Spiritual books for kids (and moms): The Carrot Seed

Broken toys are a pretty common occurrence around our house.  (I guess this is inevitable when you have boys whose definition of “play”  involves sending  small vehicles flying down the hall at horrifying speed.)  Whenever Scott pulls out the toolkit and reapairs the car or train in question, Matthew always looks on and issues his standard proclamation.

“Daddy can fix anything,” he says.

I love the faith with which he says it.  It’s pure, unwavering, and adorable.  And it’s the kind of faith that lies at the heart of the classic picture book The Carrot Seed.

The Carrot Seed is a short, simply-worded book about a boy who plants  a seed. “I’m afraid it won’t come up,” his parents tell him.  “It won’t come up,” his big brother says.  But the little boy weeds and waters and waits … and waits … and waits.  And in the end, a huge carrot comes up out of the earth … “just as the little boy had known it would,” the narrator explains.

This is so clearly a story about faith, the instinctive faith of children.  It’s also a story about faith being rewarded.  And, as a mom, I am realizing that it’s about something else, too.  It’s about walking the line between protecting our kids and encouraging them to dream big.

There’s an unanswered question in this book: why are the parents so sure that the carrot seed won’t grow?   The drawings by Crockett Johnson (author of the Harold books, other faves of mine) show a kind-looking family with gentle, concerned expressions; they hardly seem like they get their jollies from crushing a small boy’s hopes.  My guess is that they warn him in an effort to protect their little boy from disappointment.   If he counts on this and it doesn’t happen, he’ll be devastated.  Let’s prepare him in advance for that possibility.

It’s arguably a good impulse, the desire to protect your kids from pain.  At the same time, though, it goes against the grain of the natural faith of the little boy.  In the end, his impulse — towards belief — is the right one.  And that, it seems, is the message of this book: that good things come to those who have faith.

I struggle a bit with this message, honestly, because life doesn’t always work that way.  Let’s face it: there are times when we have faith, and our hopes just don’t materialize.  As a result, there are times in my own life when I find myself deliberately expecting the worst so as to cushion the blow in advance.  Isn’t it better to brace yourself for disappointment and then be pleasantly surprised, instead of counting on sunshine and then getting a storm?   I fall into that pattern  more often than I’d like. But I also know, in my core, that this pessimism is no way to live.  If nothing else, having faith in good outcomes guarantees me a better quality of life while I wait to see what happens.  It makes me less cramped, less tense; it makes me lighter.   That alone is worth the faith … even though believing can be darn hard to do at times.

I’ve thought about this issue a lot over the last several years.  There’s so much to ponder there; I certainly won’t be able to resolve all of my questions in a blog post.  But even though I struggle at times to live up to the core messsage, I still love The Carrot Seed  because it is a tribute to the beautiful  faith of kids, a faith that — truth be told — I envy.   This book makes me realize that I shouldn’t be too quick to “protect” them by introducing the possibility of worst-case scenarios.   Faith comes so naturally to them; I want to honor and respect that.

One day, there will be something that Daddy can’t fix, and Matthew will no longer utter that ringing statement of belief.  But for now, I want to keep his sweet faith alive and growing.  I want to water it and weed it and keep it thriving just as long as I possibly can.

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Crockett Johnson.  To read more about the Spiritual Books series of posts, click here.

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