Can a children’s book inspire a new generation and fan the embers of a movement that will change the world?
I suppose I could start by acknowledging that it’s a very fine, if ambitious, goal. The kind of inspiration that can re-orient lives and fill people with hope and determination seems to be in short supply. And people, probably more than we know, are hungry for it – even if cynicism often gets in the way.
Brian McLaren and Gareth Higgins are two passionate and creative souls who decided to take on this challenge. Teaming with illustrator, Heather Lynn Harris, they created a beautiful and engaging tale of a raccoon, Cory, who struggles with the “six stories” that are lived out and defended in a troubled Old Village. One day Cory walks alone by a stream to think and realises, “We are in trouble. Our stories are failing us.”
A surprise visitor initiates a change, by revealing a new story that begins with listening instead of telling.
But this is no simple “happily ever after” story. The six stories have a hold on the village and will not let go easily. Thus, readers are welcomed into the lived tension between the life-sucking but resistant stories that keep humanity stuck and the hope of a seventh story that has a surprising resilience.
Now, I must confess that I’ve been sold on the seventh story before they wrote it. I long for this movement, in this or any related form, to take hold and inspire a better way for us to live together. So, I I have no objectivity to assess the artistic or pedagogical value of this book.
With that said, I heartily recommend this book for anyone looking for a substantive picture book to share with your children, grandchildren or classroom. Its length (and depth) will limit its value for toddlers, but children in or approaching school age will recognize the “six stories” from the playground and older children will see examples all around them. I can imagine rich discussion resulting at any age.
The ideas underlying this book are golden. Since these ideas form something of a sociocultural “theory of everything,” one might ask whether they can hold all of their substance in the simplified form of a picture book. A fair question. A companion e-book rounds out the picture for adults and for analysis. (See below for some thoughts about the companion e-book.)
I will point out one final achievement of this book. In a polarized world, the authors have created a story of spiritual depth that should be safe reading in any public space.
So, can a children’s book inspire a new generation and fan the embers of a movement that will change the world? It’s certainly worth trying. Give it a chance.
“There’s a new Seventh Story to live by, my friends,
A new Seventh Story without “us against them”
Disclosure: From time to time, I receive free books to review. This was not one of them – 🙂 The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Appendix: Thoughts on the companion e-book.
I believe that I caught a reference to the idea that this project started as a plan for a picture book for grown-ups. So, it’s no surprise that the children’s book that resulted required some further unpacking. A grown-up version of the story starts this companion book, followed by essays from the authors that help to understand the concept of the six failed stories and the hope of a seventh. This additional material offers to expand the concepts and provide much food for thought, but it should not be read as an academic defense of their premise. As I mentioned earlier, I am a reader who was convinced before reading.
(I do have to mention that I was a bit disappointed by the degree of dependence on the thought of Rene Girard. There is much wisdom in Girard, and his thoughts on scapegoating and violence have been very important contributions to thinking through the role of religion in past and present cultures. But I fear that reliance on Girard as a central unifying theory will not bear the weight over time. As just one reason for my skepticism, Girardians keep pretending that mimetic theory has solid psychological grounding, which it does not. Mimesis, the formation of our desires by imitating the desires of others, is only one contribution to the great complexity that forms human motivation. Ignoring other strong contributors to human motivation weakens the theory considerably when it is implied that mimesis explains everything.)