Liam Heneghan in Aeon:
When people ask me what experiences made me want to be an environmental scientist, I usually think first of adventures with pets, shell-collecting along Dublin’s strands, maintaining the aquarium with my father, and much later, the college summers I spent collecting insects in Ireland’s national parks. But it seems clear to me now that time spent indoors, reading and being read to, had an equally powerful affect on me. Reading introduced me to nature — the sort of ordinary but wholly involving nature I encountered right outside my door.
I’ve been thinking about the environmentally salutary implications of children’s books a lot lately, and not only for their value in minting the next generation of naturalists. Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods (2005) has launched a movement encouraging this more sedentary generation of children to get out of doors, but I wonder if there might also be an environmental benefit to be gained by fortifying those intimate indoor moments when parents read to their children. Are there special books that parents should choose for the Great Indoors? Are there special ways to read them?
Having now spent some time examining the content of contemporary children’s bookshelves — visiting the local library, compiling and analysing lists of children’s classics, chatting with friends and neighbours who have small children — I have come to the conclusion that reading about nature might be simply unavoidable, since it is hard to find kids’ books that are not about our furred and feathered friends, or their prehistoric ancestors.