A Country Called Childhood: Children and the Exuberant Worldby Jay Griffiths
While traveling the world in order to write her award winning book Wild, Jay Griffiths became increasingly aware of the huge differences in how childhood is experienced in various cultures. One central riddle, in particular captured her imagination: why are so many children in Euro-American cultures unhappy and why is it that children in/i>
While traveling the world in order to write her award winning book Wild, Jay Griffiths became increasingly aware of the huge differences in how childhood is experienced in various cultures. One central riddle, in particular captured her imagination: why are so many children in Euro-American cultures unhappy and why is it that children in traditional cultures seem happier?
In A Country Called Childhood, Griffiths seeks to discover why we deny our children the freedoms of space, time and the natural world. Visiting communities as far apart as West Papua and the Arctic as well as the UK, and delving into history, philosophy, language and literature, she explores how children’s affinity for nature is an essential and universal element of childhood. It is a journey deep into the heart of what it means to be a child, and it is central to all our experiences, young and old.
Griffiths (Pip Pip: A Sideways Look at Time), who has lived in and studied a diverse range of indigenous cultures, here addresses the “loss of childhood” (a term taken from a Cambridge University study) in wealthy, industrial nations. Griffiths believes this has happened because children have lost touch with their “kith,” which is to say the natural world, due to today’s omnipresent consumerism. She proposes a sensitive approach that will endow our children with a love of play and the freedom to explore nature. The combination of a sociological perspective with a lyrical style makes this a seductively readable work, each page peppered with references to cultural icons, authors, philosophers, historians, and other great thinkers. Chapters expounding happily on poet John Clare, Mark Twain’s Huck and Tom, and Kipling’s Mowgli are followed by darker sections about how corporal punishment, obedience, and a loss of metaphysical freedom can damage developing psyches. The independent state of childhood the book depicts as existing in the otherwise disparate indigenous societies of West Papua New Guinea, Australia, and North and South America, where children create their own tribes and exercise self-reliance, seems almost impossibly utopian, but Griffiths convincingly argues that it is real and can be achieved in developed nations. (Nov.)
Griffiths (Wild: An Elemental Journey, 2006, etc.) focuses on the lives of children in her continued exploration of the role of nature in giving meaning to our lives. "Why are so many children in Euro-American cultures unhappy?" asks the author. "Why is it that children in many traditional cultures seem happier, fluent in their child-nature?" Griffiths goes beyond the current debates on child-rearing practices—e.g., overstructured play, too much time online and too little quality family time—and examines what she considers a more fundamental flaw: the separation of children from a natural environment. After all, "human nature is nested in nature which co-creates the child." These days, writes the author, children "are enclosed in school and home, enclosed in the cars to shuttle between them, enclosed by fear, by surveillance and poverty and…rigid schedules of time." They are prevented from testing their environments by a risk-averse, overprotective society. Griffiths compares the stultified lives of modern children to her own exuberant Welsh childhood, when she and her brothers engaged in all the mischievous joys of being young and nearly carefree. Still, she also finds her own childhood to have been flawed. Although she experienced greater freedom, she lacked contact with the wilderness. In contrast to the relative constraints on her life then, she points to what she considers to be the greater freedom of young people growing up in traditional cultures—e.g. the !Kung children of the Kalahari or the Ye'kuana of Venezuela. According to the author, these children receive more maternal nurturing and close attention in the first years of their lives but then are encouraged to learn self-reliance at an earlier age. She contrasts the consumerism and "the protocol of ownership" that children learn today to the wisdom that children living in traditional cultures absorb by knowing "the words for varieties of trees or birds." A provocative critique of modern society.
Praise for A Country Called Childhood
"Jay Griffiths' A Country Called Childhood: Children and the Exuberant World, is an astonishment... a must-read for every parent, teacher, child psychiatrist, or psychologist, anyone who works with kids. Not an easy book, it is a necessary one."Philadelphia Inquirer
"What is fascinating about Griffith’s book is how deftly and poetically she brings together stories and ideas from a vast body of literature and a wide range of cultures and individuals... In the deepest sense, A Country Called Childhood is a highly personal, passionate, and inspiring call to bring childhood back to its roots in nature and imagination."Orion
"A Country Called Childhood could have been written by no-one but Jay Griffiths. It is ablaze with her love of the physical world and her passionate moral sense that goodness and a true relation with nature are intimately connected. She has the same visionary understanding of childhood that we find in Blake and Wordsworth, and John Clare would have read her with delight. Her work isn't just good -- it's necessary."--Philip Pullman
"Parents who love deep philosophical and critical thinking about the hot-button topic of over-parenting will relish A Country Called Childhood." Parents Magazine
"I didn’t just read this book; I revelled in it. There’s a rare vitality and robust energy . . . reading this book feels like playing in the woods. An unabashedly Romantic rallying cry for childhood. Playful and polemical, emotional and imaginative. As vital as play itself." --Independent
" she adds a lush texture of myth and cultural reference that is often extremely seductive. She is strongest in the literary realm, and two chapters on woodland quest tales and fairy stories are very successful, weaving together a number of traditions to show how fundamental these mystical narratives are, and how necessary to a child’s opening heart. The exuberance of her thought and of her prose is matched by the exuberance of her desirethat nature-starved children be granted the real outdoors, the unenclosed “Eden, common as chaffinches,” not simply a few urban trees planted to shade a playground. That exuberant hope seems to me absolutely necessary today..." The New Republic
"Passionate, wilful and supremely honest." Literary Review
"Griffiths goes beyond the current debates on child-rearing practicese.g., overstructured play, too much time online and too little quality family time and examines what she considers a more fundamental flaw: the separation of children from a natural environment...A provocative critique of modern society." Kirkus
"An impassioned, visionary plea to restore to our children the spirit of adventure, freedom and closeness to nature that is their birthright. We must hear it and act on it before it is too late." --Iain McGilchrist
"A subterranean book. We excavate it to refine the secrets of childhood, our own, and many other childhoods in times and places far from ours. We join an underground resistance to the capital of grown-up greed, accountancy and profit. We rejoin the Bears." --John Berger
"Griffiths (Wild, An Elemental Journey, 2006) is a committed and passionate author, who immerses herself in subjects with an impressive verve..." Booklist
"Jay Griffiths writes with such richness and mischief about the one thing that could truly save the world: its children." --KT Tunstall
"A beautiful combination of expansive tenderness and fierce intolerance of pettiness. A Country Called Childhood is a call to live life intensely and authentically, vividly, and with grace, humour and passion. Griffiths has politicized awe and wonder and play." --Niall Griffiths
"Jay Griffiths is one of our most poetic and passionate critics of the ways of civilisation; provocative, illuminating and shamelessly romantic." --Theodore Zeldin
"Every time Jay Griffiths picks up a pen, whatever her subject, she cannot help spinning into every paragraph her passionate love of nature and wildness and our relationship with the physical world out there. Her writing is like a cave painting, telling as much of man as of beast and leaving us in awe of both." --John Lister-Kaye, The Scotsman
“An impassioned and well-researched plea for the spirit of adventure to be instilled in the young.” --Sun-Herald(Sydney)
“Persuasive on how Western child-rearing is characterised by consumerism, "clockwork" overscheduling and enclosure, without adequate room for play in the natural world.” --The Age
"Jay Griffiths' works are original, inspiring and dare you to search beyond the accepted norm." Nikolai Fraiture, The Strokes
Praise for Wild
“A major book by a major writer” Bill McKibben
“Wild is an astonishing piece of writing, truly medicinal, beautiful, passionate and raw.” Ed O’Brien, Radiohead
“Insightful, effervescent and lavishly written . . . She shrouds her amazingly strenuous physical journey with a rich literary penumbra.” Ruth Padel, The Washington Post
- Counterpoint Press
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- 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)
Meet the Author
Jay Griffiths is the author of Pip Pip: A Sideways Look at Time,Wild: An Elemental Journey, and Love Letter from a Stray Moon, a novella about the life of Frida Kahlo. She is the winner of the inaugural Orion Book Award and of the Barnes & Noble Discover Award for the best new non-fiction writer to be published in the USA. She grew up in England and now lives in Wales.
- Powys, Mid-Wales, U.K.
- Place of Birth:
- Manchester, U.K.
- B.A. in English Literature and Language, Oxford University
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