Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Stories from Where We Live

One of the finest collections of geographically linked material for children can be found in the volumes of the series Stories From Where We Live. I’m going to ask the editor, Sara St. Antoine, to post a little bit more about this terrific set of books.

Thanks for inviting me to join this discussion, April.

First, the background: When I was a graduate student, I spent a summer interning with ethnobotanist and writer Gary Paul Nabhan (The Desert Smells Like Rain, Geography of Childhood, etc.). We found that even the most rural-dwelling kids, even those from Tohono O’odham and Yaqui communities, were learning most of what they knew about nature from T.V. or memorized facts from textbooks. What was lost was a direct experience of nature and, for many of these kids, the stories once told in their communities that conveyed information, values, and appreciation for the living things right around them. In the process, personal discovery and celebration of their immediate surroundings were being supplanted, at best, by top-down, large-scale programs about Nature Out There.

This research got me thinking about the importance of stories that are rooted in particular places. I realized that of course it’s not just indigenous communities that have powerful place-based stories. Any of us who grew up hearing fishing tales, animal stories, and the like formed a broader understanding of our community through stories. Where, I wondered, are those stories now? Are they still being told? Would it be possible to collect place-based stories to help today’s younger generation form stronger connections to the vibrant–though sometimes overlooked and neglected–natural world around them?

And so it was that I began developing the Stories from Where We Live series. I formed a wonderful working relationship with Milkweed Editions, a nonprofit literary press based in Minneapolis, and together we began producing an anthology of place-based literature for each of 15 ecoregions–regions defined by both natural and cultural boundaries–across North America (Gary Nabhan helped devise the original map). The anthologies have a huge variety of literature–contemporary, historic, by famous authors, by new authors, fiction, memoir, poetry, even songs and journal entries–all of which together say something about the natural world in these regions and the way it has shaped and been shaped by the people who live there.

As of this month, we’ve released six anthologies in hardback and paperback: The North Atlantic Coast, The Great North American Prairie, The California Coast, The Gulf Coast, The Great Lakes, and The South Atlantic Coast and Piedmont. They’re aimed at readers ages 9-13, but we’ve found that parents and grandparents enjoy them just as much. Science illustrator Trudy Nicholson has provided exemplary illustrations for each volume.

I guess if I had to sum up my goals in creating this series, it would be two-fold: to help develop kids’ curiosity and interest in the natural world around them and to encourage them to explore and tell their own stories about these never-ordinary places. 

Note: This piece was originally published on the Children’s Media Professional’s Forum, hosted by the Sayres on this site.

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