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The Natural World

New edition breathes fresh life into a timely subject.

By Diane Taylor

In a very real scientific sense, the Earth breathes us and we breathe the Earth. This has to do with the exchange between oxygen and carbon dioxide. Now, however, excess carbon in the atmosphere puts all life at risk. One way to reinstate balance is to ignite in children a love for the wonders of the natural world. Yes, hook the kids. 

Author/illustrator Katherine Orr has had a passion for nature since she was young. This passion to understand the natural world led her to become a marine biologist. While on South Caicos researching the life history of the queen conch, she realized the importance of educating children about the natural world so they would grow up to respect nature and become wise stewards. 

The Natural World of the Turks and Caicos Islands, originally written in 1983, has been revised and updated for today’s times.

With that idea in mind, she wrote and illustrated a 68-page book called The Natural World of the Turks and Caicos Islands. It came out in 1983 with the help of Jane Halaby who undertook the publishing. After living on South Caicos for two years studying the queen conch for her Master’s degree, then four years working on Pine Cay as a marine biologist, Katherine felt the book was a good way to pass on her love for the Islands and the people.

Katherine Orr (known at the time as Kathy Hesse) left Pine Cay during the planning stages of the book, just days before I arrived on the island in the spring of 1980. We corresponded over the months and at one point she asked me to fly to as many of the islands as I could, as soon as I could (to meet publishing deadlines), to take photos of local children that would be inserted into the story. Great! 

And so, a young Clifford Gardiner (now deceased), first Belonger pilot in the Turks & Caicos, wearing his dazzling white pilot’s uniform and an equally dazzling smile, picked me up at the small Pine Cay airstrip. Here, someone with a sense of humour had installed a sign post that read: Greater Pine Cay International Airport. He flew me in his red and white Cesna into the limitless blues of a clear sky and dropped me off on Salt Cay, Grand Turk, North Caicos and South Caicos where I approached elementary schools to borrow children for photos. The students were only too eager to pose for the shots, which we organized with much chatting and laughter, and teachers happily let them out of school for an adventure. They climbed casuarina trees (click), displayed baskets and hats woven by women on Middle Caicos (click), gathered a variety of sea beans they found on a beach (click) and more. I sent the rolls of film off to Jane Halaby to incorporate into the book.

Some months later, a package arrived in the mail. The book! The Natural World of the Turks and Caicos Islands was in print. The topics cover everything that comprises the land and sea environments in which island children play and learn, and all are introduced with inviting colours and action drawings of children, plants, land and sea animals—fish, crabs, turtles, birds, butterflies—and more. Every page is fun and engaging and makes us want to read on.

The book is captivating, from both academic and artistic points of view. It proceeds in a friendly manner as if talking directly to young readers, every now and then asking a relevant question. For example: “There are more ways plants are important to us. Can you think of them?” And “More animals live in sand which is always underwater. We can find their empty shells washed up on the beach. Can you find some clam shells? A sand dollar?”

Now, over 40 years later, Katherine and I, with input from Dr. Bill Keegan, Marsha Pardee, Alizee Zimmerman and Dr. Della Higgs, have revised The Natural World of the Turks and Caicos Islands. This new edition opens with a tribute to the indigenous Lucayans, the first people who lived in these Islands, and outlines conservation lessons we can learn from them. It ends with action strategies children can take to protect species at risk such as the rock iguana, the queen conch and coral reefs.

Katherine Orr captures the beauty and ecological connections of the Turks & Caicos Islands. Her book would make a good addition to primary schools across the Caribbean. The material is relevant; it honours Caribbean students’ world and connects them to it. The Natural World of the Turks and Caicos Islands is appealing to children because of the imaginative and whimsical full-page illustrations and also because there are real photos of real children smiling out at us—25 children whose names are all included at the end. Holly Bassett, Neville Missick and Karen Forbes are a few of them.

Katherine Orr dedicated this book of natural history “to the now and future children of these Islands” because today’s children are tomorrow’s fishermen and women, lawyers, scientists and citizens—the partners who will lead us into a sustainable future.

I believe The Natural World of the Turks and Caicos Islands is as relevant today, if not more so, than it was 40 years ago. Fast forward to 2021, where the most critical issue facing the world is global warming, which is largely caused by overconsumption of gas and oil, as well as vast livestock industries. It’s no secret that habitats of animals and humans are being destroyed around the world and that this is contributing to the rising temperature. For instance, the sand in which female turtles lay their eggs is becoming too hot. Eggs are reaching lethal temperatures and some do not hatch at all. (Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything, Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2014, p. 434.)

Notable naturalist Rachel Carson said, “I believe that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” The Natural World of the Turks and Caicos Islands is in tune with this philosophy. It’s impossible not to be filled with wonder when exploring Katherine Orr’s delightful drawings and understanding her messages of conservation and interdependency of all life forms.

As global awareness of the environmental crisis grows, this revised edition is a significant addition to the readings of children (and people of all ages) at home and in schools. Indeed, copies of the book may be used in schools across the TCI in the near future. Stay tuned! Our grip on ego is tenacious, but it is loosening to embrace the eco era—and none too soon.

For more information and to see more children’s nature books by Katherine Orr, visit katherineshelleyorr.com.

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What's Inside The Latest Edition?

On the Cover

Master Photographers James Roy and Christine Morden of Paradise Photography (www.MyParadisePhoto.com) are always on the lookout to capture colorful slices of life in the Turks & Caicos Islands. This Junkanoo dancer was participating in the annual Maskanoo celebration on Boxing Day.

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