Since it was the husband’s birthday and school was starting imminently, this week we went camping. We did not take a long journey, but got out of town enough to see the stars shine and the meteors fall in an elegant display. J loved camping, was sufficiently covered in dirt, and played with friends big and small including his Grammy. Being out in the woods does not mean we would neglect to bring along some reading. Sure enough we found plenty of time to swing in the hammock and read. I have assembled three excellent nature related books, only one of which we actually had with us in the woods. The book I wish I had and am still looking for is an animal poop book. That’s right, poop. Because I have a three year old and three year olds are pretty loud and scare off the animals, only their poop is left to identify them. Actually, we heard plenty of animals in the distance: a fox, an array of hawks, and plenty of frogs and crickets. We did find creek creatures during the various creek mucking adventures, the most exciting one for me being the newt. This is one of the main reasons to bring the scientist husband along, not only does he make excellent fires using only one match, he knows what kind of rocks to look under to find the exciting creatures.

America’s Mountains Guide to Plants and Animals by Marianne D. Wallace was the book we had with us. It has lovey scenes of the various mountain ecosystems in colored pictures. J liked the pictures, but could not stand very much listening as the writing is pretty dry and follows no story. It is, however, a nice way to talk about finding the different animals and plants we found while adventuring. I like to have the knowledge in my head so when my son asks about how a newt survives living in the creek or why the trees look the way they do I will have the answer on the tip of my tounge, so books like this are good for me to read so I can name all the trees in the campground or all the bugs in the creek. Even I get bored with an adult animal guide sometimes, making the simpler children’s version more appealing to me too.

In the Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming.  This book is irresistible. The author explores the way the animals that live in a pond splash and play about by using descriptive, simple lines that flow like a lovely poem:  “Wiggle, jiggle, tadpoles wriggle. Waddle, wade, geese parade.”  Though the language and words are simple, Fleming combines them in a way that perfectly sets the feeling of the animals and the pond.  This book won a Caldecott Honor, which is an award I trust (mostly) for excellence in art for children’s literature. There is a little frog that peeks its way into each scene and observes the animals. The raccoon washing his meal is my favorite, mostly because I love a furry creature, and also because I love that raccoons wash their dinner, so polite.  I always enjoy this book whenever J brings it to me to read, and I find it a perfect complement to a camping trip with creek adventures.

Finally the nature book I got from the library, Even an Ostrich Needs a Nest by Irene Kelly.  This book has lovely illustrations and information about how different birds build their nests. While I have watched all of David Attenborough’s The Life of Birds, I really had not ever considered the variety of nests birds build to suit their needs. It is astonishing for both spectacular variety and creativity. For example “A female tailorbird sews a leaf together to make a tiny pouch.” She uses spider silk to hold it together. The Australian Bush Turkey uses the heat created by a huge compost pile to keep the eggs warm and the chicks have to dig themselves out after hatching.  Because each bird gets just one little paragraph the book isn’t dry reading but J could not sit through the whole thing. He was being constantly diverted by the sun and the climbing and all the things three year olds need to get done in a day.

The books we really read in the woods were Curious George and Blueberries for Sal, both of which set the mood perfectly, I thought, but will have to be classified elsewhere some other time.

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