Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tips for Celebrating Earth Day from Melissa Stewart

It's Earth Day, and the EPA is calling for responsible citizens everywhere to share their personal Earth Day missions and to teach children the importance of environmental protection.

While it's easy to get stumped about how to protect the earth once you've tossed your water bottle into recycling, shut off the tap while brushing your teeth, and turned out the lights before leaving the house, Peachtree Publishers is proud to have published numerous nature titles, both fiction and non-fiction, by authors who know a thing or two more about how people of all ages can be environmentally conscious.  One expert in this department is Melissa Stewart, author of over one hundred science books for young readers, including the award-winning A Place for Butterflies, A Place for Birds, and  A Place for Frogs which was recently revised in both the hardcover and paperback editionsThis is what she had to say:


What first made you interested in sharing messages about environmental protection through children’s books?
When I was a child, my parents owned ten acres on one side of the street and there was a national forest on the other side of the street. They encouraged us to spend time outdoors exploring the natural world. We caught frogs and turtles in a small pond, built forts and trails for our bikes through the woods.
My dad taught us to identify trees, and my mom taught us the birds and bird calls. These early experiences made my brother and I care deeply about science and nature. Today, he is an environmental consultant and I write about science and nature for kids.

What’s your favorite Earth Day memory?
I usually visit schools on Earth Day and do programs related to some of my books. It’s a great way to share my love of the natural world and hopefully inspire the next generation of kids. As I’ve said many times before, if my books or my workshops encouraged kids to look under a rock or chase after a butterfly just to see where it’s going, then my job is done.

How are you going to celebrate this year’s 40th anniversary of Earth Day?
I won’t be doing a school visit this year because Earth Day falls during school vacation week. If it’s a warm day, I may spend the afternoon in my summer writing retreat—a little “room” I created under a giant spruce tree in our side yard. It’s quiet, and peaceful. I love to work there on my laptop.

If it’s too cool, I’ll probably go for a hike at a local pond that I love.

We all know about recycling, what are some other categories of environmental protection that we can contribute to?
Environmental protection. Those are two long words that sound cumbersome. I like to think of Earth Day as a chance to celebrate the natural world and to think of ways that we can help protect wildlife and wild places. That sounds a lot nicer, doesn’t it? More managable.
 We can help birds by keeping our cats indoors or putting a bell on their collar. We can help butterflies by planting gardens that include the flowers they like. We can help the ocean and all kind of sealife by using less plastic. For example, do you really need to use a drinking straw? There are so many simple things we can do everyday.

What are some fun things that parents and children can do together to enjoy and celebrate Earth Day?
 Many communities have Earth Day celebrations. I encourage people to take part in them. Or, even better, spend some time, in a natural place you love—just exploring. It could even be your own backyard.

What are some other things that people can do to make environmental protection part of their everyday lives?
It’s easier than you might think. Take shorter showers. Turn out lights when you aren’t using them. Turn down the thermostat just 1 degree Fahrenheit. Eat locally-grown fruits and vegetables whenever possible. Over time, all these little things can make a big difference.

How do you think children’s books about the environment play a unique role in environmental education?
Many kids don’t spend much time outdoors these days. I think books that inspire them to turn off the TV or computer and go see what the nearby woods or pond has to offer are wonderful. Also, many schools are now actively working environmental education into their curricula. Children’s books that celebrate the natural world can be a great addition to these programs.

What themes of Earth Day can be found in your new book A Place for Frogs? How can this book be used in the classroom to celebrate?
A Place for Frogs is a picture book that includes 11 mini-stories about ways scientists and citizens are working together to protect frogs and their habitats. It’s perfect for Earth Day. Kids really care about frogs, and they are disappearing at an alarming rate. When children see problems in the world, they want to start looking for solutions right away. This book gives them the tools to do that. 

I have a variety of materials for educators on my website—a curriculum guide, activity sheets, even info for using the book in Reading Buddies programs. I encourage teachers and homeschoolers to take a look at these. 

I also wrote an article in this month’s issue of Science Books & Films that discusses how to pair fiction and nonfiction books to appeal to students with different reading preferences. The article includes six great examples of amphibian books along with class discusssion lessons and activities.

What’s one of your favorite Earth Day books that you plan to read April 22?
Wow, there are so many great books out there it’s hard to choose. I might read The Salamander Room by Ann Mazer or Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. These are two of my favorite picture book of all time.

One of the best places for educators to find great Earth Day kooks is the Newton Marasco Foundation’s website. They sponsor the Green Earth Book Award, which is given to fiction and nonfiction books that promote environmental stewardship.

But even more important than reading about our amazing planet on Earth Day, I think it’s a good idea to take a moment and be grateful for what we have and look for ways to keep our world healthy for many generations to come.

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