It’s rare that a book is really for a 90 year age difference, but Shanleya’s Quest certainly worked for the 30-year age spread in my home. It even worked for my 7-year-old. But, Shanleya’s Quest isn’t a traditional picture book that can be read in one sitting. It’s an extrememly efficient course in plant identification. It begins with a creation myth, that you can take or leave, but starting on the sixth spread, you should slow down to ONE spread a day…or longer. For a while, we did one a month!
Each of the 8 island narratives take you through the identifying features of a different family of common North American plants. It’s all in story format and features an unforgettable “guardian” who represents the features of that family.
But the material itself is quite dense. After reading one section of the book, we would go out into our yard and find some of the plants that matched that description. We realized that several of the weeds in our front yard were in the MINT family. My kids had a great time over the next week twirling every plant they saw, looking for a square stem and opposite leaves, breaking it to check the scent. “It’s another MINT, mom!”
In addition to the book, I highly recommend the “card game”. Sorting the cards into their various families helped me to see examples of each of the families and test out if I could really pick them out. And since many of the plants featured on the cards are common in my area, it additionally helped me identify yard plants and place them in the right families.
The younger kids could really only sort one or two families at a time, but as they get older, I think they well be able to do all eight, like me. In addition to sorting, there are other game versions included in the instructions. You don’t have to read the book to play the game, but it helps fix the features in your mind.
Now, not every plant in the USA can be found in the eight families. But, lots of your knee high weeds and flowers will be there. To expand beyond the eight primary families, Hops Press has another grown-up book called Botany in a Day. This book is a full blown master’s class in botany and is so efficient and detailed that it deserves it’s own day for review. However, I use it when plant identifying with my children, because as I said, not everything fits in the eight families.
In conclusion, I would say that anyone interested in learning to quickly identify plant families would love Shanleya’s Quest and the accompanying card game. Homeschoolers could easily use this one resource for an entire semester of nature study. And parents could use it for a summer of “Go out in the neighborhood and see if you can find examples of ______,” or my favorite, “Go get me 10 different weed flowers and we’ll ID them together” to burn off all the shut-in-the-house energy.