Your Budding Naturalist

April 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Right now in preschools across the country, little eyes are glued to screened containers perched on shelves, waiting to behold one of nature’s most wondrous life cycles: the caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly. (“Mommy, when the chrysalis shakes, that’s how you know there’s a lot of action going on inside!”)

I grew up reading Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar (and really, who doesn’t love a book with holes for sticking tiny fingers through?); but in my opinion, Ten Little Caterpillars (Ages 2-6), written by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by the great collage artist Lois Ehlert, has topped this subject matter.

Apart from its stunning visual feast for the eyes, the book speaks to children on a multitude of levels. First, there’s the simple rhyme, each double-page spread focusing on a single caterpillar’s unique journey: “The first little caterpillar crawled into a bower./ The second little caterpillar wriggled up a flower.” A few of the caterpillars don’t fare so well (it’s a dog-eat-dog world, after all): one meets with a “hungry wren,” another is “frightened by a hen.” It’s the tenth caterpillar that we get to watch hang patiently among the apple blossoms for three pages, until her chrysalis hatches to reveal a stunning orange-and-black “tiger swallowtail.”

This brings me to my second point: the caterpillars, butterflies, and host of flowers and trees throughout the book are all labeled with their technical names. Suddenly, your two or three-year-old is walking around pointing out delphiniums, snapdragons, and thistle plants, and your neighbors think you must be some kind of mad gardener (nope, just an awesome Mom).

But here’s where Lois Ehlert has given Eric Carle a run for his money: with her larger-than-life illustrations, layered with textured papers and dyed with the kind of vivid colors normally associated with National Geographic, she makes us feel like we are the little caterpillars, finding our way up the giant milk weed stem, sailing on a maple leaf across a garden pool, and chomping on everything in sight. A book that rhymes, teaches, and gets us to look at the world through another’s eyes: what more could we want for our budding naturalists?

Other Favorites for Your Budding Naturalist:
I Am a Bunny, by Richard Scary (Ages 1-3)
In the Tall, Tall Grass, by Denise Fleming (Ages 18 mos-3)
Birds, by Kevin Henkes (Ages 2-5)
Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature, by Nicola Davies & Mark Hearld (Ages 4-8)
The Beetle Book, by Steve Jenkins (Ages 5-10)
A Butterfly is Patient; A Seed is Sleepy; & An Egg is Quiet, all by Dianna Huts Aston & Sylvia Long (Ages 5-10)

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