Ever watch a kid watch for wildlife? Eyes wide, mouth open, trying to stay quiet. From the largest (bears and moose) to the smallest (shrews and bugs), Alaska’s wild things are fascinating, and carry a story as unique as we humans. Some swim, some fly, some creep. Some are loud. Some don’t make any sound at all, or so we think.
Nature is one big sensory box, and a place that deserves our up close and careful discovery. I’ve always been the kind of outdoor enthusiast who enjoys noticing things: feathers, fur, a bird’s song, rain. There is a nice sense of both solitude and community in the forest — and in our hurry-up, stay-connected lives these days, sometimes we forget.
Two books by Alaska authors have recently been released in time for spring outdoor adventures, and I will say as a writer and nature-thrillist, I was quite excited to see them both show up in my mailbox. One provides a comprehensive overview of the animals and birds living in a forest, with a peaceful storyline woven within the interesting facts. The other is an imaginative, magical journey through the Alaska tundra, forest, and tidal areas that brings potential for lively discussion among kids and adults.
Been There, Done That; reading animal signs is Jen Funk Weber’s first picture book after years of creating puzzle and activity books. Beautifully illustrated by Andrea Gabriel, this bright book takes kids through a walk in the forest with a fresh pair of nature-based eyes. Poor Cole is disappointed at the apparent lack of wildlife in the woods when he visits his friend Helena, but once he learns how to look for animal signs, is able to visualize what passed by, when, and where. Released by Arbordale Publishing as part of their Creative Minds series of books designed to engage kids in math, science, writing, and reading, this is a book teachers, parents, and kids will enjoy, right down to the cool facts in the back. Did you know Snowshoe hares really do thump their back feet to warn potential predators away? Cue “Thumper” from Bambi, but in a more realistic way, as kids learn the real stories behind Alaska’s daily drive to survive.
My Coyote Nose and Ptarmigan Toes; an almost-true Alaskan adventure is the product of trekking mom and author Erin McKitrrick, and is illustrated by her sister-in-law Valisa Higman. In it, a young boy embarks upon an expedition with his family, meeting challenges along the way. Hiking, rafting, eating, and sleeping all play a role in the story, and it resonated with my 11-year-old explorer. But what makes the story so special, however, is the transformation-through-imagination that takes place on each facing page. Kids hike all day, so does a caribou, sort of. Need to fill up a hungry belly? So do bear cubs, but with salmon instead of oatmeal. Relational? You better believe it, and I can’t think of a better book through which to introduce kids to Alaska and outdoor activity. Published by Sasquatch Books in Seattle.