Gideon Sterer on Encouraging Kids to Find Wonder in Nature
by Gideon Sterer
Is there any emotion better than wonder? If there is, I can’t find it and ever since I was a little boy, my favorite books have been laced with awe. For me, wonder has always been about nature, portals, and the blending of worlds. When Max’s bedroom sprouted trees in Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, my childhood self tried to climb in the book. When something similar happened in The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer, I nearly exploded with joy. Still, as an adult, I find myself incessantly trying to hunt wonder down.
Of all the places to find wonder, nature, it seems, is our surest bet. This is excellent news for a child because exposure to the outdoors has immeasurable benefits – with wonder comes curiosity, and with curiosity comes a desire to inquire and learn. Exposure to nature instills feelings of connection, belonging, and a sense of stewardship that our planet so desperately needs.
What better gift, then, to a child but wonder and wild? And besides wild, what better messenger of wonder than books?
In my recent book, It Began with Lemonade, fantastically illustrated by Lian Cho, a little girl decides to make and sell lemonade on a scorching day. With the help of her father, she perfects the drink and jubilantly marches her wagon outside – only to find older kids have claimed every square inch of lemonade real estate in town. A journey of compounding bad luck (involving a run-away lemonade stand) eventually leads her out of town, through the woods, and to a magical river’s edge. I don’t want to reveal more of the book, but what transpires next is increasingly absurd and involves animal watercraft, mythical beasts, and a curious, constant, and crazy clientele.
It Began with LemonadeAlso available from:Also available from:
Pulled from an otherwise typical day in an ordinary town, the little girl is thrust into something entirely bizarre but beautiful, too. Relationships with animals as equals are normalized and celebrated and by book’s end, the plucky heroine has persevered by way of doggedness, adaptation, and a dollop of luck.
All young children seem to have an infinite capacity for wonder – but, like a muscle, it must be encouraged and used.
With this thought in mind, why not spend more time outside this summer? Whether it’s looking for cloud creatures, climbing trees, or getting eye-level with the grass and watching tiny goings-on, children need the space and time to wonder and explore. Every moment of every day, we chase end games and follow structure. There’s enough of that. Outside, for an hour in the park or woods, allow your child to simply be. Support their curiosity with questions of your own. Go down odd rabbit holes. Be a co-explorer. Get your hands dirty and listen to the squirrels and birds. As famed nature writer and marine biologist, Rachel Carson writes, “Exploring nature with your child is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies all around you. It is learning again to use your eyes, ears, nostrils, and fingertips, opening up the disused channels of sensory impression.”
It’s my deepest hope that the fantastical events in this book will impart wonder, kindle imagination, and call readers gently out into some form of wild themselves.
Rendered in watercolor, colored pencil, and gouache, Cho’s lush and lively illustrations radiate summer. At times, indeed, it seems she painted with actual lemonade. Weird and wonderful, to hold It Began with Lemonade makes me abundantly proud. Lian Cho is a terrific talent, and I hope our book generates curiosity, connection, and joy!