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On Eco-Spirituality, For Children

Paganism is sometimes labeled an "earth religion" and "nature-based religion" in the mainstream media. That label is ... inaccurate. Not incorrect, but too broad a generalization. For many Pagans, nature is vitally important, even the focus of their devotions. Other Pagans have a general concern for the environment, no greater or lesser than that of anyone else who watches the news and the weather. And still other Pagans have no interest in the natural world at all.

I personally straddle the amorphous line between the first and second. As an Hellenistai, I see the world as infused with animating spirits. Nymphai inhabit trees, rivers, mountains and meadows. Great Gods such as Artemis and Dionysus and Hekate and Persephone walk about in the world. Indeed, the Earth herself is a Goddess, Gaea.

This sense that creation, nature, the earth, was something wonderful and amazing was instilled in my at an early age. I played hide-and-seek beneath the apple trees in my backyard, spent hours building snowmen, and did my best to protect every spider, bird, cat and dog that crossed my path.

Nothing can replace a hands-on experience, a true immersion in nature. There are a few books, however, which can supplement those experiences, help children to articulate them, and even help form the foundation of an earth-appreciating Paganism.

At the top of my list is The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. I adore this book. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in gardens or urban farming. In this picture book, little Liam lives in a smoggy, overcrowded city of concrete and steel. When he comes upon a struggling garden, he decides to care for it. As the garden grows, so does Liam. Together, they mature and venture further and further out into the city, turning the rust-and-concrete cityscape into a beautiful metropolis of flowers and parks and vegetable gardens. Very inspirational.

I mentioned Earth Mother by Ellen Jackson and Leo and Diane Dillon a few months ago in my discussion of Goddess Spirituality texts. It qualifies as an eco-spirituality book, too. In this beautifully illustrated, simply-written fable, children will learn that everything in nature has its place and serves a purpose. What may be an annoyance -- or an "evil" -- to one is a benefit or necessity to another. I particularly love the fact that Earth Mother is portrayed as a lovely and serene black woman

Two poetry/prayer books which work well together are Earth Prayers From Around the World: 365 Prayers, Poems and Invocations From Around the World edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon; and Mother Earth/Father Sky: Poems For Our Planet by Jane Yolen and Jennifer Hewitson. Earth Prayers is technically aimed at adults, but I could easily see children using these poems in their personal devotions or in rituals they design for holy days. It may well inspire kids to look into the cultures of origin of these poems, to wonder how other peoples view the world. Yolen's book, on the other hand, is aimed specifically at children: lamenting the extinction of species and the devastation of the biosphere, this collection is both a celebration of the beauty of the world and a call to live up to our responsibility to treat creation with respect.   

The Lorax by Dr Seuss. 'Nuff said.

Two graphic novels by Claudia Davila -- Luz Sees the Light and Luz Makes a Splash -- offer children specific examples of how they too can help care for creation. Luz is a typical twelve year-old urbanite chica, more interested in the latest shoes and cool tech toys than the state of the world ... until rising gas prices, power outages, and a water shortage force her to adapt. Spirited and spunky, Luz is a great role model.

Myths of the Sacred Tree by Moyra Caldecott was one of the first Pagan books I purchased, probably not long after I picked up When God Was a Woman. I was beginning to make connections between the oppression of women and the destruction of the environment, I loved the Greek conception of the nymphai, and I was still prone to hanging out beneath the apple trees in my backyard. Caldecott's book was a natural fit. Within, I found tales from Sumer and Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria, China and Japan, Arabia and Russia, from the Sioux and the Seneca, from Jainism and Buddhism and Christianity. Perfect for bedtime. 

Two graphic novel series which older children will enjoy are the manga Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki and the manga-inspired Neotopia by Rod Espinosa. Both qualify was post-apocalyptic science fiction, but they offer different visions of the future. In Miyazaki's series, Nausicaa is the princess of a small nation on the edge of a poisonous fungal forest, the Sea of Corruption. When war threatens, Nausicaa must protect both her people and the monstrous insects in the forest, who are serving a purpose no one else understands .... Espinosa's Neotopia centers on Nalyn, the body double who stands in for the Grand Duchess Nydia of Mathenia. With its eco-friendly, sustainable agriculture and technology, its ritual and diverse population, Mathenia has learned from the mistakes of the past -- but the Krossian Empire has not. When ancient weapons of mass destruction are uncovered, Nalyn must save her people without betraying her principles. Great Earth Day reading.   

The Owly series -- currently two picture books and five graphic novels, with a sixth set to be released in October 2013 -- is perfect for preschoolers and kindergarteners; and, little kids at heart. Owly follows the adventures of a peaceful, friendly, generally happy owl who loves nothing more than to garden and help his fellow creatures. In the first book, for example, he befriends an earthworm named Wormy, and helps two hummingbirds migrate for the winter. With their pictogram dialogue and important life lessons, these gentle tales are highly recommended to all parents and educators. 

Finally, there is Bill Peet's delightful The Wump World. The wumps live content lives on a small world of meadows and forests and clear, cool streams. Then great metal ships belching smog and flame descend from the sky. Having used up their own world, the people of Pollutus are looking for a new home ... and they have found the perfect planet to exploit. Guaranteed to make you angry -- but, don't worry, there is a happy ending. 

In addition to the above, I also recommend that children get a solid grounding in evolution and geology. There are a lot of books on these subjects aimed at kids. Just about everything written by Gail Gibbons is good, as are the A True Book series from Scholastic, the Eyewitness books from DK, and the National Geographic Kids series.

So, do you have any favorite eco-spirituality or earth-centered books? If so, let me know! 

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.

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