Out of School and Into Nature, the Anna Comstock Story by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Jessica Lanan. Sleeping Bear Press Ann Arbor Michigan, 2017.
“From the time she was no higher than a daisy, Anna was wild about nature.” Out of School and Into Nature is a delightful picture book that tells the story of Anna Comstock, a woman ahead of her time. Anna is depicted as a little girl who loved the outdoors and was curious about nature: “She loved to hold it close in her fingers, she wanted to feel it squish between her toes, which is why she ran barefoot all summer…” She would sit for long periods of time, just watching nature. Her mother must have been an exceptional woman as well, as she gave Anna the freedom to learn and explore on her own; to ask questions and to try to find the answers.
Anna pursued science during a time when women simply didn’t do that. Instead of getting married after high school, like most girls, she went on to college to study plants and insects. Anna started drawing the plants and bugs she learned about. Her sketches were so realistic, that her art professor used her drawings during his lectures. In time, farmers studied her sketches to help identify insects that were destroying their crops. Later, Anna used wood blocks to make impressive prints of her creations.
Anna was responsible for introducing nature classes in New York schools. She encouraged teachers to take their lessons outside. At first, this suggestion was met with skepticism. “People thought she was crazy. Didn’t she know school rules? Students learn inside. Students play outside.” Many schools today have incorporated outdoor education into their curriculum.
In 1911, Anna Comstock published a book on nature called the Handbook of Nature Study. At over 900 pages, it contained lessons on a variety of topics. Her book has been translated into eight languages and reprinted frequently.
Teachers who are looking for an engaging biography for younger children will find this book is the perfect choice. It is also an excellent addition to a classroom’s STEAM (A stands for Art) resource shelf. Out of School and Into Nature can easily be used in literacy, science and art lessons. Kids who are interested in bugs will delight in the illustrations, but the message—that Anna pursued her dream of being a scientist against the social mores of the time—is an important one. Anna was a gifted artist and a dedicated scientist as well.
Every April, Northland College in Ashland Wisconsin chooses books in several categories for their Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award (SONWA). Out of School and Into Nature was last year’s choice in the children’s literature category. I have found their award winners to be exceptional children’s literature. This year’s winners have just been announced. To see the winners, honorable mentions and a complete list of past awards, click on this link: https://www.northland.edu/sustain/soei/sonwa/