The Nature Declaration, the theme of this year’s Children’s Book Week, had to happen at some point. Besides the fact that the climate apocalypse is more or less happening right before our eyes, the children’s book world has been flooded for years with books about insects, birds, fungi, flowers, trees, you name it. One is more visually appealing than the other and is often impressively accurate in terms of information. Many of these non-fiction books seem to be written with a moral educational intent: before it is too late, the younger generation should realize just how special and indispensable nature is. A nice bonus, most kids feel a strong connection to everything that grows and blooms.
It is a pity that these books usually ignore the basic question of why this is so. Of course, there is no easy, unambiguous answer. It is a “memorial of millions of years,” when everyone was still living in the wild, deeply rooted in our genes and we were actually animals, says Yuval Noah Harari in his first children’s book How did we become the strongest animal on earth?? Are children drawn to Mother Nature by an unconscious longing for the Garden of Eden, a romantic idea for her sake Sophie’s worldAuthor Justin Gaarder seems to be referring in his new book We are the world, when describing how as a teenager he was in contact on a “primitive level” with a “deeper layer” in nature and himself? Or are children driven by their curiosity? Is it their innate impulse to discover that they entered the forbidden forest? Harry Potterbooks, urging them to reveal the secrets of the Wildwood of Tonke Dragt? We should not forget that nature can also turn against a child: trees can fall, wild plants can be poisonous and hungry animals are ominously unpredictable.
with wild animals
So writing a real children’s book about this mysterious relationship between man and nature is no small feat. The best books actually are the ones where the lines are broached, wrapped in an exciting adventure. Not for nothing like the classics The Wonderful Journey of Nils Holgersson (1906) by Selma Lagerlöf and Rudyard Kiplings jungle books (1894) Legendary Status. These fairy tales are not only about children who, by staying with wild animals, encounter beauty, cruelty, freedom to live in nature and the question of what it means to be human, but also pay tribute to the mystery of the cycle of life. This encourages you to look beyond the eye and stimulates the imagination.
However, there is one book in the pile of nonfiction books about nature that stands out. This is it Behind the trees stood a lion, it is no coincidence that it was written by Dan Remerts de Vries: recent prize winner Theo Thijsen has cherished his deep love for nature all his life and travels the world to find animals in the wild. Those encounters go back to his work, in his youth novel tiger island (2013) eg and in jungle book (2020), his sparkling free adaptation of Kipling’s Books. But in Behind the trees stood a lion He tells for the first time how those encounters were, honest in her tone as if they had happened yesterday. And above all, it tells us what you mean to him as a person.
Read also Daan Remmerts de Vries photo, who received the Theo Thijssen Prize earlier this year
He wonders, by the observations of “vagrants”, “wanderers among birds”, who by chance appear in a place where they do not belong: how free are we? Equally important is his thought about the similarities between humans, animals, and mammals after visiting a Parisian zoo without pens. The freedom of movement they obtained meant that the animals were hiding from visitors. Due to their timid demeanor, Remmerts de Vries suddenly realizes how much animals love their space, where they sleep and the food they choose, and that ‘just like people, they have feelings about what’s fun and what’s not’. He also says: His meditation is that animals, unlike humans, “can never disappoint you, because they are always the same.”
Also read a review of two classic children’s books retranslated: To which Mowgli and Nils Holgson owe their immortal status
But the most imaginative thing in this memoir of nature, illustrated with his own pictures, are the chapters in which Remmerts de Vries wanders through the Indian jungle. A vague and poetic description is the moment when the forest around him closes like “a cathedral of logs, with a roof of foliage.” Remmerts de Vries believes that there is something like a fairy tale about the fact that tigers are hiding out there somewhere. The word fits perfectly with the idea he was already convinced as a child: ‘that there is a hidden world behind everything. [hij] He saw “and that one day he would be able to perceive those ‘miracles.’ It was for this reason, he says, that he began looking for the animals: ‘They are actually a kind of messengers – they indicate where that hidden life is.”
For example, the longing for the hidden lives of nature seems to be a longing for stories: a great outcome for Children’s Book Week where nature is central.
A version of this article also appeared in the October 7, 2022 newspaper