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Something Wild: The animal adventurer's guide

A woman shows a frog to a group of toddlers and parents.
Courtesy/Ben Conant
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Susie Spikol shows a frog friend to a group of toddlers and parents.

Susie Spikol, a naturalist at the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, is the author of “The Animal Adventurer’s Guide.” She spoke with Something Wild’s Chris Martin and Dave Anderson about her new book.

The cover of The Animal Adventurer's Guide

The book features activities to bring kids closer to wild animals and expands the idea of where — and what — wild animals are.

“You don't have to go anywhere special to find something wild. You can go out your back door or your front door," Spikol says. "You can look in the crack in a sidewalk. You can look at a forest, a stonewall. Even along the edges of roads and highways, you can find wild things. So I just wanted to get people thinking that nature happens everywhere."

People tend to emphasize "big wildlife," she says, "but I'm all about the little things that you can see…the ladybug in your house is just as wild as the eagle that you see flying.” Even the spider in the corner of the room? “Definitely wild!”

Spikol also encourages kids to go beyond “yuck!” Leeches are a good example.

“When we go ponding and we find a big juicy leech, a lot of it is like 'gross, ugh, it might get stuck on me,'" says Spikol. "But then when we stop and we look at the leech and really take the time to talk about and look at its body and see how it moves and its colors, it's actually really an incredibly beautiful creature.”

A woman shows a toddler an acorn on the ground in the forest
Courtesy/Ben Conant
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Susie Spikol points out an acorn to a little friend.

Spikol has spent a lot of time finding the value in something that might cause others to recoil.

“Around my neighborhood and in my community, people often refer to me as the Princess of Poop, which some people might take as something not so nice," she says. "But I love it! It is all about my scat collection, which I have been collecting since the early nineties. It's a great teaching tool. If you really want to know what an animal eats, take a good, hard look at what it excretes.”

One of the activities in her book is making a bug pooter —which, just based on the name alone, is bound to appeal to kids.

“It's actually a bug vacuum,” Spikol says. “I give directions on how to make this little bug vacuum out of a cup and some straws and a little bit of clay and some screens. And it's not like you're sucking the bug into your mouth, but you create the sort of vacuum that pulls the bug into the jar so you can catch the bug without touching it or hurting it or scaring it away.”

Spikol also makes note of the importance of getting close to nature.

”The actual physical act of being the person who's learning how to follow a frog, get up close, get quiet, bend down and catch it in your hand and then hold it, feel it's light body in your hand… that's really fundamentally different than watching it on a screen," she says. "And I think those experiences are the experiences that go right into your heart. And that's really what I hope my book does is, is help families and kids find access to that.”

Susie Spikol in the NHPR studios.
Jessica Hunt/NHPR
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Susie Spikol in the NHPR studios.

Something Wild is a partnership of New Hampshire Audubon, the Forest Society, and NHPR and is produced by the team at Outside/In.

Chris Martin has worked for New Hampshire Audubon for over 31 years as a Conservation Biologist, specializing in birds of prey such as Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Peregrine Falcons.
Naturalist Dave Anderson is Senior Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, where he has worked for over 30 years. He is responsible for the design and delivery of conservation-related outreach education programs including field trips, tours and presentations to Forest Society members, conservation partners, and the general public.
Jessica previously worked as a producer for NHPR's The Exchange, wedging in as many discussions as possible about the environment, wildlife, and the outdoors. You can hear her occasionally as a substitute host on NHPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

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