Big As The Whole Outdoors

from Wildlife Promise

So many things cut into kids’ alone time these days and so many rules cramp their outdoor adventures. My daughter has a very different childhood from mine, which was far less bounded by homework, after-school activities and fears of “stranger danger.” But as experts like Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods) point out, kids need unstructured free time outdoors to replenish their spirits, develop their inner resources, challenge themselves and come up with their own creative ideas.

When she was little, my daughter, full of curiosity, would trot out to our city backyard. Peeping out the window, I’d notice her playing with sticks, watching the sky, feeding grass to a stuffed animal. She was engrossed in her own thoughts and play, with no need for a directing or applauding adult. She was becoming independent. And then, of course, she’d be back, knocking on the door, needing a glass of water, wanting to say “hi” before heading out again.

Ladybug Girl (Dial, 2009, ages 3 to 6) celebrates a child’s creative can-do spirit. Faced with busy parents and a cranky older brother, Lulu decides to make her own fun. After all, in her red boots and fairy wings, she is…LADYBUG GIRL. With her basset hound, Bingo, snuffling at her heels, Lulu investigates ants on a rock, converts a crumbly stone wall into “the perfect fort” and walks across a toppled-down tree “all by herself.”

When Lulu climbs another tree and listens quietly to “the singing sparrows and the squawky blue jays,” you just know she’s feeling pride in her accomplishments and as “big as the whole outdoors.” Husband-and-wife author/illustrators David Soma and Jacky Davis based this spunky little girl on their own daughter, but Lulu is truly an Everychild, delighting in the joys and challenges of the natural world.

Mary Quattlebaum is the author of 15 award-winning children’s books, including Jackson Jones and the Puddle of Thorns (Random House) and two chapter-book sequels, all set in a city community garden. Check www.maryquattlebaum.com for activities connected with Mary’s books.