Nancy Hardesty: Entertaining, educational nature activity books

Nancy Hardesty with the “Tahoe Mountain Chickadee” activity book collection. | Kayla Anderson

Easy to read, fun to do and beautifully illustrated, North Lake Tahoe resident Nancy Hardesty released volumes one and two of “Tahoe Mountain Chickadee,” nature activity workbooks for kids of all ages.

The first volume focuses on the animals, habitats, watershed and actions readers can take to preserve the environment with a special concentration on Dollar Point where Hardesty lives. The second volume takes the reader on an exploration through the South Shore with special attention given to the Kokanee salmon migration at Taylor Creek, Tahoe animals and landmarks. All the pages have sketches to color and activities including puzzles, matching games, word searches, stickers and more.

Hardesty has had a house in North Lake Tahoe since the late 1990s and previously worked as a landscape architect. She studied botany and garden design in college then earned a master’s degree in ecological systems management.

Growing up, Hardesty’s family had a summer house at a lake in Illinois so when she came to Tahoe in 1986 after attending a conference in Reno, Nev., the area resonated with her. She rented a cabin in Tahoma for 10 years before buying a place in Dollar Point.

“I thought I needed to be here,” she says. Hardesty raised three boys and managed four soccer teams before starting “The Bonnet Book,” a memoir about her grandmother’s emigration across the United States. It was published in 2020.

In 1999, shortly after moving to Tahoe, Hardesty created an ecological cross-section of the area that took her a year to research.

“I wanted to understand the animals and the plants here because this is of interest to me, and then I thought about how to teach my kids this,” Hardesty says. She started looking around for simple ecological books about Tahoe and found that none existed. So, she decided to make her own.

“The plan was to take this kind of information and make it available to an 8-year-old,” Hardesty says.

The activity books

In 2013, she started the first volume of “Tahoe Mountain Chickadee” named after the lively talkative bird. It took Hardesty another few years to find an illustrator, who she found through Heather Segale of the Tahoe Environmental Research Center. Segale sent an email out to a few artists she knew and became connected with TJ Smith who did the art design and illustrations for the “Tahoe Mountain Chickadee” series.

“He emailed me and said that he always wanted to do a book about Tahoe with his grandmother, but she died before they could see it through,” Hardesty says. “He helped these concepts come to life,” Hardesty adds.

Hardesty’s mother, Mary Kay Menees, helped her create the books. Since she was a third-grade teacher for many years, Menees gave Hardesty advice about engaging kids. For instance, Hardesty created a chickadee as a mascot who directs readers to do something on every page. The books have coloring, writing, drawing prompts and activities for parents and kids. The second edition has vocabulary words, lessons that a teacher can sign off on, as well as stickers to color, peel off and reinsert in the book.

“I heard that one mother bought this book and took her daughter on a plane to London and the daughter worked on this book the whole 10-hour flight,” Hardesty says. She explains that effective teaching is done through seven ways in this book: the words, the mascot, word puzzles, boxes to draw in, matchup contest, writing prompts and the stickers.

“This is very sensory; I really want kids to learn. I wanted these to be very hands on and a learning experience for every child,” she adds. The first edition of “Tahoe Mountain Chickadee” has 36 activities and the second has 38.

“There’s a lot of educational material in here,” Hardesty says. “I wrote these for the common man and my nine grandchildren. This is filling a void.”

Hardesty is currently working on volumes three and four and has ideas for five and six but is taking it a step at a time.

“This is a labor of love that is keeping me young,” Hardesty says.

“Tahoe Mountain Chickadee” is sold at Alpenglow Sports, Geared for Games and North Lake Tahoe Historical Society in Tahoe City; the visitor centers in Tahoe City and Incline Village, Nev.; and at Nevada state parks. |