Books that make me feel hopeful

Here are some children's books that promote the themes of green and simple living, community revitalization, protecting children from commercialism, jumping off the hyper-parenting bandwagon (or Bugaboo Donkey Mono stroller as it were--real name). "Mono" means for one kid - as in, your everyday, average, regular old stroller that's for one kid, not two, in other words, a stroller, but this one will run you between $1100 and $1600, depending on extras.)

We face the sun, its light and warmth, as we live our days.
On Earth by G. Brian Karas is a lovely tour of the planet we live on, its seasons and years, and how we grow, spinning on its axis and around the sun as "night becomes day, summer becomes winter, and years go by".

Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus, pictures by Jose Aruego is a great anti-Tiger Mom manifesto, so well-suited to that role, in fact, that it features a Tiger who won't bloom. Everyone else is reading, writing, drawing and he's just putzing around, stressing his father out. Finally his dad lays off him and stops with the pressure and comparisons. It still takes a while, and nothing seems to be happening all winter. Even in spring, with flowers bursting from the trees, no blossoms from Leo. "Then one day, in his own good time, Leo bloomed!"

My third-grade teacher Norma Elias gave this book to Wally a few months ago. She was very understanding about kids learning at their own pace. The only tricky thing is I find it hard to explain "bloomed" to a four-year-old. You don't want to say it's learning how to do all this stuff like read and write and eat without leaving a trail of smooshed grapes behind you. But "coming into your own" doesn't make a whole lot of sense, either. But I think the overall message is still very effective-- that you can't force someone to jump across some developmental milestone. And that there really is no rush with these things. In fact the opposite is often true -- kids "forced" to read early show reluctance to read in first grade. 

When that sun has dropped from view, Mama's going to read a book with you.

Hush Little Baby by Sylvia Long is a rewrite of the famous lullaby, but instead of promising material stuff (buying rings, a looking glass, a cart and bull -- who has the room these days?) the mom sings about experiences she can share with her baby, like watching the sunset, singing songs and cuddling in bed. As the author writes "It seems much healthier to encourage children to find comfort in the natural things around them and the warmth of a mother's love."

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown was apparently inspired by The High Line. A dreary, gray city where no one much goes out turns into a beautiful, vibrant green wonderland thanks to a boy named Liam who sees potential in plants pushing through an abandoned railway track. In this review in The New York Times, Urban Nature Boy, Sherie Posesorski writes, "As all good, enduring stories are, “The Curious Garden” is a rich palimpsest. Echoing the themes of “The Secret Garden,” it is an ecological fable, a whimsical tale celebrating perseverance and creativity, and a rousing paean, encouraging every small person and every big person that they too can nurture their patch of earth into their very own vision of Eden."

Good night, laila tov by Laurel Snyder Illustrated by Jui Ishida is a sweet, gentle book about a family taking a trip first to the ocean, then to a field where they plant some trees, and then into the woods where they camp in a rainstorm. On the way back, the kids are holding the nature treasures they've collected jars. At home, the parents fall asleep first, and the kids tuck them in.

And finally, Take Time to Relax by Nancy Carlson. In it, this family of three is always racing around to work and computer class and aerobics, wolfing down dinner in the car and spending the weekends cleaning and catching up, exhausted by Sunday night. A snowstorm keeps them housebound, and they realize they can not only survive without racing off to work or an organized activity, they actually like being around each other, eating popcorn, playing guitar and telling stories. 

Thanks to all these authors for sticking to what amounts to a rather subversive message these days, that time with family and friends and in nature is more valuable than possessions, building your resume, or enhancing your "status". That you are free to develop at your own pace, and that we are lucky to be here on this spinning earth, that we won't always be, and that we should remember to be grateful. 


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