Sometimes when I check out a book at the library, my husband and I read it to our daughter for the first time and at the end raise our eyebrows at each other, thrown off by the utter lack of moral or unpredictable narrative. Lucy Cousins’ Peck, Peck, Peck is such a book. A father bird teaches a baby bird to “peck,” the baby bird goes off on her own and pecks all the stuff in what seems to be a human family’s house. She then returns to her father and receives praise and love. The end. My daughter loves this book, and after the first couple time through I also love it. The rhythm is exuberant: “I peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, until there’s NOTHING LEFT to peck.” This bird has learned something, has fun, and develops mastery over the course of the book. Of course the bird destroys everything in the house–poking physical holes through the pages of the book and the pictures of every object in the house. The father remains blithely proud, never asking what the bird pecked and where. He doesn’t say, don’t go in that house, be careful of people, don’t break things. He doesn’t seem to think that “being a parent consists, in large part, of correcting the growth pattern of a person who is not necessarily ready to live in a civilized society.” He just offers a new skill, and takes pride in the bird’s increasing mastery of that skill. Indeed, if there is a moral to this book, it might be that stuff doesn’t matter. Stuff is for learning and playing and living. Like the foam sleeping pads currently strapped to an oversize chair in my house to make a slide. Though I don’t think anti-consumerism is the main thing that brings my daughter joy when we read this book. I think what makes her ask me to check it out from the library again and again is not only the sound of the words and the feel of sticking her fingers through holes in pages and laughing at all the objects rendered useless; but also the simplicity of love and learning. Adults often teach–even as we unschool we teach everyday. And often that comes with confusing and seemingly arbitrary boundaries. Do this, but in this way, in this context. There are no such boundaries in the book. There is a learned action, and it’s joyfully and curiously and satisfyingly pursued until the bird tires, receives praise and affection, and takes a rest. To me, it’s a dream of what learning could be like. And I believe it’s satisfying and affirming for kids to experience–in fiction and when we can in life–that completely unbounded learning. Find Peck, Peck, Peck at your library or here: http://www.powells.com/biblio/62-9780763666217-0 Quote from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Jennifer Senior’s All Joy and No Fun, Harper Collins 2014.
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