Books for Young Families: Make the Most of the Outdoors this Summer with these Titles

“Camp Out! The Ultimate Kids’ Guide from the Backyard to the Backwoods,” by Lynn Brunelle ($13.95) is the perfect primer for any family contemplating a camping trip with young children. Such an endeavor is a daunting prospect for new (and new-ish) parents. All the information needed for a successful camping trip with kids is contained in this book, presented in a light-hearted, kid-friendly style. At nearly 400-pages, Brunelle has thought of everything including what to pack, how to set up camp, and helpful menus and recipes for backpacking trips or car camping.

Even if you aren’t planning on an overnight trip, the bulk of the book – over 200 pages – is dedicated to fun and games that could be enjoyed on any day trip or hike with children.  The “Backpack Naturalist” section includes experiments and activities that are intriguing yet simple to follow. The section “Campsite Crafting” has several creative activities that any parent or educator could do with budding artists. “Let Loose” includes games and songs for long car rides, daytime, and nighttime at the campsite.

In spite of the length, the book does not feel too dense or filled with extraneous information. The editing, formatting, and illustrations make it a very enjoyable reference that personally, I would not want to go camping without!

“The Kid’s Guide to Exploring Nature,” from the Children’s Education Staff at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden ($12.95), is another valuable resource for any adult interested in imparting a love of nature on a young child in their life. This 120-page book is best enjoyed with the participation of an engaged adult, such as an educator, willing to impart the information contained in the rather-dense pages. The activities in this book can be enjoyed in the backyard or within a couple hours from any city in the Northeast. While the introduction on “how to be a nature explorer” may have benefited from more editing and kid-centric enticement (Campout! Is much better in this regard), the rest of the book is helpfully organized by seasons and typical settings, such as “beach”, “city”, “woods”, and “meadow.” This novel approach makes it the ideal practical reference guide for Friends of the Fells members to pick up and put down frequently throughout the year.

What really sets this book apart from other guides in this genre are the full-page photo-realistic illustrations, the scale and size of which have been enhanced to emphasize various natural elements in a given setting. These illustrations of trees in urban settings and common woodland plants and animals will be immediately recognizable to you and your little ones. They are also highly effective educational guides and inspiring works of art.

Armed with the wisdom of a seasoned camper and naturalist, you may feel inspired to take your knowledge beyond the Middlesex Fells Reservation. The following titles published by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) are great resources for hikes near and far with kids of all ages. For hikes close to home, check out “Outdoors With Kids: Boston” by Kim Foley MacKinnon, which includes 88 hikes in Massachusetts alone, organized by proximity to Boston, and denoting the appropriate age groups for each hike. Beyond Massachusetts, MacKinnon provides several options to explore in Rhode Island, Connecticut, southern New Hampshire and Maine. Further afield, “Outdoors With Kids: Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont” by Ethan Hipple and published in 2014 includes 75 of the “best family camping, hiking, and paddling trips” based on age and child’s ability. Each trip includes a map, photograph, driving directions, a thoughtful description of the hike, nearby facilities, and information on fees, if any. Even though most of the information contained in these AMC titles is available on the internet, these books make it a cinch to compare excursions side-by-side with all of the pertinent information at your fingertips: How far? How difficult? Can we bring the dog, and what else is around there? E-book and paperback versions of the AMC books are available from Amazon.

Happy trails!


By Laurie Adamson   FOF Member and Volunteer

Photography by Dennis Crouse

My husband and I joined Pete Costello and six other birders on a cool Saturday morning in May to bird watch. Pete has been leading birding trips in the Greenwood Park area on Saturday mornings during spring migration.

We had a delightful morning watching and listening to birds. Since retiring I have become a warbler junkie. These birds are my favorite spring migrants. I call them ‘little jewels’. They are painted beautiful colors and have exquisite markings. You look up in the trees and see brilliant yellow: yellow rumps, orange and black throats, gold colored caps, streaks on the breast and chestnut sides. They are a feast for the eyes. But is doesn’t stop there; these little guys also have beautiful songs. Beauty and song aren’t the only things that attract me to watching these birds.   They also put on a wonderful display hopping from branch to branch, flying out catching insects in flight. It is a wonderful dance to watch.


Pete was willing to take us to his “secret spot”. No, he didn’t ask us to put on blindfolds and we didn’t take an oath not to tell anyone. He enjoyed sharing his spot with others who share his love for birdwatching. On this morning we were treated to several warblers: yellow warbler, black and white warbler, northern parula, yellow rump warbler, black throated green and a common yellow throat. Another treat was a pair of rose breasted grosbeaks. We watched the female building a nest. We were serenaded by Baltimore orioles. Their brilliant orange is an eye catcher.


Get out your binoculars and enjoy the parade of gems in the Fells. If you don’t have binoculars, don’t fret. You will still be able to enjoy the birds. The orioles this time of year are plentiful and put on lively displays. You can’t miss their brilliant orange. You can also watch the warblers doing their acrobatics in the trees. There are many great places to bird in the Fells: Long Pond, Wrights Pond, High Service Reservoirs, the shore of Spot Pond, and Virginia Woods.

Pete has a wonderful approach to birdwatching. He moves quietly through the woods, frequently stops to watch and listen, and will stay in one spot to watch and wait to see who visits. People new to birding to seasoned birders are welcomed on his trips.


Growing up on Cape Cod, I spent at least a third of my childhood playing in the woods. My dad is a land surveyor and my mom and avid walker and horseback rider, so the trails we’d hike on weekends varied in length and location, and each trek came with off-the-cuff information about our local history, location of town boundaries, emergence of spring flowers, and insider information about the best places to look for pheasant, quail, deer, and horse tracks.

Accompanied by dedicated volunteer co-leaders Laurie and Dennis, I am honored to lead the weekly Babes in the Woods hikes, a tradition now 15 years strong. While many of you know that Babes is a hike for parents and their babies, what many may not know is that the hike meets year-round. What I love most about these hikes is that the Fells is a place where, like the Cape, you can easily become lost in your surroundings, especially in the calm of winter. And while the outdoors is a perfect place for solitary reflection, I think nature is meant, ultimately, to be shared.

What I’ve found the most spectacular over the last six months has been the change of the trails as one season becomes the next. We tend to rotate our hikes between five or six trails and amend them based on weather. It’s been amazing to see that a trail we hiked in July is now almost unrecognizable as the same path and the distance over which you can see now that the trees are bare.

Our winter hikes have transitioned from an hour-long hike to an hour and a half long jaunt with a short break midway for the dissemination of food and water to our younger set, who have ranged in age from four weeks to over two years. The new school of nature education lauds the return of children to unexplored outdoor spaces and away from electronic devices. Babes in the Woods exposes children to their natural surroundings at about as early an age as possible. Even the babies who slept through the entire hike in their earliest weeks of life are now keeping themselves awake and investigating with their eyes the canopy of trees, sky, and clouds under which we pass. I can only imagine the positive impact this will have on these babes as they grow into nature-loving toddlers.

Our group is dynamic; Most of the hikers who joined us in early June have returned to work, their babies to daycare, while others have been kept away by the cold. We’ll head into January with our small but intrepid group of regulars, a friendly and diverse mix of moms, dads, and guardians. We’ll hike through the cold and, most likely, some snow and watch as the flora and fauna make their gradual shifts through winter into spring. At the point at which we start to see some green buds and crocus points, I imagine we’ll begin to meet some new recruits and see a few returnees who will be ready to set out with us again in the milder temperatures. Whether you’re a brand new parent or a fourth-year hiker, we look forward to having you along!

~Gillian Badwan

The Appalachian Mountain Club this week highlighted six locations around the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states that are ideal sites for viewing spring wildflowers.  Among the chosen destinations is the Cross Fells Trail in our very own Middlesex Fells Reservation!  Here’s what AMC Outdoors had to say:

A pleasant wildflower hike that can be reached by public transportation from Boston is the Cross Fells Trail, which connects the eastern and western halves of the 2,575-acre Middlesex Fells Reservation. Flowers bloom in the reservation April through September, but the best time to see wildflowers along this trail is in May. The trail passes through wooded areas where you may see bright yellow trout lilies and carpets of wood anemone, and over sunny hilltops where the bell-shaped flowers of lowbush blueberries bloom. Violets and the elegant pink lady slippers can be seen scattered throughout the reservation. Begin at the trailhead near the MBTA’s Oak Grove Orange Line station in Melrose and follow the at times steep and rocky trail to its end. There you can catch the 134 bus back to the Orange Line at Wellington Station.

Make sure and head over to the post on AMC Outdoors to check out the other spots they chose.

Which wildflowers are you most excited to see this spring?  Where in the Fells have you seen them?  Have you visited any of the other spots on the list?  We would love to hear from you in the comments below.