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The Power of Stories

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When Charlotte the spider spins pig-positive messages about Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web, the human characters in the story are wowed. Wilbur is some pig! He’s terrific! Out go the axes; in come the medals. But for most readers, the real hero of this story is not some pig; it’s one 

spider. Even the most extreme arachnophobe will eye spiders with greater sympathy after meeting the wise and talented eight-legged Charlotte.

Charlotte’s Web epitomizes the power of stories to shift and enrich our perceptions of the natural world. Not every kid has ready access to a farmyard or a forest. And going outside anywhere can seem less appealing to those no longer practiced in outdoor play or attuned to nature’s quiet dramas. But with the right book, young readers can habitat-hop from the windswept Arctic (Julie of the Wolves) to the cactus-dotted desert of Arizona (I’m in Charge of Celebrations) to the worm-wound soils beneath our feet (Diary of a

Worm). They can get close to the beating hearts of other creatures, building understanding and seeding empathy. They can witness the outdoor experiences others have had away from glowing screens and be inspired to launch some real-earth adventures of their own. 

Nature-rich children’s books can be playful, charming, irreverent, and just plain cute. But don’t underestimate their power. The natural world is beleaguered right now, with wild landscapes reduced and untold numbers of plants and animals at risk of extinction. And who will notice if they go? People 

are unlikely to save what they don’t love, or love what they’ve never had a chance to get to know. Stories offer an imaginative bridge to this terra incognita, an opportunity to pay attention, appreciate, wonder, and care.

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