Category Archives: Learning About the World List

One World, Two Books, Two Charlottes


I love discovering what others are doing to encourage in kids a sense of wonder at and responsibility toward our planet. Two friends (both named Charlotte!) have recently come out with two very different books which do just that in unique and wonderful ways.

Charlotte Blessing’s New Old Shoes (Pleasant Street, 2009) is a sweet, but powerful picture book (ages 3 to 9) told from the point of view of a pair of bright red Keds. Think modern-day, global Velveteen Rabbit: the shoes go from brand new and loved to discarded and heaped with literally tons of other cast-off shoes from the US that are shipped to Africa. The shoes find new children there to share adventures with until they reach the end of their utility and an unexpected happy ending.

Blessing got the inspiration for the story while browsing the mitumba markets (secondhand clothing markets) in Kenya to shop for clothes for her growing kids (she lived there and in Tanzania for over a decade running a study abroad program). The family now lives in Colorado.

New Old Shoes opens kids’ eyes, getting them to think about reusing, recycling, and the conditions of kids in other countries in a really positive and beautiful way. There’s also information in the back about how to donate shoes to a great group called Soles4Souls.

For older kids (ages 7 to 11), Charlotte Purein’s Avatars of Gaia promotes environmental awareness through a rollicking adventure story that takes an intrepid team of kids on a quest to save the planet from the evil King Littermoore. Avatars of Gaia manages to recreate in a book those video game conventions that kids love: there’s a sense of urgency and purpose, an imminent threat from toxic gooz emanating from the king’s Hazard Hollow and the mutant Deformo Frogs that live there. The characters are well drawn and great funny names like Free Bird and Kinkajou, and the manga-style drawings help bring to life the amazing creatures that inhabit the avatars’ world: the Munchimonster, Sneezer Wheaters, Princess L’Muriel (a human who morphed into a butterfly) and the Babushka Tree, among others.

Purein, aka Professor Heart (anagram for Earth) used to work in the film industry, and the book has all the action, adventure, and fun of an episode of Bakugan, but with a much more important message.

Two books, two Charlottes, two ways to open kids minds and eyes.

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Moon Day and Moon Trees

photo by US Rte 40 , flickr

I’ve just been alerted to the fact that today, July 20, is Moon Day, the anniversary of the first lunar landing in 1969. I was too young to have any memory of it, but can only imagine how exciting it must have been, with the whole world joined together watching. I wonder if we’ll see the equal of that moment in our lifetimes? I think it’s hard for kids today to imagine what a big deal that was.

While researching 101 Things You Gotta Do Before You’re 12, I somehow discovered moon trees, an often forgotten part of space history. Astronauts were allowed to take a few personal items with them on their flights, and Stuart Roosa, a former forest service employee, took seeds: redwood, sycamore, Douglas fir, loblolly, and sweet gum. When he came back, he donated them to the forest service. Scientists wondered if the seeds would be viable or if, as a result of having been in outer space, there would be any strange mutations in the trees that grew from them. They grew normally, and in honor of the bicenntenial, they were distributed around the US to be planted.

Moon tree in Society Hill, Philadelphia, Photo by Wally Gobetz , flickr

Unfortunately, no one kept good records, so it’s not clear where all the trees went. NASA has a list of the trees they know about, some of which are in public places and can be visited, like the cone at Goodard Air Force Base in Maryland and one at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. Finding a moon tree can be a great challenge for kids. Here’s some more information about the trees. I had no idea we had a moon tree right down the street from us at the Asheville Botanical Garden. We’re going to go check it out today!

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The Cloud Appreciation Society

Ever since Miss M was a baby, clouds have been kind of our fallback source of entertainment. They’re ever-changing. They’re big (important when trying to impress kids). They’re open to interpretation. And of course, they’re free. A lot of people have portable DVD players for long car trips. We have audio books (more on that topic later) and clouds. They’re a great source of distraction if things start to go south on during the ride (“Wait! Did you see that cloud? It looks like a dragon eating an anaconda!”). The Cloud Appreciation Society is a great site for cloudspotters young and old. The founder, the wonderfully British-named Gavin Pretor-Pinney, has written several guidebooks which are pretty and informative. The site has ‘cloud news’ and lets cloud lovers from around the globe share their cloud-inspired poetry, art, and photos, as well as chat about clouds. Just lovely.

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This Place Matters

Historic bridges of Pittsburgh

For another week at least, it’s National Historic Preservation month. The National Trust for Historic Preservation just released their 2010 list of 11 Most Endangered Places (a subject which I covered in 101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12!). The list mobilizes people to protect historic places and properties under imminent threat, such as the Wilderness Battlefield in Virginia, which is currently in the path of, you guessed, a proposed Walmart Development.

I am a big fan of all the Trust’s programs and really love what they’ve done with the This Place Matters campaign, which helps people advocate for historic places that are important to them. You can check out their Flickr account here and their YouTube here. I love the diversity of people and places represented, and that kids are involved! How I wish this had been around when I was a kid in Atlanta and the city was being systematically dismantled!

Finding a ‘place that matters’ to your family could be a great way to introduce your kids to concepts of history and preservation: What’s worth saving? What’s not? How much does it cost? Who pays for it? And what do we lose when we lose a piece of history?

Ingles Ferry Tavern, Dublin, Virginia

The Do-Wop Motels in The Wildwoods, New Jersey

The Dr. Howe-Waffle House in Santa Ana, California

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The Bird is The Word

Happy International Migratory Bird Day! What? You didn?t know? It’s always the second Saturday in May.  I love, love, love birds and am always interested in trying to get a closer look at them. If you haven’t already watched it, the gorgeous Winged Migration is a must see:

Stills from Winged Migration

It’s a real documentary, and so to keep my daughter interested during the voice-overs, I just did the classic up-play “Wow! That’s amazing! That is sooo beautiful! I can’t believe that!” At eight, she’s still young enough to catch that kind of enthusiasm.

We haven’t tried watching it with our three-year-old, but I’m going to see if we can track down a copy today in honor of IMBD.Going to see he sandhill crane migration at the North Platte River National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska is definitely in the top 100 of our Wanderlist. At peak migration times, half a million birds land in the same 1-imile radius.

Enjoy watching some birds today!

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