This morning as I tidied my bookshelves, I ran across my favorite children’s picture book, Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey. This is not my favorite picture book to read aloud to children, necessarily, but it is my favorite one for me. Time of Wonder won the Caldecott award for best children’s book in 1958, the year I was born, so maybe I was destined to love this book. Maybe this book was always meant to be mine.
My first memory of beloved author Robert McCloskey goes back to my fourth grade classroom in a white 1920’s-built school that sat on a country hill near the home where I grew up. Its wood floors, built-in shelves, high ceilings, and wall-length paned windows that reached almost as high as those ceilings gave the rooms a deep warmth and a charm that is rare-to-impossible to find in newly built schools. Outdoors, this old, country school was enwrapped by nature—open fields, blackberry bushes, wildflowers, and leafy trees. I couldn’t have had a better place to spend my early school days.
The charm of my classroom only added to the coziness of the after-lunch read aloud time that was practiced by both my third and fourth grade teachers, Mrs. Johnson and Miss Marshall. Hands-down, these read-aloud times comprise the strongest, most vivid, and best school-time memories I have. What active, outdoor-loving girl actually looks forward to leaving the playground to return to the classroom after lunch? Me! I so looked forward to those story times.
My fourth grade teacher read McCloskey’s Homer Price aloud to our class, and I laughed my way through those magical hours. Later, when I had my own children, I bought every Robert McCloskey book I could find (this was pre-internet, you know) and read them aloud. Even now, Blueberries for Sal is my special book for reading aloud with Jayden.
Robert McCloskey’s stories have been woven into my life, and I hope into my children’s, too. Both his narratives and his beautiful art speak my language—the language of slow living; of long, leisurely days that should be part of childhood; of the wonder and beauty of nature; of the art of paying attention; of the love of family; of the importance of both solitude and relationships. All of this used to take place fairly naturally in the lives of families and children, but things have changed.
We live in an electronic age and can easily be subsumed in a tsunami of distractions, demands, and instant expectations. Even those of us who are determined to avoid getting swept along in the very quick e-pace of the world must stay vigilant. “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” The speed of life increases continuously, and it creeps up on us and absorbs us when we aren’t watching.
I’ve written before about my abundance of physical energy, of my love for pushing myself hard while exercising, of the love of movement and the pleasure it gives me, particularly when I am out in nature. And this could make it seem that I am always going, moving, doing. But I am not. My good, real life friend, Laura, emailed me after I wrote that post and mentioned that her husband, Bob, said, “Yes, but Susan has a contemplative side, too.” Bob is right. I do.
I might love a demanding hike or walk, but even in the midst of it, my spirit is quiet, so while I move, I am quite mindfully taking in all that is around me. The combination of physical exertion, nature, and quiet is what gives me so much joy in movement. And my love for quiet and for absorbing beauty is why I determinedly live a slow everyday life. I thrive in slowness.
I grew up living a blessedly slow childhood where my family stayed home most days, but we took off on adventures often enough, too. It was a good, warm childhood at home, and I loved it because my mother made a great atmosphere for our family. Home was a safe place to settle in, dig down, and do what God made us to do. It was a place where we were loved and where there was ample time.
I find it interesting that my most vivid, most powerful, and most shaping memories are not of exciting adventures, vacations, or excursions, but are of slower times: my life in my family home; playing outdoors with neighborhood children; happy, playful days at my grandparent’s house by the lake a mile down the road; the times I listened to my teachers read aloud in the classroom with my chin set on crossed arms on my desk. Even on our vacations, the times I remember best are the slowed down moments of playing at water’s edge or wading in a creek or watching Grampy cook trout over the fire. Slow time is important for children and for all of us. It allows our experiences, our thoughts, and our conversations to sink in, to take root, to develop into something both unique and meaningful that will last a lifetime.
When I had my own children, they were given a slow childhood, and I am convinced it was just about the best gift they were given because it allowed so many good things to occur in their lives. If I could go back and do it all over again, I’d make the same choice. (Today, this choice might run harder than ever against the flow of the culture around us, but I’m convinced it is still possible.)
My kids were given time to explore, to wander, to wonder, and to contemplate. There was ample time for a unique creativity to develop in each child and for curiosity to arise and expand in its sophistication, which happens, I think, to be a large part of education. In fact, there is a quote, written large in my own hand, that I slipped under the plastic cover of one of my homeschooling notebooks. It says, “Curiosity is the very basis of education, and if you tell me curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly.” (Arnold Edinborough)
Time of Wonder is a beautiful, joyful book about life lived slow. It is about family, community, the profound wonders of nature, and of finding beauty and interest all around us. It is also about paying attention; about enjoying the gift of happy, sunny days and the wonders they bring; about preparing for what is coming and battening down against the storm; about finding joy in our protected places while the winds rage and the rains pelt outside; about hope given in the midst of the storm; and about not being afraid or overcome but being resourceful. After the storm, we look in wonder at what has happened—when everything is cloaked in stillness and peace—and we discover treasures uncovered by the hurricane.
Time of Wonder—the poetic narrative as well as the gorgeous watercolor paintings—provides a picture of slow days, of a rich childhood, and of lovely parenting, and, if you’re looking, the book also offers a rich metaphor for living a spiritual life.
Digging in and living deep happens slowly.