Henry Hikes to Fitchburg
by D. B. Johnson, published 2000
“I’ll walk,” said Henry. “It’s the fastest way to travel.” “I’ll work,” Henry’s friend said, “until I have the money to buy a ticket to ride the train to Fitchburg. We’ll see who gets there first!”
With this opening, our illustrated children’s book follows a paragraph from Walden, in which Henry Thoreau described the benefits of living life simply versus working all one’s days to earn money for things. Without getting too philosophical, this simple illustrated children’s book demonstrates, rather than tells, the contrast between Thoreau’s approach, and the modern life of working for everything. There’s no lecturing in this book, no pontification. Just simple illustrations, like enjoying a swim in the river, and eating blackberries, while his friend works day in and day out. I liked that the book didn’t make the work wrong or bad or burdensome, just different.
An illustrated children’s book like this is really planting a seed. It’s using images, which is the best way to reach young children. And the images tell the story more vividly than any lecture or words could ever do. At the same time, it might be fun to follow this book with something about Thoreau. For older children, there is a lovely middle-school children’s book, My Contract with Henry, that brings Thoreau’s philosophy home with the impact of our loss of environment.
It’s never to early to plant the seeds of awareness of the choices we can make as humans. Then it’s up to the future generations to make those choices, perhaps better than we have so far. Let’s start with a simple illustrated children’s book like this one.