Beautiful Living Books for Summer Learning

I stumbled upon these beautifully illustrated and charmingly told books by Gladys Conklin at a library book sale. Gladys was a librarian who founded the Hayward Library Bug Club in the 60’s in response to the interest of local children and driven by her passion as a naturalist. What a cool lady! I am trying to get an understanding for myself of Charlotte Mason’s definition of “living books,” and I think Conklin’s picture books are a good example of what a living book consists of for the younger set especially as we head into a summer that will be filled with lots of interesting critters.


Funny story, as I was reading this book to my bird (I read aloud to my parakeet, Georgie) I felt something crawling on my neck, and it was a spider!!! I flipped out and had to have my mom come over right away, I was that freaked out. Pretty ironic huh?


I am someone who is SUPER picky about illustrations. They MUST be beautiful or creative or vibrant or else I will not consider it. Corny 90’s illustrations are NOT allowed ever. Told you I was picky. These books do not disappoint on this front. Actually the jacket description says it was important to both author and illustrator “to present the subject with beauty.” Music to my ears when so many science books aren’t beautiful!


“Only the insect behavior which the very young observer can himself discover is offered. Yet both the writer and artist have taken great care to treat the subject with scientific respect” (from book jacket). What I really am drawn to about these books is that they are very informative without being overly ‘facty’.


Written in the child’s own voice, the tone is conversational and the story cohesive as opposed to a book of random fact blurbs. (There is a companion volume to “I Like Caterpillars” titled “I Like Butterflies” which I couldn’t get my hands on…grrr)


This book^ taught me things I had no idea about! A caddis fly drops her eggs in pond water, and her babies build a tube of sticks or pebbles around their soft bodies for protection and then emerge from the water fully grown?! Amazing!


When a children’s book can spark an adult’s sense of wonder, it’s one to be cherished!


Perhaps my least favorite^ as it is only about one type of bug. However….


I kind of love how it cheekily dispels the nursery rhyme about the poor ladybug’s burning house and children.


This one^ inspires children to venture out into nature and collect some living creatures to observe and care for. It even has a list at the end of foods to give to each specific animal.


I found the end rather poignant and important: “After a few days, some of them sit and stare at me. I stare at them and I think-I wouldn’t want to be locked up in a strange place. I know it’s time to take them back where I found them. I turn them loose and watch them swiftly disappear.”


This one^ is resplendent. Written as if you were the bird, facts are given a fresh breath of imagination.


And if you can read notes it has notations for each bird’s song.


This last one^ is for the bug-obsessed or -fascinated older kids and adults. There is some good advice if you’re looking to catch/observe bugs in the home or with friends. Don’t know if I’m quite there yet…caterpillars I can do…spiders never.

It is my hope that you will check these out from your library. Just think, they probably haven’t been read and held and loved for maybe 35 years! Conklin was inspiring and passionate, writing books for children that were conversational, approachable, informational, and beautiful! Sounds a lot like a living book to me!


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