Whether the children in your lives are eager lovers of literature or more reluctant readers, finding ways to bring books to life with outdoor activities can be a fun way to encourage thoughtful reading practices and to make books even more engaging. Below are a few ideas for how you might create activities to bring the events of a novel to life for the young readers in your life.
Nest, by Esther Ehrlich, can be adapted into real-life activities in many ways. Set in the 1970’s, this is the story of a family dealing with mental illness. Despite these heavier tones, there’s still a lot of joy in the story from which to pull inspiration. Young readers could go birdwatching just like the main character Chirp and look up the birds they spot in a field guide. Similarly, Chirp creates a dance routine to the song Help! by the Beatles. Young readers can do this too. It doesn’t need to be anything professional or elaborate but getting up and moving to a song (Beatles or not) provides a lot of physical fun and memorizing a dance routine is a good brain exercise, too! And it’s even more fun if it’s performed outdoors.
Kimberley Griffiths Little’s novel The Time of the Fireflies also provides more opportunities for readers to engage more fully with the novel. A picnic dinner to watch fireflies would be ideal for bringing Larissa’s story to life. Other ideas for bringing her book to life include exploring one’s family history through word of mouth or old pictures and objects or, like Larissa, experience some time travel. Pick a year, help your readers do some research, and then spend an hour or two as though you’ve slipped through time!
Winner of the Newberry medal, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly, is another novel rich in the natural world and centered around a loveable, strong female protagonist. Readers of Calpurnia’s story can follow in her footsteps by exploring their yards, neighborhoods, or local parks with a notebook and pencil in hand. Walk slowly and observe with all the senses, taking notes and making sketches of what kinds of flora and fauna are found. A field guide could come in handy for this as well, as some young readers might want to learn the scientific names of plants and animals they observe. This is a great activity to encourage mindfulness, art skills, and offer a foray into being a naturalist.
The First Last Day, by Dorian Cirrone, is also perfect as the weather is warming up. Main character Haleigh finds herself in the midst of a never-ending summer…literally! One activity to bring this novel to life is to encourage young readers to paint memories of their favorite days or to keep a journal of their life through paintings. The passage of time might not freeze as it does for Haleigh, but this is a great way to encourage artistic creativity as well as personal reflection. Other art supplies and mediums can be added or substituted, too.
Finally, in my novel, Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe, the main character Cricket goes on a wilderness adventure to try to find her mother. A series of clues leads the way. There are several ways Smack Dab could be brought to life, but one idea is to create a clue-based scavenger hunt for your young readers to solve. This could be as simple as leaving hand-written notes with riddles or descriptions that lead from one location to the next. You can also create more complicated clue trails involving cyphers or clues that relate to poetry or history. Even better if the clues incorporate the outdoors or wilderness! A small prize could be added at the end of the clues or simply solving the scavenger hunt can be the victory. Plus, older kids could orchestrate clues for one another. You can find some activities here.
These are a few ideas to get started. Once you start reading with potential outdoor adventures in mind, the sky is the limit. –literally. Happy reading!