When evacuating from a wildfire what books do you bring? That may not be a question most people ask, but that’s a big question for a living-book homeschooling mother and, a few weeks ago, it was a question I suddenly had to answer.
I’ve been building our family’s library for 10 years now, scouring thrift shops, garage sales and library cast off stores. Some of the books I’ve collected are hard to find while others are practically irreplaceable. So for me and for our family this was a hard question. We had a bit of time to think; we knew the fire was coming our way as we watched it creeping closer and closer despite the heroic efforts of the firefighters. So I began looking at what was essential in the likely event we would be evacuated.
I had already acquired most of the books for the upcoming school year so I arranged those into sturdy boxes to go first, knowing if the fire did take our home we would still need to be ready to start school in a few weeks and I would be hard pressed to replace them by September. After that more-practical decision, I particularly I wanted to preserve our older, original hardback versions, such as The White Stallion of Lipizza by Marguerite Henry, Early Thunder by Jean Fritz, and the Holling C. Holling books.
But one particular book I chose to save purely because it’s my traditional end-of-summer, back-to-school read-aloud. I suddenly couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to continue our yearly tradition—even if we didn’t have a home to go back to.
I found A Pocketful of Cricket at a huge book sale in Australia called Bookfest. Out of the thousands of books piled haphazardly along kilometers of tables I pulled it out (or maybe it jumped into my hand) and the title and illustrations intrigued me. I’d never heard of it before, but I recognized the author’s name so it went into my bag that was growing heavier by the minute.
Excellence in art is equally as important to me as storytelling. While the art in A Pocketful of Cricket is a little unusual, I find it appealing, interesting, and a perfect enhancement to the story itself.
The language of the book is also wonderful. It captures the innocence and beauty of childhood on an ordinary late summer day just before school starts again, engaging all the senses: from the soft powdery dust of the road squishing between bare toes, to the fields with corn and cool beans in their pods, the sharp, frost scent of the nut husk to the apple tree with the sweet red apples growing on one side and the sour on the other.
It is a story of a young boy absorbed with the “livingness” of life in the country on the way to get the cows from the far pasture and drive them home. It reminds me of a passage by Madeline L’Engle in A Circle of Quiet:
“In real play, which is real concentration, a child is not only outside of time he is outside of himself. He has thrown himself completely into whatever it is that he is doing… His self-consciousness is gone; his consciousness is wholly focused outside himself.”
The boy in the story is fully alive and living in the moment and as he completes his chore of bringing home the cows he also finds a new friend in a cricket. He loves, cares for, and plays with his new pet yet when school rolls around a few days later, forcing him into uncomfortable clothes and shoes and hair combing, he realizes that he faces a difficult choice: What should he do with the cricket? We can imagine what his mother tells him. You’ll have to read the book to find out how it all turns out, but I love the ending and it’s always great for starting conversations with my children, asking them what they would have chosen and why.
Thankfully the fire did not come near our home and we were able to return a few days later. I haven’t put A Pocketful of Cricket back on the shelf yet, however. I like looking at it and it’s nearly time to read it aloud again as we savor the last few days of summer while looking forward to the start of the new school year.