Saturday, October 18, 2014

Abandoned Houses

 I love to poke around old abandoned properties.  We've climbed in through windows or basement doors, inched across rotting floors, crept quietly around dusty, empty rooms.  Abandoned houses all smell like mold, damp earth, and animals.  Sometimes a houses' past lives are left behind.  Books, photographs, birthday cards, furniture, letters, dishes in the sink- it can feel like stepping back in time.  I love the remnants and the buildings themselves- some as old as the 18th century- but also the nature that surrounds them.

One house (Madeleine called it the "shoe house" because we kept finding old shoes around the back yard) was surrounded by stinging nettles and a large Plane tree leaned on the porch.  Ivy crept through windows and moss grew below the fallen roof.  There's something so beautiful about such dilapidation.

This book describes perfectly what happens to a "ruined house", left on its own and how nature claims it.

Mick Manning 1994

 The first page says, "This is my favorite house.  I like it because it has gone to rack and ruin."  Yes!
It goes on to describe how you get to the house (you climb a fence into what used to be the garden) and the wild plants that have taken over.

And how the house slowly became what it did... First the rain dripped down the chimney.  Everything turned damp.  Fungus spread over the woodwork and all the rooms began to smell of mould.  Insects moved in, and ferns sprouted from cracks in the stone.  The weather broke through the windows.  The plaster and the floorboards rotted away, and slowly the house began a new life.

This is what I do- wonder about who lived in these houses, collect the leftover bits, piece together stories.

Peeking in.
I brought home a raccoon skull found in the basement of this old house.  The building is demolished now.

An empty attic

Ted Kooser
illustrated by Jon Klassen 2012

And then there is this book.  So beautiful and lyrical in its story of the life of a house.  Once built and lived in and loved.  But time and life march on and roofs fall in.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Night of the Gargoyles

Eve Bunting
illustrated by David Wiesner 1999

There's something slightly creepy about the idea of gargoyles coming to life at night.  Although Eve Bunting's gargoyles are not malicious or evil, they do tend to cause some mischief.  Bunting's lyrical words and Wiesner's illustrations are a perfect pair.  It makes for a just spooky enough October bedtime read.  

Sunday, October 5, 2014

When the Dark Comes Dancing

compiled by Nancy Larrick
illustrated by John Wallner 1983

I loved the title of this book.  It's a frequent bedtime companion, with all the poems and rhymes and lullabies chosen especially for little ones settling into bed.  Sleepy and lyrical, read in a gentle voice, these poems will surely put sweet dreams into your child's head.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ping and Pong

adapted and illustrated by David McPhail 1994

This is a wondrously funny rendition of a short poem by Dennis Lee called "Peter Ping and Patrick Pong".  We've actually come across it before in a collection of poems, but David McPhail's interpretation brings it to hilarious life.  

It's a case of switched at birth between a boy and a bear.  The joke is that no one seems to notice and as Peter and Patrick grow up they become enemies and then the best of friends.  Dennis Lee's original poem is at the end as well as his thoughts on McPhail's creative treatment of it.  A really fun book to read.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sky Tree

Thomas Locker 2001

Science and Art are a beautiful combination.  This book goes through the seasons experienced through a tree.  Thomas Locker's painting are used to ask the reader questions about nature and art.    

Other books by Thomas Locker:

Friday, September 19, 2014


The scientist does not study nature because it is useful.  He studies it because he delights in it because it is beautiful.
-Jules Henri Poincare (1854-1912)

Although we had a busy summer this year, we still managed some days spent at the creek.  We brought along our nets and 'nature kit' with magnifying glass, identifying guides (bugs, birds, and mushrooms), specimen jars, nature journal and various other collecting tools.  A few times we brought along some of our friends.  Mostly the kids just played in the water, explored along the paths, and tried to catch fish with their nets.  One afternoon Henry found a snake under a rock by the water's edge.  We admired him for a while before he slithered off across the water with his head held high.   

I like to bring along this book from 1936.  It's a bit technical, but we've used it to learn a little more about some of the creatures we found.
Field Book of Ponds and Streams
Ann Haven Morgan 1936

I picked up Sharing Nature with Children at the thrift store last spring and it quickly became one of my favorite books for teaching.  For all my homeschooling friends out there, you absolutely must get your hands on this book.  I even had visions of using it to lead a "Science lesson" for a group of kids this summer!  (I'm still open to the idea if anyone is interested).

Joseph Cornell 1998

Each lesson is a unique and creative way for children to experience nature.  For example, one lesson is titled "Meet a Tree".  Children are blindfolded and led to find and explore a tree trunk with their hands and other senses.  Then when the blind folds are taken off, they must try to find "their" tree again.  Some of the lessons are simply to lie quietly on the forest floor, observing the sounds and smells and feelings of the nature around you.  I LOVE encouraging children to learn this way.