At evening when the lamp is lit,
Around the fire my parents sit;
They sit at home and talk and sing,
And do not play at anything.
Now, with my little gun, I crawl
All in the dark along the wall,
And follow round the forest track
Away behind the sofa back.
There, in the night, where none can spy,
All in my hunter’s camp I lie,
And play at books that I have read
Till it is time to go to bed. … Robert Louis Stevenson
The scene is a picture of peace. A child goes about his way, secure in the presence of his parents. The parents talk and sing, maybe even do some hand-work. Together. Nothing takes them away, or apart; not even their own worries or concerns. Anchored in that union, the child is free to wander—into foreign lands, even into danger. He’s always at home, no matter where he goes.
This child’s simple yet pressing needs are fulfilled, right here at home. This experience, this reality, he will carry with him the rest of his life.
The land of storybooks should not be in storybooks alone. Some children would give anything to have just one such evening. What children want, and need, can seem so far away; yet it is close at hand. Our homes can be the land of storybooks. Such is within our power. And it needs to be done, for the sake of our children. And for own sake too.
R.L Stevenson (1850-1894) is the great Scottish author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and other classics.
Illustration by Margaret Tarrant