Scarecrow: A Figurative Exploration of the Seasons of Life and Nature of Existence

A heartwarming children’s book that celebrates the intricacies of life from a scarecrow’s perspective.

Cover of the book Scarecrow by Cynthia Rylant“If you do not know your place in the world and the meaning of your life, you should know there is something to blame,” Leo Tolstoy asserted in A Calendar of Wisdom. “It is not the social system, or your intellect, but the way in which you have directed your intellect.” 

The conundrum Tolstoy described has served as inspiration for innumerable self-help books. But it’s a problem that simply doesn’t exist in Scarecrow (public library), an elegant and thought-provoking children’s book written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Lauren Stringer. The main character — a scarecrow — is an inanimate object who is self-aware and deeply introspective. He’s confident in his place in the world and appreciates his life, however short it may be.

Scarecrow sets a great example for readers. In an age when many people are consumed by existential anxiety and dread, the scarecrow’s attitude is quite refreshing. In fact, the book itself could serve as a metaphor for life. Buried underneath the surface of the playful children’s story are a series of clever, Tao-like philosophical messages that stick with readers. Accept your condition. Observe what’s happening around you. Develop an appreciation of the small things in life.

His hat is borrowed, his suit is borrowed, his hands are borrowed, even his head is borrowed. And his eyes probably came out of someone’s drawer. But a scarecrow’s life is all his own.

It takes a certain peace, hanging around a garden all day. It takes a love of silence and air. A liking for long, slow thoughts.

Artwork from Scarecrow by Cynthia Rylant

Artwork from Scarecrow by Cynthia Rylant

By portraying the scarecrow’s life over a calendar year, the story figuratively explores the seasons of our lives and gently reminds us of the fact that we’re mere mortals. The scarecrow continuously reflects on the fact that he has been fortunate enough to experience many wonderful things. He considers himself lucky.

The scarecrow doesn’t care what he is made of or how long he might last, for he has been a witness to life. The earth has rained and snowed and blossomed and wilted and yellowed and greened and vined itself all around him.

His hat has housed mice and his arms have rested birds. A morning glory has held tight to his legs and a worm is living in his lapel.

There is not much else a person might want, and the scarecrow knows this.

Stringer’s beautiful paintings capture the intricate details of the scarecrow’s life. The pages really give readers a feel for every season of the year.

Artwork from Scarecrow by Cynthia Rylant

Artwork from Scarecrow by Cynthia Rylant

The inspiration for Scarecrow may have come from Rylant’s younger years. According to an interview with NPR, the renowned author grew up in a rural West Virginia coal mining town.

There were seven of us in a little house, tiny house, out in the country. We didn’t have any indoor plumbing. It was very isolated. No libraries, of course. And it was a really wonderful experience.

And so in my books you might notice that there’s a theme of nurturing among all the characters. They’re all taking care of each other. They’re being steady and reliable and loving.

Scarecrow is a beautiful story that celebrates life from a scarecrow’s perspective. Readers at every stage of life will appreciate this touching children’s book. Complement with with Finding Winnie, the amazing origin story of the bear that inspired the character of Winnie the Pooh.

A Little Bit of Dirt: Outdoor Science and Art Activities that Connect Kids with Nature

A thoughtfully designed activity book that helps children immerse themselves in nature.

Cover of A Little Bit of Dirt“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement,” said Rachel Carson, the famous crusader against synthetic pesticides and one of the founders of the modern environmental movement. “It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.” 

Author Asia Citro doesn’t want to see that happen to future generations. Her book, A Little Bit of Dirt (public library), contains over 50 science and art activities designed to get parents and children outside and immersed in nature. The goal, she says, is to “find inspiration to get outside with your family, strengthen your connection with and understanding of nature, and experience the benefits of regular outdoor time.”

The book’s activities are simple, engaging, and well thought out. They’re designed for children ages 3-10 and can be worked on individually or collaboratively with parents. Whether you help your child with the activities or not, the book is sure to provide countless hours of fun.

Here’s a handful of the activities provided:

  • Nature Weaving: Create and decorate a natural loom using plants and other objects from nature.
  • Seed Bomb Lollipops: Fill balls of paper with seeds, put sticks on the ends of them, and then plant them upside down in the soil.
  • Earthworm Tower: Put earthworms in a plastic bottle and watch them eat leaves and turn them into soil.
  • Nature Boat: Combine nature objects to create a boat that floats.
  • Create Bird Feeders: Build a bird feeder using craft supplies, natural materials, and objects from your recycling bin.

Artwork from the book A Little Bit of Dirt

Artwork from the book A Little Bit of Dirt

In the introduction, Citro explains why she created the book and shares why she believes there’s never been a better time to get your children outside.

As our world becomes more complicated, structured, and technological, we get fewer simple, slow, and calm moments in our days. With school, extracurricular activities, and the lure of our technological devices, it’s easy for outdoor play to fall by the wayside. But outdoor play is a needed balance to our busy modern days.

Rather than just providing visual stimulation, as many of our indoor activities tend to do, outdoor play activates all the senses. Outdoor terrain is uneven, which challenges and develops our children’s motor skills in ways that manufactured surfaces can’t. Outdoor environments provide larger spaces for our children to run, skip, and climb — to keep their hearts and muscles strong. Time spent in nature is important to the development of healthy children.

Spending time outdoors is important no matter where you live. The book was thoughtfully designed with that in mind. In fact, it can be used by children living in virtually any environment, urban or otherwise. For most of the activities, all readers need is access to a park.

Artwork from the book A Little Bit of Dirt

Artwork from the book A Little Bit of Dirt

One of the implicit goals of these activities is to instill a deep appreciation of the natural world. It’s important for children to cultivate a sense of wonder — an insatiable curiosity about the planet, the creatures that inhabit it, and themselves. Rachel Carson said that it’s something every child should have:

If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.

A Little Bit of Dirt is a fantastic collection of activities, but it won’t magically solve all of the problems facing children today. What it will do is give them the nudge they need to get outside and start playing in the dirt. And sometimes, a little nudge is all it takes to help children discover their primal, primitive desire to be outside in our true, original home. Complement with Fun at Home with Kids, the author’s website full of additional activities for children, and Mossya touching children’s story about keeping wild creatures in their native habitat.

Finding Winnie: The Origin Story of the Bear that Inspired Winnie the Pooh

“Every so often, you become aware that a fictional story has an equally beautiful, real and true story behind it.”

61jut2htwl-_sy498_bo1204203200_“You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you,” said Winnie the Pooh in A.A. Milne’s classic best-selling book Winnie-the-Pooh. “You have to go to them sometimes.” Now, thanks to author Lindsay Mattick and illustrator Sophie Blackall, we know where the inspiration for Milne’s historic story came from. Finding Winnie (public librarytells the true story of the actual bear that inspired the character of Winnie the Pooh. And what a story it is!

The children’s book follows Mattick’s great-grandfather, Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian called to serve in World War I. While traveling across Canada with the other soldiers, he meets a trapper sitting with a cub — the trapper had killed the cub’s mother. Harry pays $20 for the bear. So begins his incredible journey with Winnie, who is named after Harry’s hometown of Winnipeg.

It’s not every day that you see a bear cub at a train station. ‘That bear has lost its mother,’ he thought, ‘and that man must be the trapper who got her.’

Harry thought for a long time. Then he said to himself, ‘There is something special about that Bear.’ He felt inside his pocket and said, ‘I shouldn’t.’ He paced back and forth and said, ‘I can’t.’ Then his heart made up his mind, and he walked up to the trapper and said, ‘I’ll give you twenty dollars for the bear.’

Cover of the book Finding Winnie

Artwork for the book Finding Winnie

Artwork for the book Finding Winnie

Initially, the soldiers have their reservations about the bear, but before too long Winnie becomes the mascot of the regiment. She stays with the men in Canada, sails with them across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe, and lives with them until they go to the front.

Winnie was in the army now. Harry taught her to stand up straight and hold her head high and turn this way and that, just so! Soon, she was assigned her own post. Even the Colonel agreed that Winnie was a Remarkable Bear. She might have been the best navigator in the whole army.

Artwork from the book Finding Winnie

Artwork from the book Finding Winnie

When the order comes down the line for Harry’s regiment to move to the front and fight the war, Harry has a decision to make. Should he bring Winnie to the front lines, possibly risking her life? Or should he find a new, safe place for her to live? Eventually Harry decides that Winnie should live in the London Zoo.

It was winter when the order came: The time had come to fight. Winnie posed proudly with the men for pictures to send home to their families.

Harry thought for a long time. His head argued one way and then the other. But his heart made up his mind.

He went to Winnie and said in a serious way, ‘There’s somewhere we need to go.’ Winnie brushed the mud off her nose and nuzzled in close.

Artwork from the book Finding Winnie

Artwork from the book Finding Winnie

It’s at the London Zoo that Winnie meets Christopher Robin. Christopher’s father, A.A. Milne, eventually wrote the book Winnie-the-Pooh. The back of the book contains several photographs of Harry and Christopher with Winnie.

Christopher Robin would visit Winnie at the zoo, and then he would take his stuffed animal on all sorts of adventures in the wood behind his home. His father, Alan Alexander Milne, wrote books all about them. Harry’s Winnie became Winnie-the-Pooh — and there has never been a more beloved bear.

Photograph from the book Finding Winnie

Photograph from the book Finding Winnie

According to an interview, Mattick wrote Finding Winnie to share her family’s story. “Writing the story through a picture book helps bring it to a larger audience and bring it to a lot of children who aren’t familiar with this story — that’s my role in the family story.” She also shared some thoughts on why the story is important.

Every so often, you become aware that a fictional story has an equally beautiful, real and true story behind it — and that doesn’t happen every day. I think that the part of this story that always spoke the most to me was the fact that when Harry made that decision [over] 100 years ago to buy Winnie, to buy a bear cub because he loved animals and because he felt it would bring some joy to his regiment, he just had no idea that this very simple act was going to have this massive unexpected ripple effect.

Finding Winnie is an extraordinary account of a remarkable act of kindness — one that eventually influenced A.A. Milne. Winnie-the-Pooh, of course, has gone on to profoundly influence children around the world for generations. It goes to show that even simple acts of kindness can have a big impact. Complement with Jan Brett’s Mossy and her drawing advice.