books,  environment,  homeschooling

animals in our community and community in our children’s books

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Animals in our community, and community in our children's books. “Always include local nature – the land, the water, the air, the native creatures – within the membership of the community.”

The above is rule number two of poet, author and environmentalist Wendell Berry’s “17 Rules for a Sustainable Local Community” and it makes me think of a couple of different children’s books I’ve read recently. They are not books about green living or environmentalism specifically but instead books that in some way recognize the presence of other species as part of the local community.

One of the books is called Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth. It is written by Marie-Louise Gay, the author of the Stella series, and it is part of the Forest of Reading 2012 list. The book tells of a little anthropomorphic bunny that wakes up ready to dig the biggest hole on earth in her backyard.  When she starts digging in her backyard she’s confronted by a worm that objects to her digging in his yard. Her second attempt runs into a mole’s territory and her third into a dog’s store-room. The book ends delightfully with her father’s supportive delight in the small hole she does manage.

When I read the book I see so many things. I see questions of land ownership and of our children wanting to find space in a world that is already parceled up and owned. Where can they claim space? Where can they build their holes and plant their gardens?

I also think about questions of ownership. What does it mean to own the land? The worm’s yard is within the bunny’s yard, the bunny doesn’t use that as an excuse to continue messing up the worm’s yard.

What would it be like if we recognized other creatures rights to our land? I live across the street from a stream where beavers regularly build their dams, and the city regularly traps the beavers. I think its an obvious case of lack of foresight. The city permitted expensive parks and schools to be built on land that could be subject to flooding if the dams remained in place, so the city has to constantly remove beavers. What if instead when the cities were deciding what land to develop they recognized which animals inhabit the land and gave them a bit more space? There would have to be a balance of course.

Another of the books is called Whose Garden Is It? by Mary Ann Hoberman. Here a lady sees a beautiful garden and asks whose it is. The gardener claims it, as does all the animals that live there and then the seeds and the plants and the sun. Again there is questions of ownership and what is meant by owning something. The animals wouldn’t mean ownership in the way of having a legal right to it. The story is told in rhyme and so some of it seems a little forced but in all I like the emphasis of looking closer and closer at things smaller and smaller. The familiar setting of the story – a neighbour’s garden – makes it easy to move the discussion to our own lives.

Whose garden is the garden in the backyard? We have an abundance of slugs and in some ways that keeps things real. It’s fun to say hey, the garden belongs to everything, but then the reality is we don’t really want to share it. Moreover, if we want to claim that the garden belongs to the plants as we well as the slugs, then we need to limit the slugs growth. (My first year gardening here the slugs took out several rows of seedlings.) Recognizing a need for balance I try to limit the slug population in ways that won’t cause harm to other creatures.

The third book is called Mischief in the Forest and it is by environmentalist Derrick Jensen. The story is of a grandmother living alone in a forest. Returning from a trip to visit her grandchildren she worries the lack of company will bother her, only to discover that her yarn has been stolen by the local animals whom she soon befriends. I’ll admit to being disappointed about this book. I purchased it because of who the author is and I hoped it would be something a little more than it is. The pictures look too computer-drawn cartoon-y and the story itself isn’t quite what I expected. Yes, it emphasizes the idea of making friends with the animals, including those who live in urban areas like squirrels and birds, but it doesn’t exactly portray how one could. The woman leaves her doors and windows open and spends more time outside with them but that sort of socialization with animals isn’t necessarily good for either them or us. We need to respect animals as part of the community but we also need to respect them as wild animals, not free-range pets.

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  • Katie @ Youth Literature Reviews

    Great post! Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth sounds fantastic. I love the idea of using books to teach children about sharing the outdoors and being respectful of other living things.
    Thanks for sharing another thoughtful article with us at the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

  • Renee C.

    I really enjoyed reading your insights and interpretation of these books in relation to urbanization. These issues are so real. As urban areas grow and natural areas are taken over, there is little thought to how it affects the wildlife in these areas. We actually live close to a “lake” – really it’s a depression in our area that has been filled with water and there is a park in this area. There is mix of wild animals inhabiting that area – coyotes, bald eagles, hawks, raccoons, rats, and so on. There are definitely ways to co-exist but I think it all begins with a respect for animals and how people view animals (i.e., part of the community vs. pests). Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop. 🙂

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