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.
2. Why did you decide to move your class outside, and how long have you been having Forest Days?
3. What do your outdoor class days include? Do the students have a schedule for Forest Days?
4. What are some benefits your students gain by having class outside?
5. Do many schools have outdoor classes? Is this becoming more popular?
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!)
- Snowflake Craft (And why they have 6 sides)
- Butterfly Craft
- Spider Web Craft
- Bee Pollination Craft/Activity
- Engraved Art Print Craft
[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.”