Sometimes I think I forget what it was like to be a child. I remember lots of things about my childhood, but I forget the wonder. I forget what it was like to be a child, but I remember growing up. To quote Elizabeth Bowen, “I know that I have in my make-up layers of synthetic experience, and that the most powerful memories are only half true. […] this must surely be the case with everyone who reads deeply, ravenously, unthinkingly, sensuously, as a child” (48). Sometimes I have to ask myself, did that happen to you or to a character you once read about? Every time I inhale the ocean, am I inhaling it as Leigha or Charlotte Doyle? Every time I walk casually through the trail in the forest am I thinking as myself or Elizabeth Bennet? For me, childhood was a time of great fantasy and romance, and my coming of age years, followed by adulthood, have depended so greatly on what did or did not happen to me as a child.
Once in a while, as a busy, organized, and routine adult, we stumble upon a book which acts as a portal back to our childhood when we thrived on wonder. Jerry Spinelli’s Hokey Pokey is just such a book. I ingested it ravenously in one sitting, a smile slowly broadening across my face, as I too remembered the vital rules of the dream land Hokey Pokey, The Nevers, as it where that stipulate never go to bed until the last second, never pass a puddle without jumping in it, never forget that [boys] have cooties- suffice to say, I have forgotten all of these things, and I suspect it affects deeply the way I parent. I get short tempered during a difficult bedtime routine, I warn of the impending health consequences of jumping in puddles without the proper foot attire- I have been so immersed in the land of adulthood for so long I forget the magic of play and its vital importance to sustain life. And now, thinking about this book and its effects on me as an adult reader I have to ask, was Hokey Pokey written for a young audience at all, or was it meant to be a reminder for adults who have fallen too far down the rabbit hole of humdrummery? And then I wonder, despite all of the things I have done and accomplished and excited over, is adulthood inherently dull? Once we enter the “Forbidden Hut” and board the train out of the dreamland that is our own Hokey Pokey do we forget the distinction of play (because even when we play with our children there is a nagging voice in the background saying, “did you remember to turn off the stove?” “Have you signed that permission slip?”)? And if so, when does this begin? Is it the teenage years when we learn that the uneasy feeling in our stomach at the sight of specific other is not disgust but lust? Is it when we feel the weight of a bike as less a means for random freedom and more a vehicle from point A to B? When it is no longer our vessel into the unknown, our ScramJet taking us on wild adventures, rather the vehicle we have to use, one which we have to remember to pedal to get us to where it is we need to be when we need to be there? And if so, if this book really for a Young Adult audience at all? Is its message that growing up is ok, but do not forget the magic and wonder you so recently possessed? Would I have been so moved if I were on the precipice of young-adulthood from years as a child? Would I have been so eager to grow up?
As I sit back and reflect on this book today, I am struck most by Mr. Shortstop, the baseball glove that gave Jack, the protagonist, his sense of duty and awe and I think of my young slugger who plays catch in the living room when it gets too dark outside, who dives at the rebounds coming off of the garage door, and who believes so completely in the magic of a baseball glove and its place in his own identity. I do not want him to lose this. I don’t want him boarding the train from Hokey Pokey anytime soon, and I think the best way I can encourage the wonder within him to remain is to keep reading myself, to get lost in imagination and to encourage the same from him. It is easy to forget childhood when it is so far away from you, the trick is to remember you do not need to pedal to go fast to getlost in the wonder.
By Leigha Chiasson-Locke
Bowen, Elizabeth. The Mulberry Tree. Virago Press. London. 1986.
Spinelli, Jerry. Hokey Pokey. Yearling Books. New York, NY. 2014.