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Great safaris are just outside the door

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

I love being outside surrounded by nature. I spend a lot of time outdoors now, working in my garden and floating in my pool. And because I'm outside more, I encounter many interesting creatures.

In the last week or so, I have observed in my back yard a turtle, a garter snake, a couple of frogs and toads, several species of birds, and lots of cool insects and spiders. What a great way for children to connect with nature -- just go outside. It's a very cheap safari, free in fact, and very educational.

I try to encourage the students I work with to observe and respect wildlife, rather than automatically squashing every insect or spider they encounter. And there are some great children's books to help the budding naturalists learn more about the creatures they might find.

I love spiders because they are such fascinating animals. Nic Bishop's book, "Spiders" (Scholastic, 2007), opens with a couple of attention grabbing sentences, "Spiders were hunting long before lions and tigers. They were hunting even before Tyrannosaurus rex. They were one of the first predators to walk on land."

What's not to like about that? When students at my school tell me that they see a spider in my library, I tell them to leave it alone because it's one of my pets and if we leave it alone it won't bother us. Bishop covers the important information about spider anatomy and life cycle in a clear and engaging style, but it is his photographs of spiders that are the stars of this book. The large, colorful photos are so amazing that you can see up close the eyes of a green lynx spider and the liquid threads of silk as they come out of the spinnerets of a black-and-yellow garden spider. Children can learn about this common predator, which they encounter indoors or outside, by reading Bishop's book.

Moving on to another much maligned group of animals which are common in southwest Georgia -- snakes. The title of Laurence Pringle's book, "Snakes! Strange and Wonderful" (Boyds Mill Press, 2004), just about sums up what many people think about snakes. Well, maybe we should add "horrible" and "icky," but this book will help children discover interesting facts about snakes.

Pringle starts out with several intriguing questions and statements, "Can you eat without using hands? Snakes can. Can you climb a tree without using arms and legs? Snakes can. Can you smell odors by wiggling your tongue in the air? Snakes can."

Snakes are to be admired for what they are -- an integral part of ecosystems all over the world. Pringle, author of over 100 children's non-fiction books, writes on his website that he asked his editor to put a non-threatening snake on the cover, as so many people are scared of snakes. However, his editor ignored Pringle's wishes and had the illustrator, Meryl Henderson, depict a rattlesnake about to strike! Not a great way to get more people to appreciate snakes.

I might as well end this column with a book about another animal which is common in Georgia, but also much misunderstood. "Amazing Bats" (SeaStar Books, 2005) by Seymour Simon presents information about these mammals in an easy-to-read format accompanied by lots of great, full-color photographs.

Simon tries to dispel common myths about bats while including facts about many bat species. Bats do not attack people or swoop down to get tangled up in your hair, Simon writes. But bats native to our region are very helpful to us as they eat insects, hundreds every hour they are feeding. That means fewer insects like mosquitoes to bite us and possibly transmit diseases.

Spend a little time outside with the child in your life, encountering and respecting nature. Read up on the animals you might see so that you will be armed with facts, not common misconceptions. You and your child will probably begin to appreciate and respect the great natural resources we have in here in Southwest Georgia.

Karen Liebert is a media specialist at International Studies Elementary Charter School in Albany. She previously worked in public libraries in five states.