'Get involved in life': Children's author Lynne Cherry tells why her books stress natural world as precious

The natural world is in dire need of help, and individuals -- especially children -- can make a difference, said Lynne Cherry, an acclaimed children's book illustrator and author and the artist-in-residence at Cornell's Lab of Ornithology.

Her 30-plus children's books, which include such titles as "The Great Kapok Tree" (1990), "A River Ran Wild" (1992), "Flute's Journey" (1997) and "How Groundhog's Garden Grew" (2003), highlight this theme and more. Cherry's research has taken her to Brazil, Costa Rica and Peru to make her books as scientifically accurate as possible.

At the Lab of Ornithology, she is working on a book about citizen science -- how ordinary people and children collect data for studies. The Lab of Ornithology hosts the world's largest citizen science program, Project FeederWatch, in which more than 10,000 bird lovers help track trends in bird populations each year.

Cherry also is researching a book on the ivory-billed woodpecker's cypress swamp habitat, and she will be spending part of March in Arkansas where the woodpecker was sighted.

"All my books are trying to get kids to turn off the TV and get involved in life," said Cherry. "The natural world is just precious, and all of us need to be doing something to protect it."

Much of Cherry's inspiration comes from the devastating day when, as a child, she came home to find that developers had cut down the woods where she spent much of her time.

"When that forest got cut down, I didn't know there was anything I could do," said Cherry. "But kids have tremendous power."

She encourages children to talk to their parents and, when necessary, motivate them into action, such as contacting their congressional representatives. By reading her books, she said, parents and children can learn about the issues.

Cherry's other projects include encouraging schools to plant bushes and native plants to attract birds and create habitat. She is also planning a book on people who are making a difference in the world.

"I thought I might be able to get all the people I need right here in Ithaca," said Cherry, who thinks Ithaca has the potential to serve as a model of an engaged environmentally conscious community for the rest of the world. She encourages people to contact her with examples of such social and environmental leaders at lncherry@aol.com.

Cherry's post as artist-in-residence falls under a visiting scholar status, whereby the Lab of Ornithology provides her with office space, phone, full access to university services and free rein to conduct research while she writes her books. In exchange, the lab will benefit from two or three children's books related to its projects.

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