Posts tagged: environmental awareness

Book Recommendation: “An Environmental Guide from A to Z” (Tim Magner)

By , November 16, 2010 3:08 pm

There are a lot of junky books out there, but every now and then, an unknown gem comes my way and makes me very thankful that I get to review books on occasion!  An Environmental Guide from A to Z is just such a book.

Typical A-B-C- books are usually geared towards babies and toddlers and often leave older readers and adults cold.  This book is a happy exception.

Picture an A-B-C book for older children with each letter representing an environmental or nature-related concept or important person.  Each word is fully explained in easy to understand terms and is beautifully illustrated by Aubri Vincent-Barwood.  “D is for Darwin,” “F is for Fossil Fuels, ”  “I is for the Inuit Eskimos,”  “R is for Reduce and Reuse.”

Each letter also has a “Did you know?” section with an interesting fact or two related to the topic.  For example, in the “B is for Bees and Insects” section:  “A bee’s buzz comes from their wings flapping 200 times per second!”

I even learned a few things:  “Q is for Vo Quy,” “L is for Paolo Lugari” (read the book for more information) or “the average ‘piece of food’ travels 1,500 miles before it reaches your mouth….”  How about:  “with solar panels, Germany has nearly cut their use of coal in half” and “Denmark gets more than 20% of its electrical power from wind farms.”  I love it when I find a well-written childrens’ book that actually also teaches me a thing or two.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book is that it doesn’t just limit itself to teaching facts, ideas and concepts, but it also asks questions encouraging children to think about their own lives.  Each letter has at least one little oak leaf with questions on it, or sometimes activity ideas.  “What’s the biggest tree in your neighborhood?  How old is it?”  Many of these questions will encourage kids to get outside:  “Watching the animals in your neighborhood, can you see how they are built to survive?”

If you are looking for an informative and interesting book that teaches about the environment and “green living”  without being preachy, then I encourage you to take a look at An Environmental Guide from A to Z Many thanks to Tim for sending me a copy.  This is a review copy that will remain on our shelf to be enjoyed for a long time to come.

The Down to Earth Guide to Global Warming (Laurie David, Cambria Gordon)

By , September 19, 2007 9:25 pm

I can’t write this one as a traditional “review” since it is a bit premature. I only just heard about this book today, and obviously have not yet read it.

On NPR this morning, there was an interview with Laurie David and Cambria Gordon, the authors of The Down-to-Earth Guide To Global Warming. The authors are apparently the producers of Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

This book is a guide to global warming aimed at children (according to Amazon, ages 9-12). The NPR interview says the book features kid-friendly science to explain the phenomenon, and has ideas for what kids can do to help combating global warming.

Ms. David and Ms. Gordon explain that they are attempting to reach children while they are young, and create a shift in their consciousness. They want to teach children to think about how their daily activities affect global warming. They give the example of going to the mall and coming home with five different plastic (petroleum-based) bags. Why not take a reusable canvas bag to the mall?

Water bottles are another example of the change in thinking that the authors hope to pass along to young readers. According to the authors, 2.5 million water bottles PER HOUR go in the trash. Why not carry your own refillable water bottle? (For more on bottled water, please check out my post “Unplug Your Water“).

They also suggest starting a “Green Team” at school to reduce school lunch waste or enact a “no-idle” rule in the drop-off lane.

This book relies on the power of “kids with a cause.” No one will be more likely to reprimand parents on their choice of paper towels or light bulbs than an informed child. So…beware! If you have your children read this book, be prepared to hear criticism of your personal habits until you make them “greener!”

Hear the interview here (3 minutes, 42 seconds).

Project: Make Your Yard a Certified Wildlife Habitat

By , July 5, 2007 11:10 am


A really neat project to get kids involved with nature (and help wildlife) is to certify your yard as a Wildlife Habitat. The National Wildlife Federation has a certification program that is fun to do with kids. So far there are over 70,000 certified backyard habitats.

You do not need a big, fancy yard to get certified. What you do need however, are four basic habitat elements: food, water, cover, and places to raise young. Click on the links to each element for examples, as well as projects for incorporating these elements into your yard.

Sit down with your kids and evaluate your yard. Decide together what you can do to make sure that the four elements are present. Create a plan and carry it out. When you are done, complete the online certification questionnaire.

If you are still lacking in any area, the website will tell you what you need to improve. If you have the basic elements, then you will get a certification number. You will also get a one-year membership to the National Wildlife Federation which includes a subscription to National Wildlife magazine. They will send you a certificate and a press-release for your local paper to help spread the word about this program. Plus, you can order ($25) a cool, weather-proof sign like mine in the photo to really let the world know about the importance of gardening for wildlife.

Here are some examples of each element from our yard:

Bird feeders are an obvious choice for FOOD. Include many different varieties of seeds (sunflower is the favorite here, but we also have millet, thistle, and cracked corn), suets, and a hummingbird feeder of sugar water. We put peanuts out for the squirrels and chipmunks too (although quite a few birds enjoy the peanuts as well). Also, diversify your feeder types. Some birds like perches, some prefer to cling, some like platform feeders like the one on the left. We also have a birdseed block on the ground for ground feeders.


Other, less obvious FOOD sources are native plants, bushes with berries, and flowers that produce dried seed heads such as these Purple Coneflowers:

If you aren’t fortunate enough to have a pond or other natural water source on your property, birdbaths are essential for providing WATER. This is one of our three bird baths. One of them is heated so water is available in the winter also. Even the squirrels drink out of them! This photo also shows a FOOD source: the Cosmos flowers around the birdbath produce nice seeds.

This birdbath is near a tree so drinking birds have an easy escape if necessary. Our birdseed block is in the foreground.


Examples of COVER in our yard:






PLACES TO RAISE YOUNG can be man made such as nest boxes or bird houses, or natural: trees, shrubs, dead trees. Even a woodpile, like our messy one above, provides great nesting opportunities for chipmunks and other small rodents.

We are fortunate enough to have this lightning damaged, partially dead tree (a “snag“) behind the house which, as you can see from the photo below, has become a bird condo! In fact there is a very noisy family of Lewis’ Woodpeckers currently nesting in one of those holes.



We hung some roosting pockets under the eaves (near a window so we could watch the action), but there have been no interested birds so far.


Here are some book suggestions to help you too. The Backyard Naturalist is a great resource, but you will only find it used:

Native Plants for High Elevation Western Gardens is a great guide to native plant species in my region. Obviously, if you don’t have a high elevation western garden it won’t do for you. But check your library, bookstore, or Amazon for similar regional guides to get native plant ideas:

The National Wildlife Federation also offers garden reference books for sale online that you might want to look at as well.

This post is part of The Sunday Garden Tour at A Wrung Sponge. Head over there to find more participants, or to add your own garden-related post. Happy Sunday!

Unplug Your Water

By , June 28, 2007 8:34 pm

When I was an exchange student to France in 1983-1984 bottled water was simply not “done” in the US. Other than Perrier, which was “fancy water,” I had never seen such a thing.

My French host family bought 6-packs of liter-sized bottles of water at the local “hypermarket” (also new to me then, similar to today’s Super Walmart, but nothing like that existed in the US at the time). This is what we drank at home. We never drank out of a tap. The thought of such a thing horrified them! I think I really confirmed their belief that Americans were culinary barbarians when I confessed that tap water was the only kind we drank in my home.

The French were very particular about their water. Each person had their favorite, and disliked the others. My French family bought Volvic. I thought they were all kind of crazy to think that water actually had a flavor until, by the end of the year, I could tell the difference too! Rather like wine, I now realize that not all water is the same.

I confess to being a Volvic person myself. I think that Evian is an acceptable substitute, but that Vittel (another popular brand in France) tastes like chalk. I really think that I could successfully identify at least these three, maybe more, in a blind tasting.

Here, I drink tap water. If I am out and about and have no water with me, I buy a bottle of whatever is cheapest at the gas station. Why don’t I use a drinking fountain, or ask for a cup (or better yet, keep a reusable cup in my car) and fill it at the sink? I don’t know. I guess I have succumbed to the brainwashing that bottled water is pure and somehow better. It even looks better in those pretty blue tinted bottles with cool and refreshing little droplets depicted on the label. Really, I think it is simply the convenience. But why has filling a cup suddenly become “inconvenient?”

Tonight I learned something new (I love it when that happens). The two leading brands of bottled water in the US (the two combined make up 24% of the US market), Dasani (Coke) and Aquafina (Pepsi), actually “purify” local tap water and bottle it locally so as to save on shipping costs. Local tap water across the US is really pretty pure already. I know that there are those who would argue with that statement, but I wonder how much of a difference you would find in a chemical analysis of local tap water and local Dasani?

Anyhow, when we buy Dasani or Aquafina, we are buying tap water like the kind we get from our tap for free (or almost free depending on where you live). I guess we can credit Coke and Pepsi with reducing their carbon footprint by not bothering to ship water across the country or around the world, but I suspect that their motivation was more their profit margin that their “greenness.”

I learned this in an NPR interview (Bottled Water: A Symbol of US Commerce, Culture) with Charles Fishman, author of an article published in Fast Company magazine about the bottled water industry. His article is entitled “Message in a Bottle.”

In his article, Mr. Fishman calls bottled water “the perfect symbol of this moment in American commerce and culture. It acknowledges our demand for instant gratification, our vanity, our token concern for health. Its packaging and transport depend entirely on cheap fossil fuel.”

Other interesting stats from the interview:

– Bottled water was introduced to the US from France in the 1980’s by Perrier and Evian.

– Americans spent $15 billion last year on bottled water.

– Americans buy about 1 billion bottles of water per week.

– Think about the fossil fuels that are used in transporting all that very heavy water!

– Although the plastic bottles are recyclable, over 70% of water bottles are not recycled.

I found this story fascinating, and quite timely for me personally. I recently experimented with buying these cute little half-pint bottles of water to throw in the car for the kids if we were on our way somewhere. Well, unfortunately the cute little bottles were way more of a hit than I had intended. What happened was that the children helped themselves to the little bottles and I found them everywhere, indoors and out, usually with just one or two sips gone.

Bye-bye cute little bottles of water! They are potentially handy, but I find that they are wasteful, promote littering, encourage laziness (on the part of the kids and myself), and send a message that disposability is fine.

Who knew that there was so much to be said about something as simple as drinking water!

Listen to the interview here. Read the article here.

Thanks to and photographer ostephy for this photo.

A Great Nature Activity Book

By , June 21, 2007 6:59 am

I am always on the look-out for good books of activities that I don’t have time to do with my kids. One day…when the baby is a little older…not that I am wishing her precious babyhood away! But, I digress.

I stumbled upon this one at Amazon and I really like it! It is Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children by Carol Petrash. Here is a quote from the back cover: “This book is “filled with hands-on nature crafts and seasonal activities to enhance environmental awareness. The activities are carefully written and beautifully illustrated. Children play with the elements of earth, air, and water. They develop a respect for nature, for the earth and for all living creatures. they experience the awe and wonder of the world around them.”

While this may be quite an ambitious description of the book, I can tell you from a Mom’s (rather than a publisher’s) perspective, that it is a really cool book. Will it instantly turn my children into little green protectors of Mother Earth? Maybe not. But I do firmly believe that the more children learn about nature, the more respect they will have for it. Teaching children early on to appreciate the beauty of life and nature can only help the planet in the long run.

One of the things I really like about this book, and what sets it apart from other similar books that I have seen, is that the chapters are organized by season. Plus, each season has subsections: The Whole Earth Home and Classroom, Bringing Nature In: The Season’s Garden, Bringing Nature In: Seasonal Crafts, and Supplying the Missing Links. This makes it easy to find projects that are seasonally appropriate.

The “Supplying the Missing Links” idea is another feature which sets this book apart from other “nature crafts” books. The introduction describes this as providing “activities that will allow the children to connect a product which they often use and usually purchase in a store with the source and process from which it comes. The aim is that they will then have a subtle understanding of their strong connections with and dependence on the Earth and an experience of making things for themselves.”

I love this concept! My children are always asking me where things come from, and these projects can actually teach them a little bit about some of it. One of the more ambitious projects in this category is: “From Wheat to Bread” (no, Mom doesn’t go to Safeway for a bag of flour, the kids thresh and grind wheat themselves, then bake their homemade flour into bread).

Wow! I thought I was being “crunchy-frontier-mom” when I, on very rare occasion, bake bread from scratch without my machine. Now the bar is raised! If we do this experiment (not that wheat on the stalk will be easy to come by where I live – especially for a non A-lister like me), will the kids expect me to make my own flour every time I feel domestic enough to make bread? Hmm…could be a dangerous precedent to set, but cool idea nonetheless!

There is a similar project with Indian Corn (we can probably get that here): string necklaces of corn kernels, grind the corn and make corn bread, use the husks to make corn husk dolls, then grate the cobs to make a corn cob powder for play cooking. How about learning about wool, apples, pumpkins, and butter?

If you don’t have the time or ambition to make your own flour, then you will be happy to find other, more manageable projects here too. Some examples: FALL – leaf banners, leaf crowns, nature’s people, lanterns. WINTER – pine cone bird feeders, tissue paper transparencies, finger knitting, yarn dolls. SPRING – wind wands, pinwheels, kites, dish gardens, pressed flower cards. SUMMER – shooting star streamer balls, walnut boats, butterfly crowns, parachute people, paper birds.

I really love this book. Anyone who wants to unplug their children and tune them into nature needs this book. I know that any Waldorf or homeschooling family would love it too. Please check it out, I think you will be pleased!

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