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On Jean C. George’s “Summer and Children and Birds and Animals and Flowers and Trees and Bees and Books” (from 1959)

Rose-breasted grosbeak by John James Audubon

That’s Jean Craighead George, folks.

This article, originally published in the June 1959 issue of The Horn Book Magazine, is very much like its leisurely, evocative title: “Summer and Children and Birds and Animals and Flowers and Trees and Bees and Books.” Beginning with a tender story about her daughter and an abandoned rose-breasted grosbeak baby, the Newbery Medalist offers an intimate, conversational account of her young family’s life during the summer — and it sounds idyllic.

“Our six-year-old-son, Craig, was worm-conscious one summer. He carried worms wherever he went. They brought him some inner satisfaction. After about a month of this, he became curious about the earth they lived in, and why they didn’t have any eyes. An excavation in the backyard marked his probe into the mysterious underworld. He found roots, ants and stones. At the end of this expedition into the earth he asked, ‘Where does the earth end?'”

The answers to her children’s questions about the natural world are found in books, of course, and George makes a plug for learning alongside the kids:

We usually let the children set the pace in these adventures into nature, but since both John and I are deeply interested in natural history, we no doubt encourage any spark of curiosity they show. Any parents can do it, however, by simply being interested in what is around them and in what the children bring home. Fortunately the treasures from the wild fall into one of three groups, and it is easy to get the child started. It has to be either a plant, animal, or rock (mineral). With that decided, the book is the next step. A few minutes taken away from the ironing or dishwashing is all one needs, and, as for me, I need no encouragement.

And I love this important child-focused detail:

“When they return with armloads of the countryside, we pack children and specimens in the car and put them to work making things out of them — dolls, hats, boats, necklaces — for there is a point beyond which all this scientific business becomes dull and must be replenished from play.”

I would like to live inside this picture of childhood. Since that’s not possible, this article is the next-best thing. Here’s to “worm-conscious” summers and the grownups who encourage them!

* * * * *

I hope you’ve been following friend of the blog Susan Olcott’s posts about her own family’s summertime adventures in nature and with nature books. So far, she and her twin daughters have explored a roadside vernal pool and embarked on a butterfly project. I look forward to finding out what they’ve been up to this month!

Kitty Flynn About Kitty Flynn

Kitty Flynn is consulting editor for The Horn Book, Inc.

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