Cover Image: Beasts at Bedtime

Beasts at Bedtime

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Member Reviews

This is an interesting book, and while I applaud the efforts of the author to bring the environmental underpinnings found in children's literature, it was a little to mature for my young readers. I had hoped to be able to use it as a way to bring climate issues into the literature classroom, especially in an age of climate change deniers.  I will definitely keep it in mind for future classes., however.
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Thank you University of Chicago Press and Netgalley for this ARC in return for my honest review.

I was interested in this book initially thinking it would offer bedtime stories for our family.  I was mistaken, however the book I did receive was a well researched, lovingly compiled selection of storytelling and the environment elements contained within. 

As the author states it is “complex knowledge contained  in seemingly sparse storytelling”.

The author, a Zoologist, recollects childhood books including the Grimms Tales, Harry Potter, Where the Wild things are; to name a few and examines, through 7 sections their inter-relatedness to nature.  

A great book for animal and environment  lovers to meander through slowly and enjoyably.
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Reviewed this book and apparently this must be 100 characters long
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Creative and perfect collection of stories -- we enjoyed evenings reading this book together -- well written
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Goodreads Rating: 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

Immense amounts of children’s literature is set in or around nature, and this book highlights both the obvious and the hidden links to nature that abound in this genre of books.

It was interesting to read about literature from a scientists point of view. Heneghan doesn’t just take a scientific and ecological look at the stories, but also a philosophical-meets-scientific look, which makes for some less than direct assumptions and conclusions in many of the essays. But overall, the collection encourages the reader to think of children’s lit as a cornerstone in environmental literacy as a whole and suggests that parents should do more to encourage this literacy beyond bedtime stories.

Split into four sections, focusing on pastoral, wilderness, islands, and urban (or lack thereof) settings, and on conservation and care of nature, each essay takes one, sometimes two, examples of prominent children’s literature ranging all levels of reading and focuses on the environmental, ecological, and/or conservation aspect of the story and how these help to shape a child’s view of nature (almost always, it’s for the better). While it will be helpful if you’ve read the book or story in question, it is not a prerequisite to know it, as Heneghan provides summaries of the important parts that pertain to the environmental thesis.

There were lots of interesting questions raised throughout the book, and the overall idea to pay more attention to the environmental wisdom in kids lit, even if it’s not obvious at first, is something I am definitely going to keep in mind when I read kids books now. However, the individual essays were hit or miss in their focus. Some directly addressed how a plot aspect or symbol conveyed an important call to nature–the "Where the Wild Things Are" essay concluding that “wilderness is where we are not,” for example–but others waxed more philosophically on the natural aspect of a book without really stating its importance or relevance to the thesis as a whole–the essays on how magic and natural history and knowledge tend to go hand-in-hand were interesting highlights, but didn’t really prove anything. Is nature supposed to be equivalent to magic and vice versa? Could magic not exist without nature? The conclusions on some essays were very muddled, at least for someone who was casually reading this, as opposed to reading it for an analysis. Some of the definitions used were also a bit too broad and never defined succinctly; rather the definitions were gleaned as I continued reading.

In the end though, the conclusion is one I definitely agree with: that it’s important for kids to have a balance of vicarious environment (cozying up with a good book indoors) and actual environment (getting out, playing, and being exposed to the nature that is found in the books), and that parents should help their kids to learn more about their environment and how they can appreciate it like the characters in their books do.

If you’re at all interested in children’s and/or environmental lit, there’s bound to be at least a couple of essays in here that will peak your interest and encourage you to take a second look at just how much nature there truly is in children’s lit.
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This is a fascinating exploration of environmental wisdom in children literature. It is beautifully written and is accessible to the general reader. 

Liam Heneghan is a zoologist whose passion and love for the natural world truly shines through in the text. He argues that most, if not all, children's stories have an environmental component that young readers can learn from. Parents and educators are provided with an arsenal of tools that they can use to promote environmental literacy in young readers. Environmental themes are explored in various stories such as the Grimm fairytales, Peter Rabbit, Where the Wild Things Are, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Calvin and Hobbes and many others. I really enjoyed going down memory lane and revisiting these childhood favourites!

As environmental calamities continue to increase, it is important that future generations have the tools and knowledge they need to be stewards of this changing world. If you instill a deep love and an empathetic connection to the natural world at a young age, this will only continue to grow. 

Thanks to University of Chicago Press and Netgalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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