How often do you visit your “happy place?” It’s that spot in which you feel safe, centered, joyous, soothed–and it’s all in your mind. For many adults, it’s a place from childhood associated with the natural world: the beach, a special tree, a pond alive with frog sounds. Calling that place to mind, allowing the memory to calm us, can help us get through hard times, be they emotional, physical, spiritual or, during this economic downturn, financial.

I never really thought about a child’s “happy place,” though, till my 10-year-old daughter closed her eyes recently, breathed deeply and started chanting “happy place, happy place” while dealing with a painful blister during a dance competition. While not wanting to pry, I was glad that she had found within her own frame of experience, a place that fortified and soothed her.

A daily Green Hour helps ensure that kids get the time needed to explore and daydream, the time to connect to a place that may become their “happy place.” Like a friendship, this bond cannot be forced or rushed; it builds over time, often through frequent visits, and is deeply personal. Members of a family often have very different “happy places.”

The real places behind “happy places” are powerful spots, indeed, as witness their effect on the life paths of eight great environmentalists. In Earth Heroes: Champions of the Wilderness (Dawn, 2009, ages 8 and up), authors Bruce and Carol Malnor explore how people as diverse in time, locale and temperament as Henry David Thoreau, the 19th century “sage of Walden,” and Wangari Maathai, contemporary Africa’s “tree mother” worked, wrote, educated and fought to preserve the wild spaces they found inspiring.

And they did so not just for themselves but for the many species, humans included, in need of their food, shelter and spiritual uplift.

The “Become a Hero” section at the end invites readers to discover their own wild space, suggests ways to explore it (take a night hike, for example, or build a tree fort) and asks them to reflect on the legacy of these heroes–John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Margaret Murie–when deciding how they, too, might make a difference.

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 for activities connected with Mary’s books.