510EUBCeP9L__SY434_BO1,204,203,200_Back in my old second-floor apartment, I had the pleasure of hosting quite a few birds’ nests in the relative safety of the underside of my porch. Most times, I had to get on hands and knees to peer through the slats to see the hatching progress (to the parents vocal dismay). Over the years, my amateur eyes saw house finches, sparrows and robins build nests and hatch. One year, though, a creative robin couple decided to build their nest in the space between my recycling bin and the slats of the porch railing.  While I would have to forgo curbside recycling for a few weeks, I had a prime view from egg to fledge. I even set up a webcam to catch the action without disrupting the new family.

Watching the nestlings (technical term “altricial chicks”) hatch and grow gave me a great curiosity about their development. Not just how about long it would take for them grow and fly, but also, were both parents in attendance? What will happen after these giant balls of fluff leave the safety of the nest? Where is all the poop going?*


Robin nestlings, 2011

Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Familiar Birds,” by Laura Erickson and Marie Read ably answers those questions and quite a bit more. Every aspect of birds’ life cycles are explained: mating, fidelity, egg production, nesting and parenting. Twenty-five familiar birds get special attention, with detailed photographs, some that literally go into the nest. American Robins are there, of course, along with Chipping Sparrows, House Wrens, Mourning Doves, Blue Jays and American Crows. More exotic birds (or, at least, those that most of us couldn’t easily peer into their nests) are treated with just as much detail – Red-tailed Hawks, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Downy Woodpeckers, Herring Gulls and Great Horned Owls.

Into the Nest” is a great book for backyard birdwatchers or for anyone curious about the birds and raptors we share our yards, forests, sky, (and porches) with.

* Apparently, nestlings defecate into a “fecal sac” that is promptly removed from the nest by the adult birds. (pg. 136)

beetle book“Line up every kind of plant and animal on Earth and one of every four will be a beetle.” If your reaction to this fact is an uncomfortable mix of fascination and horror, get your hands on The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins. In this fact-filled picture book (written for children, but hey, this twenty-something learned a lot reading it), there are big, beautiful illustrations of bugs: hissing cockroaches, June bugs, fireflies, dung beetles, ladybugs, and hundreds of other creepy crawlies – all of them beetles. The full-color bugs are set against ample white space and accompanied by thematically grouped facts. Small (or big!) all-black silhouettes on every page show the actual size of the beetles that have been magnified for illustrations. Staring down the five-inch mandibles of a six-spotted green tiger beetle gets a lot easier when its 3/4-inch-tall silhouette reminds you just how tiny the beast really is!

A few other great books for the budding naturalist or the latent scientist:

  • A Butterfly Is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston, an artistically illustrated look at the life cycle of a butterfly. Lots of facts and gorgeous images make this appropriate for all ages. (if you like this, look at her others: An Egg is Quiet, A Rock Is Lively, and A Seed is Sleepy)
  • Step Gently Out by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder, a poem about the beauty and variety of nature illustrated with huge, zoomed-in photos of insects and plants.
  • You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim, a rumination on the interconnectivity of nature and humanity accompanied by lovely, lighthearted illustrations.

This classic children’s novel has been weathering the storm of censorship and controversy for 4 decades now. Jean Craighead George won the 1973 Newbery Medal for her novel, Julie of the Wolves, which tells the story of a Yupik Eskimo girl called Miyax (Julie to her pen pal in San Francisco) who survives alone on the Arctic tundra by communicating with a wolf pack. The outside world has wrought changes on Julie’s culture, and when she is forced to choose between an arranged marriage and a harsh, desperate flight across the wild tundra, she runs away. She eventually learns the language of the wolves and becomes a member of the pack, a process that’s terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure.

Julie’s journey of survival and self discovery has resonated with young and old readers since its publication in the seventies, despite being challenged for including violence and being “unsuited to age group.” To learn more about this book, censorship, and Banned Books Week, check out the ALA Banned Books Week website.