Photographer and Author, "Black and Brown Faces in America's Wild Places"
Author of “Last Child in the Woods, “Our Wild Calling,” and other books
Professor of American history at Harvard University and author of "Ties that Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom," "The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story," "Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Bondage and Freedom in the City of the Straits," and other books
Recommendation: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
The Snowy Day is a timeless story that brings me back to those feelings of wonder and imagination I had as a child on the family ranch in Northern California. As a young girl, our ranch was always a place of connection to the outdoors and community, a place where my father would invite people of all backgrounds and ages. Not unlike Peter's neighborhood on that winter day.
Recommendation: Gone-Away Lake
by Elizabeth Enright
How does one narrow to one the childhood books that shaped an adult’s view of nature and the world? Many come to mind, including Albert Payson Terhune’s books about collies (my third parent, Banner, was a collie); or anything by Jim Kjelgaard, including his book “Lion Hound,” which decades later I read to my young sons in a cabin on the Lower Owens River. And of course, “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer.” In the latter, I recall the vaguely taboo secret spaces: the escape from the adult world on an abandoned river island; the prepubescent mystery of Tom and Becky’s cave. Another book contained elements of the others. “Gone-Away Lake” was written by Elizabeth Enright and published in 1957. A girl and her brother discover a lost lake and abandoned Victorian resort. They spend the summer, with their enthusiastic naturalist cousin, exploring their secret world. What strikes me now is how, as an eight- or ten-year old, I projected those books’ adventures onto the canvas of my woods, where I found a (seemingly) abandoned farmhouse. There, I met a solitary and ancient horse. Climbing a fence, I would pull myself onto its back. Impossible to control, the horse would take me wherever it wanted to go. Then I would grab the top jamb of the barn door as it passed through, and dangle there until I dropped into hay and mud. On those lost and found days in the woods, my parents seldom knew where I was. But Banner always did.
The White Bookshelf
Recommendation: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
I am picturing the short white bookshelf to the right of the recessed window, tucked beneath an eave in an old house in Cincinnati. This was my attic bedroom as a teen and my only free-standing bookshelf within it. Rather than holding new books, or homework, or craft projects, it served as the library of my memory. It was the place where I kept my favorite childhood books nestled together in a tight row. Here was the illustrated Bible given to me when I was two by my Great Grandmother. Next to the Bible (a saga that begins with a garden), was my copy of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnet. Perhaps there was a thematic logic to my shelving system, I am realizing now. But all that I recall about this second book and why I might have saved it is that I admired the delicately drawn cover of a girl peering into a hidden recess of floral abundance beyond a stone wall.
Next in the row was the first paperback that I had selected for myself: my bent and creased copy of A Wrinkle in Time. A literature teacher at my elementary school had read the book aloud to our class every Friday for months. Madeleine L’Engle had me at the storm, the dramatic weather-borne event that set the story in motion and warned of change at the Murry family’s doorstep. I remember my awareness expanding into a place distinct from southern Ohio -- the New England woods, where a mysterious darkness could shroud secrets of the universe. I was drawn in by the sense of a natural world alive with possibility in that book, and by the exhilarating alchemy of science, poetry, and a human circle of higher purpose. I identified with the character of a seemingly plain girl named Meg who had no concept of her gifts but whose presence was essential to the mission. I also loved the magical women who guided Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin through earthly gales and the uncharted cosmos, and who seemed to have more than a few characteristics in common with my dramatic and beautiful aunt, whose scarves and hair always seemed slightly windswept. I begged my parents for my own personal copy of that book. And soon enough, I possessed the next two installments in the series: A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, too.
They all still fit in my library of memory -- five differently classic books about states of (human) nature. The bookshelf was white, but the imagination is vast, and so are the gusty skies.
Recommendation: Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
As a young teen longing to experience America’s vast Wilderness, I read Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. The book so vividly described the beauty and harshness of wild places and at that time in my life, it was exactly what I desired.
We asked leaders in the field to tell us about a favorite or formative children’s (or YA) book. Here’s what they had to say . . .
Recommendation: The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer
The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer chronicles the experiences of a boy, Brian, who finds a salamander in the woods and brings it home. His mother - whom we never see - asks Brian questions. “How will the salamander eat?” “Where will he sleep?” And slowly, Brian’s imagination transforms his bedroom back into the forest, where he falls asleep next to the salamander under a starry sky. I love the simplicity of the story as the mother’s questions gently tug at the interconnectedness of this small creature with everything else in that complex web we call life. The story shares a sense of beauty, empathy, gratitude and, above all, wonder. As a child, I roamed the fields, forests, and streams behind my home finding creatures under rock and tree, just like Brian. Every time I read this story, it takes me back there.