by Sheila Ferguson
Where does an interest and love of nature come from? For most of us, it begins in childhood. Starting when I was a kid, my Dad showed me all kinds of cool things in nature. One memory that stands out is sitting with him on the hillside near our house one evening watching bats flying around. He told me they were catching insects, and how beneficial they were to our vegetable garden. Needless to say, I grew up thinking bats were amazing creatures.
As an adult, that love of nature fueled my interest in nature conservation. A few years ago, I started thinking about what could I do, as an individual, that would help people develop a conservation ethic? As Baba Dioum famously said, “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”
I hit on the idea of writing a children’s book as one small way to introduce children to the natural world around them. Each letter of the alphabet has a photo of a native plant or animal accompanied by brief text. The Native Book of ABCs for Virginia is the first book in what I hope will be a series, one for each state in the U.S.
I also decided that I wanted to target underserved children because learning about nature should be for everyone, not just those who can afford to pay for it. Therefore, I needed to find a nonprofit partner who could obtain grant funding to publish the book and give it away for free to children whose families can’t afford to buy the book.
In 2019 Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy agreed to the partnership, and Executive Director Michael Myers began looking for grant opportunities. In 2021 Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation provided funds to publish and distribute the book to underserved youth in Loudoun County. In 2021 the book was distributed to all Loudoun County Public School students in the first grade. (Since there are underserved youth at all public schools, not just Title 1 schools, the decision was made to distribute the book to all schools.)
I hope to be able to partner with other nonprofits in Virginia to find grant funding for wider distribution throughout the state. As I write books for other states, I would like those to follow the same model of distribution to underserved children at no cost.