Part of our family’s practice of home education involves lots of reading aloud, and we try to stretch past the usual fantasy fiction that is so often recommended to kids (Narnia, The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, My Father’s Dragon, The Mouse & His Child) into non-fiction, historical fiction, and biography (The Little House on the Prairie, Twenty and Ten, Eric Liddell, Mary Slessor, Spy for the Night Riders, The Thieves of Tyburn Square. (Reading lists from Sonlight Curriculum are a wonderful resource!) We took a deep breath and let nine-year-old take Maus: A Survivor’s Tale out of the church library. And somewhere along the line, I decided that we should pick up Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac.
It was a book of which I was only vaguely aware, with a reputation as some kind of classic or something. It had been on the list of titles for the Freshman Studies course at Lawrence University–during my Junior year. My brother-in-law ran into it at school and recommended it to his father, who passed it on to an uncle. But I never read it. Somehow, I thought of A Sand County Almanac as an artsy literary work for hunters, a Wisconsin pastoral of purely local (that is, limited) interest, nothing serious. I put it in the category of Books It Would Be Nice To Read Someday, and left it on the shelf.
But when we moved from the big city of Chicago to the small city of Madison, we saw how intimately our new home was tied to the woods and waters of the state as a whole. We shopped at the Farmer’s Market, passed a dairy farm on the way to the mall, and walked, one Sunday afternoon, through ten foot tall prairie grasses like the ones in which baby Grace was almost lost in the Little House books. It was only 30 minutes from downtown! We had become locals in a new place, and I found my attention shifting from Nelson Algren, Studs Terkel, and Stuart Dybek to Aldo Leopold. The literacy of children thus follows the passions and engagements of the parents, and starts where they are. Learning, like other sorts of evangelism, is often “just one beggar telling another where to find bread.” And for us, these words of Leopold, like other bread we share, have been full of communion, nourishment, and delight.