“When I think of the wisest people I know, they share one defining trait: curiosity. They turn away from the minutiae of their lives—and focus on the world around them. They are motivated by a desire to explore the unfamiliar. They are drawn toward what thy don’t understand. They enjoy surprise.” -Dani Shapiro
There is a great scene in The Catcher in the Rye when Holden asks the cab driver as they drive through Central Park: “Where do the ducks go in winter?” The cab driver doesn’t really understand the question, not the metaphorical implications of the question, and instead wonders aloud about the fish. But Holden is really beginning to grapple with bigger questions of identity and fate and loss of innocence as he comes of age throughout this novel. He’s beginning to understand that there are many unanswerable questions.
Holden’s sentiment is echoed in Marie-Louise Gay’s picture book, Stella Queen of the Snow, when Sam asks his big sister Stella as they stare at a frozen lake: “Are the frogs frozen too?” Stella replies: “No, they are sleeping under the ice.” Stella, still a child herself, delights in coming up with creative answers for all of her brothers questions. In the world that she creates, snowmen sleep on “soft, fluffy snow banks,” and polar bears eat snowflakes for breakfast.
In my book Where Do Fairies Go When it Snows?, this question is continued. When we think about fairies, warm weather immediately comes to mind: lush green forests, warm air, barefoot children running free. So what happens when it gets cold, when snow blankets the earth?
“Do fairies hibernate like bears,
hedgehogs, and raccoons,
or are they like squirrels collecting
food under the winter moon?’
The book asks a lot of questions. In fact, it is about 90% questions. And it really doesn’t answer the title question. Having worked with children for most of my career, I am very comfortable with not answering the millions of questions that kids ask me in a day and I much prefer letting them come up with their own answers or even more questions.
Not everything has an answer.
And I certainly can’t answer the all of the questions kids ask me at events about fairies. I really am not sure.
Kids are born with the innate ability to look around and wonder. They see all of the possibilities. Fairies represent this spirit. They are the embodiment of mystery and wonder. They demand that we suspend belief for a while. That we trust. And they inspire questions.
Curiosity is the spark that gets us outside of ourselves. I believe it keeps us young. My daughter Daphne keeps a list of questions on a clipboard. Often she thinks of them while falling asleep or on long car trips and so wants to remember to “search them up” when she can.
My hope is that when your kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews, or any of the kids in your life ask you a question, that instead of answering right away you ask them a question right back, why do you think, what could it be? Children’s answers are so much more interesting. And this process gets them thinking, makes them inquire and wonder. It opens them up instead of shutting them down.
So here’s to the unknown, the unanswerable and the endless spark of curiosity!