Guest Post: Kids and Nature Preschool Teachers Weigh In on the Blueberry Award by Martha Meyer
Happy National Blueberry Day!
Okay, fine. Not today. The official National Blueberry Day was actually last week. Still, that’s close enough to celebrate all things Blueberry including the Evanston Public Library Blueberry Award. Did you ever stop to think about the benefits of your library creating its own literary award? Trust me, they are abundant. And to prove it to you, I’m handing over the reins today to my co-worker at EPL, Martha Meyer. Creator of the remarkable Blueberry Award (like the Newbery but with a focus on science, nature, and the environment), she’s here to tell you about how you can engage with kids and teachers, and she does it with her customary flair and talent.
Take it away, Martha!!
Happy Blueberry Day! Kids and Nature Preschool Teachers Weigh In on the Blueberry Award
By Martha Meyer, Library Assistant at Evanston Public Library
On July 8, 2022, National Blueberry Day, we celebrated the glorious, juicy, tart, deep indigo blueberry. In fact, all of July is National Blueberry Month: blueberry salads, blueberry pie, blueberry pancakes! But as librarians and teachers, let’s also celebrate the Blueberry Award for children’s books that support a love of nature and action for the planet. (Yes! It was named after the now century old Newbery Award, with a nod to our blue planet.)
What is the Blueberry Award? Launched on March 21, 2022, the spring equinox, the award was founded by a team at Evanston Public Library. We felt it was long overdue to have a national award that celebrates the work that children’s book authors, scientists and illustrators are doing to support kids’ love of the natural world and desire to heal it. The winner amongst the 2021 books is How to Find a Fox by Kate Gardner, illustrated by Ossi Saarinen. We also named twenty-five Honor books and six Changemaker books that help kids act! We need that many honored books because kids need a whole library to learn about our incredibly complex planet and all the things we can do to slow global warming.
Our local ecology center asked us to create a book walk with How to Find a Fox; they have also held a night walk program to read the book, learn about foxes, and have s’mores at the fire pit. Since the red foxes in the book are peeking out around real tree branches and native woodland plants, the whole experience is magical. Know any natural locations where you can create a nature book walk with How to Find a Fox or another nature book?
From March 14 – May 31, 2022, we displayed the Blueberry Award books in our Main Children’s Room. Our shelvers reported that of all the books, the absolute circulation winner was I Eat Poop. A Dung Beetle Story by Mark Pett. They would put the book up on the display after it was returned, and within an hour or two, the book would be gone, checked out to a good home, so kids could learn about dung beetles – and have a few laughs! Humor wins with kids. Curious (concerned?) adults were drawn into the children’s room just to open that book!
So I was more than a little excited when I staffed a Blueberry Award booth at the Northern Illinois Nature Preschool Association’s (NINPA) Midwest Early Childhood Educators Symposium last month at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle IL. What books would speak to those who teach preschoolers about nature every single day?
The NINPA team was very gracious and allocated the table next to the registration booth for the Blueberry Awards display. All attendees had to walk past our table to get into the conference. Nature preschool teachers were interested in How to Find a Fox, our winner, of course, but the book that garnered the most oohs and aahs was, What Can You Do with a Rock? by Pat Zielow Miller, illustrated by Katie Kath. This book was made for a unit on rocks or just as a great prompt book for rock play or a rock collection walk. The way it supports social emotional learning is a bonus.
When the symposium keynote speakers were asked what kids’ books could help nature preschool teachers incorporate Equity, Diversity, Access, and Inclusion into their programs, the speakers mentioned lots of books including Fatima’s Great Outdoors by Ambreen Tariq, illustrated by Stevie Lewis. So the book written by the founder of @BrownPeopleCamping garnered a lot of looks at our table, too! Jayden’s Impossible Garden by Mélina Mangal illustrated by Ken Daley, was also a hit.
Another book that drew lots of attention was The Night Walk by Marie Dorléans. It reminds teachers of their childhood memories! They couldn’t wait to share it with a class of youngsters. They also marveled at Fourteen Monkeys: A Rain Forest Rhyme by Melissa Stewart illustrated by the late Steve Jenkins: a book easily understandable by 3 year olds that teaches how fourteen different monkey species occupy one national park in Peru by exploiting ecological niches! It’s got super simple-to-understand diagrams and beautiful art. Many teachers were surprised that smoke has a cycle not unlike the water cycle, which is what I Am Smoke by Henry Herz illustrated by Mercè López is all about! Summertime Sleepers: Animals that Estivate also by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Sarah Brannen got them thinking about programs for kids investigating who is “estivating” (summer “hibernating”)! The Summertime Sleepers book is a Siebert Honor Award winner, too.
Since the conference was for preschool teachers, I didn’t display all of the older titles in our list, but the one that teachers immediately wanted to touch and open was The Wild World Handbook: How Adventurers, Scientists, Artists – And YOU – Can Protect Earth’s Habitats by Andrea Debbink and illustrated by Asia Orlando. There is a sequel out this year about protecting earth’s creatures. Another book, Green Kids Cook: Simple Delicious Recipes and Top Tips by Jenny Chandler, the European Union’s Ambassador for Pulses (beans!) also got folks flipping the pages. Both books would function as great resources for teachers both for cool activities and for great topics for kids to investigate! Finally, there was a lot of enthusiasm (teachers pulling friends over to the table) for a fun but scientifically accurate graphic novel that follows one bee from birth to death, called The Way of the Hive: A Honey Bee’s Story by Jay Hosler. Thrilling!
Want to know what books work in a classroom full of kids? Ask a preschool teacher! In fact, maybe partner with all the nature oriented preschools, ecology centers, botanic gardens, sustainability coordinators, and arboretums in your area! You will learn more than you share, guaranteed.
Research suggests that when it comes to anxiety about climate change, the kids are not ok. A large-scale study in the UK found that 9 out of 10 kids are worried about climate change. How can librarians and teachers best support them, without sharing our own anxiety? Give kids the highest quality books with the best science, the most fabulous illustrations, and the clearest directions on real action! Books that get kids outside to explore AND back in to learn more! You don’t save something unless you love it. Taking action, especially collective action, can reduce anxiety immediately.
At the conference, researchers shared about how being in nature leads to better emotional development for kids. One presenter calls that time when kids get deeply curious and excited about a particular bit of the natural world they are investigating a Sacred Moment. The best quote of the conference came from Mariam Murphy, an educator who works at the Morton Arboretum with differently abled kids: ”Students spend 8 hours in school and then have hours a day of scheduled activities or therapies. Well intended caregivers sometimes overlook that that leaves the child with only enough time left to sleep and eat. We then wonder as educators or families why they may exhibit problematic behaviors and are “bouncing off the walls.” Part of the solution is in removing those walls! Learning and healing can take place outdoors. Nature provides us all with an opportunity to tap into our curiosity and can create a sense of calmness that adults and children alike need!” YES. The lecture hall filled with teachers clapping.
I can tell you that this wonderful group project creating the Blueberry Award has given me a bit of relief, too. During the deep pandemic, I took stock of what I was doing to help the planet and while I am a composter, a solar panel owner, and a plant based eater, nothing seems enough. However, working with a committee of authors, scientists, librarians and library paraprofessionals to select and share books to get kids working on their own action for the planet made me feel a little better. The Northern Illinois nature preschool teachers are about to start using these books to make a real difference with kids and their families; they haven’t given up in despair about climate change. Let’s all join them, with a blueberry smoothie in hand, naturally.
A Youth Services Librarian attending the conference wanted to set up a Blueberry Award display at her library to see if the books fly off the table like they did at Evanston. I sent her our Blueberry logo and a PDF of the 2021 Blueberry Award flier and eagerly await word on how it goes! Feel free to email me at email@example.com for more information.
Thank you, Martha!
You can find a printable booklet of all the winners here, if you like.
Filed under: Guest Posts
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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