Two large bookstores with rooms and levels sprawling upwards and outwards pulled us in like magnets to metal on a recent trip to Oxford. I’d like to say it was just my children begging for purchases, but my husband and I were equally enchanted. My eyes and fingertips skimmed the covers of countless classics. After all, we were walking the streets of literary history; Narnia, Wonderland, and Middle Earth came to life in this city. It seemed so difficult to pick only a few gems out of the heaps of treasure!
Limited at last by luggage weight regulations, I settled on just a few children’s books to purchase as souvenirs. One of these was a beautifully illustrated copy of a family favorite: The Wind in the Willows. Our family has read through Kenneth Grahame’s classic more than once, but we never seem to tire of our friends Mole, Badger, Toad, and Ratty. We still chuckle at Toad’s mishaps, smile at Mole’s loyalty, and cheer at the bond of friendship between all of the woodland animals. However, as I neared the middle of the book with my children last week, I was struck by how Grahame’s words seemed to mirror our own family’s transition at present. After returning to his home from a long journey in the great wide world above, Mole reflects on his conflicting feelings:
The weary Mole…was glad to turn in without delay, and soon had his head on his pillow, in great joy and contentment. But ere he closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously a part of him, and now smilingly received him back, without rancour…. He saw clearly how plain and simple—how narrow, even—it all was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one’s existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to; this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.
We too are nearing the end of a long journey in “splendid places”, and we are feeling the inevitable tug of two worlds. Our children feel this too—a desire to be welcomed home by family, friends, and familiar sights alongside the pull of a great wide world that has grown smaller with every plane trip, train ride, and bicycle path. I daresay our new experiences will still “call to us” once we are home. What a wonderful little gift it was for us to read of our forest friend experiencing the same tension!
I’ve long advocated for reading good stories like The Wind in the Willows to children for a variety of reasons—certainly exposure to vocabulary, culture, and style are among these. However, I’m also acutely aware today of how such stories help children deal with life’s challenges through valuable lessons such as empathy, resilience, courage, perspective, and friendship. Perhaps in Mole we are being helped along in our reflections on home, adventure, community, and individuality. I hope my children remember our forest friend’s thoughts when they are formulating their own in the coming weeks and months. As for me, Mole’s reflections echo my own: “…the upper world [is] all too strong, it call[s} to [me] still…but it [is] good to think [I have my home] to come back to…[which can] always be counted upon for the same simple welcome”.
 Kenneth Grahame. The Wind in the Willows. London: Palazzo Editions LTD. 2017.
 Ibid, p. 95
 See my previous blog post: “Storing Up Treasures in the Grammar Stage”
Kenneth Grahame. The Wind in the Willows. p.95. London: Palazzo Editions LTD. 2017.