Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Time of Wonder: A Book and a Life Lived Slow. . .

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.


  1. Thank you once again, Susan. Such a delight for me to read your writings..truly, thank you.

  2. Oh, wow. I love this, Susan. Excellent, excellent, excellent! This is likely one of my favorite posts that you've written, though I really do like all of them a whole lot. :)

  3. I have just put Time of Wonder on hold at my library. I can;t wait to snuggle up to my girls and take in the words and beautiful art. :)

  4. Susan...

    I've been reading through your posts daily/weekly as time permits. (We recently moved and then my parents also moved a few blocks away, so I've been busy and haven't had much time to comment.)

    All that to say...your posts still impact as much as your High Desert Home posts did. No, I'd have to say this blog has impacted me more. Even though your themes are very much the same and you are very much the same, there is a richness that spills from you that wasn't present before. A deep flowing river.

    I'm guessing it is due to the gifts (wanted and unwanted) that God has given you over the past few years. And I'm also reading with different lenses on due to my journey over the past few years.

    You have been so instrumental in how my girls and I learn, and every time I read one of your learning posts, it is a breath of fresh air! I am bombarded from all sides, as I'm sure most of us are, by the "you musts" and "you really should be's" of schooling. My family doesn't learn that way. We take a very natural approach to learning, and we love it! Your posts are very encouraging and spur me on:)

    We love Time of Wonder, and this post fits it like a glove!

    And this..."digging in and living deep happens slowly." Everything in me shouts, "Yes!!!"

    Just wanted to say thank you for who you are and for giving us glimpses of that. You are a treasure!


  5. I love all of his books! I always want to just jump right into the pictures and take part in all the characters are doing!

  6. I so connected with this post! I loved Robert McCloskey's books since childhood too. We didn't have much money to buy books back then, but I had a mother who took us to the library regularly. I can remember going there when I was four years old. And I have always loved libraries since then--and bookstores! I can wile the hours away in either place. I remember listening to Lentil on an old 78 record many times. My early elementary teachers in Milwaukee read to us, I'm sure. But, I remember best those teachers in our new little school in a tiny town in the upper peninsula who read wonderful chapter books to us every single day after lunch from fourth grade through sixth grade when that practice sadly stopped. Mrs. Berto, my fourth grade teacher read Homer Price to us too and strict Mrs. Sanger had a saving grace--she read to us! But, oh the joy! of my sixth grade teacher, Miss Olson. She read first thing in the morning and again! right after lunch! My favorite times of the day too. She was a sweet, old, spinster Christian lady, gentle and kind. She loved Christmas too. And when December came, schoolwork lessened considerably and we did all kinds of Christmas craft projects. (Two years later, when she had my youngest live-wire brother, she had a private little talk with him about behaving like a gentleman. He took it to heart and she rewarded him with a ceramic golden partridge at Christmas time. For years, I thought she had given all the children in the class the same thing as her Christmas gift to them. But Gary confessed as an adult the reason why he was the only one to receive that from her that year!)

    Years later when I was a teacher, I finally realized the only way we would have time to faithfully read aloud every day was if we did it first. And I became the push-over who also read morning and after lunch and who could always be persuaded to read another chapter! :D I just googled Amazon and I see that Centerburg Tales is the only book of Robert McCloskey's that I haven't read. His books speak to me too, and I agree that the ones I love best as an adult are not the ones I chose as a child. His poetic language is fun to read aloud though, and his illustrations are wonder-ful!!! Thanks for taking me down this trip on memory lane. It was so fun. I need to pull them out again and reread them to my kids (13 and 14)...refresh their memories and allow them to enjoy them on a new level. Susan, I so love your posts! You have a way of capturing the essence of things. Thank you bunches! :D


  7. I'm back. I re-read your post aloud to my son and daughter. Your writing is so excellent. I pointed out to them that in your last couple of paragraphs you are speaking of your personal experiences in your own life, I think. When I read 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," I thought, your resourcefulness could include publishing your blog posts, in my opinion. You should consider doing that. You would bless many more people. Will you think about it?


  8. I own most of McCloskey's book...they are my favorites (Make Way for Ducklings makes me smile!) and we own two copies of Time of Wonder :) Slowness yes...even though I am raising my children in this fast-paced, always-connected culture, we are able to make choices to live slowly and do so. The hardest part is when most all of our friends live faster paced lives so trying to build community is very difficult. We really swim against the tide even in the homeschooling community and it can get discouraging.

  9. This was one of Sarie's favorite childhood books.

    I like the way the part of your narrative about fast-paced life corresponds with the hurricane in the book!

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  11. Debbie, thank you. :-)

    Silvana, you have no idea how encouraging you have been to me so many times. . . thank you.

    Tracy, I hope you all love it! :-)

    Kelli, thank you for emerging from the quiet. :-) I think of you often and wonder how you are. Thank you for what you said here. You sense that I've changed. I have. I hoped when I started this blog that if readers of my old blog came by they wouldn't expect exactly the same thing. My life got turned upside down and shaken out, and I've walked a difficult path, and one cannot remain the same when that happens. I'm glad you can see this, sense this. . . Thank you, Kelli.

    Michelle, I know! They're such cozy, fun books! :-)

    Judi, you would be a great teacher! :-) I loved your stories. I love that you got what I was saying there at the end where I sort of made a metaphor from the book about my experience and the Christian life in general. I smiled that you read this to your children (I did that kind of thing, too). And thank you for your encouragement. I get a lot of encouragement to write something (as, I think, do many, many people). I realize a lot of things hold me back--fear, ignorance, ineptness. I am praying about it, though, and just saying that strikes me as having an over-inflated view of myself. Ah. . . Well, thank you! :-)

    Aimee, I do know what you are saying. It's hard and lonely to go against the flow. But if we are following the Lord in it, there's the comfort of knowing He will provide all that we need. I knew a woman who said that she got a call from a new acquaintance who said she'd like to get together. This woman told her new acquaintance, "Well, I'm busy, so if you want to get to know me, you'll just have to join the activities I'm part of!" And that's often exactly the way it is. Drive-by friendships. But I guess we need to find our own ways to make community happen. I'm guessing you do that pretty well, Aimee. But it's hard, I know.

    Laura, thanks. Don't forget to change your profile--new blog link! I'm going to change the link on my sidebar.

    Cathleen, maybe that's why you have such a beautiful spirit now. Diamonds are made by crushing. And I am quite sure you were a wonderful mother. I cringe at so many of my failures as a mother, but I know that, by God's grace, there are more positives. That's good enough. And it's so much fun to get to enjoy our grandchildren, isn't it? It's a different kind of wonderful joy!

  12. Happy, happy sigh - thank you Susan!! I have this book on my interlibrary loan request list - and a copy to own on my Christmas wish list!

  13. Susan, I don't remember ever reading Time of Wonder before. Make Way for Ducklings was one of my favorite books as a little girl and I loved reading Blueberries for Sal to my kiddos, so I had to check Time of Wonder out from the library. It was a charming book, and I can see why you love it. I especially liked the part about the hurricane--the anticipation, the hunkering down, and the aftermath. Thanks so much for sharing it.