A. Olcott

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