Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Island Reading: 6 seashore books for children


We’ve been hearing a lot about the presidential family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard this week. Imagining Sasha and Malia Obama exploring a landscape so different from Chicago and Washington, D.C., reminds me that for many children, vacationing at the seashore is an early and powerful introduction to the natural world.

That put me in mind of several children’s books that I once included on a Yankee magazine list of the top 100 picture books about New England. Not all of the books are still in print, but they’re worth looking for in libraries or used book stores:
The Disappearing Island by Corinne Demas, illustrated by Ted Lewin. Limpid watercolors illustrate a 9-year-old girl’s birthday ride to Billingsgate Island — the “disappearing island” of the title — off Cape Cod. This book was one of Ursula’s favorites when she was younger.
Where Does the Trail Lead?, written by Burton Albert and illustrated by Brian Pinkney, is a simple book that starts with the question, “On Summertime Island, where does the trail lead?” Scratchboard illustrations show a young boy, over the course of one day, exploring beach, tide pool, saltwater marsh, blueberry bushes, rocks, and dunes. I’ve always liked how the book captures the essence of summer on an island.
Island Boy, written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. The story of Tibbetts Island and the family that gave its name to the island off the coast of Maine centers on young Matthias Tibbett, youngest son of a salt farmer who becomes a ship’s captain and learns where his heart lies.
Island Rescue by Charles E. Martin, a cover illustrator for The New Yorker who also illustrated the book. The book is part of a series that includes Sam Saves the Day, Summer Business, and Island Winter. Sadly, the series is no longer in print, but the books capture the pace and pleasures of island life, for summer guests and residents alike.

Two books that have come out since the original list was published teach children about the natural world of the seashore. Like the others I’ve listed here, these two tell great stories while conveying a great love for saltwater, sand, and summer sun. Interestingly, they’re both stories about the seashore at night:
Night of the Moonjellies by Mark Sasha, was brought back into print a few years ago by Purple House Books. It’s the story of a boy who helps his grandparents run their summer restaurant on Cape Cod and is taken to see a special phenomenon of the nighttime sea.
Crab Moon, by Ruth Horowitz and Kate Kiesler, is a story of a boy and the annual return of the horseshoe crabs to Cape Cod. This is one of Virgil’s favorites.

Reading any of these books is almost as good as finding an island of your own — without the Secret Service and the crowds.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Going Green Back to School

The first lesson of the school year has come early this year, before Ursula and Virgil have even entered their new classrooms. I could call it a nature lesson, a science lesson, or a lesson about changing how we act; I was as much a student as Ursula or Virgil.

School starts tomorrow, so we’ve been buying supplies. We have the required five color-coded binders for Ursula, and the compass, protractor, and calculator she needs for her middle-school math class. Virgil, who is entering second grade, selected folders with puppies on the covers and wanted the pencils with pictures of animals.

Until this year, we did little to prepare for their lunches and snacks beyond making sure they each had a decent lunch bag and we had a drawer full of re-sealable plastic bags. I focused on their food and that what they ate was healthy and safe.

In our family, Daddy makes the lunches. (He’s way better at getting up in the morning than his night-owl wife.) Last year, Jim started to complain — not about making the lunches, but about the containers he was putting them into. He told me about BPAs (bisphenol-A), phthlates, and PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), about scientists who are raising concerns that these chemicals are toxic. He thought we should get rid of the sippy cups and hard plastic bottles we sent in with the kids’ drinks, and while we were at it the plastic bags and containers.

I will admit, I ignored him at first. I just didn’t want to know, because once I knew, I would have to do something with the knowledge.

But then I got a work assignment to learn more about wildlife on northern freshwater lakes, and the issue hit me from another angle. Talking to wildlife biologists, I learned of studies that track the effects of such synthetic chemicals on a number of animals, especially those, like polar bears and whales, that occupy the tops of their food chains. I learned that the alphabet soup Jim had tried to tell me about could be lumped together as endocrine disruptors, and that they seemed to wreak havoc with reproduction, prenatal development, and brain function. I learned of male smallmouth bass with eggs in their testes and birds whose eggs weren’t hatching. I thought of the sippy cups on our shelves and the bags in our drawers.

Europe and Canada have banned some of the troubling chemicals, but the United States has not. However, state legislatures in Connecticut and California earlier this year prohibited BPA from use in plastics used by infants and young children; California has also banned phthlates from similar products; and Maine recently joined Washington state in a similar action against PBDEs.

So I added another item to the back-to-school list. I hardly knew what to call it — I just wrote “new lunch stuff.” I went online and bought SnackTaxis, reusable snack bags sewn by a cottage company in western Massachusetts and decorated with pandas, beavers, and turtles; a lunch bag made out of recycled juice boxes by a women’s collective in the Philippines; and stainless steel containers and bottles. I read some of the information on the SnackTaxi tag to the kids: Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used and discarded worldwide — more than 1 million a minute; more than 100,000 animals in the oceans die after eating discarded plastic bags.

The statistic about the animals dying upset Virgil. It bothers me, too, I told him. That’s why we’re switching to the new lunch stuff.

I wish all parents who care about nature and their children’s health had new lunch stuff on their back-to-school lists.


Learn more

Legislation was introduced in March 2009 to ban BPA in the United States.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Meteor Showers: The Perseids


Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of catching the Perseids, the annual mid-August meteor shower. We hadn’t planned our summer vacation to coincide with the showers, which occurred this year between the end of July and the middle of August. We were just lucky to be on a lake with a wide-open view of the night sky — and even luckier, given the weather this summer, to have a couple of clear nights to look for these “falling stars.”

Meteor showers aren’t actually falling stars. They begin as cosmic debris that trails along behind comets and “dirty snowballs,” in which the dirt can be as small as a dust mote and the “ball” can be frozen water, but also frozen methane or ammonia. When a comet’s orbit passes near the Earth, this debris can enter the Earth’s atmosphere, where it heats up and vaporizes. What we see is a streak of light that typically lasts less than a second. You can see vaporizing meteorites any time of the year, but at particular times there are so many that they create a “shower” of light in the night sky.

Some annually recurring showers have acquired names, typically for the constellation in the part of the sky where they appear. The Perseid shower, which peaks each year on August 12, comes from the Swift-Tuttle Comet and appears near the constellation Perseus.

If you catch the Perseid shower at its peak, you can sometimes see more than a meteor a minute. We did our watching a night early, combining it with a late-night dip in the lake. (Virgil had to do his watching from the dock, to protect his cast. See “What we talk about when we talk about risk.”) Jim and Ursula and I lay on our backs and watched the stars. Jim caught the first meteor and told Ursula where to look. A few minutes later we all saw a glowing bright line seeming to fall away from the sky. Ursula oohed as if she’d just seen fireworks, which in a way she had.

We’re looking ahead, now, to the Orionids, a meteor shower associated with the Halley Comet that appears around the constellation Orion and starts in mid-October.

Learn more
The image at the top of this post comes from the article “The Perseids Are Coming” by Dr. Tony Phillips of Science@NASA, which also contains a short description of the Perseids.

The Stardate site gives viewing tips and dates for 2009 meteor showers.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Fox and the Heron


The other morning we were awakened by the sound of a battle in the field across the road. I was first to the upstairs window, but I couldn’t immediately tell what was going on. I saw animal motion, a brief glimpse of whirling body parts — just like in the cartoons — and heard harsh squawking sounds that seemed to come not so much from a particular animal as from the battle itself.

When the combatants separated, we were amazed to see them resolve into a great blue heron and a gray fox.

Both animals have been around a fair amount this summer. The heron follows a regular flight pattern over our field on its way to and from the marshes around the pond. Sometimes it even lands — ka-klunk — on our roof to survey its territory.

The fox considers our home its territory, too: This spring, it denned again under a ruined miner’s cabin next door. We’ve seen the kits progress from sunning themselves outside the den to batting butterflies at the edge of our yard to, recently, pouncing on insects or mice out in the same field where we saw their mother fighting the heron.

The fight broke up when the heron flew to the butternut tree across the road from the house. The fox followed, jumping up and snapping at the branch where the heron perched. The scene looked like the Aesop’s fable, “The Fox and the Crow,” come to life.

I ran to get Ursula out of bed so she could see the tableau for herself. She took one look and turned away, crying, “I don’t want to see animals killing each other!”

“But honey, they’re not killing each other,” I said. “The heron got away.”

“I still don’t want to see it,” she said, and climbed back into bed and pulled the covers over her head.

Aesop’s tale featured a sly fox and a vain crow: The fox, which fancied a piece of cheese that the crow held in its mouth, flattered the crow into singing and dropping the cheese. Writing 2,500 years ago in Greece, Aesop used animal behavior to teach moral lessons. His softened and anthropomorphized version of nature is the classical antecedent to every talking animal we’ve ever met, from Bambi to Remy.

Part of my pleasure the other morning was in seeing both the fable and beyond it, to actual animal behavior, even if the fox was trying to eat the heron. Ursula likes Aesop’s fables, but she’s not quite ready to see the often violent reality they’re based on. That's OK. It's fine with me if her foxes stay smooth talkers a little longer.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Natural Water Parks: New Hampshire


Hot and steamy weather has arrived at last. No matter that school starts for Ursula and Virgil in a week. They’re spending the last of summer submerged in water, pickling and pruning themselves in it.

Last night all four of us went for a swim in the pond before dinner, just to cool off enough to want to pick up a hot ear of corn and eat it. Afterward, sitting at the table with hair still damp, we started talking about great swimming spots. We’ve been doing a lot of lake swimming this summer, but that isn’t what the kids wanted to talk about.

“Remember the Baker River?” Ursula asked Virgil.

“Oh yeah! I love that place!” The Baker River is actually many places with a shared characteristic: a riverbed formed from glacially scoured granite — perfect for potholes and grooves and slides.

By the time we’d eaten our way through the sweet August corn, we had our top 3 kid-approved natural water parks. As it turns out, each of these places is near a well-known hiking area, which means that they can cap off (or should I say “cool off”) a day of hiking. But I recommend them as destinations of their own, just right for the lazy last days of summer. . .

Baker River Valley. The headwaters of the Baker River come out of a glacial cirque on the east side of Mt. Moosilauke and run south and east until the river joins the Pemigewasset River near Plymouth, New Hampshire. For swimming, try the town park in Wentworth, which is open to the public (especially good for very young children) and several places north of Warren along NH Route 118.

Sculptured Rocks State Park. Groton, New Hampshire. This state park, not far from Mt. Cardigan, is an example of the awesome hydraulic power of water carving through granite. Great jumping opportunities for elementary-school children and older!

Emerald Pool. North Chatham, New Hampshire, along the Maine border. To get to this superb deep-water pool, you need to hike approximately 3/4 mile on the Baldface Circle Trail, but the walk can be managed by toddlers. (Toddlers will also enjoy wading in the pool’s more shallow areas.) The trailhead begins a mile south of AMC’s Cold River Camps on NH Route 113.

Image: “Emerald Pool” by Albert Bierstadt, 1830-1902

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Junior Naturalist: What’s black and white all over (with a spot of red)?


Last night we went to bed to the sound of loons out on the big lake. This morning, Ursula noticed two of the big black-and-white birds swimming near our dock. From our vantage point, we could even see them underwater when they dove. We weren’t close enough to know if they caught any fish or crayfish, but we saw the bands on their legs when they caught the light.

The loons of Squam Lake, N.H., are the most studied loon population anywhere in the United States. Every summer a loon biologist follows loons around the 7,000-acre lake as they pair up and select nesting sites. About 10 pairs will actually nest; a smaller number will hatch one or two eggs, and — if they can protect the babies from powerboats, snapping turtles, and intruder loons — raise their chicks. This summer’s loon biologist has spent up to 16 hours a day on the water, taking notes, collecting egg shells, talking to loon volunteers, and simply watching the birds.

With their distinctive black-and-white checked plumage and their haunting calls, loons are an emblem of wild northern lakes. They return to the same lakes over and over again, flying in from saltwater wintering grounds as soon as the ice goes out in the spring. Loons are depicted on the Maine license plate and on one-dollar bills and coins in Canada, which are called “loonies.”

More loon facts:
• We say the loon's eyes are red even though only the iris is actually red. Underwater the eye looks black, which camouflages it against the loon's dark head and may keep a fish from knowing that it's the loon's next meal. Scientists wonder if the loon's red eyes have evolved partly to be “bedroom eyes” during breeding season.
• Loons are true water birds, coming up on land only to nest. Their big webbed feet are set so far back on their bodies that they are basically unable to walk on land. They build their nests right next to the water and must struggle to get on and off the nest.
• Unlike other marine birds, loons have dense bones that make it possible for them to dive as deep as 200 feet. They can stay underwater as long as 10 minutes.
• Loons have been called “flying submarines.” Their wings seem too short to allow them to fly, and they need a long (watery) runway, but once airborne, they can reach speeds up to 80 mph.
• During the summer breeding season, you can hear four loon calls: the wail, the tremolo, the yodel, and the hoot. (Listen to the calls and read their descriptions here.)

The Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) funds the work of the loon biologists on Squam Lake and on many other lakes in New Hampshire. This year, the LPC joined with the Squam Lakes Science Center to give educational “loon cruises” with the loon biologist on Friday afternoons. The last cruise for the 2009 season is on August 21.

Photo credit Dan Poleschook and Ginger Gumm.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Risk

My most recent post, “Teenagers and Risk: lessons from whitewater paddling,” is an article that appeared in AMC Outdoors Online, a monthly e-newsletter of the Appalachian Mountain Club. I’ve written about risk here before (“You might fall, you could die: teaching about risk”) and will again, I’m sure. “Risk” touches on a surprising number of topics that are important to families, children, and the outdoors.

Anxiety about risk has led some parents, schools, and communities to attempt to remove all risk from childhood, or so it can appear. Fear that children might hurt themselves leads to the disappearance of swing sets from playgrounds and rope swings from swimming holes. (The fear at work here may well be the fear of lawsuits.) The same anxiety about injury, compounded by the darker fear of “stranger danger,” leads parents to tell children not to go into the woods alone or down the street or across town.

I’ve heard risk talked about another way. I count myself among those who came of age backpacking, skiing, paddling, climbing, and mountaineering. The stories we tell each other often have to do with risk — risk taken, risk successfully managed (or not), and the lessons we’ve learned from taking risks. Many of us have eagerly introduced our children to the same risk-taking activities, knowing how, for us, they taught resourcefulness and responsibility and helped create a sense of discovery, confidence, pride, and, yes, joy. I know 10-year-olds who climb at a higher level than I ever have as an adult, and young skiers and snowboarders who pop 360-degree turns like pros. But I sometimes have the uncomfortable feeling that while we celebrate the rewards, we dodge talking about the risks.

It seems to me that we should seek a balance between these two impulses. The concern for safety that reins in kids’ behavior is the same concern that has (wisely) pushed for seatbelt laws and bike helmets. That same concern has led to real change in what we think and do about skin cancer and toxins in the environment, to take just a few examples. The good old days — in terms of risk and safety and raising healthy, independent children — were good only in some ways.

Once again, it’s Virgil who has me thinking about these things. This week we’re staying at a family camp on a lake in New Hampshire. Our cabin is up a rocky wooded slope from the shore. On our first day here, Virgil fell off one of the granite boulders — not far, but in just the right way to break his arm. No swimming for him this week, or paddling, or biking. (Maybe some hiking, says Daddy.)

I saw the boulder where Virgil was playing. He wasn’t doing anything I would have considered inappropriate or too risky. I’m glad he had the room to be exploring and discovering his body and the natural world around him. If he learns from the experience, if he gradually develops his own judgment and sense of how to assess and manage the risks he takes, if he can do those things without losing his love of exploration and discovery, a broken bone will have been a small cost along the way.

"The world isn’t risk-free. You want to encourage kids to take risks that are good risks. And that means being prepared for them to come back sometimes with bruises."
— Bruce Lessels, whitewater instructor and co-author of the AMC guidebook, Paddling with Kids




“Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Teenagers and Risk: lessons from whitewater paddling

Bruce Lessels understands teenagers and whitewater. As a 15-year-old with “a lot of energy that was undirected” in Belmont, Mass., in the 1970s, Lessels started going on kayaking trips organized by AMC’s Boston Chapter. It was a different time then: “My mom would drop me off,” Lessels recalls, “and I’d head to some river with these adults.” The teenager learned quickly and kept upping the ante on challenge and adrenaline. Before one particularly serious trip, Lessels’ mother said to him, ‘‘I trust that you have a good enough survival instinct that you’ll make good decisions.’’ The combination of his mother’s trust and her concern for his survival worked powerfully on the teenager. “Right, I have a survival instinct,” Lessels remembers thinking. “I’d better use it.”

Lessels went on to become a member of the U.S. whitewater team. Twenty years ago, he co-founded an outdoor adventure company in western Massachusetts, Zoar Outdoor, with his wife, Karen Blom. They wrote the AMC guidebook Paddling with Kids, which discusses age-appropriate paddling instruction, programs, and competition opportunities for youth through age 18, and are now the parents of two teenagers themselves.

When teaching teen kayakers, Lessels draws on two seemingly contradictory insights about adolescents: One, teenagers are drawn to risky behavior, trying new things, and testing limits; and two, teenagers look to adults to help navigate the sometimes treacherous waters between childhood and adulthood. Lessels has applied these insights to teaching whitewater kayaking, but the lessons apply off the water, too.

1. Understand that teenagers learn and assess risk differently than adults. They’re more likely to be intrigued by risk, and drawn to it. At the same time, they’re less likely to have acquired the experience to avoid mistakes. Lessels recommends putting the “drive for adrenaline” to use, but channeling it and providing structure as teens develop skills and experience.

2. Lead by example. Teens learn extraordinarily quickly, especially if they can imitate a skilled, trusted adult. “They see adults making smart decisions on the river,” Lessels says of young paddlers. A one-on-one mentoring process helps them develop skills and assess and manage risk.

3. Use milestones. Good programs follow a progression of mastery — and clear safety guidelines. At Zoar Outdoor, instructors will hold eager paddlers back from making particular runs until the students have mastered the appropriate skills. But Lessels cautions parents to check their assumptions, too: “Sometimes we hold kids back from doing something because we can’t do it.”

4. Harness their desire to play off each other. “I hear a lot of constructive competition” among young paddlers, Lessels says. “They’ll say, ‘If you did it yesterday, I can do it tomorrow.’”

5. Get them before they learn to drive, when they still need you to get around.

Lessels never loses sight of the fact that whitewater paddling is an activity that involves real, and sometimes serious, risks. But he also sees risks in not allowing kids to practice taking risks. “The world isn’t risk-free,” he says. He would rather help them build confidence in their ability to handle many situations. “You want to encourage kids to take risks that are good risks,” he says. “And that means being prepared for them to come back sometimes with bruises.”

As his own children have entered their teenage years, Lessels has acquired new appreciation for what his mother did when she let him go on those long-ago AMC weekends: “It takes a lot of courage to have that much faith in your kids.”

“Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.



LEARN MORE
  • Learn more about Zoar Outdoor and Team Z, a freestyle kayaking team that includes several teenagers. The site includes blogs and videos.

  • AMC chapters offer many opportunities for families to learn outdoor skills together. Search AMC's trip database by activity, date, or location.

  • AMC runs Teen Wilderness Adventure programs during the summer months that include a variety of paddling opportunities.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Visit a park, buck the trend: final fee-free weekend

The third and final “fee-free weekend,” during which the National Park Service waives entrance fees, occurs next weekend, August 15 and 16, at all national sites that charge an entrance fee. “Fee-free” sites include Acadia, New England’s only national park; the Cape Cod National Seashore; and the Valley Forge National Historic Park in Pennsylvania.

Since I first wrote about the Park Service’s fee-free weekends, I’ve learned that visits to the country’s 391 national park sites, after 50 years of steady increases, have declined steeply since the 1980s. A study in the 2008 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA by two conservation ecologists indicates that visits per person are down 25% from a peak in 1987.

Researchers Oliver Pergams and Patricia Zaradic found “evidence for a pervasive and fundamental shift away from nature-based recreation” in the United States and elsewhere. In their report, the biologists listed three common-sense reasons we should care:
1. Environmentally responsible behavior results from direct contact with nature.
2. Children need to be exposed to the natural world in order to care about it as adults.
3. As today’s adult role models spend less time in nature, this generation of children is likely to follow suit.

Whether you take advantage of the “fee-free” weekend this month, I hope you visit a national park, a state or local park, or simply go for a walk in the woods — and take a child with you.

Learn more
To find a participating park or to learn more about fee-free weekends, visit the National Park Service

“Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Books to Explore

Born to Explore: How To Be a Backyard Adventurer, by Richard Wiese, is the newest entrant in what you might call “the literature of childhood adventure” — books that encourage children to get outside and do and build the kinds of things their parents or grandparents used to do and build in the outdoors.

The first book of this type I ever read was The American Boy’s Handy Book, first published in 1882 and republished a century later, in 1983. Its author was Daniel Beard, an animating force behind the Boy Scouts. His purpose in writing the book was “to stimulate the inventive faculties” in city boys and to encourage them in independence and ingenuity. The American Boy’s Handy Book swam in the mainstream when it was first published, helping spawn such organized outdoor activities as summer camps, along with the Boy and Girl Scouts. In the foreword to the book’s centennial edition, writer Noel Perrin looked back on a hundred years of changing boyhood and found Beard’s book poignant in its assumptions of childhood freedom and innocence. With this history behind it, the book ends up being both father and grandfather to all later guides.

When The Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn and Hal Iggulden, was published, in 2007, we received several copies from friends and family. The Dangerous Book for Boys casts its gaze back to Beard’s century, similarly giving directions on how to make a bow and arrow and skin and cook a rabbit. The book’s broader purpose, though — given the sections on British military exploits, the laws of cricket, and the Kings and Queens of Scotland — seems to be to refashion modern youth into British schoolboys circa 1900. Apparently, most of the people who bought The Dangerous Book for Boys were middle-aged men, which makes it successful as an exercise in nostalgia, though perhaps less useful in getting a younger generation out of doors.

A year later, The Dangerous Book for Boys acquired a distaff companion, The Daring Book for Girls. Ursula, who had fumed that the first book explicitly excluded her, dismissed that book as watered-down adventure. Setting up her own zip line, which sounded daring enough to me, didn’t overcome the dippiness of friendship bracelets and daisy chains. Never mind that she likes to braid string and weave flowers: She sensed that the two books peddled old-fashioned gender discrimination, and she was probably right.

Like the other books, Born to Explore speaks directly to a presumed young reader. Wiese sprinkles the pages with stories of his own youthful explorations, like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro at age 11 and going for his scuba-diving certification before he’d earned a driver’s license. To parents, he is probably best known for having been the youngest president of The Explorers Club. To kids, he may come across as the cool older cousin who is forgiven for talking too much about himself because he also tells stories about jaguars and snakes.

Ursula and Virgil leafed through all these books while I was writing this review. Virgil lingered over the knot-tying instructions in The Dangerous Book for Boys and directions for building a World War II foxhole radio in Born to Explore. Ursula didn’t like the Dangerous and Daring books any more now than when she first saw them. She picked up Born to Explore and started reading. “Yeah, I’ll like this,” she told me.

Then she saw The American Boy’s Handy Book and noticed the knots and swings on the cover — but not, apparently, the gender branding that had so bothered her about the other books. “Cool!” she said, and “Cool!” again when she opened to the chapter on kites. She and Virgil disappeared with it. A while later, she poked her head in the door to say, “That book has exactly the stuff I want to know,” and started telling me about homemade boats and balloons.

My guess is that she and Virgil are drawn to the can-do spirit behind both The American Boy’s Handy Book and Born to Explore. I won’t be surprised one morning to find them “mining” iron from their breakfast cereal (one of Wiese’s “adventures”), but I’ll be impressed if they build one of the “Fourth of July balloons” in Beard’s book on their own.

Then again, they haven’t come to the chapter on “practical taxidermy” yet.

“Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.