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Nature and Environment Book Groups Inspire Readers

Nov 30, 2021 ● By Sheryl DeVore
Stacy Iwanicki, who co-founded a nature book discussion group at Volo Bog, holds her favorite book, A Sand County Almanac. Iwanicki is naturalist at Volo Bog State Natural Area, in Ingleside

Stacy Iwanicki, who co-founded a nature book discussion group at Volo Bog, holds her favorite book, A Sand County Almanac. Iwanicki is naturalist at Volo Bog State Natural Area, in Ingleside

One of the most memorable books Stacy Iwanicki read in high school was A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold, who was often referred to as the father of wildlife ecology. “It brought history and nature to life,” says Iwanicki, now a naturalist at Volo Bog State Natural Area, in Ingleside.

Iwanicki co-founded the book discussion group Of Bogs & Books in 1994. It meets monthly, virtually and in person, at Volo Bog under the auspices of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Meetings are held from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on the second Saturday of the month. “It’s not a club. You don’t need to belong or be a member,” Iwanicki says. “You don’t have to commit to anything. You can drop in once every three years or you can come every month—whenever the title inspires you and the time allows.”

Photo by Steven D. Bailey One of the books read by the discussion group at Volo Bog and also one of Stacy Iwanicki’s top ten is Owls of the Eastern Ice.

Of Bogs & Books is one of the few book discussion groups in the region that focuses only on nature and the environment, according to Iwanicki. Other similar groups can be found at some suburban libraries, and many meet online, allowing for readers from long distances to participate.

Iwanicki chose A Sand County Almanac for the group’s first read. “With each successive read, I grew more and more in love with that book. It’s timeless. I would love to see it be an assigned reading for high school students,” says Iwanicki, adding that the discussion group has read the book at least four times over the years.

Iwanicki has read part of one of the chapters, “Marshland Elegy,” about losing sandhill crane habitat, aloud to high school students. “I had their rapt attention,” she recalls. “Nature is transformative, and so is reading books about nature.”

Of the nearly 300 titles read since the group was founded, most have been about nature experiences, from difficult journeys into wilderness to exploring insects in the backyard. (Email [email protected] for a complete list).

“Our environmental awareness today is bigger than ever, but I think at the same time, more and more people are getting disconnected from the natural part of the environment,” Iwanicki explains. “Reading books about people being out in nature can entice people back into the wild. During our discussions, we talk about biodiversity.”

Sometimes people will say something negative about hunters, but Iwanicki points out, “Hunters spend more time out in nature than a lot of people who fancy themselves as environmentally aware. We need to stop demonizing each other and listen to each other and spend time with each other. The book discussion is a good catalyst to engage conversation.”

Retired environmental science teacher Michael Mieszala, of Libertyville, says Iwanicki agreed to have his students choose a book annually and lead a discussion each November for the book group. “When I was teaching at Warren Township High School, in Gurnee, I would always look for real-world experiences for my students. This was the case where my students could get involved in the planning, the discussion, the reading of a book and see a unique natural area,” he says.

Photo credit Volo Bog State Natural Area The November read for Volo Bog book discussion group was a New York Times bestseller, Mama’s Last Hug.

One of their most recent titles was Wisdom of Wolves, by Jim and Jamie Dutcher, who lived alongside wolves for several years documenting their behaviors. “Not only did the students lead the discussion, but they also invited the authors via Skype to join,” Mieszala recalls. His students told him that Of Bogs & Books helped them realize that adults also care about nature and the environment. “It was a real eye-opener for them,” he notes.

Books selected often greatly impact the readers, according to Iwanicki. One member emailed her saying, “If I had read this book as a child, my life may have taken a different direction. I would have wanted to become an entomologist and study under Anne.” She’s referring to Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, author of Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects, published in 2019.

Iwanicki says of the author, “She’s a scientist and one of the most accessible science writers ever.” Reading the book engendered a discussion about animal and human traits and feelings. Iwanicki says the book helps those that fear insects to begin enjoying their beautiful colors and the way they move their wings. “The author brings out the little kid in you wanting to observe these things and be awed. We found a recording of her speaking and watched that together.”

In the last decade, the group has worked to find more diversity in voices. One of those is author J. Drew Lanham, who wrote The Home Place – Memories of a Colored Man’s Love Affair With Nature. Another book the group recently read is Way Out There: Adventures of a Wilderness Trekker, by African American John Robert Harris. “He did crazy, wilderness treks that many would not be able to do,” Iwanicki says. “But he was a very humble man, and he made sure you all understood that if you wanted to walk through your neighborhood, that was just as valid as walking some outback in Australia or in Chile.”

Harris joined the book discussion and later presented a talk to the members. “He has a positive outlook on humanity,” Iwanicki says. “His book reminded me of another book, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, by Ben Montgomery. She walked and helped save the Appalachian Trail. These authors are in their 70s. Walking is something that anybody can do, just about anybody, and you should do it and keep doing it. Keep moving. And keep reading about nature.”
Sheryl DeVore has written six books on science, health and nature, as well as nature, health and environment stories for national and regional publications. Read more at
Finding environmental/nature book discussion groups

Some Chicago region libraries and environmental groups host environment/nature book discussions. Volo Bog State Natural Area Naturalist Stacy Iwanicki suggests contacting the local library or even starting a nature book group. Here are some to check.

Go Green Illinois conducts a variety of environmental/nature book discussion groups in the suburbs, including in Northbrook, Wilmette, Winnetka and Highland Park. The groups typically meet quarterly or every other month at local libraries, with some done virtually.

For example: Go Green Northbrook will discuss “The Invention of Nature,” from 10:30-11:30 a.m., Jan. 25, virtually. Visit
More information is available at local Go Green websites, including:
The Aurora Public Library hosts a book club for nature enthusiasts from 3 to 4:30 p.m. once a month on select Saturdays. The club is a partnership between the city of Aurora Naturalist Team, Aurora Public Library and the Sand Creek Regional Greenway Partnership. In-person and online meetings are scheduled. December’s book is Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson. For more information, visit
Stacy’s Top Ten List
Volo Bog naturalist Stacy Iwanicki offers her top ten list of nature books that she suggests might serve as great holiday gifts for the green reader.
A Sand County Almanac: Aldo Leopold, 1986
Owls of the Eastern Ice: Jonathan C. Slaight, 2020
The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair With
: J. Drew Lanham, 2017
Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts
    in Your Yard
: Doug Tallamy, 2020
Indian Givers: Jack Weatherfood, 1988
Black Elk Speaks: John G. Neihardt, 2014
Undaunted Courage: Stephen E. Ambrose, 1996
Last of the Curlews: Fred Bosworth, 2011
The Sense of Wonder: Rachel Carson, 1965
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Children from Nature-Deficit
: Richard Louv, 2006