Nowhere, Just Out Playing
A serendipitous meeting of two thoughtful literary texts occured this week for me. Such was the case when I attended a book reading at Village Books, our wonderful local independent bookstore. Then, days after, I listened to an eloquent poetry reading by my lovely friend, Linda Conroy. They both touched my inner child.
The author at Village Books was Kathryn Aalto and I listened with some interest as she spoke about her New York Times bestseller hardcover, The Natural World Of Winnie-the Pooh. Aalto has master’s degrees in garden history and creative nonfiction with a particular interest in literary landscapes. Much of the book is devoted to the flora and fauna of Ashdown forest and the Hundred Acre Wood—the pristine natural setting of the most popular children’s book in history. I was about to escape out the back of the presentation when Ms. Aalto said, “In closing, I’d like to read a bit from my introduction.” What she recited spellbound me…
“Since Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner were published in 1926 and 1928, they have taken on greater meaning. We value the books for simple expressions of empathy, friendship, and kindness. The stories are classics as they express enduring values and open our hearts and minds to help us live well. But as I read about Milne and walked around England with my children, I saw how they tell another story: the degree to which the nature of childhood has changed in the ninety years since Milne wrote the stories. There is less freedom to let children roam and explore their natural and urban environments. There are more digital distractions for our children that keep them indoors and immobile, and heightened parental fears that do so as well.
At a time when there is so much talk about nature-deficit disorder, rising childhood obesity levels, reduced school recess, and overprotected childhoods, these stories and illustrations remind us of the joy in letting our children explore the natural world and the importance of imaginative play away from the eyes of parents. The real and imagined places of the Hundred Acre Woods are tender touchstones for the precious time of childhood. Milne’s books remind us that aimless wandering and doing Nothing is actually a very big Something for little ones.”