Eco Family Life. Right Here. Right Now. Be The Change.
Quite possibly the most brilliant children’s book ever written is ‘The Wild Woods’, by Simon James.
An adventurous and determined small girl, Jess, is out for a walk through the woods with her grandad. Simon James’s illustrations treat us to the comic sight of Grandad trying to keep up with young Jess as she climbs over gates, skips across rivers on slippery stepping stones and scrambles up muddy slopes. But Jess is on a mission, to follow a spritely little red squirrel wherever he takes her. One of so many magical moments is when Jess and the squirrel reach the top of a slope, peep through the trees and find a waterfall. They stop to drink in the joy and spirit of the place – so much dynamism in the roar of the water, and yet so much stillness. A rather tired Grandad, meanwhile, takes the opportunity to lean against a tree and mop his brow, recovering from his ordeal in the river and crawling up a fallen tree trunk.
But the real magic of this book (spoiler alert!) is that Jess, following the squirrel in earnest because she wants to take him home and look after him, shows such a deep understanding of why, although this seems like a lovely idea, just wouldn’t be right. “He belongs to the wild.”
The wild – what does that really mean? The little red squirrel has his own place in the world, he is quite at home in the woods and doesn’t need “looking after”. Rather, he needs leaving be. Jess has enjoyed his company for the afternoon, and perhaps he has even enjoyed hers. Maybe she’ll come back to the woods and meet that same squirrel again one day, maybe not. But there he will stay, so long as the woods do not come under threat from human activity – ah, yes, human activity, the polar opposite of wilderness.
One of the reasons this gorgeous book resonates so deeply with me is that I feel so much of humankind’s attitude to the natural world – the animals, plant life and habitats we depend on for our very survival – that we are indeed a part of – rests on a deep, deep lack of respect for anything non-human. Squirrels and other animals are not ours to take home and look after, to entertain us, just because they’re small and sweet and fluffy. Tigers are not ours to put in zoos and watch pacing up and down. The Arctic is not ours to drill for oil. The Amazon Rainforest is not ours for destroying. It all seems the same to me. The minute we are separate from nature, we seem to ruin it, and therein create gigantic problems for future generations’ wellbeing and survival. Massively reducing our impact on the world is such an urgent challenge facing humankind now. For children, who will be facing these problems for themselves and their children, when we adults have long said goodbye to this world, could do with all the understanding they can get about the importance of wilderness. For me, this beautiful book says it all.