News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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December 26, 2013

The ‘Neighborwood’: Book helps children learn how to protect environment

TERRE HAUTE — A field mouse, a house mouse and a fox. These are just three of the characters in a local author’s new children’s book that teaches kids about the environment.  

“Neighborwood: Earth Literacy for Kids,” was written and illustrated by April Manning, a graduate of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She is a resident of Hillsdale in Vermillion County.

In the book, Lamb guides the animals  — along with the children reading the book — in exploring the place they call home: “neighborwood.” They learn about the forest, habitats, plants and animals.

The books, Manning said, aim to teach children “to become more socially responsible, show respect for the environment, demonstrate how they are connected with and how they contribute to their environment.”  

Readers are guided through a letter exchange between a house mouse and a field mouse, pen pals who are telling each other about their homes, eating habits and friends.

“Neighborwood” is the first of several books in a “pen pal” series that aims to teach kids about earth literacy, particularly the concepts of diversity, recycling and sense of place. The first book focuses on diversity, an important concept to teach kids early on, Manning said.

“It’s hard to change one’s habits the older you get” so it is important to “foster these values early on in a child’s life,” she said.

Manning sees those as values that are important for children to learn today for future generations.

“I think it’s important to realize that you have an impact on the ecosystem. The natural resources … are not infinite. They need to figure out a way to live cooperatively with nature. It’s really all about their children’s children,” Manning said.

While children of all ages — and adults — can appreciate and benefit from reading the book, Manning said the target audience is children in first and second grades.

Manning, who received a master’s degree in earth literacy from SMWC in 2012, uses the themes taught at the program to teach children about their natural world. The book, which took her about five months to develop, was her thesis project.

These themes should be taught at the beginning of one’s education, Manning said.

“I kept thinking these are things that I wish they began teaching me early,” she said. “It changed my life and my habits.”

So important are these values that Manning, who also did the illustration on the book thanks to her visual communication background, was determined to get it published despite several rejections from publishers who said “they were not interested in educational material for children,” she said.

That made Manning more determined.

“It just spurred me to get the information out there. It’s an educational book but it’s also a fun story,” Manning said.

So she did it herself.

With the help of donations from family and friends, Manning self-published “Neighborwood,” through Trafford Publishing in May. She dedicated it to her father, John Manning, who she credits for “my love for art and my curiosity.”

She is already working on the illustrations for her second book, in which readers can follow the letter exchange between a land turtle and a sea turtle. She hopes that book can be published next year.

And she hopes to keep writing books.

“I would like that to be a part of my future,” Manning said.  

Once retired — which is still many years away — Manning hopes to be a park ranger because it is “another opportunity for me to educate people on the importance of our natural resources and maybe another way to research more books.”

In the meantime, Manning hopes kids take away important lessons from “Neighborwood.”

“I really want them to realize that they are connected with everything and everything is connected to them,” she said.

“I want them to be socially responsible and [show] respect for the environment because it is THEIR environment, not just THE environment.”

“They have to live in it.”

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