A Small Ecological Disaster: A Children’s Storybook Adventure!
It should have been a children’s story.
Once upon a time, there was a farmer. This farmer grew corn. This farmer had bugs. Keep the sentences short so the kiddos don’t get lost. Or maybe teach them something. Teach them to count. On each stalk of corn crawled ten thousand little bugs. Count them! 1 bug, 2 bug… maybe not. The ending would be too far away.
Maybe teach them movement and proximity, shape and motion. This farmer ordered a package. It started far away in a warehouse. A person put the package on a truck. The truck brought the package to the airport. Another person took the package off the truck and put it on a plane. The plane flew through the sky. (Can’t you see the adorable pictures? Was the truck blue and white, puffs of gray exhaust rising out the back? Was the plane red with stubby little round wings?) When it landed, the package was taken from the plane to another truck. The truck driver went from street to street until finally, they came to this farmer’s house, down a sunny dirt road deep in bear country. Wait… wrong story.
And taking too long for the little kiddos. It’s board books, not bored books.
Give it impressionist illustrations, all brush strokes. Print it on large glossy pages. Fill the captions with adjectives that let the amateur readers-theatre parents stretch the words.
One day, in a quaint old farmhouse, a sharp knock came at the door. The old farmer who lived there stood up from his rocking chair, and patted across the floor, into the hall, and opened the door. There on his stoop was a cardboard box, brown and tightly taped shut. (Can’t you hear the little kiddos asking, “What’s in the package?”)
The farmer brought the box inside, and with a little red pocket knife he always kept in his tattered jeans, he began to open the box, slicing away at the tape. (The little kiddos would be squirming with anticipation.)
What he pulled from it was wrapped in clear plastic, and padded with white Styrofoam. Carefully, he removed the objects inside, and there is was: a tiny machine, a glass box at one end and a printer at the other. (“What is it?” The little kiddos would ask. Should ask. Maybe you should ask, too. How quickly a children’s story with its simple words can draw in anyone.
This farmer knows what it was. And he’s just a farmer. Why don’t you know, Dad? Mom?)
He brought the box outside and set it in the grass. He looked out at his withered fields, at the stalky leaves full of holes. Those hungry little caterpillars.
Are things seeming a bit bleak? A bit frightening? Perhaps you should try rhyme and anapestic tetrameter.
And with the mash of a button, a flip of a switch
The box began to hum, to whirr, and to twitch.
This farmer set aside the unread instructions,
kneeling to see the implements of destruction.
They’d be hard to pick out with a magnifying glass,
But by the millions, nanites poured out in mass.
He lifted a flap, and out they all flew,
As though they instinctively knew what to do.
See how the verse just moves things along
Making the story read more like a song?
And could you still see it all? The machines like specks, printed and piling out on the…decks? The temptation to rhyme can be hard to resist, even when it makes no sense in the story. Should we try counting again? 1 nano-robot, 2 nano-robot… no? Maybe riff off of some other well-known yarn. Children’s literature seems to be able to pull off such thefts. “The Nanites Go Marching One by One” perhaps? Or “The Hungry Caterpillar Killers?” “Make Way For Mechlings?”
Something must be done, because the little kiddos are about to have their skin crawling as they read about little robotic bugs, marching in an army across a cornfield, eating every weevil they come across. They’re robots, so of course, eating isn’t entirely accurate. More like dismembering with the miniscule-ist of little chainsaws, a massacre fit for a Texas field. Maybe some fun words can lighten things up?
There goes the little buggies’ legs.
Off with their wings.
Thud! Goes the thorax.
Poof! Their bodies are fried in a flash.
Or maybe not. A lesson in bug anatomy? The abdomen is disconnected from the head, the head is disconnected from the antennae…
This farmer, for his part, is as innocent as the wee one being read to. He watches and sees nothing. He can’t see them crawl out over his corn, saving his crop, saving his farm. He can’t see the swarm push beyond to fields of wildflowers where they kill every bee, to the forest where they gobble up beetles and roaches and flies.
Why buy just enough for the acres you own when you can just as easily afford one hundred times that amount?
But what is life but mistakes made and lessons learned? Read the instructions, kids! Think, think about the environment… UNLESS!
The farmer just wanted his corn to grow. Your child just wanted closeness with you. You just wanted the little fucker to go to sleep. Everyone wanting something, doing whatever it takes to get it. You’ll read about numbers or talking bears or made-up creatures. Your child, for their part, puts up with it. The farmer, making a living off of nature and watching nature fighting back, turns to technology, technology not well-understood.
Aren’t we all just children at heart?
In the end, don’t make it poetry, or high-concept, or even learning. Just go with the simple night-night story. Good night, farmer. Good night, fields. Good night, corn. Good night, fresh air. Good night, robots. Good night bugs, everywhere.