Friends, it has been a long and challenging year. I feel equal parts hope and exhaustion going into the summer break. Mostly I’m looking forward to being outside. I will be spending my summer going to wilderness to research my future stories. I’m so grateful for public lands and all the advocates who have made access to the wilderness possible.
At the same time I’m keenly aware that wilderness spaces can feel very unwelcoming to some communities of color and very inaccessible to the disabled. We all need open spaces. People of every race and continent have worked to defend the wilderness. I have just one book recommendation this month. If it were in my power I’d give this to every family in the world to encourage them to enjoy the wilderness and to do the work of protecting the earth.
The book is The Wide World Handbook: how adventurers, artists, scientists–and you–can protect earth’s habitats by Andrea Debbink, illustrated by Asia Orlando (Quirk Books). It introduces nine world ecosystems: mountains, forests, deserts, polar lands, ocean, fresh water, cities, rainforests, and grasslands.
Each ecosystem chapter includes biographies of people whose work impacted that ecosystem positively. A few of the people were well known: Wangari Maathai, Ansel Adams, and Jules Verne for example. Most were new to me. They included Bob Coomber, a wheelchair-using advocate for accessibility in the wilderness. Junko Tabei, a pioneering Japanese mountain climber and the first woman to summit Everest. And Rue Mapp, a black woman who created the blog Outdoor Afro. She encourages Black people to learn about the ways they have been denied access to public lands and encourages them to engage fully with the wilderness. She launched a movement towards inclusion that now numbers 35,000 members in 80 locations across the US.
I would have recommended this book if it only had biographies, but it is so much more. For each ecosystem there is a facts page, a natural wonder, and an environmental success story. I particularly appreciate this focus on the positive. Though we do need to learn all the ways we are harming the earth, we will never get to the changes we need if we don’t also include the things we’ve done that help.
There are DIY projects for each ecosystem, including practical things like hiking sticks and bird houses, and also art projects using natural materials. Best of all there are suggestions for field trips and stewardship opportunities. I hope you read this book but more than that I hope you get outside this summer and spend sometime taking in all the wilderness has to offer. And I hope you all, teachers, students, and parents, return to school next year with renewed vigor and a heart for all the wild things of the earth.