Wonder Walkers

My deeply held beliefs on childhood, teaching, and education are rooted in the writings and methods of Charlotte Mason, a teacher living at the turn of the twentieth century. Miss Mason believed that children should spend as much time as possible outdoors, writing: “Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.” She took her students for daily nature walks through the deep green countryside of England’s Lake District, encouraging them to observe and ask questions about the beauty of the natural world. 

Channeling my inner British schoolteacher, I frequently take my students out for nature walks around the grounds of our elementary school. Before we set out, I remind the children that they each need to have a “notice and wonder” by the end of our walk. Micha Archer’s Wonder Walkers brought tears to my eyes when I first read it. Never has a book so perfectly captured what I want my students to experience during our nature walks. My “notice and wonder” prompt always felt lacking. Archer’s poetic words and multilayered illustrations give new depth and meaning to our nature walks. And this is the power of story and art. It illuminates the beauty found in our everyday and reminds us to look at the world with new perspective.

With the Caldecott criteria in hand, let’s venture out for a “notice and wonder” walk through Wonder Walkers

Like most walks, ours begins indoors. On the title page are two children lounging on a long emerald couch. A two-paned window above the couch shows a coastal scene. In an effective page-turn, we are now outdoors looking in through the window and see the children decide to take a wonder walk. Their first wonder — “Is the sun the world’s light bulb?” — is in the front yard. A reminder that one need not travel far for wonders.

Our walk takes us across several vibrantly illustrated double-page spreads. With white farmhouses in the background, we cross the river over a wooden bridge. We bound through a field of wildflowers surrounded by rolling deep green hills. We venture into a forest and gaze up at the towering trees and climb in the branches of others. After peering into the mouth of a coastal cave, we collect shells along the shore. A gentle rain showers us as we turn toward home. Our walk ends on the porch, where we gaze out at the ocean, glistening in the golden the light of the moon.

What did you notice along our walk? What did you wonder?

I notice the powerful use of perspective. In several spreads, we view the children from a distance. This allows us to understand the height of the towering trees, the endlessness of rivers, and the ebb and flow of ocean waves. In other spreads, the perspective shifts to eye-level and we see the details of wildflowers and the rocks and roots hidden underneath the soil. The variance in perspectives highlights the wonders of the natural world that are found at both a micro and macro level. A mountain view can take one’s breath away, but is it any more astounding than the delicate and intricate beauty of a wildflower? The final illustration is an aerial view of the area surrounding the children’s house. My students were delighted with the details this view afforded them.

I notice the excellent illustrations. Using ink and collages made from tissue paper and homemade rubber stamp patterned paper, Archer creates rich multi-layered scenes reflecting the layers of beauty found in creation: the tree with leaves made from painted musical notes and the many shades and patterns in the rippling river. The use of white paint and “paper shapes.” Though they are rich with texture and pattern, Archer’s multi-modal illustrations never feel cluttered or busy. Every detail comes together to create a cohesive whole. In the words of the old hymn, her art captures the beauty of the earth and the glory of the skies that “over and around us lies.”

I notice how the art and story are so perfectly intertwined. Illustrations with such strong metaphors and personifications ("Are rivers the earth’s veins?" and “Do caves have mouths?”) could be manipulated in such a way to cause them to appear forced and hokey. This would change the entire mood of the book, taking it from reflective, inviting, and child-centered to didactic, contrived, and heavy-handed. Archer’s illustrations, rather, are a gentle nod to the metaphors. I read Wonder Walkers aloud to students using a soft and contemplative tone. After I read the line “Is fog the river’s blanket?”, a first-grader interrupted our meditative flow, loudly declaring, “No, fog is the river’s vanilla cotton candy dessert.” I loved this comment, because it exemplified how Wonder Walkers doesn’t tell children what to think. Guided by Archer’s gentle invitations (in both text and art), children are given space for their own wonders, as their eyes are opened to the beauty of the natural world. And “a love of nature, implanted so early that it will seem to them hereafter to have been born in them,” writes Miss Mason, “will enrich their lives with pure interests, absorbing pursuits, health, and good humour.”

We could extend our walk to marvel at the book design or examine Archer’s use of color and line, but let’s emulate the wonder walkers and head home to our porch, knowing there will be another day for these wonders.

Is Wonder Walkers Micha Archer’s Caldecott Medal book? I wonder.

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Wonder Walkers here.]

Emmie Stuart
Emmie Stuart
Emmie Stuart is a school librarian at the Percy Priest Elementary School in Nashville, Tennessee.
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Molly Sloan

Thank you for your thoughtful review of this beautiful book. The text is so deceptively simple that I was having trouble articulating why I find this such a profound offering. You put it exactly right when you said, "Every detail comes together to create a cohesive whole. In the words of the old hymn, her art captures the beauty of the earth and the glory of the skies that “over and around us lies.” It is a marvel when a work of art such as Wonder Walkers captures the majesty of nature and our searching souls in such a perfect way.

Posted : Oct 25, 2021 05:08

Micha Archer

Wow, thank you! I feel very honored by your review. So beautifully written and detailed. You understand in every way what I am trying to convey. Thank you for your kind words!Micha

Posted : Oct 19, 2021 02:56



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