We bought ‘The Wonderland of Nature’, by Nuri Mass, a couple of years ago. You can find a photograph of the cover here.
I’ll admit, I bought the book for its cover. Inside, the book is alive with insects, shells, small animals, plants, rocks, water, seasons and weather, physical and chemical worlds in nature, and the author’s passion for the natural world.
The Wonderland of Nature is for children aged up to 11ish. I am an adult, and in love with it. I began reading a chapter each week to my youngest child, who was interested in insects, and my teenaged son would often ‘arrive’ beside us, to listen. His usual reading material is pitched far above his years, but he found the detailed factual information about lives in the natural world engaging.
Inside The Wonderland of Nature: what you will find.
Each chapter is a story in the life of Nuri Mass’s children, Chris and Tess, and their explorations of nature. Although scientific in content, the text is narrative. You’ll find yourself down an ant hole, or visiting a community of bees, the way that Alice (in Wonderland) found herself down a rabbit hole, and a guest at mad parties. Unlike Lewis Carrol’s fantasy land, the pages of The Wonderland of Nature are full of factual information and truthful retellings and observations of this very real wonderland: nature.
The text does present the natural world as the wonderland that it is, and it is obvious that this presentation is a sincere representation of the author’s interest and adeptness in the subject.
The largest section of the book is devoted to insects. Each insect has its own chapter, and story. The second half of the book has chapters about other small animals, plants, the seashore, and physical and chemical aspects in nature.
This is what sold me the book.
The illustrations are divine. They dance on the pages. I can’t decide whether the illustrations accompany the text, or the other way around.
Apart from their beauty, the best thing about these illustrations is that they are real. There are no dragonflies wearing sunglasses or snails sipping tea. Nature is depicted in realistic, detailed sketches. Many of the drawings are labelled in detail too. This is a great inspiration for children (and adults) to create scientific drawings, or illustrations.
How we use The Wonderland of Nature Book.
We bought this book when my daughter was nine, and read a chapter together, each week. And enjoyed it. That was it. At the time, our mission was spending time together, healing from our time at school, and reigniting all our candles, including our flames of inspiration.
We noticed insects during our walks with new interest, and tried to identify them from their sounds, appearance or habitat, based on what we had read. Sometimes, my daughter carefully sketched and labelled the insects we read about.
At nearly twelve years old, my daughter has asked to revisit the book again. We are reading a chapter or section, four to five times per week. Once again, she is sketching and labelling insects, and she is now also writing narrations (summaries) of what she has read. The result is a kind of insect diary, or handmade reference book. We are observing insect life around us, and noticing daily changes and activities of the insects we reside with, or near.
Why this is a Living Book.
This book is alive, meaning that it is very real, and the text is timeless. Enrichment is not restricted by the ‘suitable age’ that the book is aimed at. That’s the beauty of living books. You come back to them again and again. They’re not the sort you throw out when you’re “past the grade”.
The Wonderland of Nature is Australian.
Being school free for our family has always meant learning through literature, and nature. We steer away from books that are written to ‘teach’, preferring quality, inspiring books that are written from the author’s passion, expertise, or unique creative expression.
Early on in my journey as a school free mum, I discovered that Charlotte Mason called these books, ‘living books‘. I also discovered that many recommendations of living books are for books from the UK, Canada, and the US. For those of us in Australia, that sometimes means that we are reading about places and creatures we aren’t familiar with. The Wonderland of Nature was written about our particular natural wonderland: Australia.
You will find familiar creatures on the pages, no matter where in the world you live. If you live in Australia, you will find some of our unique Southern Hemisphere dwellers on the pages, too.
What to do with all the ‘he’ references.
The Wonderland of Nature was first published in 1964. And it is timeless. At times though, to contradict myself, it reveals signs of its times. For example, insects are generally referred to as ‘he’, unless the author is specifically talking about a queen bee, or another specifically female insect.
My daughter listens along while I read, and comments “or she!” when this happens. When she reads a chapter independently, she often says “hmm, according to THIS BOOK, most insects are boys!”
I reply, “Yep, thank goodness we are not living in the 1960s. Now we have female insects, too”. We discuss and acknowledge the issue.
This book is totally worth its salt, and we acknowledge that, thankfully, even female insects are winning the right to represent themselves in our literature.
Where to find The Wonderland of Nature book.
You can find The Wonderland of Nature at Homeschooling Downunder. Click here to visit their site.
You might find the book listed on sites like Amazon, but it is out of print. Homeschooling Downunder published an updated version in 2007.
The snail photograph used in this post is by Colter Olmstead on unsplash. The dragonfly was taken by the Sensei Minimal team on unsplash.