While catching up on some of my favorite book blogs this morning, I came across Jacket Copy’s posting that Crayola presented Eric Carle with a 5-foot-tall crayon aptly named Very Hungry Caterpillar Green in honor of the picture book’s 40th anniversary this year.
Well, I couldn’t help but smile. Who among us hasn’t read the The Very Hungry Caterpillar? It’s as American as apple pie and the Statue of Liberty. Or at least in the daughter of a teacher’s opinion. If you don’t immediately recognize Eric Carle’s name, try these: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?; The Very Busy Spider; The Very Quiet Cricket; and so many more.
Even as adults, we can appreciate children’s book writers who nurture young imaginations. Eric Carle certainly fostered mine. To this day, I recall my awe and excitement as the caterpillar munched through pears, plums, strawberries and oranges, then cake, Swiss cheese and cherry pie before spinning a cocoon and changing into a beautiful butterfly. How marvelous! At five years old, the world seemed boundless. I always felt that if a little caterpillar’s life was so spectacular, how much more awaited me. And I know I’m not the only person who experienced this childhood moment—when you feel so much bigger than you did two minutes before. Such a simple story and yet, so much more. I’m thrilled that Carle’s work is being honored.
As I mentioned, my mother is an elementary school administrator in Fairfax County, Virginia. This year, she’s decided to teach a half-day Kindergarten class in addition to her administration duties. I asked what drew her back to the classroom.
“I love the little ones,” she said. “For them, school isn’t ‘school’ yet—it’s an adventure, it’s a playground, it’s magical.”
Then I listen to her excitedly tell me about her room: the imaginary playhouse complete with teacups and saucers; the paints and canvasses in the art center; the cowbells for the music area; and, of course, the reading rug… oh, the glorious reading rug!
She’s right. Kindergarten is school before the stardust glitter and magic carpets are put away. How sad for the twelve grades to follow. But it seems even the joy of Kindergarten is in peril.
In April, The New York Times’ article “The Way We Live Now—Kindergarten Cram” reported on the unsettling trend in American schools to push children toward academic achievement too fast and too soon. Peggy Orenstein wrote: “When I was a child…kindergarten was a place to play. We danced the hokeypokey, swooned in suspense over Duck, Duck, Gray Duck…and napped on our mats until the Wake-Up Fairy set us free. No more… today’s kindergartners prepare for a life of multiple-choice boxes by plowing through standardized tests…”
As a writer and a champion of free spirit, this news was like a punch to my gut. No more story hour and sock puppets, family trees and show-n-share? Well, that’s darn near apocalyptic!
Lucky for me, many others agree (though probably with less vibrato—‘apocalyptic’ may be a bit much for some). In response to these pushy academic programs, many schools and parents are opting for more play-friendly curriculums that believe a child’s bloomed imagination is just as important as identifying the letters on the page. After all, wonder cannot be quantified and neither can inspiration. Who knows what amazements these kids may produce in twenty years if simply given the freedom to imagine outside the limits of standardized tests today.
So as a new academic year begins and first-time students strap on backpacks, I hope they enter classrooms where anything they dream is possible. I hope teachers across the country allow these very hungry caterpillars to taste the world before transforming into butterflies. I’d say that deserves a 5-foot-tall crayon and then some.
Yours truly, Sarah
To read Jacket Copy’s post: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2009/08/eric-carle-crayon-award.html
To read the NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/03/magazine/03wwln-lede-t.html?_r=1