Book Release: OUT OF SCHOOL AND INTO NATURE (+Book Giveaway!)

Today I’m excited to introduce Anna Comstock, the pioneering scientist featured in my newest book — OUT OF SCHOOL AND INTO NATURE (Illus. by Jessica Lanan.) Anna was an important role model who boldly changed the “rules” of her day by proving that women could be researchers, scientists, and even college professors. In a word, she was remarkable!

In addition to being a scientist (at a time when women were discouraged from pursuing the sciences,) Anna was also an accomplished artist, groundbreaking educator, author, and the first woman to be named a professor at Cornell University. She is one of only four women inducted into the National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Hall of Fame. Surprisingly, few people have heard about Anna Comstock. Hopefully this book will help change that.

         

I discovered Anna Comstock years ago when I was invited to give an author presentation at Prairie Crossing Charter School. PCCS is an environmentally focused school — in their curriculum, their buildings, and the basic way they operate. During my visit I noticed a lovely wood building with an “Anna B. Comstock” plaque over the door. I soon learned this was the first LEED Certified school building in Illinois (ie. super eco-friendly.) The Comstock building was constructed with many “green” components such as recycled newspaper ceiling tiles, bamboo flooring, recycled clay tiles, and it was equipped with energy saving motion sensor lights and sinks.

           

Intrigued by the Comstock building, I investigated Anna and learned about this smart, determined woman who passionately pursued her interest in nature. And before I knew it, I’d found the next story I wanted to write.

So I dug deeper into research and contacted experts at Cornell University, read Anna’s autobiography, THE COMSTOCKS OF CORNELL, as well as other books she’d written and/or illustrated.

     

(Sidenote: I borrowed a very old copy of Anna’s book, HOW TO KEEP BEES, from Northwestern University. According to its “checkout card” (remember those?), the book was first checked out in 1917!)

I also enjoyed researching Anna’s engraved artwork. To create these detailed prints, she first carved hundreds of fine lines into a block of wood, then rolled ink over her wood carving and pressed paper on top. Below are a few engraved prints Anna created for an insect book her husband, Harry, wrote. (They both loved nature and bugs. Such a perfect match!)

The illustrator for OUT OF SCHOOL AND INTO NATURE, Jessica Lanan, cleverly included wonderful recreations of Anna’s fine insect artwork in her illustrations.

             

Jessica also did an incredible job of capturing Anna’s inquisitive spirit and love of nature. She created these two magnificent “mirror” spreads which show Anna as a curious, young girl exploring nature, and Anna in her final days spending time with her first love — nature.

Fortunately, the publisher (Sleeping Bear Press) was able to obtain permission to include Anna’s stunning “Three Butterflies” engraved art piece in the “Author’s Note” section of the book, so readers can see her actual work up close.

While writing this book I kept trying to think of the best title to describe Anna’s passion and accomplishments. Finally, I selected OUT OF SCHOOL AND INTO NATURE because Anna strongly believed students should experience nature first-hand and encouraged teachers to take their classes outside to study nature. In fact, Anna started an outdoor nature study program in New York which eventually grew into a nationwide program.

Today many teachers concur with Anna’s belief that outdoor classes are the best way to help students investigate and discover the wonders of nature. At Ottauquechee School in Vermont, teachers Eliza Minnucci and Meghan Teachout started ForestKinder to promote outdoor kindergarten classes called Forest Days. In fact, their kindergarten students spent every Thursday outside (rain or shine!) In time, more teachers joined in, and their school now has Forest Days twice a week. Like Anna Comstock, these innovative teachers understand that outside exploration is very beneficial for students.

I was curious about how outdoor classes work, so one of the Forest Day teachers, Eliza Minnucci, kindly agreed to answer a few questions.

1.  First, did Anna Comstock inspire you in any way?
I’m inspired by the breadth of her influence. Her emphasis on being in nature, and using children’s natural curiosity to lead them to develop relationships with nature, with animals, with each other by directly engagement is an idea that I think many educators of young children arrive at again and again naturally. I think she’d be pleased to spend a day with my class in the woods! I hope that the resurgence that nature-based education is experiencing now will bring more people back to her work.
2. Why did you decide to move your class outside, and how long have you been having Forest Days?
After seeing the documentary Schools Out, I was inspired to have students outside, but did not actually think it possible in our educational culture. However my principal encouraged me, and so I called upon Meg Teachout to partner with and we got underway. There are so many reasons we started taking the kids outside. For five year olds I believe it is a better place to learn — even traditional academics. I also wanted to give my students authentic opportunities to develop independence, grit, compassion and curiosity. We’re in our 4h year of Forest Days, and find that the setting and experiences continue to deliver on our goals. Our students are challenged in ways different from in the classroom, they have different and more positive social interactions, they develop responsibility, and they relish the variety and depth of learning the forest provides.
 
3. What do your outdoor class days include? Do the students have a schedule for Forest Days?
In our class we have a rhythm of routines every Forest Day. During morning classroom time students write and illustrate “Forest Plans” in their Forest Journal, while also taking turns answering a focusing question of the day. At least once a month we use the tremendous guide book Naturally Curious by Mary Holland to spark thoughts about what might be happening in our woods. After dressing for the day, we hike up to our forest space and start with “Sit-Spots.” Sit-Spots is an idea from Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young. Each student has a space in the forest and on Forest Days everyone spends fifteen minutes in their spot — quiet, by themselves. It’s an observational, introspective time to get centered before the day begins. We then have a whole group morning meeting that follows the same Responsive Classroom routines the students do inside. We greet each other, share our observations of the forest, do an active game and review the Morning Message (the question of the day the students engaged with upon entering the classroom in the morning.). We check the temperature, then head to explore or free play time. This is a long period of time that is open to student choice. Often there is cooking to be done, or a project or expedition on offer (collect birch bark for the fire, sweep out the shelter…), but mostly students play of their own design — lots of building and pretend play. We gather for snack, then split into small groups for teacher directed stations. These stations reflect current classroom units in math, literacy and science, as well as seasonal inspiration from the woods. We gather around the fire again for lunch, and often a read aloud. After lunch there is usually more free play and exploration before we hike back to school in time for related arts class.
4.  What are some benefits your students gain by having class outside?
We are forced to plan in a way that is more developmentally appropriate…for example, students can run between teacher directed stations (leaping over logs and slogging through snow), and we can use gross motor movement much more in our actual lessons. We can be louder, we can take up more space and spread out during play, so there are more opportunities for independent social interactions. Our students get a better sense of their environment and their place in the environment. For example, they get way better at dressing themselves appropriately, and they get pretty accurate at guessing the temperature. They become much more responsible managing their bodies and their belongings through all kinds of weather. They learn to use non-fiction texts authentically and eagerly, as we use guidebooks frequently. They develop a sense of pride in all the things they do — stay outside in really cold temperatures, spend hours out in the rain (when everyone else has inside recess!), tap trees, haul sap and make syrup, build shelters, use an outdoor bathroom, cook over a fire… I could go on and on!
5.  Do many schools have outdoor classes? Is this becoming more popular?
There are more than a dozen classrooms in Vermont, and nationwide even more, who are following this model pretty closely. Outdoor days are definitely becoming popular. I have been amazed by the way this idea has resonated with teachers. We count new teachers among those in mid-career and near retirement who have latched onto this idea and brought it into schools of a variety of sizes and resources. I present at conferences across New England (and in April, in Vancouver, BC!) and my workshops are always bursting at the seams with attendees. I continue to be shocked that so many others share my passion, but it is a welcome surprise! Also welcomed is how earnestly these teachers develop their outdoor programming with their students. Check out the blogs from just a sampling of classrooms we’ve been in touch with http://forestkinder.org/forest-day-blogs/.
 

Well, I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about one of our early science pioneers, Anna Comstock, and how her passion for nature has helped several generations of kids fall in love with nature.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Book Giveaway * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If you’d like to enter to win an autographed copy of OUT OF SCHOOL AND INTO NATURE, simply leave a comment on this post. A winner will be selected March 15th — the day the book officially releases! (Though it’s available for pre-order now!)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * BONUS! Student activities which tie-in with the nature topics in the book * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

[Pssst!  Starting March 4, you can also enter to win an autographed copy of OUT OF SCHOOL AND INTO NATURE on Goodreads Giveaways!]

Kirkus *Starred* Review, OUT OF SCHOOL AND INTO NATURE – “An inspirational must-read for budding scientists and those who teach them.”

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade is the author of more than 100 books–all nonfiction. A mechanical engineer by degree, she enjoys writing about science topics and fascinating, little-known facts about historical figures. Recent picture books include: The Music in George's Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue (4 Starred Reviews!), Friends for Freedom, With Books and Bricks, The Inventor’s Secret (2017 NSTA Best STEM Book, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt), and Out of School and Into Nature (Sleeping Bear, 2017). Coming soon -- Dangerous Jane (Peachtree, 2017), 2982 Days (Peachtree, 2018), and The Daring Dozen (Charlesbridge, 2019). Learn more about Suzanne and her books at: www.suzanneslade.com

108 Comments:

  1. I lead a “GIrls with Grit” bookclub at my school and this book would be a wonderful addition to my collection on amazing women and girls! Thanks for the chance to win!

  2. So much to be excited about with this new book. . . my personal love of science, the overdue celebration of a female superstar, your thorough investigation and keen observations of this pioneering scientist, and Jessica’s gorgeous illustrations!!

  3. What fun your research must have been! Love that you shared the beautiful mirror spreads. Can’t wait to read this beautiful story!

    • Yes, for the most part the research was very fun! (I left out the frustrating parts where I kept running into dead ends, but I guess that’s to be expected with research.) So glad you stopped by Cathy!

  4. What a powerful tribute to a REMARKABLE woman!

  5. I’m excited to read this book and see more of the illustrations. Thanks for sharing the teachers’ experiences, too. I’m always impressed with how much teachers do for their students. I can just feel the pride those kids have when they are the only ones “tough” enough to be outside in the cold/rain.

    • The illustrations are gorgeous throughout the entire book–I just shared a few. So grateful for Jessica Lanan’s talent!
      I agree, it is very impressive all that teachers do for their students and the wonderful opportunities, like these outdoor classes, they give to kids.

  6. My daughter wants to be an artist and a scientist so I’ve been looking for books that show you can be both. She’d love this! Congrats on a beautiful book.

  7. Wow! I can not wait to read this book! Sounds fantastic!!!! Congrats.

  8. What a gorgeous book, Suzanne! Congratulations, can’t wait to read and see it!

  9. oh this looks wonderful…can’t wait to read it!

  10. Thank you, Suzanne, for introducing young readers to Someone They Should Know!
    Gorgeous.
    I love your Success!

  11. Wow! What a wonderful book and an awesome woman! I was a bona fide tomboy as a child, as was my daughter. The importance of teaching kids in and about nature cannot be stressed enough, especially in this day and age, where kids spend so much time indoors, staring at screens. I’m going right over to the library to try to find this book, so I can read it to my 6 year old granddaughter! (I hope i can find it there!) Thank you for all your research and for writing it!

    • Now that you mention it, I guess I was a tomboy too. I loved fishing, catching pet turtles and other creatures, and playing outside. I hope your granddaughter enjoys the book. It releases March 15, so next time you’re at the library you could put it on “hold” so you’ll be the first to get it when it arrives, or you can make a “purchase request” to sure the library orders it and has it ready for you. Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Beautiful book. Lovely story. Congratulations!

  13. I have never heard of this amazing woman! I am excited to share this book as apart of my unit on important women for National Woman’s month. Thank you for all your research and love you have put into this story!

  14. I’m so glad to see Anna’s life celebrated in picture book form. Her HANDBOOK OF NATURE STUDY was a treasure book when I homeschooled my son. It continues to be with Anna’s insight, humor, and artistic expression about nature’s bounty. When I see the photograph of her face I feel as if I am looking at an old friend.

    • Erin, your comment makes me so happy! It’s so nice to hear how Anna’s Handbook of Nature Study is still useful today. Did you know it’s been translated into 8 languages and reprinted dozens of times? (So my Author’s Note tells me!) Not many people continue to affect generations of children long after they are gone. Maybe that’s why people called her “The Mother of Nature Education!”

  15. I’m excited to read this — always looking for bios of amazing women that aren’t well known. She’s an awesome role model! And the illustrations are wonderful!

    • Yes, unfortunately Anna Comstock isn’t well known at this point. It is exciting though to hear stories about new women role models. And I loved reading all the interesting details of her life and her determination in her autobiography.

  16. This will be a wonderful addition to our picture book biography collection! Ordering it today and can’t wait to see it!

  17. A perfect book for any elementary school child! Congratulations!

  18. Looks great! Can’t wait to read it!

  19. Absolutely LOVE the concept of Forestkinder! What a wonderful, playful and constructive way to work with this age group. Thank you for this super post that I’m going to share with some kindergarten teacher friends of mine. 🙂

  20. Your book looks so beautiful! Congratulations to you and Jessica!

  21. It’s beautiful -looking forward to reading it!

  22. I’m excited to read this book! We at Prairie Crossing Charter School are glad to have planted this seed!

  23. I love to learn more about the hidden women of history. Thank you for all the research that went into this project.

  24. What an inspiring subject and wonderful book. Congratulations, Suzanne!

  25. This sounds like an amazing book ans woman. I can’t wait for it to be published. Congrats.

  26. Wow – definitely intrigued by this one. Can’t wait to see it myself!

  27. Can’t wait to explore this book!

  28. This blog post was truly a fascinating story within a story. Thank you!

  29. What an amazing woman! And your interview with the Forest Kinder teachers is inspiring and encouraging. Congratulations and thank you, Suzanne.

  30. Thank you so much for introducing us to a new nature friend, and to Forest Days. Raised in a city, I’m wrapping my head around how Forest Days could work.

  31. I love the idea of forest days. Where I teach, we have them once a month, but I would welcome more. I can’t wait to get my hands on this picture book about Anna Comstock and share it with my class.

  32. We need more books like this, nature and strong women!

    • Totally agree! There are so many women pioneers in various fields that are left out of traditional history books. Fortunately, picture books are sharing a lot more of these women’s stories!

  33. I am a nature girl at heart, and I cannot wait to read this, Suzanne!! Congrats! And thanks for introducing me to another naturalist whom I had never heard of. The art looks lovely too.

  34. Suzanne, thank you. This will be the perfect book to add to my daughter’s resource library. A preschool teacher and artist who now directs our local Children’s Museum, she has long advocated for children having plenty of opportunities to explore nature, even more so after reading Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods.” She will love meeting Anna Comstock and sharing her story.

    • What a wonderful preschool teacher to advocate for outdoor learning. I’m so glad Richard Louv is bringing the “nature deficit disorder” of today’s generation into light, and thankful his book has sparked needed conversations on this important topic among educators, parents, and others.

  35. Sandie Vaisnoras

    This looks like a phenomenal book. We NEED this book. After Hidden Figures I’m thinking more people will be wanting to learn about women in science.
    I’m a retired teacher but still involved in schools. I will definitely share with my teachers.

    • Sandie, you and I think alike! And your comments are so timely for me as today I’m working on edits for my upcoming picture book about Katherine Johnson titled A COMPUTER CALLED KATHERINE with my editor at Little Brown. Women have made very important contributions to science and It’s exciting to share them with young readers. (fyi – I have an engineering degree and worked on rockets in my previous engineering life!)

  36. Such a beautiful book. I enjoy toiling in the soil, planting vegetable and flower seeds, and tending to them in our garden on the Illinois Prairie. Thank yo for introducing me to a lovely story about Anna Comstock.

  37. Thanks for writing about such an amazing and inspirational woman! Love the illustrations too. Congratulations!

  38. Wow! I love the idea of Forest Days and wish more schools could do that. So glad you were inspired to explore Anna Comstock’s life, Suzanne!

    • I agree. Forest Days would be an incredible experience for all school children! I’m so glad my visit to Prairie Crossing School in Graylake (where they do a lot of classes outside) introduced me to Anna! Thanks for stopping by Patti!

  39. This sounds fabulous, Suzanne. I can’t wait to read your book and learn more about Anna Comstock. I wish I could have attended a school every day of Forest Days. Great continued good fortune to you and all your wonderful books. You’re doing great things for young readers (and not so young readers;-)

  40. Congratulations, Suzanne! Always thrilling to see what you’re writing. You and the subjects of your books are an inspiration to girls AND women!

  41. Ah, so many great ingredients: nature, art, creative education, pioneering woman. And delightful illustrations. Looking forward to getting a copy for my granddaughter! All best wishes with the book.

  42. Love this book about Anna!

  43. Lindsay H Metcalf

    This sounds like a lovely book, Suzanne. Congratulations!

  44. Can not wait to read.
    And, she has a great first name.
    Wonderful post.

  45. What a rich post–so much to chew on here! Thank you for sharing your process and Anna with us and for sharing about the innovative Forest Days teachers! (I wonder if we have any of those in Kansas City?) So looking forward to the release of your book, which I will be sharing with all the “littles” in my life. 🙂

  46. Been using Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study for 12 years now in my homeschool. Can’t wait for the picture book. Perfect addition to our living book collection. And scientist biographies are a particular favorite in our house.

    • Anna’s Handbook of Nature Study is so wonderful! I spent many months reading it while doing research for this book. Your homeschool students are very fortunate indeed! Thanks for stopping in!

  47. I am so excited about this book. Thank you for hosting this giveaway!

  48. This looks fantastic! Such a lovely resource to go with her book.

    • Actually, I hope it works the other way around. I hope this picture book helps many readers find Anna’s wonderful resource — her Handbook of Nature Study. Thanks for stopping by!

  49. What a lovely looking book! We use Handbook of Nature Study frequently in our homeschool. I’m excited to read more about her!

  50. what a beautiful book! looking forward to reading it 🙂

  51. Rebecca McKinney

    Looks beautiful and long overdue! Can’t wait to share it with my children!

  52. So inspiring! As a homeschool mom I often send the kids out while I take a break inside. But the idea of doing a whole day outside occasionally is very appealing. We have the Handbook but I didn’t know much about its lovely author.

  53. I use Ambleside Online as our homeschool curriculum, and nature study is centered around Comstock’s book. As a female biologist, I can tell you her book is fantastic! I can’t wait to take a look at your book. I think my boys will enjoy it.

    • Oh, Lori, how wonderful to hear! Isn’t it amazing that Anna wrote that book so long ago yet it is still so valuable today? It’s even been translated into eight languages. Thanks for sharing and I hope you enjoy learning a bit about Anna Comstock!

  54. This is amazing and encouraging and inspiring! We love to have nature days and I love the directed learning on the forest days. Pure awesomeness!

  55. Excited to look into her life more closely. Thank you!

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