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Andrews, Jane, The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children.
The three books that stand at the end of this brief list are probably not ones that any teacher would recommend indiscriminately to pupils of the grades. They are the greatest of the classic books in nature literature and, in a way, constitute the goal of nature lovers.
SECTION IX. NATURE LITERATURE
INTRODUCTORY What it is. In recent years teachers have heard much talk about "nature study" in the grades. The demand for this study has led publishers to print many so-called "nature books" that have neither scientific fact nor literary worth to justify their existence. Confusion may be avoided and time may be saved if teachers will remember that nature literature, as here defined, is a form of literature, and that its purpose therefore is primarily to present truth (not necessarily facts) in an entertaining way.
The selections in this section are not intended to furnish material for a scientific study of nature. They are nature literature. Some of them present scientific facts that add to the literary worth by making the stories more entertaining, but the selections are given because they illustrate various types of nature literature and the work of famous writers of nature literature, not because they present scientific facts.
Some types of nature literature. One of the oldest forms of nature literature is the beast tale in which animals are represented as talking and acting like human beings. Stories of this type entertain while they reveal the general nature of various kinds of animals. Fables should not be called nature literature, because their chief purpose is to criticize the follies of human beings. Some of the Negro folk tales that Joel Chandler Harris collected are nature literature of this type. Beast tales, however, are not all old. Stories by such modern authors as Thornton W. Burgess and Albert Bigelow Paine, who are represented in this section, may be called beast tales. They are popular in the primary grades.
Another type of nature literature, quite different from that just discussed, has been produced during the last century by students of nature who endeavor to hold strictly to facts in their writing. This may be called realistic nature literature. Henry Thoreau, John Burroughs, Olive Thorne Miller, and Dallas Lore Sharp may be mentioned as writers of this kind of literature. As we read their books, we usually feel that they are endeavoring to relate incidents as they actually occurred. Also we recognize that they are great students of nature, for they perceive details that we might not notice and they draw or suggest conclusions that we may accept as true, although we might never think of drawing the conclusions. Nature literature of this kind may be no less entertaining than fairy tales, for it may, in a pleasing way, reveal wonders in nature. The selections by Dallas Lore Sharp and Olive Thorne Miller in this section are of this kind. Most of the writings of Henry Thoreau and John Burroughs are in a style too difficult for pupils in the grades.
A third type may be called nature romance. Its purpose is both to entertain and to awaken sympathy and love for animals. Stories of this kind, like other romances, idealize the characters and may have a strong appeal to the emotions.
Of the stories in this section, we may classify as nature romance Beatrix Potter's "Peter Rabbit," Sewell Ford's “Pasha, the Son of Selim," Ouida's "Moufflou, and Rudyard Kipling's "Moti Guj-Mutineer."
A fourth kind of nature literature, sometimes called nature fiction, has been developed within the last quarter of a century and is already recognized as excellent. The plot is created by the author, although it may be based on fact, and usually is simple and rambling. One purpose of these stories is to show truly how animals live and act, just as one purpose of a novel or typical short story is to show truly how people live and act. If the author is a skillful story-teller and a good student of nature, the story may make the reader feel that he has become acquainted with a particular kind of animal and even with an individual animal. For example, the story "Last Bull," by Charles G. D. Roberts, has an effect on the reader not entirely unlike that of one of Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales. Prominent among the authors of this very interesting and instructive form of literature may be mentioned Charles G. D. Roberts, Ernest Thompson Seton, William J. Long, and Dallas Lore Sharp.
Its place in the grades. Nature literature seems to have a place of increasing importance in schools, especially in grades above the third. Many excellent books of what we have called the fiction type and the realistic type have a charming spirit of outdoor life and adventure that makes them pleasing substitutes for the objectionable dime novel. One should not assume that these nature stories would be of less interest and value to the country child than to the city child. Too often country children have not been taught to think of animals as "little brothers of the field and the air." These nature stories, without any spirit of preaching or moralizing, show children how to enjoy nature, whether it be in the country or the city. They teach the child to form habits of observation that encourage healthful recreation. A boy who has understood the spirit of Roberts, Seton, and Sharp is not likely to find the village poolroom attractive. Nature literature, however, need not be taught merely for moral and practical purposes, for it has come to be literature of artistic worth, and as such it has earned a place among other kinds of literature for children.
SUGGESTIONS FOR READING
A good summary article is “The Rise of the Nature Writers," by F. W. Halsey, in Review of Reviews, Vol. XXVI, p. 567 (November, 1902). The most valuable critical article is “The Literary Treatment of Nature" in John Burroughs, Ways of Nature (also in Atlantic Monthly, Vol. XCIV, P. 38 (July, 1904]). In the violent controversy about "nature-faking” which raged some years ago, two articles will give clearly the positions of the contending parties: first, the attack by John Burroughs in "Real and Sham Natural History," Atlantic Monthly, Vol. XCI, p. 298 (March, 1903), and, second, the reply to Burroughs by William J. Long in “The School of Nature Study and Its Critics," North American Review, Vol. CLXXVI, p. 688 (May, 1903).
radishes; and then, feeling rather sick, One of the most popular series for very he went to look for some parsley.
young children is that known as the Peler But round the end of a cucumber Rabbit Books after the favorite hero of
frame, whom should he meet but Mr. the early tales. The author is Beatrix
McGregor! Potter, an English woman. In plan these
Mr. McGregor was on his hands and little books resemble the “toy-books” of
knees planting out young cabbages, but the eighteenth century in having a bit of text on the left-hand page face a picture
he jumped up and ran after Peter, wavon the right. The entire text of "The ing a rake and calling out, “Stop thief!” Tale of Peter Rabbit” is given, but of
Peter was most dreadfully frightened; course text and pictures are so completely he rushed all over the garden, for he one that much is lost by separating them. had forgotten the way back to the gate. Children should meet Peter Rabbit before He lost one of his shoes amongst the their school days begin.
cabbages, and the other shoe amongst
the potatoes. THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT
After losing them, he ran on four legs BEATRIX POTTER
and went faster, so that I think he might Once upon a time there were four have got away altogether if he had not little Rabbits, and their names were unfortunately run into a gooseberry net, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter. and got caught by the large buttons on
They lived with their mother in a his jacket. It was a blue jacket with sand bank, underneath the root of a brass buttons, quite new. very big fir tree.
Peter gave himself up for lost, and shed “Now, my dears," said old Mrs. Rab- big tears; but his sobs were overheard bit one morning, “you may go into the by some friendly sparrows, who flew to fields or down the lane, but don't go him in great excitement, and implored into Mr. McGregor's garden. Your him to exert himself. father had an accident there; he was Mr. McGregor came up with a sieve, put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor. Now which he intended to pop upon the top run along, and don't get into mischief. of Peter; but Peter wriggled out just I am going out."
in time, leaving his jacket behind him, Then old Mrs. Rabbit took a basket and rushed into the tool-shed, and and her umbrella, and went through jumped into a can. It would have been the wood to the baker's. She bought a a beautiful thing to hide in, if it had loaf of brown bread and five currant not had so much water in it. buns.
Mr. McGregor was quite sure that Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, who Peter was somewhere in the tool-shed, were good little bunnies, went down the perhaps hidden underneath a flower-pot. lane to gather blackberries; but Peter, He began to turn them over carefully, who was very naughty, ran straight to looking under each. Mr. McGregor's garden, and squeezed Presently Peter
sneezed "Kertyunder the gate.
schoo!" Mr. McGregor was after him First he ate some lettuces and some in no time, and tried to put his foot French beans; and then he ate some upon Peter, who jumped out of a window,