Saturday, April 19, 2014

Science Poetry Pairings - Forests

"The woods are lovely, dark, and deep," wrote the poet Robert Frost. I spent a lot of time in the woods as a kid, and still do today. When I lead science and outdoor education workshops I take teachers into the woods to look, listen, and learn. There is so much to discover by being still and observing closely.

Today's book pairing will invite and encourage readers to go into the woods and explore. 

Poetry Book
Forest Has a Song, written by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and illustrated by Robbin Gourley, is a collection of 26 poems about the flora, fauna, and seasons of the forest. One time through will have readers puling on their boots and ready to take a slow, watchful walk through the woods. It opens with this poem.
I heard
a pinecone fall.
I smell
a spicy breeze.
I see
wildly waving
rows of
friendly trees.
I'm here. Come visit. Please?
One of my favorite forest activities to do with teachers is to take them to a site with decomposing logs and have them look over, under, and inside for signs of life. Amy has a poem just for that!
A rotten log is
home to bug
home to beetle
home to slug
home to chipmunk
home to bee
a lively living
hidden home
a fallen tree.
Poems ©Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. All rights reserved.

One of my favorite poems in the book, Forest News, speaks of the stories that animal tracks tell when left in mud or snow. There are poems here about lichen and moss, as well as the owl, deer and woodpecker. For young and old alike, this is a lovely introduction to the forest.

Nonfiction Picture Books
Forest Explorer: A Life-Size Field Guide, written and photographed by Nic Bishop, is an oversized book that includes seven double-page photographic spreads of a North American deciduous forest in different seasons and different locations (forest floor, canopy, etc.). Designed as a guide to help students identify and learn about the creatures that live in the forest, more than 130 animals appear in these seven scenes.

Each habitat scene is shown life-size and is comprised of more than sixty different photographs that Bishop combined to create a single realistic illustration. (On the final page of the book he describes the meticulous work required to create the final products.) Animals in the scenes are shown engaged in the activities of daily life—hiding, feeding, hunting, waiting—and in different life stages.

Topics for the illustrations include:
  • Walking in Spring
  • The Leafy Understory
  • In the Treetops
  • Explore the Edge
  • After Dark
  • The Fall
  • Winter Survivors
Once readers have had a chance to study the illustrations, they turn the page to find detailed notes and a field guide to the animals and environment in the scene. Animals are named and identified in the narrative text by colored font. The text is engaging, understandable, and offers up interesting facts about the animals.

Bishop opens with a section on how to use the book. He also includes a section near the end entitled "Be a Forest Explorer," where he includes hints and projects for readers to explore a real forest on their own. He discusses finding a place to observe, keeping a journal, seasonal observation suggestions, forest safety, and more. Here's an excerpt.
March-April-May. Listen on warm damp evenings for wood frogs, spring peepers, and toads. Watch for the first spring wildflowers, then look for bumblebees and early butterflies feeding on them. Look for the first leaves to open. What trees do they belong to? See if you can find baby caterpillars and other insects that have just hatched. You may spot turkeys in forest clearings or hear woodpeckers drumming on tree trunks. Birds such as orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks, and wood thrushes may migrate to your forest from farther south at this time to start nesting.
Text ©Nic Bishop. All rights reserved.

The book ends with a picture index that will encourage readers to go back and look yet again at the illustrations.

Perfect Together
FOREST HAS A SONG and FOREST EXPLORER will complement one another nicely, whether a few poems are read before a related scene is shown and studied, or an illustration is shared first, followed by some related poems and then the informational text. Both of these books present strong observations of the life of the forest, albeit in different language.

For additional resources, consider these sites.


  1. Forest Has a Song is such a lovely book! One of my recent favorites.

  2. Tricia! Thank you so much for highlighting FOREST and for sharing these wonderful resources. I will be linking from FB and my website too. Of course I was secretly hoping Robbin's and my book might be so lucky to visit you and your readers here this month. Much gratitude and happy spring! xo

  3. What a great pairing--FOREST HAS A SONG is just so wonderful!