Children find precious in seemingly unwanted things. Be it an old stick, a handful of sand, or a cardboard box. Like Stanley, my son Travis goes through a cycle of finding sticks, losing them, looking for them, and realizing that the other sticks he finds is never the same as the one he lost.
There’s something about sticks and little boys.. maybe it’s something primal from hunter gatherer times that never left. Maybe a stick represents hunting, or treasure hunting. Maybe it symbolizes finding, or maybe it means holding on. Holding it, it becomes an object which bestows power, and in a humble stick a child gains access to his own power of imagination during play, which carry him through the joys and turmoil of childhood.
The book begins with the understanding that a stick once belonged to something as great as a tree. It can never return, but it is still worth something.. something good could still be made out of it. “You don’t have to be great, to be great.”
The story builds up to the point where Stanley stands by the sea, about to throw his stick into the sea. His intention is clear, but his understanding of consequences a little fuzzy. Between the time where Stanley stands by the sea and the time where the sea carries the stick away with its waves, the child reading the book experiences a long pause – an ephemeral sense of loss, or “mono no aware” (物の哀れ). It is here Travis began to cry. The sea, so wide, so real.. took the precious stick away.
We are always taking precious away, and they always have a way of finding it again. Travis cried, but Stanley did not. He went to the beach the very next day looking for sticks. Quite easily, he found a new stick. A fantastick. 🙂
The turn of events surprise the child, particularly the point where the character lets go of something so dear out of his own accord. As an adult, what surprised me most was that Stanley did not cry. Instead of flipping out, he took to it in a stoic manner, and with that it gave him power over what happened. It was as if he foresaw that it would happen. He became the instigator, not a victim. He let it go, but he did not lose.
Growing up involves a lot of letting go, and this poignant story frames it in a way the little ones can understand, or have understood all along.