“The idea that urban kids aren’t interested in nature is patently untrue,” says author Mary Quattlebaum of Washington, D.C.
Mary is speaking to the larger world’s tendency to see city kids as uninterested in the natural world just by virtue of where they live. She is quite passionate about helping these kids to connect with the nature around them. Urban youngsters have seen dragonflies, frogs, ants, squirrels, butterflies, and dandelions and are just as curious about them as other children. Mary hopes to acquaint all kids with the idea that creatures live in neighborhoods (or ecosystems) much like their own, full of interesting characters.
Even if they have never met a cow, children almost universally know and love the old song, “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”. E-I-E-I-O! So Mary wrote a book that adapts the old song about a farm to the “neighborhood” of a pond. In Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond, children discover animals like fish, birds, raccoons, and dragonflies, as well as the more recognizable frogs and ducks. “Kids are familiar with their own neighborhoods and communities, and the book’s aim is to show how wild animals, too, live in a community–like Jo’s pond–and benefit one another. The pond is the animals’ ‘neighborhood.'”
Mary knows ponds. After all, she grew up with one. “My dad was kind of like Old MacDonald,” she says. “We lived in the country and had lots of land and animals–but my dad was also a good steward of that land. Over time, he’s planted many trees and wildflowers and created wildlife habitats–and even received a state environmental award recently for his efforts.”
Mary also knows how much kids like stories. Since Mary is the oldest of seven children, her mother often would ask her, “Would you rather do the dishes or read to your brothers and sisters?” So Mary did a lot of reading aloud! Her love of poetry was first fostered by her dad’s bedtime ritual; he would recite nursery rhymes in a very animated call-and-response way. Not surprisingly, Mary eventually went on to get a Master’s degree in English literature with a focus on teaching writing.
With her special feeling for urban children, Mary wrote Jackson Jones and the Puddle of Thorns, Jackson Jones and the Curse of the Outlaw Rose, and Jackson Jones and Mission Greentop, published by Random House. The humorous chapter-book series is about an engaging kid and his (mis)adventures in a city community garden. Her picture book Winter Friends (Random House) is a series of poems about the birds, animals, and snowy fun experienced by a little girl in her city neighborhood.
Mary also has a special feeling for sick children. While teaching evening writing classes through Georgetown University’s continuing education program, she worked days at a children’s hospital as a medical writer, where she met her husband, Christopher. Together they developed and ran a volunteer program for two years called Magic Words. As part of this program, the couple regularly visited hospitalized children and encouraged them to write or dictate poems and stories. For these kids, writing became an antidote to boredom, an outlet for pent-up emotions, and a way to explore their creativity through words. Mary offers many such creative activities and writing games through the downloadable activities at dawnpub.com and on her website www.maryquattlebaum.com.