How One Vulture Helps Kids Recognize Their Self-Worth

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victor the reluctant vulture jonathan hansonAs much as I hate to say it, raising kids is awfully scary business. And I prefer to think of myself as the sort of gent who looks for the opportunity in a situation, not the problem. But I'd be a fool not to admit it. First, there's feeding, clothing, and providing a warm place to sleep — these are the easy ones. Then we have to do our best to shape our spawn into behaved children, which is way easier than it sounds. Then get them an education, teach them how to ride bikes, do their homework, make friends, clean their messes, lick their wounds, respect money, follow instruction and on and on . . . it's not easy and it doesn't end there, sorry. We also hope to make them feel loved and important (ahh, yet not too important), and we have to somehow help them discover their talents, skills, self-worth and identity, frequently to their ferocious resistance. To use a baseball metaphor, the strike zone is about the size of a shoebox. How can 18 years possibly be enough to get the job done right?

If raising kids is hard, making it through the trials of adolescence is no cakewalk, either. Who didn't feel awkward or aimless at some point during those years?

So here's a new children's book, Victor, the Reluctant Vulture by Jonathan Hanson, addressing the hardest part of growing up: discovering how to be comfortable with who you are. And it's arguably a lesson today's kids need now more than ever.

Framing the story around one of nature's most disregarded critters, the vulture, there's little to admire. They're not sleek and majestic like eagles; vultures feast on road kill and feed their offspring puke. So why craft a children's book around this animal?

"Vultures are viewed as kind of eewy by most people, even a lot of naturalists," Hanson says. "Yet of course they play a vital role in the web of life."

He also draws a correlation to the growing pains of adolescence. "Many, many humans view themselves as kind of eewy at some point in their lives, often when they are young. Who among us has not wished to be someone else at some age?"

And the story of Victor was born. He's a young vulture trying like mad to be like the other desert birds that he thinks are far cooler than vultures. Try as he might, the results are humorous: he simply can't hunt like a hawk or fly like a falcon. With the help of his family and other desert friends, Victor learns to discover the value in being a vulture, and most importantly that he can be good at it.

At a speedy 22 pages, Hanson wrote the book for early intermediate readers. He also included a short glossary with related terms and a section about the wildlife found throughout the story, making it a nice, quick guide to desert life.

Published by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and illustrated by one of their own, Kim Kanoa Duffek, you can pick this up from the museum here, or at Amazon.com here.

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