Give youngsters an outline of a sunflower, and, up to a certain age, they’re just as likely to fill it in with red or purple crayons as they are with yellow. And that’s fine. The point is that they’re engaging with the shape on the page. They’re happy creating.
With the aim of fostering an awareness of, and interest in, native species, the Kansas City Public Library has designed and released a coloring book, Missouri Native Plants, timed to coincide with Earth Day 2022. The plants, insects, and birds included on its 17 pages are those that live in or drop by the prairie garden on the Central Library’s Rooftop Terrace, a favorite local destination since its opening in 2004.
Clare Hollander, the Central Library’s youth services manager, says that the book is for her youngest patrons, but she certainly doesn’t exclude older people who are interested in being able to discern a foxglove beardtongue from a meadow rough blazing star.
The beauty of the rooftop prairie changes with the seasons. “Something’s almost always blooming, but if you don’t know what you’re looking at,” she says, “in the offseason it can look like a bunch of weeds when it’s really a bunch of native plants that have gone to seed.”
One of the Library’s jobs is to put knowledge in the hands of patrons, regardless of the size of those hands. The coloring book, now available at all 10 Library locations, will do just that; our librarians have also put together collections of books and resources that celebrate Earth Day, inspire the inner gardener in all of us, and encourage kids to learn about the natural world through poetry.
If visitors know they’re not looking at a “bunch of weeds” but a native habitat critical to the entire biosphere, they’re more likely to pay attention when that bit of earth and its inhabitants are threatened.
But, Hollander says, “You won’t find stuff in the coloring book about how native prairies are so vital and we’re losing them. None of that stuff. There’s a whole school of thought that we need to tread lightly with little kids; you want them to just learn to love it before you talk about how messed up it all is.”
Hollander and Emily Altman co-created the coloring book and this scavenger hunt for younger patrons. Altman is a computer lab associate at Central and an award-winning illustrator.
Missouri Native Plants is the Library’s latest coloring book; the other two books focus on women’s history.