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The Power of Storytelling
Tales of connection and beauty that foster hope for kids and the young at heart
The best children’s books convey universal truths that help young and old relate to themselves and their place in the world. I can’t believe I have only recently encountered The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater, which describes how I feel about my place in the world. The story begins by extolling the virtues of living on a neat street where every house is the same. That is until a gull shows up with a bucket of paint. The gull drops the paint on Mr. Plumbean’s house and leaves a big orange splot on his roof. The neighbors call for a return to uniformity, but Mr. Plumbean takes a different path.
He repaints his house and turns it into a rainbow of color, a veritable explosion. His neighbors are not happy. They thought “Plumbean has popped his cork, flipped his wig, blown his stack, and dropped his stopper.”
Empowered by the beauty of his colorful new house, Plumbean decides to buy plants and landscape his front yard. He puts up a hammock and sips lemonade in the newly created shade. This prompts the neighbors to complain “Plumbean has gone too far.”
Mr. Plumbean replies, “My house is me and I am it. My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams.”
One by one his neighbors visit to try and talk some sense into Plumbean. As they sit under his trees and drink lemonade something inside of them shifts. They return home and commit to making their own house fit their dreams. The neighborhood is transformed.
A Garden to Save the Birds is a beautifully illustrated children’s book that tells the story of a family with young kids that learns about the challenges that birds face, and they start on a journey of making their house, yard, and neighborhood more bird-friendly.
The mom tells the kids that “our garden isn’t growing just flowers, berries and veggies. We’re growing back the world, too.”
If You Plant a Seed is a board book for young children that describes how a rabbit and a mouse learn how to share the bounty of their garden with some birds that show up. At first, the rabbit and mouse are selfish and they do not want to share. This leads to chaos. That prompts the mouse to share, and his kindness grows and grows until all the wild creatures are surrounded by an abundant garden with food for all.
Noticing by Kobi Yamada is a sublime book about the power of observation to connect you with the world. A young girl meets a painter in the woods and learns to see through the eyes of the painter. As they watch clouds shapeshift in the sky above them, the painter tells the girl, “The more you pause and allow for the extraordinary, the more you find it.”
The power of imagination is further illustrated in the book What If…, where a child imagines a future where guns turn into flutes and bird perches.
Fostering imagination in young people will help them find their place in the world. Wendell Berry captures this sentiment and shows us how to belong to a place.
“For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it. To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it. By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it.”
The world is extraordinary, and we are surrounded by it every day. Helping kids appreciate our beautiful world is a gift to future generations. Kids naturally want to lean into the light of day and experience nature. We can harness this inclination and expand young minds by sharing stories like these while looking for opportunities to get kids outside and directly engaged with the natural world. Ideally, this approach would also be coupled with minimizing their exposure to phones and social media. Phones are irresistible and addictive for kids, inhibiting their ability to focus and connect with the world around them.
Fitting regular quality time in nature with kids into your schedule and prompting them to imagine a more beautiful world is one of the best things you can do for them.
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