Finding the Wild in Children's Eco-Literature: Log Lunch With Sara St. Antoine '88

The season of homecoming and harvest is in full swing in Williamstown, and what better way to celebrate these traditions than hearing from past Williams students while enjoying a locally-sourced meal? This Friday, October 28th, Log Lunch welcomed back Sara St. Antoine ‘88 to speak about environmental change and consciousness in children’s literature. After graduating from Williams with a degree in English and Environmental Studies, Sara went on to get her master’s at the Yale School of the Environment, write for the National Wildlife Federation, World Wildlife Fund, National Audubon Society, and more. Her last novel, Three Bird Summer, was an American Library Association “notable” and was named by the Boston Globe as one of the best children’s books of 2014. She now works as a freelance writer and editor with a longstanding goal of helping young readers connect with the natural world. 

Sara left Williams with an intention to “save the world with stories,” as she puts it. At first, she thought stories could actually teach kids about environmental issues, but later she came to believe they had a deeper, more complicated role in re-enlivening and “re-storying” our relationship to the natural world. As a graduate student, Sara studied how kids were learning about their desert environment in the Southwest, an experience that showed her how the essential work of re-storying has to start with children. Sara was inspired to start a project called “Stories From Where We Live,” a collection of content ranging from songs, articles, journal entries, and more from the different ecoregions of North America that defined each region and gave a sense of people’s relationship to it. The finished product was “a series of literary field guides,” including pieces from First People communities and immigrants alike, providing a picture of those who are shaped by and shape the natural world around them. 

Her work in literature and the environment brought Sara to the conviction that our relationship to nature is defined by how our kids learn about and build their own experience in nature. One of Sara’s central projects in her career has been compiling the top 100 books that connect kids to nature. These titles range from Lord of the Rings, The Snowy Day, The Secret Garden, My Side of the Mountain, Blueberries for Sal, and more. Each title precedes a narrative that conveys our relationship to the natural world with originality and sympathy for the environment and presents protagonists who understand themselves better by spending time outside. The books vary from those that take place entirely outside to those in urban settings. They have characters like those from Maine in Blueberries for Sal and also represent the Cree-Métis Indigenous worldview in Wild Berries. For Sara, these are stories that resonate with nature rather than simply being about nature. Each book uniquely asserts respect for other life forms, emphasizes physical and imaginative engagement with nature, describes complex narratives, and doesn’t elevate eco-heroes or villains. 

Such stories encapsulate the meaning of literature for Sara: to help us think about what it means to be human by to inviting us to know the world more dearly. These books model ways of getting outside and enjoying what the world has to offer, an understanding that unites us in appreciating the world around us. What better way to advance our protection and restoration of the natural world than sharing the stories which represent our core relationship to nature and to each other? This is the central thread of Sara’s work, one that stands out in her literature and in her engagement with her communities, past and present. Sara’s visit left Log Lunch-goers with a sense of gratitude for the places that we share and a feeling of connection to those we share them with, through experiences outdoors, excellent meals, and stories alike. 

Sara’s newest book, Front Country, tells a coming of age story in the time of climate crisis. You can also read more about her work and view the full list of the best children’s eco-literature on her website

The Log Lunch crew served a white bean and collard green soup, pumpkin seed-crusted bread, a kale salad with apple and cranberries, collard greens with butternut squash and carrots, and apple pie bars for dessert. The collard greens, squash, and kale come from Peace Valley Farms and the apples are from a local orchard in Adams. 

Log Lunch is a CES program hosted every Friday at noon. During Log Lunch, a vegetarian meal prepared by Williams students is served, followed by a talk on an environmental topic. Speakers are drawn from both the student body and faculty of Williams, as well as from local, national, and international organizations. Learn more here.