Nature – not pop culture – is top of mind in this children’s reading list

I am a self-proclaimed nerdy mom. Maybe not the glasses-and-pocket-protectors-type nerd (I just had LASIK!), but definitely the looking-under-rocks-to-see-what-fun-bugs-we-can-find kind. One of my favorite PBS Kids shows is Wild Kratts about all of the special powers various animals have and how those powers can defeat the bad guys.

Somehow, however, my oldest daughter has become obsessed with “new fashion” and pop music, not to mention the fact that she is still extremely interested in the Disney princesses.

Audrey is 6 years old (6 and a half if you ask her). I blame day care for her initial indoctrination to the princesses. Sure, I knew who Cinderella and Snow White were, but some of the more “obscure” princesses such as Sleeping Beauty were a mystery to me. Disney characters (and Elmo too, if we are being honest) have to be designed to do nothing but suck in unsuspecting toddlers and make them forever fans and turn their parents to mush when it comes to attempting to teach anything but waiting for Prince Charming and magic wands.

I have to admit that I have been officially sucked in. The biggest evidence of this was our trip to Disneyland last spring, where my heart melted when Audrey met Tinkerbell, Ariel, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty (I now know her whole story and even call her by her princess name – Aurora).

But there are smaller admissions of my caving to popular culture. For example, when my youngest daughter turned 1, I let Audrey pick out anything she thought Eleanor would like. She picked out “Little People Princesses,” something I would have NEVER allowed to enter my house with my first child.

So I am not sure I can fully articulate my distaste in frilly girly things that my 6 year old covets. Princesses are easy to hate because they embody everything from “let the man rescue me” to “women are only good for housecleaning and singing,” neither of which I was ever good at. I do know that most of my distaste comes from the fact that I never liked them as a little girl – there were always much more interesting things to capture my attention.

Since I grew up in the ’80s and we were allowed to run all over creation with no supervision and barely a curfew, maybe it was easier for me to have expanded horizons. I remember throwing dirt on stink bugs to watch their butts rise in defense. I grew up near a giant park with dirt running trails and trees, and many, many ways to spend the entire day without a thought of television.

Even as I grew to a teenager, pop culture was a bit of a mystery and I gravitated to the more alternative genres; probably because I was intimidated by keeping up with the latest anything. I liked knowing music and movies no one else did so I did not have to be up to date with the billboard top 10. My daughter on the other hand, immediately suctions on to anything her friends are doing and is currently obsessed with pop icon Katy Perry.

I have to admit that I do not hate Katy Perry. For the first time in my life I have found myself a bit shocked at song lyrics, but generally Katy has an upbeat rhythm and fun songs. My 1-year-old even dances next to the television when we play the YouTube video of Katy Perry on Sesame Street.

I guess I have to just make sure that I infuse my own “green” interests in my daughter as much as possible as long as I still can. If any of you are facing the same issues, here is a list of my nature/not-pop-culture reading plan for Audrey. I hope it works!

1. There is a Hair in my Dirt, a Worm’s Story by Gary Larson — This should be on everyone’s reading shelf.

2. Michael Recycle by Ellie Bethel – this is a staple in Greensource’s education library and a favorite by students who like to dress up as their new favorite superhero.

3. Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists by Jeannine Atkins — follows Jane Goodall, Rachel Carson and more as they learn they have the power to make a difference.

4. Fancy Nancy: Every Day is Earth Day by Jane O’Connor – Nancy learns that even though green is not her favorite color, it is easy to make small changes that can make a difference.

5. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff – This is a great book to start a conversation about consumerism.

6. 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth by Sophie Javna – This is a great starting point to help young kids feel empowered.

7. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss – This one is pretty obvious, but I wanted to include it just in case it has missed someone’s shelf.

8. The Magic School Bus by Joanna Cole – There are many of these that help kids understand how nature works.

9. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein – This book describes how trees help us in many ways.

10. Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? by Carmella LaVigna Coyle – reading this you learn that princesses do play in trees and have bad hair days just like you.

Audrey likes many of these books, and I hope to continue finding more as she gets older. Next I will have to see if she disowns me after I show her a Katy Perry parody video about insects – “Baby, You’re an Arthropod,” as seen here. Wish me luck!

1 Amy-Sohner

Amy Sohner is executive director of Greensource and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with Greensource since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as vice-chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, two daughters and a multitude of pets.

This article appeared in KY Forward on October 17, 2013.

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