Drawing back the curtain I declared, mostly to myself,
“Ah… look at the pale, morning sunshine. It’s so beautiful.”
I wasn’t expounding entirely to myself though; two small people, newcomers to my home, were with me in the room, colouring at the breakfast bar. And Audrey, clever, shy and cautious, was emboldened to add into the morning the thought that my comment had prompted in her. In shrill voice she bravely blazed a phrase, which… I couldn’t understand!
My hand lightly on her hair, on her shoulder – not too close, not inside this fragile space, approaching its edges – willing the message of tenderness and safety into her being.
“Tell me again, honey? I don’t think my ears worked properly that time.”
And again, a high-pitched, nervous voice, repeating exactly the same sequence of sounds and syllables, which… I still couldn’t understand!
With five year old, daylily-like, social-esteem now teetering on closure, I turned pleadingly to Hudson, big brother, calm and assured. We all need such a big brother – kind help, rescuer in small disaster, salve to our fear.
“She’s talking about the Pale Green Pants.” he said, without looking up from his colouring. Audrey’s eyes upon me now, bright with the hope that her message had landed.
“Do you have pale green pants, Audrey? Are they favourite pants?”
But my last sentence was lost to her ears for she was clambering down from the bar stool and dashing out of the room toward the passageway. And the calm master of this situation, which I must say had begun to set my head spinning, again without looking up from his colouring but perceiving my confusion through the social vibrations which connect us all – may his gracious savvy one day lead our nation – said, clarifyingly,
“It’s a book, Rosie.”
At which point Miss Audrey burst back into the room brandishing a volume of Dr. Seuss and uttering those same syllables, which I could now discern – pale green pants. It wasn’t my ears which hadn’t worked properly – it was my knowledge-base! How could I reach 50 years of age and there still be a Dr. Seuss story which I didn’t know?!
With the courage that follows fear-overcome, little Audrey invited me to read the story. To her, yes – but also for my own benefit.
Theodor Geisel – Dr. Seuss – was a genius! The story is entitled “What Was I Scared Of”. And the Pale Green Pants is a lead character in the story – yes, character, not item of apparel! You’re really going to have to read it! And here is why I honour Dr. Seuss’ genius.
The themes to inspire the development of moral character in this story just keep rolling out: courage, struggle with authenticity, holding and acknowledging of fear, responsibility to commitment, and finally, overcoming of fear, kindness to the strange and alien other, and the richness of friendship.
And all of this in text which, because it rhymes, stimulates phonological awareness – the awareness of speech sounds and patterns in speech sounds which are needed for literacy development. And the good stuff doesn’t stop there, for the use of non-words as words builds awareness and skill in language structure, revealing the functions of nouns and verbs and irregular plurals.
And there’s even more for the growth of language and thinking, for the text wields vocabulary and synonyms with munificence and might. (Mightier than the sword).
And the whole story is printed onto spooky blue pages and takes place in the dead and dread of night, so a child might have a real experience of fear as she listens, but within the protection and safety of playfulness and silliness. Which allows a little listener to genuinely experience the overcoming of fear, even as the story’s main character does – bringing with it the generalising growth of confidence and self-esteem which follows fear-overcome in the support of another.
But there’s more! The playfulness and zaniness of the narrative also demonstrate the joy and pleasure of creativity and freeform ideas in flow, thus stimulating the valuing of imagination and art.
And further, that very playfulness lavishes opportunity into the shared experience for reader and little listener to dance together along an avenue of crazy, quirky crafting, toward deepened connection and tender relatedness with each other. And these are the foundational stones that support a lifetime and give their strength for love and citizenship into the next generation.
And Audrey and I had all of that in the pale light of that morning. And ‘pale’ in its many and varied applications, poetic and plain, was added to her vocabulary that day… and we were each added to each other’s hearts.