As I wrote in my earlier post, I have written some poems that I have a notion of turning into some children’s books. They were inspired by my son, but also by my desire to do…something. Something for him, something for the anxiety I feel about the world, something for my desire to better his generation’s life experience on this planet.
Because the world is a big and scary place, especially after you bring a child into it.
I am astonished when I read reports about how much time kids spend in front of screens – whether they are computers, tablets, or tvs – and how little time is spent outdoors. I recall a childhood spent almost entirely outdoors, even in our cold northeastern winters. My mother had a bell fixed to the house beside the side door that she rang when it was time for dinner. Imagine that – knowing that your kids were somewhere within earshot of the bell but having no other information on their whereabouts for more or less the whole day. Today, such a system sounds way too scary. I think that somewhere along the line people became afraid of outside and pulled all the kids back in. It makes sense – a large majority of families have two working parents, or are single parent families, and are not around to watch the kids. It would make sense to believe he safest place for them would be in the house. And computers keep kids quiet, and unlikely to do things like break an arm. But the hard truth is that there is really no 100% safe place for kids to be unsupervised. So you have to weigh the risks, because there will be risks no matter what But, I think, in front of a screen might go down in history as the most unsafe place of all. When I read about the rise in teenage depression and its possible connections to “gaming addiction”, and the effects of early exposure to the scarily easy-to-find free porn on the internet, I think that there has got to be a better, less dangerous place for our kids. It is crazy making. Or it can be. I am trying really, really hard to be positive and to educate myself on alternatives to going blindly down the electronic path. Maybe we can convince the kids themselves that there is more to life than video games?
When I read about studies that suggest being in nature has a positive effect on people of all ages, and a positive impact on communities as a whole, I certainly wasn’t surprised. In my gut I have always known that being out in the natural world is healthy, mostly because I know how I feel when I’m out there – peaceful, relaxed, happy. And I cannot tell you how much pleasure I get out of watching my son’s amazement at the littlest things – the way the wind makes daisies look like they’re laughing, the rapid-fire sound of a woodpecker on a telephone pole, the way you can dig carefully around a plant and pull out a potato. I relish each new discovery because I know that this kind of wonder is short-lived. I can’t keep him from the dazzling lights of technology forever. But I am hoping to instill in him the ability to know the difference between what is possible, and what is fantasy (not to say fantasy is bad – just knowing the difference is pretty important). What pursuits will bring pleasure and satisfaction and which are a fool’s errand. I hope that he can find a balance that brings him happiness, and hopefully, a love for entertainment that doesn’t always need a plug or battery. And I kind of want to do what I can to help other kids do this, too.
So, I decided to find some things that matter to me to focus on, and write about. Right now, I’m focusing on reconnecting kids with the natural world. Otherwise known as the only world – the world that depends on them caring about it to survive. The one that needs to stay healthy in order for our kids to survive. My goal is to make my stories fun, relatable, and devoid of pulpits. But filled with critters they will care about. In this first book the focus is mostly on a little boy’s prowess in animal sound-making. Because any kid will tell you there is no better way to judge a person’s character than by how accurately he or she can crow like a rooster.
I think you can see why when I looked at Catherine’s artwork I knew we had to work together. Without words, she conveyed to me that she and I were very much on the same page. Looking at her illustrations was like smelling gingerbread baking in the oven, or listening to the chatter of cicadas, or running my fingers over the bumpy underside of a fern leaf. I was immediately transported to the happiest parts of my childhood, and I knew I wouldn’t be alone in feeling that way. I could also imagine a little me, reading this book. The rhymes and images would have stayed with me then, too, becoming part of the childhood memories I was working on collecting. And I hope kids who read our book will feel that way, too.