Adventure beckons in September with a new school year, a changing season–and an amazing world outdoors. This world might be big as a night sky or tiny as the worm-rich dirt beneath a stone. What might your kids discover?

Green Hour bloggers Kayt and Rebecca have both written recently about traveling with kids and being open to their discoveries. You never know what your child might find playing in that Parisian park or splashing through that Australian mud puddle. And you never know what they might remember.

A few years ago my family and I visited Arizona. Living on the East Coast, my daughter, then 3 1/2, knew towering oaks, mighty maples and even a big-leafed fig tree–but the Southwest cacti, with their spiky, fleshy stems, were a new and thrilling sight. Her outing of choice each day was a visit to the hotel’s cactus garden. She’d play in the sand, arrange pebbles, gently touch the cacti and solemnly peer at a dove nesting in a giant saguaro. She made up stories and asked many questions about that dove and cactus.

Luckily we found the perfect book to both answer her questions and extend her sense of wonder. Cactus Hotel (Henry Holt, 1991, ages 3 to 7) became a read-aloud favorite. In spare, beautiful prose, author Brenda Guiberson follows a saguaro cactus from its stage as a black seed to its initial sprouting to its growth over fifty years to a height of ten feet. The cactus then becomes a home to woodpeckers, elf owls, pack rats and bugs, all vividly recreated in illustrations by Megan Lloyd. Finally old and heavy, the cactus crashes to the ground, where it continues to shelter millipedes, ants, termites and snakes.

Kids intrigued by the 200-year-old life cycle of the saguaro may be fascinated by the ages-old changes in the sand that surrounds it. Sand to Stone and Back Again (Fulcrum, 2009, ages 4 to 9) combines Nancy Bo Flood’s poetic text with stunning photographs by Tony Kuyper. The book gets kids thinking about the vast, interconnected sweep of the natural world, of which they, too, are a part. The opening inspires awe: “I am sandstone. I am always changing, just like you….From one grain of sand, I became a mountain.”

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.

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Published: September 9, 2009