Cast Out Fear – a post for autumn

Over the past two years, this post has become one of the most popular I’ve written.  WordPress allows me to see how people find my blog – through search engines, Facebook posts and other online links – and this is one post people find through various searches on children’s literature and Barbara Cooney.  Originally published in May 2012, I’m posting an abridged version in honor of autumn and the fabulous illustrations of the seasons by Barbara Cooney, as found in the Ox-Cart Man, by Donald Hall.  The broader topic of the post – teaching children through literature to not fear the unknown – is still relevant today.


No parent needs to be reminded of the importance of reading to their children.  I try to read to mine regularly.  Yes, it helps in their brain development and prepares them for school and all those things that are so important.  But I’ve also recently discovered that reading to my daughter is teaching her to not fear.  I’m not talking about the fear of monsters under her bed.  I’m talking about the fear of the unknown.  She doesn’t have that fear.  I think that fear in large part is a learned behavior.

Ox-Cart Man’s Autumn

Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney, is a book that draws in my daughter.  The ox-cart man and his family work hard through the seasons to make wares for him to sell in town.  “When his cart was full, he waved good-bye to his wife, his daughter, and his son and he walked at his ox’s head ten days over hills, through valleys, by streams past farms and villages. . .” (page 10).  Blue mountains and the flaming colors of a New England autumn spread across two pages as the ox-cart man walks a winding road.  “I wanna go there, mommy,” she says when we reach that page.  “Me too, sweety!”  Who doesn’t?

Another favorite book is Read-Aloud Bible Stories Vol. III by Ella K. Lindvall with simple, full-page illustrations by H. K. Puckett.  On pages 74 and 75, the sun is rising across a vast, tan desert wilderness where a mass of Israelites are wandering.  When I reach that page while reading, she often says “I wanna go there, mommy.”   But she’s never been in a desert, so she doesn’t know that deserts can be fearful places.  I always say excitedly, “well, maybe we can go there someday!”  Really?  You want to go to that desert?

Is there any place she doesn’t want to go?  I don’t think so.  At least not at this age, until she’s learned – from me, or other people, or her own experience – to fear.  Fear of unfamiliar tastes, people, places, languages, smells and experiences.  My hope and prayer is that my daughters will love and desire to have new experiences and seek to know the unknown.

2 responses to “Cast Out Fear – a post for autumn”

  1. It’s encouraging to hear that new things aren’t as intimidating because you were exposed to them as a child. I hope my kids embody that when they grow up. Books and reading are such a gift taken for granted by so many, myself included! I love your visuals – scenes from a book you’ve found in real life. I have special snapshots in my mind of those places as well. Thanks for sharing!

  2. My family is a book family, and it was really good for me, growing up. We were poor and didn’t go places, but I explored the world through books. Now that I actually get to explore the world, new things don’t scare me as much as they might have otherwise. I love finding places that look like they should be in books, too. Like the perfect winding street with pigeons and crooked old houses, or the mountain village… 😀

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