Vitamin N

By Richard Louv

Algonquin. 304 pp. $15.95

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Reviewed by

Barbara Hall

'The great teacher Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote that our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. . . . As Heschel advised, take nothing for granted: Everything is phenomenal. Everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed."

That quote is the springboard for Richard Louv's latest book, Vitamin N - N standing for nature.

For some dozen years, Louv, a journalist and author of eight books, has come to lead an international mission called "the children-and-nature movement." N is a clearinghouse of hundreds of nature-empathetic resources. A great example is his list of games for children, such as rede from Tanzania, koabangan from Australia, smuggling the geg from Scotland, and the game of graces from colonial America via France.

Louv quotes Luther Burbank about just how much children can discover and explore in nature: "Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb, brooks to wade in, water lilies, various animals to pet, hay fields, pine cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries, and hornets. And any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of his education."

Louv encourages us to urge our children to mimic animals while hiking. He cites Theodore Roosevelt's way of compensating for his poor eyesight as a child by memorizing bird calls - "which may make him the first U.S. president to tweet."

The book offers a mix of sparkling outlook and common sense. There are, for instance, sporadic references to what Louv calls "sit spots" - indoor and outdoor nests where children can go to gather their forces. And he implores us to "associate nature with wonder and respect, not fear." We are counseled to be in tune with the seasons. The author adds, though, that we should "avoid overexposure."

And beware of ticks.

Then, too, Louv invites us, paradoxically, to "write about the beauty of something ugly." He follows educator Clifford Knapp in this exercise: "Have kids select something in the environment that at first seems ugly or unsightly. Then, they can write a story about that object, describing how it is beautiful. For example, a dragonfly can seem strange up close; but notice how the body on some can seem as bright as a jewel."

Barbara Hall lives and writes in North Dakota.