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Loree Griffin Burns offers tips on how children can get involved in nature research

Loree Griffin Burns encourages children to get closer to nature in “Citizen Scientists.’’ELLEN HARASIMOWICZ/Ellen Harasimowicz

Walking in a meadow with her 10-year-old daughter, Catherine, was an eye opener for Loree Griffin Burns. She suggested they look for ladybugs or caterpillars, but her daughter wanted to find a monarch butterfly chrysalis. Burns tried to change her daughter’s mind because she knew of adults who had searched for years without success.

Imagine her surprise when she turned around and saw her daughter “nose to pupa with a chrysalis . . . She was studying the golden threads, the droplets of dew, the silken pad holding the whole thing up,’’ Burns writes in her new book “Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard’’ (Holt).


Burns, a former research scientist who lives in West Boylston, explains that children have some natural advantages. Because they’re shorter than adults, they’re often closer to nature. In addition, their senses are gaining acuity, and they have a capacity to stay focused. “Citizen Scientists’’ provides instruction for children interested in joining hands-on research efforts and highlights the contributions children have made in studying monarch butterflies, birds, ladybugs, and frogs.

In fact, two citizen science projects to study frog populations were launched in the late 1990s after Minnesota schoolchildren on a field trip were struck by how many deformed frogs they saw. Frogs can be studied by day or night, by sound or sight, making them ideal research subjects for busy children and their parents.

Snyder wins Thoreau award

Gary Snyder, friend to Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and all of the natural world, has been called “the Thoreau of the Beat Generation.’’ Yet the Beat writers were largely urban creatures and Snyder is not. An early adherent of the back-to-the-land movement, Snyder writes passionately in poems and essays about nature and its importance to every civilization. “Nature is not a place to visit, it is home,’’ he wrote. This week he will travel from his home in California to accept PEN/New England’s Henry David Thoreau Prize for excellence in nature writing.


Snyder’s writings are informed by his study of Native American culture and Buddhism but they also show his keen awareness of the material world. In parsing the meaning of the phrase “wild and free,’’ he admits it sounds like a Harley-Davidson ad.

In 1975, Snyder won a Pulitzer Prize for the poetry collection, “Turtle Island,’’ and the prizes have kept on coming. In announcing a major award from the Poetry Foundation in 2008, Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine, summed up Snyder’s oeuvre, calling it “a testament to the sacredness of the natural world and our relation to it, and a prophecy of what we stand to lose if we forget that relation.’’

The award ceremony and reading by Snyder will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday in MIT Room 10-250 at 77 Mass. Ave., Cambridge.

Coming out

■“Trading Manny: How a Father & Son Learned to Love Baseball Again’’ by Jim Gullo (Da Capo)

■“Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis’’ by Alice Kaplan (University of Chicago)

■“Queen of the Conqueror: The Life of Matilda, Wife of William I’’ by Tracy Joanne Borman (Bantam)

Pick of the week

Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn., recommends “The Lifeboat’’ by Charlotte Rogan (Reagan Arthur): “Grace is the 22-year-old narrator of this harrowing tale of the sinking of an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic from England in 1914. Paranoia and power struggles surface as this novel becomes a study of human nature. As Rogan writes, ‘It was not the sea that was cruel, but the people.’ ’’


Jan Gardner can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @JanLGardner.