On Earth Day, in a room ringed with full bookshelves, second-grade students at Quarles Elementary School in Winchester wanted to talk about a particular mushroom illustrated in “Mushroom Rain,” a book written by Shenandoah University Psychology Professor Laura K. Zimmermann, Ph.D.
Dr. Zimmermann was in the classroom to share insights about mushrooms and her book and to lead the students through a mushroom-related craft related to the book, which was released in March. “Those are from Mario Kart,” one child said, remembering the amanita muscaria, a mushroom with a red cap and white spots that’s well known to video-game players. The mushroom was shown in both her presentation and her book, which the class read together prior to Zimmermann’s appearance.
While the children were excited about seeing a familiar image in the book, they also asked question after question as they viewed pictures on a smartboard of both Zimmermann’s mushroom-seeking travels and illustrations from the book. On the screen, they saw a slug eating a mushroom, as well as mushroom-eating ants, and real-life images of mushrooms illustrated in the book – ones that smell like everything from bubblegum to rotten cabbage. The children also discovered that they should only eat the mushrooms available in the grocery store, because the ones found in the wild can be poisonous – Zimmermann said that’s why she only takes pictures of wild mushrooms. Only an expert knows how to tell which ones are safe and even they can’t always tell just by looking at them. Poisonous mushrooms can look a lot like ones that are safe to eat.
The children learned that Zimmermann wrote the words while an illustrator handled the pictures, and heard that there are no limits for Zimmermann as an author. “I write whatever I want to write,” she said in a delighted tone.
After talking with the children about her mushroom-photographing adventures, which often include her nieces, as well as her dog, Tivy, the class trooped out to the school’s courtyard to pick up some natural items for a mushroom collage craft that also featured a few mushroomy vocabulary words. Zimmermann provided some home-dried button mushrooms for the children to use in their collages, as well. As for what the kids were asked to do with their collages, “It’s up to them,” Zimmermann said. “It’s their art creation.”
The presentation was also a bit of a new creation for Zimmermann herself, who is more often in front of a classroom of much older students. She said she envisions supporting the book by making more appearances like the one at Quarles, which was the first of its kind for her, on a date that made it all the more meaningful. “It’s perfect for Earth Day,” she said.
Find out more about “Mushroom Rain” at laurakzimmermann.com.