Taking Cues from Mother Nature
June 30, 2014 § 4 Comments
JP has decorated his summer journal and is ready to record our adventures (here’s hoping his motivation extends past the first week). Many of these adventures will take us into nature, where there are always metaphors to be discovered about life. Take, for example, our vegetable garden: each morning we wake to budding strawberries, and each evening we return to discover that they have been devoured by the squirrels and cardinals (how dare the latter betray me after I sung their praises right here?!). There’s a lesson somewhere in there about patience and not expecting to get things right the first time. And so we return to bed with renewed hope.
The Dandelion’s Tale (Ages 4-8), a new picture book by Kevin Sheehan and Rob Dunlavey, offers us another metaphor, this one about the fleeting, cyclical nature of life. This gem of a book takes what can be a heavy subject and delivers it in such a subtle, eloquent, kind, and accessible way, that children won’t realize they’re being taught a Great Lesson. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it stars a dandelion. You’d be hard pressed to find a child that isn’t obsessed with dandelions. A yellow flower that I can pick with no adult getting mad (not to mention wind into chains, tuck behind my ear, or proudly proffer to whatever grown-up happens to be standing near)? A billowy white flower with such delicate seeds that the tiniest puff of breath sends them sailing across the grass? Yes, a child’s love for dandelions runs deep.
In The Dandelion’s Tale, we are privy to a special friendship between a young, vivacious sparrow and an anthropomorphized dandelion near the end of her life, with only ten remaining seedpods on her stem. When the two first meet, the dandelion is in tears: “A short while ago, I was so strong, and the brightest yellow you’ve ever seen. Now I’m white and fuzzy and I’ve lost most of my seedpods. If the wind starts to blow, I’ll lose them all and no one will ever know I was here.” After some trial and error, the pals decide on a course of action for fulfilling the dandelion’s wish to be remembered: the dandelion will dictate her life’s story to Sparrow, who will inscribe it in the mud for all to behold. (A creature after my own heart, Dandelion exclaims, “It would be just like a book!…I was so envious that people have something as marvelous as books.”) Thus follows the book’s loveliest pages, as the dandelion describes her affection for the smell of the meadow after the rain, the sound of laughing children playing, and her conversations with squirrels.
But, of course, life does not always go according to plan. A strong nighttime storm washes away, not only the dandelion’s story in the mud, but also Dandelion herself. Some of you are by now thinking, why would I want to share such a sad story with my child? And, I won’t lie: it was at this point, when the sparrow belts out a song of mourning, that I looked over and saw my son’s eyes fill with tears. And I panicked for a moment. But the story does not end here, and the sparrow soon discovers ten baby dandelions popping up around the very spot that their mother once grew. In the same way that the chapter book, Charlotte’s Web, concludes with Wilbur taking comfort in Charlotte’s children once his beloved spider is gone, so this picture book ends with Sparrow telling an eager audience of bright yellow dandelions the story of their mother (“because Sparrow had written and read the dandelion’s story, he discovered that he knew it by heart”).
As parents, many of us are afraid to talk to our children about loss, preferring to keep them nestled in a cocoon of naivety, believing that it is our principal job to shield them from sadness or worry. Only when tragedy strikes—the loss of a grandparent or a pet, perhaps—do we run to the library and ask for books about grieving. But if we can find ways of introducing the topic of life’s impermanence to our children at an early age, in moments of calm and contentment and with the reassuring gift of our presence, then we will give them the confidence, the understanding, and the peace to embrace life for what it is. The first time we finished this book, JP leaned his head on my shoulder. “That is both a very sad and a very happy story, Mommy, don’t you think?” Indeed, I do.
Another Favorite Nature Story About the Cycle of Life (and a subtle way of introducing loss):
City Dog, Country Frog, by Mo Willems and Jon J. Muth (Ages 4-8)