Janine Kitson

Hooray For Birds!

By Lucy Cousins

Candlewick Press, 2017

This upbeat and fun picture book celebrates the lives of birds and invites the young reader to “imagine ... just for one day ... you’re a busy bird? Yes, a bird! Hooray!”. Then it shows a wonderful variety of birds singing, flying, moving, swimming, flitting and swooping, catching food, laying eggs, waddling, running, courting and finally nesting.

Lucy Cousins’ use of strong vibrant colours is a great art resource for students to study and paint their own illustrations of birds. The book provides opportunities for joyous drama activities that have the potential to really make one want to be a bird! The message is: unless we empathise and love birds we cannot protect them.

Hour of the Bees

By Lindsay Eagar

Walker Books, 2016

This well-crafted, moving and uplifting young person’s novel is about 12-year-old Carolina who, with her American-Mexican parents, returns to the family ranch in the beautiful but arid, treeless desert during summer school holidays.

There, for the first time, she meets her dementia-ridden grandfather, Serge, who is an uncanny and powerful storyteller. While her parents prepare the ranch for sale she listens to her grandfather’s haunting stories about the preciousness of a tree endowed with healing powers and the love he feels for his fiercely independent wife, Rosa.

When the tree is eventually cut down, the village loses its protection and an evil spell is cast upon the land, with prolonged drought. The spell is broken when the bees return and bring rain. The book includes a strong theme on the irreversible risks of throwing away the healing value of Nature.

The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science

By Andrea Wulf

John Murray 2015

This book highlights the extraordinarily talented life of early 19th century Prussian author, naturalist, geographer, adventurer, explorer and meteorologist Alexander von Humboldt (1769 –1859) who was one of the most popular scientists of his day. With anti-German sentiment following World War I and Wold War II, his name has largely been forgotten.

Humboldt spent 1799 to 1804 exploring South America, visiting Venezuela, Cuba, the Andes, and Mexico. He climbed Mount Chimborazo (Ecuador) and published an illustration of it, known as Naturgemälde, that revolutionised the way we understand Nature. On his return to Europe, he published many books that proved enormously popular and influential.

Humboldt influenced many significant contributors to an ecological understanding of Nature, including Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, George Perkins Marsh and Ernst Haeckel.

Humboldt’s genius was in making comparisons, connections and understanding relationships about the global web of life, where everything is connected including climate, biology, botany, geology, geography, art and politics.

He spoke against the rapacious exploitation of colonialism with its accompanying environmental destruction. Humboldt even recognised how deforestation changed the climate. When Humboldt visited US President Thomas Jefferson, he bemoaned the evils of slavery.

What makes Humboldt such a visionary environmental influence is that he argued that imagination was a powerful and necessary intellectual tool to understand Nature, which could only be understood from both a scientific and artistic perspective. At the current time, when people feel depressed about environmental crisis, this book gives hope and inspiration.

All three books are all available from Federation Library. Suggestions for classroom activities can be found in the digital edition of Education.

Janine Kitson is a Federation Life Member

Classroom Activities

Horay for Birds!

K-10 Science: Early Stage 1, Natural Environment
Living things have basic needs, including food and water

Small group/pair discussion:

  1. Which birds do you like?
  2. What do birds do?
  3. Which birds are similar? Different?

Suggestions for learning activities:

  1. Go outside and birdwatch. What birds do you see? What are they doing?
  2. Paint bird masks based on Lucy Cousins’ artwork.
  3. Drama – Act out the daily life of a bird.

Hour of the Bees

English K-10 Syllabus,
Stage 3, Reading and Viewing

Small group/pair discussion:

  1. What reminds you about your life in this book?
  2. What character do you like and why?
  3. Which parts of the novel do you like and why?

Suggestions for learning activities:

  1. Draw a map of where Carolina’s ranch might be.
  2. Write a letter from Carolina to her grandmother Rosa.
  3. Write a letter from Carolina telling her friends how her life has changed.

The Invention of Nature

Modern History Stage 6 Syllabus, Year 11, A7: The Rise of the Environment Movement

Small group/pair discussion:

  1. What was happening in Europe, South America, the United States and Australia during Alexander von Humboldt’s lifetime from 1769 –1859?
  2. Why has Humboldt become a ‘lost hero of science’?
  3. Why did Humboldt believe that science and the arts are equally important for understanding the environment?

Suggestions for learning activities

  1. Write a time line of Alexander von Humboldt’s life and key historic events during his life time from 1769 –1859.
  2. Draw and label a mind map of the network of people Humboldt knew and influenced.
  3. Act out how Alexander von Humboldt talked and what he talked about.