Friday, 1 July 2011

New chapter

Every night I take the bus home from Dublin for an hour and a half, until I get to my stretch of country road and step off at a pole where the bus stop sign used to be. I get my bicycle out of a neighbour’s barn, and ride the rest of the way home – and if I am lucky, as I was last night, I am greeted by a running hug from a six-year-old girl, and told that she missed me all day.

Whatever kind of day it was, it ends with me reading stories to her. Over the months she has begun reading more and more to me, and I can see her view of the world gather more detail and shadow. She wants stories of fairies and magic, of brave young girls who stop the villains and restore the world. Sometimes I also work in elements of the world around her – the herons and hedgehogs that live near us, the plants that grow around us, the weather and the soil – helping her understand that magic and power are not limited to fantasy.

She makes her own stories. Last night she showed me the one she drew in meticulous crayon detail, about the princess imprisoned with spiders in a dungeon, by a witch who wanted to turn the green land grey, and guarded her with a dragon who was working for the witch against his will, and secretly sympathised with the princess, and had a giant tear hanging from his eye because he would rather be doing good things for the world. I understand, I told her, as I laid out my clothes for the office tomorrow; we are all that dragon sometimes.

I recognize the threads of children’s books, after-school cartoons and inchoate understanding of the world, which she weaves together like a bird building a nest. But I tell her she has a greater story – I know more of it than she does, but soon that will change. It’s your story, I tell her, and you will know it all one day, but it can never be told, only lived.

I wrote my first magazine cover story on peak oil around the time she was born. In the years since then we have intensively studied building, gardening, traditional crafts and skills we think need preserving, and we pass them onto her in the hopes that she becomes the kind of person the world will need in the years to come. So far, so good.

A new chapter just began. Happy Birthday, love.


John said...

Nice post. I wonder, given how often you reflect on your daughter's wonderful imagination, if you could offer a reading list of sorts. I am reading Landscape with Dragons by Michael O'Brien so the imagination of children is on my mind. What books have you found, and for what ages, that foster the imagination without offering problematic moral or social lessons?

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday indeed!Methinks you should make a hard copy of your blog posts over the years - not only so that you can look back and reminisce in times to come, but I have a hunch that the girl too will one day be very interested! Greeting from Wales, Cyfarchion o Gymru!

Brian Kaller said...


Thanks for writing. I’m always on the lookout for books, especially ones that will spur imagination, teach values I like and introduce her to more traditional ways of life. At the same time, she remains her own person, and refuses to love everything I want her to love.

I have often read Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, A.A. Milne, Astrid Lindgren, Neil Gaiman and Lewis Carroll, but she didn’t love the Little House on the Prairie books as much as I had hoped – maybe I can try again when she’s older. I have a list of books on her shelf I plan to read with her in the coming year – The Book of Virtues, Peter Pan, The Phantom Tollbooth and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series. We read a lot of nonfiction, mainly about science -- it's important to me that she's familiar with the world.

Still, right now she has one favourite series – Daisy Meadows’ Fairy books. They started out several years ago with the Rainbow Fairies, and became such a hit that they’ve expanded to more than 200 books, with a new books each month. I’m beginning to suspect “Daisy Meadows” is a nom-de-plume. :-)

They are not great literature, but they get her willingly reading in a world of aliterate people and distractions, and I’m so pleased about that I will read her the opportunistic “Kate the Royal Wedding Fairy.”

Anonymous, I'm already working on it. :-)