The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

61cbvznrdjl-_sx336_bo1204203200_ picked up The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit  after a friend recommended it.  I decided to listen to the audiobook when I discovered it was available through my library system as I would be spending a few hours in the car commuting back and forth to class.  I thought the premise sounded interesting.

I had no idea how enthralling Finkel’s book, and Christopher Knight’s story, would be.  I’m already making plans to include The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit  in my upcoming Literature and the Land unit during the first marking period.  I think some of my ninth graders will be just as fascinated by Knight’s story as I was.

Chris Knight’s story is nothing short of compelling.  In 1986, he parked his Subaru Brat in the Maine woods, threw the keys in the console, and walked into the woods with nothing except a few supplies.  For nearly three decades he lived in the woods and did not interact with a single human being.  He stole food and supplies from unoccupied seasonal cabins in the area to survive and was finally caught by police when surveillance methods became more advanced.

The book is based on Finkel’s extensive interviews with Knight after his arrest and shines a light on man’s relationship with nature and man’s relationship with mankind.  The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit  is a thought-provoking book that made me pause and think numerous times.  Why did Knight leave?  Is it always wrong to steal? What effect does cutting off human contact voluntarily have on a person’s psyche?  Knight confessed to 1000 break-ins and is not portrayed as some type of savior or hermit in the book. He’s very honest about his faults and that makes him even more intriguing.  Finkel presents his story alongside neurological research, interviews with experts, and nature studies.  It’s absolutely riveting.

This is a book I can foresee my student’s really digging into.  I can’t wait to share it with them.  It’s also a great book to pair with Thoreau or Emerson’s classic works.

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Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating

61a5rfrrftL._SY498_BO1,204,203,200_I love using picture books in my high school classes.  People often tilt their head and look at me with a concerned face when I mention this but picture books are a fantastic way to introduce mentor texts and complex topics in a single class period.  I often use picture books to inspire my students to think about nature and Jess Keating’s Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist  is the newest book I’m adding to my classroom pile.

A visit to the Battery Park Aquarium in New York City at age nine inspired Eugenie Clark’s obsession with sharks. She spent the rest of her life studying these fear-inspiring creatures even when she hit roadblocks.  Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist  is the inspiring story of a female scientist who broke through gender barriers to follow her passion and in the process helped dispel many myths about sharks.

I teach at a STEM-focused high school located near the Jersey Shore and I think Eugenie Clark’s story will inspire some of my students to pursue their passions.  Sharks are always a hot topic during beach season and many of my students still believe the myths about sharks that dominate pop culture.  Keating’s book can help my students learn more about the sharks that live off our coast (even though we like to pretend they are not there!) while also inspiring some of my female students to continue studying STEM. It’s so important for female students to see themselves in books about science and there is a sad lack of these stories told by major publishers.  Keating’s book fills a glaring hole in the picture book canon and I am hopeful that there will be more female scientist-focused picture books published in the future!

(Not sure about using picture books with secondary students?  Check out this post for some ideas).