“Big Problems and Small Fascinations”
School requires a lot from young people. Focus, sitting still, hands to yourself, social skills. (This doesn’t end with elementary school. Middle school? For sure. High school? Yep!) This is all hard enough – particularly if you won the neurodivergent lottery – and then you have to throw the whole “actual learning” thing on top too: the math and the science and the history. Oh, and homework! Don’t forget homework. (I’m admittedly sad that the “no homework” movement seems to have lost steam in the last year.)
Where is the space for special interests?
This isn’t a write-up about kids being swamped by “activities” starting in kindergarten. It’s not about how college prep seems to start earlier and earlier in a country where college isn’t free. It’s not even about overwork and burnout.
It’s about small fascinations.
In Where the Lockwood Grows, Erie Neaux isn’t tied up with swimming practice. Rather, she and the other young people in the town of Prine are struggling under the yoke of child labor, although of course no one is calling it that. It’s called survival. (Which at least is more noble than the current justifications.) Erie (and the other children who have no choice but to do the dangerous work in the trees that keeps their town running) wakes up before dawn to finish their work, after which they go to school for a few hours, where most of them are too tired or stressed to pay much attention to what they’re expected to learn.
Erie spends most of the time either daydreaming or flipping through an old encyclopedia of entomology, studying the many strange bugs and their attributes contained in the pages. She applies her knowledge as best as she can in the tiny, insulated town of Prine, admiring the dustnose beetles and other local insects.
But when she and her sister discover the truth about what keeps the people of Prine in the dark, their adventure takes them to the city of Petrichor, where Erie’s world finally opens up. Along the way, she’s taken to the Bug Yard, a place where other bug-lovers have developed their fascinations with insects and turned them toward solutions to climate and waste problems. (Awesomely enough, these imaginings aren’t science fiction!) In the end, Erie’s fascination with bugs that she nurtured in her sparse spare time plays a big part of saving the day.
Capitalism has a way of wringing every drop out of a day. Adults feel it when we don’t even have time for a hobby. (Or worse, when we try to turn hobbies into streams of income.) Children feel it when between school and homework there’s none of their day left empty for daydreaming.
In Where the Lockwood Grows, the lockwood blocks the stars that Erie’s mother says her children need to dream. What about us? What do we need to dream? Our Earth has big problems that need big solutions, born from creativity and innovation, from small fascinations that grow into resolutions. How will they be born if we don’t have time to dream?
Published August 15th, 2023 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
About the Book: Twelve-year-old Erie has never lived life fully in the sunlight. After destructive wildfires wreaked havoc on the world around her, the government came up with a plan—engineer a plant that cannot burn. Thus, the fire-resistant lockwood was born. The lockwood protects Erie and her hometown of Prine, but it grows incredibly fast and must be cut back every morning. Only the town’s youngest and smallest citizens can fit between the branches and tame the plant. Citizens just like Erie.
But one evening, Erie uncovers a shocking secret that leads her to question the rules of Prine. Alongside her older sister, Hurona, she’ll journey from the only home she’s known and realize that the world is much more complicated than she’d ever imagined.
About the Author: Olivia A. Cole is a writer from Louisville, Kentucky. Her essays, which often focus on race and womanhood, have been published in Bitch Media, Real Simple, The LA Times, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, Gay Mag, and more. She teaches creative writing at the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts, where she guides her students through poetry and fiction, but also considerations of the world and who they are within it. She is the author of several books for children and adults. Learn more about Olivia and her work at oliviaacole.com and follow her on Twitter @RantingOwl.
Thank you, Olivia, for this food for thought and reminder that it is okay to allow kids to focus on their loves and passions!