Spring, even the coldest spring in 137 years, makes me think of Rachel Carson. That’s more true than ever this year, 45 years after Silent Spring appeared, because 2007 is Rachel’s 100th birthday. There are enough books by and about Carson and her legacy to pack this blog and others, but today I just want to mention a few good books to introduce kids to Rachel as we approach Earth Day in her Centennial year.
A fine new book is Up Close: Rachel Carson, by Ellen Levine (Viking, 2007). The author’s direct, research-backed prose is deftly supplemented with quotes in Carson’s own voice, and there’s enough substance for older kids to get more than a hint of Carson’s struggles, beliefs, and achievements. Briefer but also eloquent and accurate chapter book biographies include Kathleen Kudlinsky’s Rachel Carson: Pioneer of Ecology and Candice Ransom’s Listening to Crickets: A Story about Rachel Carson. Upper elementary students find enough there for book reports, or, in my daughter’s case, to depict Rachel in a living “wax museum” of historic heroes. Press a button, and Sarah can tell you about Rachel’s birthplace, favorite book (Under the Sea-Wind), and cats’ names (Buzzie & Kito).
The number of picture book bios is also growing. Amy Ehrlich’s Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson probably works best for kids between standards picture books and chapter books. Ehrlich presents Carson’s life episodically, touching on her childhood exploring the woods with her mom, on her early laboratory research, and her years as a writer and nature advocate. Wendell Minor’s illustrations help fill in needed details and soften the sometimes harsh reality of Carson’s fight. A more holistic, direct approach, perhaps better for younger kids, is Thomas Locker and Joseph Bruchac’s Rachel Carson: Preserving a Sense of Wonder. Locker, a landscape painter, silently depicts the serene beauty of the sea that Carson loved and longed to protect, adding weight to the simple story of her life. Luckily, neither book dwells on the grim realities of profit-driven environmental abuse but rather focuses on Carson's inspiring work to enhance environmental appreciation.
Another approach to teaching about Carson, especially for young kids, could be to focus on the wildlife and wild places she loved. Get a book on butterflies, such as Kathryn Lasky’s Monarchs and log onto Journey North, an online field journal that traces seasonal movements of monarchs, whooping cranes and others. Or maybe best of all, get Rachel Carson’s own The Sense of Wonder to read about her walks with children to moonlit beaches and enchanted woods. Goal-directed parents and educators sometimes forget Carson’s conviction that “it is not half so important to know as to feel.” Reading her words, especially in spring, reminds us that we all need to keep alive that inborn sense of wonder. Reading a book, and especially taking a walk, with a child outdoors are the best ways to celebrate Carson’s birthday and help keep her legacy alive. Happy Birthday, Rachel Carson!