Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Books that Open Doors to Nature

We heard them early in February this year, shrill piping in the marshy places near our favorite nature walk. Winter returned for a couple of weeks, and when next we tramped that path through the park, they were still boisterous, but their voices were a little lower pitched. Since moving to Virginia, the chorus of peepers is our first signal that spring is near, just as our first sight of a robin used to encourage us in the longer winter-to-spring transition in Michigan. It was certainly a new experience to hear peepers shrilling as we sped down country roads our first February in Virginia, but other than identifying what we heard, we didn’t know much about Peepers until we opened Robert McClung’s book, Peeper: First Voice of Spring.

The outside experience often leads us to find books inside, and those inside books often pique our curiosity to investigate the outdoors. As a boy, Robert McClung’s favorite place to be was outside, hiking, roaming, and collecting. He began an extensive moth and butterfly collection that inspired his future stories of Luna, Tiger, and Sphinx. By eight-years-old McClung was already writing and illustrating adventure stories. There is no doubt that his enthusiasm for the outdoors fired his imagination for life. His appetite for nature led to his pursuit of biology at Princeton, later a Master’s Degree in science education from Cornell, and future job at the Bronx Zoo. His early boyhood adventure stories became reality when he served as a Naval aviator in World War II as a lieutenant commander. McClung never gave up writing and illustrating, nor his passion for nature. After a six-year stint at the National Geographic as an editor, he began devoting himself to instilling a love of nature in children by writing and illustrating dozens of nature books throughout the rest of his life, including many award-winners.

For my own young children and grandchildren, his simple and informative narrative of individual species accompanied by beautiful pen-and-ink illustrations, increased their wonder of nature. “There’s Honker up there,” my boys would say as the geese called on their migratory flights, showing their personal connection. Besides Honker and Peeper, they got to know about toads, rattlesnakes, skunks, and alligators as they came to life for them with names like Bufo, Buzztail, Blaze, and Black Jack on the pages of McClung’s narratives of those animals’ life cycles. Leaper, was an individual salmon who represented that species, Otus, a screech owl, and their favorite Ruby Throat awakened their enthusiasm for hummingbirds ever after.

McClung’s life-long passion for nature and desire to instill that fervor in others included biographies such as Grizzly Adams, and concern for the environment in his extensive writing of environmental concern in, for example, Lost Wild America. If you don’t own a copy of Jan Bloom’s Who Should We Then Read? Volume 2, you are missing a valuable resource listing top living books science authors and comprehensive lists of their individual titles.

A child’s taste for nature can be whetted by well-told and illustrated nature stories such as these, and discoveries outside drive them to books for more information. It’s a natural relationship since our Creator gave his outdoor book to display his creation (“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,”) to speak of his nature and character (“Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world…”), as well as a written revelation of Himself in the Bible. Just so, our knowledge of that world is fed by exploration in the books inside that tell of the outside and outside observations and wonderings increase our hunger for more knowledge from written books.

For the joy of reading,



  1. Thanks for sharing! We enjoy Peeper, First Voice of Spring. :) Amy

  2. Thanks for sharing! We enjoy Peeper, First Voice of Spring. :) Amy