National Pollinator Week, June 18-24, 2018

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Here at our home, every week is “pollinator week.” It’s great to know that eleven years ago the U.S. Senate unanimously approved and designated a week in June as “National Pollinator Week.” Because our vital pollinator populations are declining at an alarming rate (down 25% since 1990), there is an international celebration of the contribution our bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles make to our ecosystems. Pollination makes our food supply possible. E. O. Wilson, in his introduction to The Forgotten Pollinators by Stephen L. Buchmann and Gary Paul Nabhan, said, “Every third bite of food you take, thank a bee or other pollinator.” Our kids can understand this a lot better when we tell them that we can’t have pizzas without bees and others to pollinate wheat for the crust and tomatoes and vegetables for the sauce and toppings.

Our great-granddaughter, Sydney, was fascinated watching bumblebees from our laps on the porch at six months of age. She quickly progressed to pointing, questioning, and learning the wonderful world just outside our back door. We have many adventure walks to observe nature and pollinators at work. She helps plant flowers in our garden to attract them, and helps harvest herbs and flowers we grow from our saved seeds each year. She knows this would not be possible without pollinators.

There are many websites with information and facts about every aspect of pollination. Just type a key word or two into the search bar of your device; “bees” or “pollinators” will get you to many interesting sites. My book, Lemon Trees and Bumblebees, was inspired by our own experience which is described in the November, 2011, blog post on this site.

The video below shows Sydney talking with me about one of her favorite subjects, pollination. She loves to play “teacher” and give me science lessons we have shared. We also cook together using the variety of foods that have grown because of pollination. She is always willing to eat what she has learned about and helped prepare. In these ways, Sydney is keenly aware of the importance of providing for and promoting our pollinators, and we hope your family will celebrate the addition to our lives and future that they bring.

The Birds and The Bees

When most parents think of the birds and the bees, they dread THE TALK. There’s a whole other meaning to this conversation which needs to begin with pre-school, and that is the role of pollinators in our food supply. To a curious, mind-wide-open pre-schooler or elementary-age child, the drama of the pollination process and how it relates to people, directly, is utterly fascinating.

Imagine a world without pizza. If we begin to explain to our kids how the birds and the bees help us get our favorite pizza ingredients, we get attention. Tomatoes, peppers, onions and other vegetable toppings require pollination to reproduce and grow. There would be no pizza crust without wheat to make flour for the dough. Every fruit and vegetable is part of our diet because of the vital role of pollinators. They are responsible for every third bite of food we put into our mouths. Bees are the superstar pollinators, but many others such as hummingbirds, bats, butterflies, moths, ants, flies, wasps, and beetles carry out the transfer of pollen among plant parts. This pollination enables seed production, without which we would face widespread crop extinction and a major shift in our food supply.

We are halfway through National Pollinator Week, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the small winged creatures we often take for granted, but who make our very existence possible. Loss of habitat, pesticides, and disease have been responsible for declining pollinator populations. For those of us along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, there is still a good bit of animal habitat, but agricultural practices as well as building and clearing land are responsible for diminishing pollinator populations in alarming numbers. Pollinators need us to provide cover, water, native plants for food, and a place to raise young. The National Wildlife Federation website has information on how to plan our gardens or even very small spaces to attract and protect pollinators. When we create habitat for our pollinators, we help prevent loss of plants we depend upon for food, as well as help our gardens bloom.

There are many books for children which spark their desire to nurture their surroundings and understand the interdependence of plants and animals. Some of my favorites are MY GARDEN by Kevin Henkes, ON BEYOND BUGS! All About Insects by Tish Rabe, and A SEED IS SLEEPY by Dianna Hutts Aston. My book, LEMON TREES AND BUMBLEBEES, was inspired by watching the bees in our garden. When my little great-granddaughter, Sydney, was six months old, we spent hours of adventures following, watching, and falling asleep to the humming of bees. Now about to celebrate her fifth birthday, Sydney still loves bees and enjoys telling about all the pollinators, plant parts, and the process of pollination. It’s so exciting to plant the best seeds early in a fertile mind!

National Library Week – 2015

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”

Dr. Seuss

 

I’m skidding in on the last day of National Library Week this year, but it’s not really the end of the celebration. Around our house, every week is library week. We live in a bit of a remote area if judged by city dwellers, but after 15 years among towering oaks and more than a few wild animals, we have our own library branch! We existed until quite recently (and throughout the fallout from the direct hit of Hurricane Katrina) with a sparsely stocked grocery store, but the one lack of amenity we lamented most was a neighborhood library.

Now don’t think for a minute that we don’t also celebrate technology or that we shun it in favor of the printed book. We own an iPad, a NookColor, and a Kindle, but we love our always growing library of books and the ability to access many more through our library. We can have the convenience of driving three minutes to pick up any book that they have or can order from their network of library branches. I missed the easy access to research and entertainment that had been mine before we moved from a bustling city to a bucolic countryside.

Now I’m thrilled to have even more reason to call attention to National Library Week. We have a little great-granddaughter who loves our outings to the library. Ours has a Mark Twain theme in the children’s room, so she always asks to see the jumping frog of Caliveras County, the mural where Huck Finn adventured on his raft, and sit inside the dock-side hut where we can read books she chooses from the low shelves. We have watched her progression from toddling through the door on her first library visit, to asking to go often, to bringing home her books to “read” by herself.

The library is one of the very best ways to prepare your child for the world. It was one of my best early experiences where I realized the magic of animals and people in their times and places. It made me want to go home and write my own stories. It’s free, fabulous, and fun for a lifetime!

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My Unexpected Ghostwriter

When I’m asked to give a nutshell description of my latest book-in-progress, I say that it’s Thoreau for toddlers. It’s widely known that Henry David Thoreau knew how to convey the exuberance of a fresh morning. He didn’t have to leave the close environs of Walden Pond to examine and learn from every living thing, whether animal or plant, right in his own “back  yard.” In his words, “the only medicine I need is a draught of morning air.”

I have always gotten stopped in my tracks while on the way to the mailbox, my gardening chores, errands, or whatever may have led me outdoors. Something always scuttles, buzzes, flies, or sings my attention away from what may have been intended. Even if I just want to amble or think, I know the new and unexpected will be just outside my door. Now I have some surprising help writing my world.

A two-year-old great-granddaughter has become a vital part of our lives, so the unexpected in nature brings even greater thrills, squeals, and baby questions. Her eyes see the wonder she constantly investigates, and my latest manuscript is influenced greatly by her “ghostwriting” observations. I don’t have to wonder what to present to a young child or how important it might be to choose certain subject matter. Sydney gives me great material.

The other day, we were holding hands as usual while walking down a length of flowerbed. A very long, fat earth worm wriggled over the dirt searching for a “door” down under. Sydney stopped short and squeezed my hand hard. “What’s that? What’s he doing?” Our walks and play times are packed with “Look, doves” or “Look, mockingbird.” Before she was two, she could identify several bird species after one or two sightings, much to my surprise. This gave me insight about what could be meaningful in my new book for one- to five-year-olds. Their curiosity and sponge-like ability to learn makes it so much fun to include new vocabulary and knowledge about their world. Rather than keep all the words short and simple, I think it’s a good idea to stretch children a bit by giving them some challenges in pronunciation. They can understand a great deal by context and illustration. This gives the adult reader a great way to talk about the story and bond with the child – the special time that encourages a love of reading. Our little Sydney enjoys looking through her books alone, too, after we have read them together and she is familiar with the contents and pictures.

My current book is underway, with every page influenced by Sydney’s discoveries in the natural world. She has registered her reactions as clearly as if she had written them, so she is a reliable “ghostwriter,” representing her toddler generation. These babies of the 21st century are different in many ways from those of just a few decades ago, but their zeal for everything in sight begins as soon as they open their eyes each day. Just as with all the babies ever born, they want to know; all we have to do is tell the stories. Sydney and I will be working on HELLO MORNING, and I’ll post news of our progress on the new book in the months to come.

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Story Seeds

Stories grow from the seeds of words. When I think of reading, though, I think in terms of more than words on pages. When I think of the broader meaning of “reading,” my writing is enhanced by these abstract ways of applying the idea of reading.

To me, reading is reading nature, reading people, reading everything in my environment, using all my senses. This began in early childhood, when my parents and grandparents filled our homes with what they read in the outside world, with all the experiences we shared. They brought nature, art and music indoors so that we were constantly surrounded and enveloped in a lush, sensorial climate. When they read to me or I read to myself, I could better envision the descriptions through experience, and I felt the need to translate and share my feelings in my own ways. This was how my stories were born. Now I’m always writing as I walk, see, hear, smell, feel – in other words, as I read my world.

Below are some photos of bird nests and other bits of nature collected from around our garden, walks, and travel, and brought inside to decorate tabletops and mantel. Many pieces of our furniture and art have nature themes. Framed family photos of generations, including the house in Germany where my maternal grandfather was born, and handwritten letters, give me stories and voices that told them to me. My hope is that you will read the world, and that your children will read it with you so that they will write it for their children. Story seeds are everywhere.

Wren’s nest on mantel

Wren’s nest on mantel

Paper and tape became part of this nest.

Paper and tape became part of this nest.

 

 

Unhatched Bluebird eggs collected from several nests

Unhatched Bluebird eggs collected from several nests

Chimney Swift nest

Chimney Swift nest

Bluebird nest

Bluebird nest

Nest in fork of our fiddle leaf fig tree

Nest in fork of our fiddle leaf fig tree

Nest under glass dome on side table

Nest under glass dome on side table

Wax myrtle berries

Wax myrtle berries

Bird of Paradise painting

Bird of Paradise painting

Shells collected at Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida

Shells collected at Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida

Antique mirror frame with leaf detail
Antique mirror frame with leaf detail

Partial wall of seven framed generations

Partial wall of seven framed generations

 

1929 letter written in German from great-grandmother to my mother

1929 letter written in German from great-grandmother to my mother

House in Germany where my maternal grandfather was born, and a group photo of his parents and siblings
House in Germany where my maternal grandfather was born, and a group photo of his parents and siblings

Even my sox have bluebirds

Even my sox have bluebirds

 

 

 

This Writing Climate

What I’m about to say may sound odd to the 21st century community of writers, as well as many who know me. It’s not so much that I’ve changed my mind about digital technology as it is that I’m seeing a desperate need to strike a balance in how we introduce reading to children.

Regarding ebooks/apps versus print books, my whole emphasis is not an either/or attitude toward literacy education. Increasingly, there are blogs, news articles, and marketing efforts directed by traditional publishers vs. ebook and app developers – all producing exclusive arguments for either print books or newer products on digital readers, depending upon which publishing method they represent. Even the staunch traditional print book publishers are phasing away from print and competing in the digital marketplace. They haven’t completely abandoned print, but their attempt to compete with newer ways to publish and profit further narrows the field for children’s print books.

The key word “profit” is a prime motivation. Digital publishing affords many publishing opportunities that seem almost magical to educators and children. Many innovative processes have evolved rapidly, and there’s no doubt that fireworks get attention and sales. Some of the products are excellent, but too many apps are games disguised as education. If a child has only to tap an element to get a sound or cartoon-like movement, he is simply being entertained. Education should definitely be enjoyable, but there are basic elements which need to be grasped and interspersed with the fun.

There is a difference between interactive ebooks and apps. With interactive ebooks, a child might touch a word which becomes highlighted, and then immediately moves the reader to the glossary. Another touch in the glossary takes the child back to the word in the story. Fun facts and extra information, recipes, puzzles, and other things related to the story allow the child to read and interact without as much “razzle-dazzle.” Ebooks definitely can have spectacular illlustrations. They can be an enhancement to classic ways of helping children love to read.

Apps allow much more movement and sound, with many exciting eye-catching special effects. This thrills, but can also lead to a kind of tech device addiction. So many factors are part of reading, not the least of which is the creation of a story world inside the head. The activation of the thinking process, and the interaction of communicating with others are necessary learning for life. What is better than listening to the re-telling of a story, hearing it read, face to face. There is a time for the fun and opportunities of digital devices, and a time for quiet reading and developing individual ideas. It’s possible to share exciting learning and stories from both digital readers and print books, but a constant use of one without the other is missing out on half the benefits. Each has its own contributions to childhood literacy and the development of future possibilities. It’s all about balance!

Just to punctuate my thoughts, I’m including some completely candid photos of young children as they discover the wonderful world of books. They cannot yet read, yet are fascinated with books and digital devices. It’s up to us to make sure they get a taste of variety in their learning, with ways to light a fire of curiosity which will propel them into their best future. This is Children’s Book Week, which seems the perfect time to think about reading with our children.