When I was a child, from young childhood into my teens, I had a pocket-size guide to mammals. It eventually disintegrated along the spine from use. I rarely identified any animals with the book (maybe a ground squirrel or two) but I studied the pages with unfettered fascination. Pictures of monkeys I would never see in the wild, facts about the cheetah: I practically memorized it. What was the attraction? It gave me a sense of comfort. It gave me a sense of hope. The world was full of living things of all kinds. The animals had names by which you might try to know them. Though my childhood path was between brick buildings, this little book, so friendly to the hand and pocket, reminded me that all I saw was not all there is.
A field guide is a guide you can take with you, both in reality and metaphorically, into the “field.” A field guide breaks things down into categories and little scoops of information, using classification to help understanding, to make everything make sense or at least gesture towards sense. To me, to study something is to love it and honor it.
Adults may pause over them these books and think they’re too “advanced” for their child, but small children gravitate to the small format and the world that opens up in pictures. I hope some young children will find a field guide that gives them comfort and hope.