Now that I have a baby boy I have been dreaming of all the books that I will start to leave lying around for him as he grows; the Redwall Series by Brian Jacques, along with Susan Cooper, Madeline L'Engle, and Roald Dahl are a few. "The Wind in the Willows," is a book that I plan to read with him at night as my sisters used to read to me. I remember listening to their voices in the dark as I imagined all the scenes, or closing my eyes on a dock on summer vacation and letting the words wash over me in tune to the water slapping gently against the pilings.
This pastoral children's story follows Mole as he leaves his house in a sudden yearning to be done with spring cleaning. He discovers the Riverbank and with it Rat, who teaches him the ways of boating and river life. Mole goes on to meet gruff, solitary Badger, and Toad who takes over eventually as a principal character and goes on a wild adventure.
The story has a deep love of nature beating through it's hopeful passages, themes of camaraderie, courage, good humor, and adventure, and moments of ageless wisdom. Rat is a gentleman, Mole is a dear creature, and Toad is what I think most of are at one point in our lives even if we grow up to be Badger. If you have read and loved this book then you know much more about it than I could ever write. If you haven't I suggest you make some tea and spend an afternoon in a simple idyll.
There is a pervasive thought that exists, that I have encountered in the old and the young, that books like this are useless and that Goodness and Truth, in such a form and ideal, doesn't exist in real life; that children are better prepared for the world when they are shown what the world is really like. I disagree. I disagree that the world is as people insist it is. I have experienced first hand the moments that Kenneth Grahame describes in his book, the moments of True Joy. I identify and perpetuate and allow for those moments for many reasons but one of them is reading stories like his as a child. If children are in a troubled place, and a dark place, or a war torn place, they need something, more than ever, to show them what could be; Kenneth Grahame wrote something that embodies those truths that children need to know; that the darkness around them doesn't have to last, and that they can retake Toad Hall from the Weasels.
As we grow and take on more of the world I think we need to be reminded what we knew for sure in our childhoods. The reality is that what we take with us, the goodness we let blossom, is far stronger than the challenges we meet. Sometimes we lose the way. We doubt our riverbank can exist in the world, and that nasty pervasive thought slips in and we stop fighting for Goodness, and Our Place because it doesn't exist. It isn't true. It's just fairy stories. As for me and mine, we will read, "The Wind in the Willows."