Amidst an intense election season, the OGP fights to keep the world safe for children, gardening and storytelling. In 1990, I was the only activist labeled “public school educator” at an enormous environmental conference. I was stunned when the leader pontificated, “The environment is so messed up, there’s no time for education. We must act now.”
His environmental degradation statement was reasonably accurate, but he is still living yet missing from action. Those “acting now,” 30 years later, are the grown-up children to whom some of us kept telling stories.
Citizens for Global Solutions, made me aware of Nov. 20, World Children’s Day, which should be every day. Please swear to protect the Constitution by daily telling important stories to the children.
So, what are the stories for children in a polarized, polemical pandemic?
One is Paul Galdone’s picture book version of an old folktale, “The Wise Fool.” A man stops daily on his way to work, delighting in the smells of the local bakery, but he never buys donuts. The struggling baker notices, and one day storms out, demanding, “You’re going to have to pay for those smells.”
“Ridiculous,” the man argues. “You can’t charge for smells, no matter how good they are.”
Trouble is brewing and someone calls for the King’s Fool, who ambles in and assesses the situation. When the Fool orders the alarmed “customer” to give him a coin, the baker is thrilled, thinking he’s to be paid. Deliberately dropping the coin three times on the sidewalk, the mysterious judge tells the baker, “You’ve heard the sound of this man’s coin. That is payment for his enjoying the smells of your bakery. Case dismissed.”
Another is the old Buddhist/Hindu parable, “Blind Men and the Elephant,” which has been transformed into numerous children’s picture books. A group of friends, all blind, encounter a strange animal, an elephant, and begin to discuss, then argue, what they’ve found. One, grabbing a tusk, insists it’s a spear. Another, with the trunk, calls it a snake, and a third, holding the ear, believes it to be the side of a tent. The argument becomes furious, and long-standing friendships are threatened, until a seeing person tells them the story of the elephant. The fight is pointless, as they are missing the larger picture of the smaller piece each is holding.
My own version comes from being a kid in the 1950s, playing in the field where the Interstate 494 freeway now goes to the Mall of America. There were broken-down, abandoned farm buildings, surrounded by the tall, magnificent waving “weeds” that we call native plantings today. Most wonderful were the trees strung with sturdy vines where we swung like Tarzan in our “jungle.”
It was a more innocent time, and one night we got permission to camp there. It was an evening when clouds and lack of street lights made it so dark even wearing white at night while walking was dangerous. Hiking in the eerie darkness, we got lost, physically and emotionally, fighting over a strange collision on the path. Was it an old barn? Tent and tent pole? A swinging vine in the trees? When the sun started to come up, we could see we had all grabbed different parts of a mystical elephant. Wisely, we realized the vine-like tail and “tent pole” tusks didn’t warrant being The Eve of Friendship Destruction. We returned the stray to the Como Park Zoo and got enough reward money to go to real camp that summer.
Fiction? Some of it, mainly the elephant. When children ask if it is that true, I say, “Not how we usually think of it, but it’s made up to teach something true.” I also tell them sometimes people make up stories to hurt others, or so they don’t have to take responsibility for wrongdoing.
There are no Bloomington elephants except at the mall’s Rainforest Café, but there have been recent cougar sightings. That, coupled with foxes and wild turkeys in Golden Valley, might suggest some sort of environmental disorder. Perhaps stories are in order.