Much of the earliest literature of the Greeks and Romans is about the gods and mythology. But nature is also a frequent topic, whether in the 8th century B.C.E. Greek poet Hesiod’s Works and Days, a long poem about farming, or ancient Roman agricultural hymns and prayers to the gods for a good harvest.
Henry David Thoreau recorded his life of contemplation in the woods in Walden; Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring spurred the contemporary environmental movement by revealing the terrible effect of pesticides on birds and wildlife. Whether in print or digital form (students have been found to perform equally well with either), these books celebrate the great outdoors as well as its flora, fauna and all of its creatures and reinforce why these must be protected and preserved.
1. “Zombie Birds, Astronaut Fish and Other Weird Animals” by Becky Crew
Sydney-based Crew writes Running Ponies, a blog about animals that readily displays her deep fondness and fascination with all sorts of animals, including the pink nudibranch and dogs (who are one of her two favorite animals “because they’re the greatest animals in the world and if you don’t get that, there’s something wrong with you,” as she says in an interview). “Zombie Birds, Astronaut Fish and Other Weird Animals” details the lives and ways of animals living now (the sawfish, the African crested rat which isn’t really a rat) and extinct (the king of the rabbits, Nuralagus Rex). It offers a powerful reminder of not only how rich the world’s biodiversity is, but why we must fight to preserve it.
2. “How Animals Grieve” by Barbara J. King
Anthropologist Barbara J. King writes about love, grief and affection in “How Animals Grieve.” It’s a topic that has yet to be fully studied as scientists have long been wary of anthropomorphizing animals.
King focuses on describing numerous stories of both domesticated and wild animals, of a house cat who has lost her sister and a dolphin who has lost her calf. As she comments on NPR, “We humans grieve differently than other animals do: using language, enacting symbolic rituals like funerals, and with an acute awareness of our own and others’ mortality. Other animals don’t do those things.” But animals do love, she says, and the more we understand that a rabbit in a lab “feels his life and his friend’s death in the next cage over,” the more we can “work effectively towards animal welfare.”
3. “Do Grow” by Alice Holden
I am mostly at the stage of trying to get the overgrowth in my backyard a bit more under control. I’m glad to have “Do Grow” by Holden, an organic farmer in the U.K. with experience on farms large and small, as a companion. Her book offers clear and simple tips for the tools you’ll need to make a raised bed to grow some vegetables, a recipe for compost and more, in a compact book with excellent graphics. As she writes, “growing food is something we have done for thousands of years and we are all capable.”
Photo from Thinkstock
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