She’s no fan of centipedes, but Skye Earley loves butterflies. She loves finding caterpillars and watching them turn into winged marvels. Now the 11-year-old hopes to turn other kids onto insects through a new book she’s publishing with her dad.
That’s Chris Earley, interpretive biologist and education co-ordinator at the U of G Arboretum. This spring, he has released not one but two nature books for kids and families – one called Caterpillars, the other called Dragonflies.
They’re not just for kids and families. The new titles have been researched, written and illustrated by kids and families, too.
Released this month by Firefly Books, the 32-page, soft-cover volumes have been authored by Chris and his children.
Skye gets co-author credit for Caterpillars. Dragonflies was co-written by Chris’s 16-year-old son, Nathan, and two friends: Rhiannon Lohr, 19, and Cameron Lohr, 17.
They’re all nature enthusiasts – have been ever since Chris and his buddy Ron Lohr began taking their kids along on bird-watching expeditions. Nathan and Cameron were still in primary school when they started going to dragonfly surveys in Algonquin Park and in Haliburton County and at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ont.
“It was amazing how our kids were not only good at catching dragonflies but they got really good at identifying them,” says Chris.
When someone thought a few years ago of writing a kids’ book about their favourite insects, it made sense to make a combined family project out of that, too.
The kids helped write and organize sections of the books. Chris took many of the photos; some also came from Prof. Steve Marshall, School of Environmental Sciences.
Chris says the books’ format – light on text and heavy on big, colourful photos – is meant to entice children out-of-doors with their parents. “It’s to share that bond you have in nature, whether you know it or not.”
The books outline how to find and identify species, including tips for netting and holding dragonflies and their damselfly cousins. Both books discuss natural history and life cycles, and describe common species found in much of North America.
The caterpillar volume discusses how to raise butterflies and moths from larval stages.
Both Nathan and Skye have handled bugs for years. Skye was only four when she caught a species of dragonfly that hadn’t been seen in Haliburton County. She remembers wanting to bring home a moth she’d found at preschool.
“You get to catch them and watch them eat, get fat, get bigger, turn into cocoons and chrysalises,” she says. She keeps the insects in peanut butter jars on the kitchen table.
She’s not a fan of all bugs. “I don’t like centipedes or earwigs.”
Once a bug collector, always a bug collector, says Nathan. He was 12 when he visited a plant nursery for a job and ended up finding a clubtail dragonfly. “I caught a new clubtail for Waterloo at a job interview. I just grabbed it off a plant.”
Contrasting birding with chasing insects, Chris says, “The really cool thing about dragonflies is there’s a catching aspect to it.”
You need to be fast and adept with the net, wielding it like a lacrosse stick to snare the insect and then flipping the mesh once or twice to trap the bug.
Says Cameron: “You just need good hand-eye co-ordination.”
Now in Grade 12, he plans to study engineering next year. His sister, Rhiannon, is in her first year at the University of Waterloo.
Nathan aims to study environmental law. And Skye? “I want to be a dentist.”
Chris says he doesn’t expect the books will turn kids into biologists. But he hopes to help foster an appreciation of the natural world. “I just want them to go out and see these animals in nature.”
He and Skye are writing two more books about animal tracks and pond life.