Cicadas, Pebbles, and Stillness in Patterned Gardens: Examining the Child's Gaze in Nature

J Elizabeth Mills, Independent Researcher
Michelle H Martin, University of Washington

Being still and observant in nature; engaging in imaginative play as a mountain pebble or ocean wave; learning to meditate--these cultural practices appear in four contemporary picture books that feature Japanese (or Asian-presenting) characters in the outdoors. An exploration of the texts and illustrations uncovers particular ways these children live and interact in natural spaces, offering insight into how contemplation and the art of noticing surface in children’s picture books. In Toni Yuly’s The Whole Wide World and Me, the protagonist embodies natural objects, describing herself as a part of nature, not just its observer. In this way she acts as a guide for the young reader. In Robert Paul Weston and Misa Saburi’s Natsumi’s Song of Summer, set in Japan, Natsumi introduces her brown-skinned cousin from abroad to what she loves most about nature and the cicada, and the observant stillness she shares with Jill solidifies their bond. In Roxane Marie Galliez and Seng Soun Ratanavanh’s Thank You, Miyuki and Patience, Miyuki, protagonist Miyuki learns to slow down and notice her surroundings--with Grandpa’s patient guidance. Only through watching, waiting, and stillness can Miyuki experience peace and joys in nature. These child protagonists seem to belong in, even embody, their natural environments, whether they live among flowers, trees, and insects, or because they experience no barriers to accessing these natural spaces. In this way, they offer a culturally distinct layer of complexity to the wildness framework presented by J. Elizabeth Mills & Michelle H. Martin in 2019.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 111. Young People and the Environment