“For everyone who has ever been seven years old, or is, or soon will be.”
~ Dedication of The Seven-Year-Old Wonder Book, by Isabel Wyatt
I remember the day my seven-year-old son turned to me, his face stricken. “Mommy, I can’t see heaven anymore.” His words, and his obvious sadness, tugged at my heart. And yet I also realized that this was necessary — this moment of fully coming to earth, of being truly here and not in that timeless, magical world of early childhood. Seven can be a gateway year, one in which children fully incarnate and gain new awareness and capacities. But something else is lost. As one of my friends said about her daughter turning seven, “I could almost hear the clunk of her feet hitting the ground.”
One way to help bridge this year of change, and keep a sense of magic alive, is to create a Wonder Book for your child, an idea gleaned from Isabel Wyatt’s lovely book, The Seven-Year-Old Wonder Book. This classic, first published in 1958, offers a series of episodes in the seventh year of Sylvia, a little girl who lives with her mother on the edge of a magical wood. Throughout the book, Sylvia’s mother tells beautiful therapeutic stories tailored to the festivals of the year and other events, such as the loss of her first tooth.
At one point in the book Sylvia laments that she can no longer “fly among the stars and hear them singing.” Her mother gently reminds her that she still can, in her dreams at night, and then advises Sylvia to leave out her Wonder Book so the Rhyme Elves may visit while she is asleep and “paint a poem.”
Sylvia leaves her special blank book by her bedside after reciting the following verse:
Rhyme-elves, rich in ringing words
Won from winds and waves and birds,
Lisping leaves and rustling rain,
Sing – sing – for me again!
In the morning, she finds a poem inscribed in her book, along with a picture. When my son’s first-grade teacher suggested that we start a Wonder Book for our own child, I admit I felt some trepidation. I was hardly a poet, and certainly not an artist. I wasn’t sure I was up to the task. My first poem, written around the time of the fall equinox and the Feast of St. Michael in September, was as follows:
The year grows old,
Feel your power
You are sun and moon and brilliant star,
Never forget who you are.
This was written at 4 am one chilly fall morning, before I’d had any coffee, and I share it now as proof that perfect meter and well-crafted verse are not required. Rather it is just the moment of discovery that means something to the child, as well as the idea that he is visited, that someone has a special message just for him. The world seemed magical and full of possibility once again.
My son wanted to take his book to school to show his teacher (much to my embarrassment,) but so did many children in his class. Every offering was different. Some books had original poems, others little verses copied from books, or a short message about the child or the time of year. Some had beautiful and detailed drawings, others just a border of flowers or stars. Regardless, the children were all enchanted. What meant the most was that someone had something to say just to them. Someone had seen them, had noticed that they had lost their first tooth, learned to ride a two-wheeler, or went ice-skating on a frozen lake. They felt less alone.
Over the course of the year, my son left his book out every first night of the full moon, and the Rhyme Elves visited again and again. Sometimes they left another poem, other times just a short message, such as about how kind my son was to offer the rabbits in our yard fresh carrots from our garden. Reading through them now, I see a snapshot of his year, of who he was then and of the magical moments we shared. The book became a kind of conversation, one that was as therapeutic for me as for him. By gently directing my son’s attention to the wonder of the world around him, I found I was reawakening my own capacity for wonder, and innocence, and for paying attention.
My daughter, now six-and-a-half, recently asked when the Rhyme Elves would start visiting her. She’s just lost her second tooth and I already see signs that she’s entering that seven-year transition. We bought her a special book and laid it out the first night of the full moon. Sure enough, the Rhyme Elves visited.
As for my son, now nine, he no longer sets out his Wonder Book as frequently. From time to time he’ll remember it, though, and wonder what message the Rhyme Elves might have for him. He now seems more interested in how they might reflect on his behavior, or on a recent challenge he’s overcome. Perhaps he senses that I’m behind these messages, or perhaps not yet, but I imagine that it will become a non-threatening way for us to dialogue with one another…for me to remind him of what I love most about him, of how proud I am of him and how much I want his life to be filled with wonder.
My son’s kindergarten teacher once shared, with permission, the Wonder Books of her now-grown children. By the time they were teenagers, the children themselves were writing their entries, marking special moments in their lives, or listing their wishes for the future. After writing in their books, they’d leave them out for their father, a gifted artist, to illustrate. They also pasted in photographs or pictures that spoke to them. It became a beautiful keepsake of childhood, as well as a record of the changing fabric of their dreams and the enduring role of wonder in their lives.
Keeping a Wonder Book for Your Child
First and foremost, there are no rules when it comes to keeping a Wonder Book. Let it be a reflection of you and your family culture. A Wonder Book can be anything from a special diary to a blank notebook. Just make sure it’s sturdy enough to last the years.
While your child may want the Rhyme Elves to visit every night, you might want to keep this special visit to once a month (say, the first night of the full moon.) That way, you preserve your energy and your child’s sense of anticipation and wonder. As your child gets older, you might wait until after a special event or moment, or for when your child actually asks to leave it out.
Trust that you know your child and will intuit what she needs right at that moment. You might try your hand at a short, rhyming verse, perhaps referring to a favorite story you’ve read together, or a festival you have celebrated. Alternatively, you might write a few lines reflecting something that has recently happened in your child’s life.
When writing poems or just a few lines of prose, reflect a bit on what inspires wonder in you. Did you and your child notice the rising full moon, or the stars in the winter sky? Did you wonder at a flock of birds flying overhead, or the particular symphony of cracking ice? Rely on your senses, on what you see, smell and hear, to help create a mood.
You might also copy a poem from a favorite book. Some good sources include A Journey Through Time in Verse and Rhyme, Talking Like the Rain, or The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children’s Poems. You might also want to check out Barefoot Books for a number of collections of nature-inspired poetry for children.
Don’t feel you need to be an artist to illustrate your book. My drawings are crude at best, and sometimes all I manage is a border of stars or leaves. You might also remain on the lookout for beautiful pictures or vintage postcards to paste into the book.
Especially as your child gets older, the book may be a place for you to reflect on her accomplishments, challenges, and triumphs. You might want to observe the “sandwich rule,” offering affirmation and positive feedback first, then a nugget of suggestion on areas your child might need to work on, followed by more positive feedback. Try to focus on qualities your child has, rather than on just what she does or accomplishes. Maybe you mention her sense of humor, her perseverance, or her amazing smile. A wonderful resource when it comes to writing therapeutic poems or stories is Healing Stories for Challenging Behavior, by Susan Perrow.
As a final note, all of Isabel Wyatt’s books are magical. The Seven-Year-Old Wonder Book is especially appropriate for children between 6 ½ and 7 ½. It starts in the summertime and ends just after the winter holiday season, and so you might want to coordinate the reading of the book with that time frame. After that, you might explore King Beetle-Tamer, The Eight-Year-Old Legend Book (based on the Jataka tales of India,) and The Book of Fairy Princes (more appropriate for a child’s ninth year.) All of Wyatt’s books can be found at Waldorf Books and at the Steiner College online bookstore.
Erin Fossett-Walsh is a freelance writer and homeschooling mother of two. She lives in Colorado and enjoys reading, hiking, knitting, and studying herbal medicine. She writes the At Home section of Living in Season e-magazine, as well as her own blog, Wild and Precious Life. If you have any questions or would like further suggestions in keeping your child’s Wonder Book, feel free to contact her at email@example.com.