Book Reviews, Bookishness, Mamaishness, Teacherishness, Women's History Month

Women’s History Month: Books About Science and Conservation

books about science

In putting together a few books about women in science, I noticed that a conservation theme was emerging. That makes today’s post all about conservation – and the conservation scientists whose contributions we remember today.

Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers

You might be a little surprised to see this book on a science list, since Lady Bird Johnson is obviously best known for her role as First Lady during her husband’s presidency. Nonethless, Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America (IndieBound/Amazon) is as much about science as it is beauty and the impact of a determined woman.

Kathi Appelt and Joy Fisher Hein’s depiction of Lady Bird Johnson’s life is a mixture of sadness and discovery. Because of the comfort she found in the woods and ponds of her east Texas home, she ultimately became a naturalist. When she felt an obligation to help the nation through its grief following President Kennedy’s assassination, she turned to the natural environment that helped her overcome the sadness she felt at her own mother’s premature death.

Johnson dedicated herself to preserving natural spaces, increasing the diversity of plant life, and guaranteeing that all children – even those growing up in the concrete expanses of urban centers – would experience the out-of-doors. She was truly ahead of her time in her opinion that native plants should be preserved and propagated, insuring that future generations would know the wildflowers that she had loved as a young girl.

Hein’s paintings have a bit of a folk-art quality, which perfectly suits the down-home personality that made Johnson beloved by many Americans. Appelt’s text provides ample opportunities for students to make connections between Johnson’s life and their own. She also breaks down the need for highway beautification, conservation, and plant preservation into terminology and description that even young readers can grasp.

Planting the Trees of Kenya

Keeping with the theme of conservation and restoration is one of my very favorite books, Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai. (IndieBound/Amazon) Based on the work of Nobel Laureate Maathai, Claire Nivola’s book richly describes the way in which one determined individual can impact the life of an entire nation.

Maathai grew up in Kenya, but left to attend college in the United States. The landscape she found when she returned was very different than the one she’d left behind. In 1977, she founded the Green Belt movement, which encouraged ordinary people to engage in conservation-minded behavior that helped provided economic benefits to local communities.

Planting the Trees of Kenya describes re-forestation efforts and their impact on local communities and individuals. Written with a voice respectful of the Kenyan people, it’s a very inspirational book. It also provides a gentle introduction to the democratic ideal that governments are responsible to protect the interests of the governed. You can sneak in a little civics lesson to go along with the discussion of conservation and the essential role of green plants in healthy ecosystems.

Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World

Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World (IndieBound/Amazon) tells the story of conservation activist Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book Silent Spring ushered in the modern environmental movement. The book begins with the natural adventures Carson enjoyed as a child, and shows how those early memories impacted Carson’s later work to preserve the environment she so loved.

With young readers, this book serves as a great way to show the reasons that scientists must consider all the ramifications of a discovery. Silent Spring helped the general public understand the hidden, but deadly, consequences of DDT. In Rachel Carson, Laurie Lawlor and Laura Beingessner explain these consequences while also explaining why many people had thought DDT both harmless and necessary.

women's history children's books

While students will certainly notice that all three scientists were deeply impacted by their childhood experiences in nature, parents and teachers will also want to note the value of these experiences for today’s children. For that reason, these are not just books about science, but hopefully they are also books that inspire children to get outside, dig in the dirt, and pay attention to the creatures they see around them.

Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.

-Richard Louv, The Last Child in the Woods (IndieBound/Amazon)

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