Last night I finished reading Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus (which you can also find on my Recommended Reading page, or click the image below) to Wilf and Bert, aged 7 and 4 respectively. Wilf had been nagging me all holiday as we had a rather longer break than expected in the continuation of the story. In our family, with its many modern complications, the six weeks have flown past before we could even register them properly, and the story has suffered.
So, we picked it up again last night, and finished it off for good measure.
It held both children captivated, which surprised me somewhat. Not because it isn’t a good story – it is – but because for today’s child growing up in a world of special effects and super-animation, the illustrations are very simple, pretty much monochrome but for the yellow, and the vocabulary is, in places, a little more sophisticated than we tend for some reason to expose our children to in the 21st century. This has been my experience many a time, actually, as I have screwed up my maternal enthusiasm and suggested reading to them all something along the lines of Five Children and It, only to have them lose interest quite quickly in the face of the antiquated language.
So, Hope for the Flowers held their attention entirely, in its gentle telling of the story of Stripe and Yellow, two caterpillars and their journey through the lifecycle. But it isn’t about caterpillars or butterflies. Or natural lifecycles. It is so very much deeper than that, and it is a story that even the majority of we adults struggle to appreciate. It is a story of sheep; or of conveyor belts; or the rat-race; or of blindly following the ‘norm’ without stopping to question. It is a beautiful analogy of the benefits of leaving behind the material world in favour of the spiritual.
Rather synchronously (which is something that no longer surprises me much), Jem read a story on BBC News this morning, about the overwhelming, and ever-growing demand for storage facilities. It would seem that rather than throw things away or replace them, we have become more attached than ever to our possessions. What we cannot fit in our homes, we now pay to have kept for us – in some cases for decades – rather than sell, give or throw away. It would seem that we have now blurred the boundary so very much between who we are and what we own that we now believe that we are what we own. Not that it hasn’t been a long time coming: we are one of the only countries in the world to actually speculate on something as intrinsically necessary as the roof over our heads, and when items such as cars – once simply a method of getting us from one place to another – become a symbol of our importance and status in the world, we are sending our children a very dubious message indeed.
So the message to be found in Hope for the Flowers is one that I am incredibly grateful to have discovered presented in such a way as to have a gentle but profound impact on my children, to aid me in my quest to teach them that it is what we are that is important. After all, if you lost everything tomorrow, would you die?
I doubt it.
But I’d wager you’d feel an awful lot lighter, almost like a butterfly…?