I sit at my desk, fidgeting and fuming. This is intolerable. I mean, I know my rights.
I gaze out the window at green fields edged with trees. The sun glows in a cloudless June sky. I can hardly sit still. They have NO RIGHT to keep me indoors on such a beautiful day. After all, third graders have rights too.
So when the next day dawns even more alluring, I decide to take the law into my own hands. I’m just not going to school.
In those long-ago days, I walked to school, and on that bright spring morning, I decided to head for the woods instead of the classroom. I’ll just take the day off. No one will notice.
Unfortunately, my bid for freedom was brief and ended, predictably, in the principal’s office. My impassioned plea that it was too sunny to learn fractions was for some reason ignored.
I’ve never forgotten being that kid gazing out the window. And to this day, everything I write comes from that long-ago memory of longing to go outside.
Sadly, most kids these days spend very little time outside. And what time they do spend outdoors is usually on the mowed lawns of athletic fields.
Kids don’t wander in the woods or climb trees or hunt for tadpoles or just mess around in nature. To many children, the outdoors is a scary place—caterpillars might be poisonous, and spiders could bite. There’s even poison ivy out there.
So I set out to write books that will help kids confront their fears of the unknown. My books are set, not in a rain forest or outer space, but close to home, to create possibilities for outdoor exploration in every child’s backyard or local park.
I try to encourage close-up, hands-on, get-dirty experiences. It’s okay, I want to say to all those anxious kids standing on the blacktop. The spider won’t hurt you. This is what poison ivy looks like. It’s okay.
My book Leaflets Three. Let It Be: The Story of Poison Ivy highlights all the good things about, yes, poison ivy. (Did you know it’s an important survival food for cardinals and bluebirds?) And it teaches kids how to identify the plant so that they can safely avoid it.
My most recent book, Rotten! Vultures, Beetles, and Slime: Nature’s Decomposers, focuses on stuff kids think of as disgusting or scary: fungus, tarantulas, and one of my personal favorites—slugs. At the heart of every chapter is that younger version of myself, lingering on the walk home from school to capture grasshoppers and marvel at all the amazing critters thriving under a log. I hope to persuade readers to view even the icky side of nature with curiosity and excitement. Even the grossest creepy-crawler has a place in nature’s web and a fascination of its own.
With each book I write, I try to create a road map to get kids out of the house and into the backyard, or the local park, or a nearby nature center. I want them to relax and think of nature as a place that’s safe, fun, and welcoming. My passion is to give young readers the knowledge to explore the outdoors safely, and the confidence to stray off the sidewalk. To look closer, ask questions, get muddy.
I hope my readers will collect rocks, pick up worms, hunt for salamanders, look under rotting logs—and find an adventure that can last all their lives.
As a writer, Anita Sanchez is especially fascinated by plants and animals that no one loves. Her books are intended to get kids excited about the wonders of the natural world. Anita worked as an environmental educator for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and developed curricula for environmental science programs serving thousands of students. Many years of field work, leading children on nature walks, have given her firsthand experience in introducing students to the terrors and joys of nature.