The Sense of Wonder

“The authentic watermark running through the background of a life’s work, is an arrival at generosity, and as a mark of that generosity, delight in the hopes of the young.”

David Whyte, Consolations

The reasons for wanting to pass down knowledge can be various, but what remains the same is the underlying hope that others can benefit from your experiences. Both Rachel Cason and Charlie Mackesy have reached this place of generosity in their careers and have written short books that have the “hopes of the young” in mind.  

The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson (1907-1964) is a well-known author of several environmental books. She is perhaps most recognized for her 1962 book Silent Spring. However, she also wrote an excellent book titled The Sense of Wonder, describing her philosophy on developing curiosity in the natural world.  

In this book, Carson encourages adults to engage with children in activities that foster a sense of awe and fascination with nature. Carson suggests that caregivers not get so worried about the scientific names of the objects around them, but focus on the feelings and the wonder that can be found outside. Through a series of elegant descriptions, Carson shares the delight that can be found in hunting for nocturnal insects, watching the moon, or listening to the sounds of migrating birds. Near the end of the book, Carson states, “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth, find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts”.  This is a gentle reminder that a connection to the natural world is something that can provide us with stability to weather even the toughest storms.  Sharing this connection with a child is perhaps the greatest gift we can give.

Cover of The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

Charlie Mackesy is an illustrator and author of the book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.  This book tells the story of four unlikely friends who wander the woods and learn about kindness, friendship, and love.  Although the book is not one that would usually fit into our focus on nature writing, its connection to the natural world through character and location seems somewhat relevant.  

Elisabeth Egan from the New York Times said this book “combines the simplicity of The Giving Tree, the magic of The Velveteen Rabbit, and the curiosity of Paddington”.  The book contains about 100 color and black-and-white illustrations that contribute to the whimsical nature of this story.  There is some reader criticism that the handwritten type can be hard to read. But the overall response to this book is positive.

I had this book on audio, narrated by the author, and contained some gentle background music that gave the story a theatrical feel.  I will say that the sound effects on this audiobook really added to the story.  This type of production usually bothers me. But in this case, it works. 

What I really enjoyed about this book was how Mackesy gave the environment a significant supporting role in this story. The snow allows the fox to communicate his gratitude, the raging river allows the friends to come together and support each other, and the thunderstorm is an opportunity to talk about fears. Throughout the book, there are many subtle nods to the symbolism of natural events in our lives, and I think this works here.

There aren’t any major cliffhangers or plot twists in this story, but I don’t think that is the point. It is pretty easy to tell where the story is going and the lessons it wants to teach. But what I do think is that this book has great potential to help spark that sense of wonder and curiosity in the world. Because if a boy, a mole, a fox, and a horse can all be friends, then anything is truly possible.

Illustration from The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse
Illustration from The boy, a mole, a fox, and a horse

What books have you read recently that might help spark that nature connection in the next generation?  Feel free to share below. 


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14 thoughts on “The Sense of Wonder

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  1. What a fantastic title for your post — and I would say it could be the theme of your blog. And it’s something I value. This past weekend, I visited a forest trail that I haven’t walked in at least a year, and the walk lifted my spirits to see the familiar stream again. I haven’t read that Rachel Carson book, but it sounds like it should be included in school teaching to show not only wonder but a value in restoring and keeping natural places.

    As for other books, your post made me think of Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine.” It’s about many things, but a connection with nature happens early in the book with Douglas Spaulding, a 12 year old boy. He’s in a forest when this happens: “The world slipped bright over the glassy round of his eyeballs like images sparked in a crystal sphere. Flowers were suns and fiery spots of sky strewn through the woodland. Birds flickered like skipped stones across the vast inverted pond of heaven. His breath raked over his teeth, going in ice, coming out fire. Insects shocked the air with electric clearness … I’m really alive! he thought. I never knew it before, or if I did I don’t remember! He yelled it loud but silent, a dozen times! Think of it, think of it! Twelve years old and only now!”

    1. Hi Dave, the sense of wonder would have been a great blog title! I wish I would have thought of that. And Dandelion Wine! I haven’t thought about that book in years. I remember really enjoying it when I read it, but don’t can’t seem to recall much of the story. I think it needs to be added to the book list. Thanks so much for the recommendation and adding to the post. Talk soon!

    1. Hi Adele, so good to hear! Both books are quick reads and really enjoyable. If you get a chance to read then, let me know what you think.

      1. I just got ‘The Sense of Wonder’ free on Audible. Really looking forward to listening to it. Thanks so much for the suggestion, Mark!

  2. I hang my head in shame as I have not read anything by Rachel Carson! There are 6 books on my shelf ‘still to be read’ and I really ought to add The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson! David Whyte is an amazing writer! I love some of his poems, they set my mind racing (Finisterre is special). Great post, Mark, as usual.
    [Here’s my reading list: Gathering Moss, Robin Wall Kimmerer / Unworthy Republic, Claudio Saunt / The Gospel of the Eels, Patrik Svensson / Native. Patrick Laurie / Coasting, Jonathan Raban / Horizon, Barry Lopez].

    1. Hi Ashley, That book list is great. Once I finish with Whyte’s Consolations I either move on to his poetry or one of these books. David Williams also recommended Dandelion Wine, which is a good option. So many choices! Looks like I’ll be busy this weekend. Talk soon!

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