Henry David Thoreau for Kids is geared towards children ages nine and up but I am going to review this book as one for adults as well.
Abridged version of Thoreau
Cutting right to the chase—I loved this book. As a perpetual student of Louisa May Alcott and as someone who appreciates nature, I have been fascinated with Henry David Thoreau since childhood. I do find his writing however to be difficult to plough through at times as it is very dense; Thoreau’s works demand complete attention from the reader and this can be hard to sustain at times. Therefore I look upon Corinne Hosfeld Smith’s book to be a welcomed abridged version of Thoreau.
Writing with authority
Smith, a writer and a poet (having previously written on Thoreau’s travels to the Midwest titled Westward I Go Free: Tracing Thoreau’s Last Journey) serves as a licensed tour guide at the Wheeler-Minot Farmhouse in Concord, MA, birthplace of Thoreau. She is immersed in his life and works and writes of him with authority.
Connected to today
Thoreau for Kids is visually appealing and richly illustrated. Smith writes a concise biography of the man and his works and includes illustrations and sidebars which connect Thoreau with the present day. Examples include famous people influenced by Thoreau (including Mohandas Ghandi and Martin Luther King) and information and illustrations about the various places where he lived, worked and visited (such as Concord and Walden Pond, Mounts Wachusett and Monadnock in Central MA, the Catskills, the White Mountains, Cape Cod, etc.).
Thoreau’s journaling habit
What most brought Thoreau home to me were the concrete associations made through the twenty-one activities created to help the reader live out Thoreau’s ideas. As an example, Smith discusses the family’s pencil business, noting the reputation of the Thoreau pencil as a good writing instrument. She goes on to describe Thoreau as a lifelong learner, noting his habit of keeping a journal. She then encourages the reader to keep one as well, listing the materials needed (such as a favorite pencil) and listing suggestions on what to write about such as what we see, smell, hear, feel, think and believe.
Learning to notice
In discussing Thoreau’s work as a surveyor, she presents an activity where the reader can conduct a plant survey of their own yard. Such an exercise would train the eye to notice those things often overlooked—this seems to be the point of many of Smith’s exercises.
Building a sacred space
I could really see kids getting into the exercise where they “build” Thoreau’s Walden hut in a room or outdoors in the yard by mapping it out. Not only does it afford the opportunity to be a surveyor like Thoreau (a job requiring mastery of measuring skills), it also stimulates the imagination as to what would be done with the hut once it is built. It introduces the idea of a sacred space, one set aside for something special.
Learning to be still
My favorite exercise (which I cannot wait to try when the weather turns favorable) was “Record Wild Animal Behavior.” Besides coming up with wonderful written observations and sketches, this exercise teaches one how to sit still for thirty minutes. In this noisy, multi-tasking, hurry-up world, being still is incredibly difficult. Smith gives us a viable tool in this activity to learn how to quiet the mind and the body, thus opening up a new view to the natural world, and eventually leading to inner pondering.
Building good habits
This is why I highly recommend Thoreau for Kids for adults as well as children. Thoreau’s lessons of authenticity, observation, mindfulness, social justice, appreciation and care of the environment, and the enrichment that come from quiet moments of solitude are needed more today than ever. Smith presents Thoreau’s ideas in an easy-to-read format and then presents opportunities to live them out.. Such a book can build good habits and inspire ideas in children and adults that will benefit ultimately our world, one reader at a time.
In my next post I will feature an extensive and fascinating interview with Corinne Hosfeld Smith.
NOTE: I posted something new in From My Garret about following through and pushing through doubt. Check it out.
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