Spending a Day with Thoreau at Walden Pond

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I discovered this book while I was out hunting for picture books that would fit our current bimonthly theme on Water Tales. The book has only been published this year, and I was surprised to note that it was not nominated for Cybils 2012, but it’s a glorious book both in text and illustrations. Wendell Minor’s artwork is simply exquisite.

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“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.

These lines by Thoreau are memorable to me for various reasons. One is that it’s been popularized in one of my favorite films of all time, Dead Poets Society (who can ever forget Mr. Keating?). Another is that it reminds me of my undergraduate years when I took up quite a few courses on American Literature and naturally Thoreau’s Walden was a staple. As a clinician, I also know about Walden Two, a Utopian novel written by behaviorist B.F. Skinner – a book which I also frequently recommend to my psychology undergraduate students. Hence, finding this book evokes a lot of remembrances of times past.

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This book captures the world through the eyes of a modern child spending a day at Walden Pond with Thoreau. Kind of like an eccentric Uncle who decided to “live deliberately in the woods” to live a simple life, one that is not “frittered away by detail,” the boy begins by knocking on the door of Thoreau’s tiny cottage on the shore of Walden Pond. Perhaps ‘cottage’ is making it sound grander than it actually is, since according to the book:

You would look inside and see nothing but three chairs, a table, a desk, and an old bed. Yet Henry has just what he needs.

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You have to hand it to the man, he practiced what he preached. As a woman who has spent most, if not all of her life, in highly urbanized societies, Thoreau’s reality presents a charming alternative to the frenzied, hectic life that I am accustomed to. The boy spent his day rowing, weeding Thoreau’s bean patch, walking down through leafy woods, wading in the pond and listening to the gentle songs of birds with the “sun on the back of your neck.” I especially love how the book captured the actual words of Thoreau as Minor’s paintings navigate through this small clearing in the forest and Burleigh does justice to the man and his life, making him accessible to a younger audience.

If you spent a day with Henry David Thoreau, you would relax together watching. Late-afternoon clouds seem to float on Walden Pond. 

“Ah,” says Henry, smiling. “From here the pond is like a wide-open eye staring up at the sky.”

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My ten year old daughter does not yet know who Thoreau is, but she loved Dead Poets Society. Knowing about this man through this beautiful picture book managed to whet her appetite to learn more about Walden and Thoreau’s idyllic life – something which we could use a little bit more of in this day of consumerism, as people surround themselves with so many things – yet fail to take care of their souls. Something to think about this Yuletide season. And so I end this feature with Thoreau’s own words:

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.

If you Spent a Day with Thoreau at Walden Pond by Robert Burleigh and Paintings by Wendell Minor. Published by Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2012. Book borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.

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PictureBook Challenge Update: 148 (120)

1 Comment on Spending a Day with Thoreau at Walden Pond

  1. This book looks so lovely. Anxious to see it now after this wonderful review. Did get to visit the area long ago and remember how enamored I was with Thoreau in high school. Thanks, Myra!

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