I write the phrase on the board. I hear other students saying, “Yeah,” and, “That’s a good one.” I turn and ask for other suggestions. The students are brainstorming possible book titles for a collection of their creative nonfiction stories. It’s spring, 2011. I am the “artist-in-residence” at an elementary school in Flagstaff, Arizona. I’m more specifically a writing coach/social studies teacher, giving the students factual information and prompts, so they can write their own stories, springing from the rich history, the diverse environments and people that make up the American Southwest. With some generous funding from the local children’s museum, we’re making an actual printed book with store-quality covers and a table of contents with all the student-authors’ names. Each author will get a copy.
After their teacher and I count up the votes, “Creatures of the West” is the clear winner for our title. “But not all the stories are about animals,” one student points out. “Some are about people.”
It’s then that I say maybe the most important thing I’ve said all spring: “People are creatures.” This rolls into a lively yet all-too-short discussion. Later, I think how crucial it is for a young person, for any person of any age, to see that our cars, computers, and smart phones, our drive-through and plastic wrapped food, our sealed up, temperature controlled houses, schools, and offices, often make us forget we’re animals too. We need to be reminded we’re not so different from tigers, flittering bats, skittering chickarees, and ladybugs, who need to fly away home. Because we alone, amongst all the living critters, the timber wolves, coyotes, rhino, field mice, and grizzly bears, need to be reminded that we are home. Don’t we all ride this same fantastic rock through a skyway of stars? And who amongst us passengers isn’t trying to make a living, recover from the effort, or fill the time in-between?
To begin to instill in children, to instill in anyone, a feeling of compassion towards the Earth and all of its inhabitants, maybe the first step is to simply point out that humans are creatures amongst many other creatures of the north, south, east, and west.
Matthew Henry Hall is the author of the children’s book Phoebe and Chub among other acclaimed titles. He is also a cartoonist and a singer. Visit him at http://www.matthewhenryhall.com.
© 2011, Matthew Henry Hall | Photo: Mike Frick. All Rights Reserved.