A Sense of Place

Book Links: March 2000 (v.9 no.4)

by Daniel Kriesberg

Place is more than just a name and a location. It is also the plants and animals that live there. It is the type of soil, climate, and geologic history. A place is the people who live there today and the people who lived there yesterday. All these together make the place.

Young children know they are part of the natural world. They understand what most of us have forgotten, that there is no natural world and human world. It is all one. We are part of nature. Young children find these connections everywhere. To them a weedy patch with a bush is as exciting as a national park; an ant or butterfly is as exciting as a tiger or bear. Their imagination allows them to become other animals or go back in time. If children retained this sensibility as they grew up, it would translate into a closer connection to home and community.

What happens? Just at the age when these connections can be bonded in place, children go to school. They have much less time to explore the outdoors. There are fewer undeveloped places to go and play. The education they do receive about the non-human world is taught indoors, with textbooks, videos, and computers. Much of what they learn is about areas far from their homes. Less attention is paid to local animals and plants, while more attention is paid to endangered species, and environmental problems.

These factors combine to break the growing connection. Nature is seen as separate from humans, a place to go, to be visited on weekends, or else it is a place filled with pollution and other problems. In a world where children are feeling more and more disconnected and disassociated from their family, friends, and community, having a better sense of place can help them feel they are a part of the larger world.

We need to strengthen children’s connection to nature to build their sense of place in their own community. A sense of place involves both connection to the land and knowledge about the land. It means knowing the stories about the place in which one lives and feeling a part of these stories. These stories include both the natural and human history of the land. How can we expect children to care about water pollution if they do not know where their own water comes from? Without knowing some of the native plants in their own community, how can a child understand what is happening to the old growth forests of the Northwest? Having a sense of place is a process that leads to a feeling of caring and community and translates into stewardship for the land’s sake and our sake. Once a connection is made to a child’s homeplace then the child can reach out and connect with other places.

In the past, many cultures had storytellers who helped to teach stories of the land. Today, wonderfully written and illustrated picture books help to foster a sense of place. The books can provide points for discussion, models for writing, or be used to introduce or conclude hands-on activities. The authors of the books listed below use a variety of techniques and formats in telling their stories—journal, fiction, memoir, poetry, and letter writing—allowing them to serve as models for the children’s own writing. But, most important, the books tell stories: stories of secret places, summer vacations, childhood memories, and relationships demonstrating the power of having a place to love. They will help children find their own stories by giving a voice to the earth, so children can learn to listen and understand the land’s own stories.


Addy, Sharon Hart.
Right Here on This Spot. Illus. by John Clapp. 1999. 32p. Houghton, $15 (0-395-73091-0).

K–Gr. 3. The history of one spot in a field on a family farm is chronicled from the campfires of prehistoric people through settlements by Native Americans and, later, pioneers from eastern cities, to its use as a Civil War battlefield, and on to farmland for generations of families. The artifacts found when the narrator’s grandfather, a farmer, dug a ditch—bones from an unfamiliar animal, arrowheads, a Union soldier’s uniform button—tell the stories of this patch of land.

Anholt, Catherine, and Laurence Anholt.
Harry’s Home. 1999. 32p. Farrar, $16 (0-374-32870-6).

Preschool–Gr. 2. Harry is a city boy, used to noise, bustle, and crowded streets. But, when he gets the opportunity to visit his grandfather’s farm for a week, he tends the farm animals, even helping to care for a baby lamb, and learns to appreciate space and quiet. Though he wants to bring the lamb back to the city, Harry realizes we all have our appropriate environments.

Baylor, Byrd.
The Best Town in the World. Illus. by Ronald Himler. 1982. 32p. Simon & Schuster, $14.95 (0-684-18035-9); paper, $3.95 (0-689-71086-0).

Preschool–Gr. 3. A father shares with his child the wonders of the town where he grew up. The flowers were more beautiful, the people were nicer, the swimming was better—everything that was important was the best in this town.

Baylor, Byrd.
The Desert Is Theirs. Illus. by Peter Parnall. 1975. 32p. Simon & Schuster, $15 (0-684-14266-X); paper, $5.95 (0-689-71150-0).

Preschool–Gr. 3. This Caldecott Honor Book shows that even places with harsh environments are places where people live, places that people love. The desert people know the beauty in lonely canyons, cacti, and lizards. They learn from the animals how to make a home in the desert. Here, Baylor captures and celebrates their love for that home.

Baylor, Byrd.
I’m in Charge of Celebrations. Illus. by Peter Parnall. 1986. 32p. Simon & Schuster, $14.95 (0-684-18579-2); paper, $5.99 (0-689-80620-5).

Gr. 1–4. A girl describes some of the amazing things she has seen through her explorations in the desert. For example, Green Cloud Day celebrates seeing a green cloud that looked like a parrot, while Dust Devil Day recalls the bunches of dust devils rising in the wake of a truck. Recording these events in her journal makes them special. This book will encourage children to record their own celebrations of the world around them.

Bliss, Corrine D.
Matthew’s Meadow. Illus. by Ted Lewin. 1992. 40p. Harcourt, paper, $7 (0-15-201500-0).

Gr. 2–4. Every year, from the age of nine, Matthew goes up to the meadow, where a hawk speaks to him and teaches him something new about using his senses to understand the world. As Matthew grows up, he continues to learn more from the hawk. The hawk tells Matthew that his grandmother is speaking to him, and, finally, Matthew discovers how to respond to her.

Bouchard, David.
If You’re Not from the Prairie . . . Illus. by Henry Ripplinger. 1995. 32p. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16 (0-689-80103-3); paper, $5.99 (0-689-82035-6).

Gr. 1–5. On each page of this stunning book, powerful text and lush paintings point out scenes—prairie sun, cold, wind, snow—that shape the people of the prairie. The last page tells it all: “If you’re not from the prairie, you don’t know me. You just can’t know me.”

Buchanan, Ken.
This House Is Made of Mud/Esta Casa Esta Heha de Lodo. Illus. by Libba Tracy. 1991. 32p. Northland, paper, $6.95 (0-87358-580-1).

Preschool–Gr. 2. The story of the building of one family’s adobe house in the Southwest desert is told in English and Spanish. The family shares the house, which is built of mud and straw, with birds, lizards, and other animals, and the narrator reminds us that all of our surroundings are our home: “The house has a yard. It is round too. We call it the desert.”

Bunting, Eve.
Secret Place. Illus. by Ted Rand. 1996. 32p. Clarion, $16 (0-395-64687-8).

Preschool–Gr. 3. Even in a city, there can be secret places where nature can be experienced. A young boy discovers a place where birds live and ducks have ducklings and he shares this spot with his father and just a few other people.

Bunting, Eve. Rudi’s Pond. Illus. by Ronald Himler. 1999. 32p. Clarion, $15 (0-395- 89067-5).

Gr. 1–4. This poignant—but never cloying—story of the death of a child with a chronic heart defect is told in the voice of his neighbor and friend. Together, the narrator and Rudi had explored nature, studying ponds and feeding hummingbirds. When Rudi dies, his classmates construct a pond, lining it with plants and hanging a hummingbird feeder close by, as a memorial to their friend’s spirit and his relationship with the outdoors.

Chall, Marsha Wilson.
Up North at the Cabin. Illus. by Steven Johnson. 1992. 32p. Lothrop, $16 (0–688–09732–4).

Preschool–Gr. 8. A young girl describes all the wonderful things she does in the summer at her family’s cabin, but her account is not simply a list of each activity; it shows her personal connection to the place. This story can serve as a reminder to readers of the special places in their own lives.

Cherry, Lynne.
The Armadillo from Amarillo. 1994. 40p. Harcourt, $16 (0-15-200359-2); paper, $6 (0-15-201955-3).

Preschool–Gr. 4. This is a wonderful book to use to help inspire children’s curiosity about the place where they live. An armadillo decides to see what is out there. Off he goes across Texas, encountering a variety of habitats and historical places. Eventually Sasparillo, the armadillo, joins up with an eagle and then a space shuttle to go further and see how he fits in the world. All along the journey, he sends postcards to his cousin Brillo in the Philadelphia Zoo. The illustrations by the author are full of details offering possibilities for discussion.

Hartman, Gail.
As the Roadrunner Runs: A First Book of Maps. Illus. by Cathy Bobak. 1994. 32p. Simon & Schuster, $14 (0-02-743092-8).

Preschool–Gr. 1. Employing a southwestern setting, Gail Hartman uses maps to describe the movements and habitats of a variety of desert animals. There is even a map depicting where the wind goes. The author’s As the Crow Flies: A First Book of Maps (Simon & Schuster, 1991) maps the adventures of an eagle, a crow, a horse, and a seagull as they rove over and through mountains, cities, oceans, and farms.

Henderson, Kathy.
A Year in the City. Illus. by Paul Howard. 1996. 32p. Candlewick, $15.99 (1-56402-872-0).

K–Gr. 3. A poem for each month describes the season. The images combine natural scenes with cityscapes, making the book a great model for a nature calendar—and a reminder that, even in the city, the natural cycle of the year is very evident.

Hubbell, Patricia.
Earthmates. Illus. by Jean Cassels. 2000. 32p. Cavendish, $15.95 (0-7614-5062-9).

Preschool–Gr. 3. Each paired poem and illustration observes one creature and its relationship to its environment, underscoring the bonds between humans, animals, and the habitats they share.

Johnson, Angela.
Down the Winding Road. Illus. by Shane W. Evans. 1999. 32p. DK Ink, $15.95 (0-7894-2396-3).

Preschool–Gr. 1. Every year, a family leaves the city to visit the father’s uncles and aunts—known lovingly as the Old Ones—who live in the country. Each visit includes ritual walks with the relatives for the children, during which they rediscover nature through the Old Ones’ stories of the past. The two generations share their past and present experiences with ancient trees and a lake. At the end of each visit, the winding road leads the children and their parents back home, changed in positive ways.

Krupinski, Loretta.
A New England Scrapbook: A Journey through Poetry, Prose, and Pictures. 1994. 40p. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-06-022950-0).

Gr. 1–5. Using poems, paintings, and factual information that expand on various elements of life in New England, this book provides a model for children to use in writing a class book about the place they live. The author uses a similar approach to describe a forest setting in The Woodland Scrapbook (HarperCollins, 1997).

MacLachlan, Patricia.
All the Places to Love. Illus. by Mike Wimmer. 1994. 32p. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-06-021098-2); paper, $5.95 (0-06-443563-6).

Gr. 1–5. The connection of a young boy named Eli to his family farm is lovingly described in a story that demonstrates how each member of the family has a special place on the farm. Eli shares with the reader his family’s favorite places and the beauty that surrounds them. When his sister is born, he carries on the family tradition of sharing with her all the places to love. Wimmer’s illustrations re-create the elemental beauty of farm life.

McFarlane, Sheryl.
Jessie’s Island. Illus. by Sheena Lott. 1992. 32p. Orca, paper, $6.95 (0-920501-76-1).

Gr. 1–4. When Jessie gets a letter from her cousin who can’t understand how she can have any fun on an island in the middle of nowhere, Jessie writes back explaining all the wonders of the place where she spends her summers—there are trees to climb, birds and animals to see, and kelp to throw.

Ray, Mary Lyn.
Basket Moon. Illus. by Barbara Cooney. 1999. 32p. Harcourt, $15.95 (0-316-73521-3).

Preschool–Gr. 3. A young boy grows up in the mountains, surrounded by the ash, hickory, and maple trees from which his father and their neighbors make livings as basket-makers. In this rural setting, even commerce fits with nature’s cycles, as the long walk to Hudson, New York, the nearest town with a market, can only be made during the full moon, which serves as a lantern on the return trip, after the baskets have been sold and supplies purchased. When the boy is old enough to accompany his father on this trip, he discovers that the life he values, with its close relationship to the land and the trees and the seasons, is disparaged by some. He makes the choice—or more accurately, feels chosen—for the traditional life and strong ties to nature and community of a basketmaker.

Schnur, Steven.
Spring Thaw. Illus. by Stacey Schuett. 2000. 32p. Viking, $15.99 (0-670-87961-4).

Preschool–Gr. 2. On a farm in the Northeast, the signs that winter is about to melt into spring are evident in the forest, the fields, the barn, and all around the farmhouse.

Shannon, George.
Climbing Kansas Mountains. Illus. by Thomas B. Allen. 1993. 40p. Simon & Schuster, paper, $5.99 (0-606-09153-X).

Preschool–Gr. 3. It is hot out in Kansas, really hot, and Sam is bored until his father tells him to get ready to climb a Kansas mountain. Knowing Kansas is flat, Sam is confused until he learns the plan. They end up on top of a grain silo, where he can see all across the hot, hazy, beautiful land.

now toward Evening: A Year in the Valley. Edited by Jesette Frank. Illus. by Thomas Locker. 1990. 32p. Dial, paper, $5.99 (0-14-055582-X).

Gr. 2–5. This collection of poems written by various poets tells the story of one place, seen throughout the seasons. Locker’s incredible paintings add a special delicate beauty to this work.

Stiles, Martha Bennett.
Island Magic. Illus. by Daniel San Souçi. 1999. 32p. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16 (0-689-80588-8).

K–Gr. 3. When his grandfather sells his dairy farm and moves to David’s home on Grande Isle, Michigan, a large island in the Detroit River, David is excited to share the wonders of nature on the island. But, his grandfather misses the farm and, even more, the cows. Gradually, as the seasons change, David is able to help his grandfather appreciate the special beauty of the island that they both now call home.

Swanson, Susan Marie.
Letter to the Lake. Illus. by Peter Catalanotto. 1998. 32p. DK Ink, $15.95 (0-7894-2483-5).

Preschool–Gr. 2. On a cold winter’s morning when her mother’s car won’t start, Rosie writes a letter to the lake where she spends her summers. The text and illustrations alternate between the gray of winter and the bright summer memories of all the wonderful things Rosie does at the lake. Children can summon images of their own special places to get through a bad day.

Thaxter, Celia.
Celia’s Island Journal. Adapted and illus. by Loretta Krupinski. 1992. 32p. Little, Brown, $15.95 (0-316-83921-3).

Preschool–Gr. 3. On September 5, 1839, at the age of five, Celia Thaxter went with her family to live on an isolated island off the coast of New Hampshire. Over the years she kept a remarkable journal of her experiences, which Krupinski has adapted for very young readers.

Daniel Kriesberg is currently on a two-year child care leave from his position as fourth-grade teacher in Locust Valley Intermediate School, Locust Valley, New York. He has developed a community-based environment education program, has written numerous articles on environmental education, and is the author of Creating a Sense of Place (Teacher Ideas, 1999).