Guest Post: Fostering a “Necessary Wilderness”

Maija-Liisa Harju  (L&M parent, Children’s literature and culture scholar)

David Almond, a much lauded UK children’s author, once argued that a feeling of “necessary wilderness” is inherent to childhood, and is something that children and adults must try to maintain throughout their lives. What is it to be wild? To run, jump, scream, howl, bark, burrow, growl, rage? Climb trees, climb shipping containers, make snail houses, make fires, tell stone stories?  Almond shares this particularly vivid childhood memory of being in and carrying home the wilderness:

And we’d get to the heather hills themselves, a scruffy little area of wasteland at the top of town, with its pond and abandoned mineral lines, the place where we dug our dens and built our fires and we re-fought ancient wars, and we ran laughed and screamed and howled and whispered. And generally had a great time under a massive sky in the reddening dusk as the first stars started to appear. And when darkness came on, the voices would start, echoing out from the town we had left behind […] and we reluctantly began to disperse and to retrace our steps to head home again. Back across the fields, past the allotments, back into the estate, into the garden, into the living room, into the house where it was warm and safe and civilized, and food and bed waited. And what does it feel to be a child like that, just returned from the wilderness and the dark? Safe at home, yes, civilized, the radio on, the TV on, everything at peace but the skin’s still tingling from the outside air; the mind’s still seething with what it’s seen, and what it’s heard and felt and imagined. The house is a picture of order, but the child has brought the outside wildness and darkness in. (“The Necessary Wilderness.” The Lion and the Unicorn, 35.2, 2011, p. 110-111).

In this passage, Almond identifies wilderness as something that is not only experienced out of doors, but a thing that children can embody: an essential, primal relationship that they carry inside them, in and out of civilized spaces. This ‘embodied’ knowledge of nature, a way of making meaning of the world through active, sensory engagement, is something that I see the Plaworkers at The Lion and The Mouse engendering—a “necessary wilderness” that my daughter can hold onto, for example, as she negotiates the socializing forces that dominate her daily life.


As evidenced by Cam’s recent post about stone stories, there are clear connections between children’s play landscapes (both natural and urban), experiences, story-making, and story sharing. Stories reinforce our experiences, help us understand them and allow us to share our adventures with others. In the spirit of this, I thought I’d share a few contemporary children’s picture book titles that can also foster a sense of necessary wilderness and connection to the natural world for readers of all ages (book covers above):

Wild, Emily Hughes

Virginia Wolf, Kyo Maclear & Isabelle Arsenault

Tokyo Digs a Garden, Jon-Erik Lappano & Helen Katanaka

Bright Sky, Starry City, Uma Krishnaswami & Aimée Sicuro

The Specific Ocean, Kyo Maclear, Katty Maurey

The Moon Inside, Sandra V. Feder & Aimée Sicuro [Available September 2016]



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