Nature Literacy: The Creation and Telling of Nature Stories

Summary of the University of Guelph Arboretum seminar titled Nature Speaks: Arboreal Reflection on Nature Stories, February 24, 2001, and of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists’ Workshop titled Literacy: The Creation and Telling of nature Stories, June 7, 2001.

Nature storytelling is an integral part of human development and human history. It is a shared experience between the teller and the listener that transmits feelings and values on the connection and interdependence of humans with their natural world. This workshop was an interactive forum where participants shared ideas and experiences on the use of nature literature in environmental education. 

The Theory: People have experiences, perceive situations, develop attitudes, form values and behave in response to what they learn about their natural and cultural environments.

Storytelling: The art of transmitting ideas and emotions in an entertaining way. Humans are storytelling animals who tell and write stories as a creative activity to express feelings, share ideas, teach and entertain. A good story has something to say, and says it well.

Cultural history of nature stories: The British concentrated on animal fantasies; the Americans on animal conquests; the Canadians on animal stories where the animals acted as themselves, and were not inferior to humans.

Nature stories don’t humanize: “This little piggy went to market” — to buy groceries, or to be slaughtered? Nature stories portray animals as animals. They tell how plants and animals truly live.

Printed words, illustrations, dramatic performances and field trips: All are important. Ninety per cent of perception is through the eyes.

Follow the trail of the fox to tell the tale of the fox: Animals and plants communicate with people through their actions and their inspiration of folklore, rhymes, stories, songs, music, drama, art and sculptures.

Workshop Leader: Paul Aird, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto, and author of Loon Laughter, Ecological Fables and Nature Tales.

Nature Stories and Storytelling: Relevant Readings

  • Aesop. 1998. Aesop: The complete fables. Translated by Olivia and Robert Temple. London, England: Penguin Books.
  • Aird, Paul Leet. 1999. Loon laughter: Ecological fables and nature tales. Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry and Whiteside.
  • Atwood, Margaret. 1972. Survival: A thematic guide to Canadian literature. Toronto, Ontario: House of Anansi Press Limited.
  • Barbeau, Marius. 1962. Folk-songs of Old Quebec. Ottawa, Ontario: National Museum of Canada, Bulletin No. 75.
  • Bettelheim, Bruno. 1977. The uses of enchantment: The meaning and importance of fairy tales. New York, New York: Vintage Books.
  • Bodsworth, Fred. 1987. The last of the curlews. New York, New York; Dodd, Mead & Company.
  • Bosma, Betty.1987. Fairy tales, fables, legends, and myths: using folk literature in your classroom. New York, New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Clark, Ella Elizabeth. 1992. Indian legends of Canada. Toronto, Ontario: McClelland and Stewart Limited.
  • Champagne, Ann. 1982. The wilderness landscape of Canadian poetry. Park News 18(2):14-21.
  • Dunlap, Thomas R. 1992. The realistic animal story: Ernest Thompson Seton, Charles Roberts, and Darwinism. Forest and Conservation History 36 (April): 56-62.
  • Dwyer, Corinne A. 1994. Loon legends: A collection of tales based on legends. St. Cloud, Minnesota: North Star Press of St. Cloud.
  • Egoff, Sheila. 1975. The republic of childhood: A critical guide to Canadian children’s literature in English. Toronto, Ontario: Oxford University Press.
  • Fowke, Edith.1976. Folklore of Canada. Toronto, Ontario: McClelland and Stewart.
  • Fowke, Edith. 1985. Lumbering songs from the northern woods. Toronto, Ontario: NC Press Limited.
  • Fulford, Robert. 1999. The triumph of narrative: Storytelling in an age of mass culture. (CBC Massey Lecture series). Toronto, Ontario: House of Anansi Press Inc. 
  • Garner, Alan. 1984. Book of British fairy tales. New York, New York: Delacorte Press.
  • Gillespie, Angus K., and Jay Mechling (eds.).1987. American wildlife in symbol and story. Knoxville, Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press.
  • Grimm, Jacob. 1972. The complete Grimm’s fairy tales. London, England; Routledge & K. Paul.
  • Gringhuis, Dirk. 1999. Lore of the Great Turtle: Indian legends of Mackinac retold. Mackinac Island, Michigan: Mackinac State Historic Parks.
  • Kennerly, Karen (ed.). 1983. Hesitant wolf and scrupulous fox: Fables selected from world literature. New York, New York: Schocken Books.
  • King, Thomas. 2003. Tne truth about stories: a native narrative (CBC Massey Lecture series). Toronto, Ontario: House of Anansi Press Inc. 
  • La Fontaine, Jean de. 1954. The fables of La Fontaine. Collected and adapted by Marianne Moore. New York, New York; Viking Press.
  • Lannon, Alice, and Mike McCarthy. 1991. Fables, fairies and folklore of Newfoundland. St. John’s, Newfoundland: Jesperson Press Ltd.
  • Larsen, Sven. (ed.) 1955. Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales. Leicester, England; Edmund Ward Publishers Limited.
  • Lüthi, Max. 1976. Once upon a time: On the nature of fairy tales. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
  • Marie, de France. 12th century. Fables: In Old French with English Translations by Harriet Spiegel. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press with Medieval Academy of America.
  • Roberts, Charles G.D. 1902. The kindred of the wild: A book of animal life. Toronto, Ontario; The Copp, Clark Company, Limited.
  • Rosen, Betty.1988. And none of it was nonsense: The power of storytelling in school. Richmond Hill, Ontario: Scholastic.
  • Rosen, Betty. 1993. Shapers and polishers: Teachers and storytellers. London, England; Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.
  • Seton, Ernest Thompson. 1898. Wild animals I have known. Scribners.
  • Seton, Ernest Thompson. 1921.Woodland tales. Garden City, New York; Doubleday, Page & Company.
  • Smelcer, John E. 1992. The raven and the totem: Traditional Alaska Native Myths and Tales. Anchorage, Alaska: A Salmon Run Book.
  • Stott, J.C. 1994. Making stories mean; Making meaning from stories: The value of literature for children. Children’s Literature in Education 25(4): 243-253.
  • Wakan, Naomi (ed.). 1995. Telling tales on the Rim: Folktales from around the Pacific Rim. Victoria, British Columbia; Pacific Rim Publishers.
  • Whitaker, Muriel (ed.). 1978. Great Canadian animal stories. Edmonton, Alberta: Hurtig Publishers.
  • Whitaker, Muriel (ed.) 1980. Stories from the Canadian North. Edmonton Alberta; Hurtig Press.
  • Williams, Mentor L. 1956. Schoolcraft’s Indian legends. East Lansing, Michigan; Michigan State University Press.
  • Wintemberg, W.J. 1950. Folk-lore of Waterloo County, Ontario. Ottawa, Ontario: National Museum of Canada, Bulletin No. 116.
  • Woodcock, George. 1982. Terror and regeneration: The wilderness in art and literature. Park News 18(2):3-8.
  • Yashinsky, Dan. 1994. Next teller: A book of Canadian storytelling. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island: Ragweed Press.
  • Zobarskas, Nola M. 1967. Tundra tales: Chukchi, Koryak, Other Eskimos. New York, New York; Manyland Books.