kobi with ivy book

A Mom Reads Her Kids the Children’s Book She Loved…And They Go “Meh”

This seasonal post comes from Kobi Nelson, a high school teacher in Denver with a Ph.D. in Education. Kobi enjoys life with her husband, two kids, and cat named Bear.

Uncertainty and Growth in “The Story of Holly and Ivy”

The first time I encountered The Story of Holly and Ivy was when my Great-Aunt gave me the book in the 1980s. Six-year-old-me was enamored with the story. My dad read it to me every Christmas.

When I became a parent, I wanted to continue this tradition. However, reading this to my son and daughter was like reading science fiction to someone who only reads romance novels. My kids just weren’t interested. This is likely because the message of Holly and Ivy runs smack up against the safety guardrails that many children, including my own, have grown up with.

Spunky orphans we are not.

Witness the opening of the story when we meet Ivy, a confident six year-old in an orphanage. Being an orphan doesn’t seem to daunt her. It spurs her to take chances that make complete sense to a child left to her own devices.

For instance, when she’s put on a train by herself, Ivy gets off at the wrong stop in pursuit of her grandmother who is, at this point, a figure of her imagination. Ivy is so confident in herself that she doesn’t question whether she should walk around the town or not. She just does. To her, the opportunities for success are just as great as the potential dangers.

The distresses Ivy encounters only motivate her. For example, exploring the town, she comes upon a Christmas Market. After a while, the market closes and Ivy realizes that her legs ache with cold. But she has no place to stay. Drawing on her inner resources Ivy continues to look for her grandmother and her confidence grows.

The things kids don’t do today.

It is this independence that may seem foreign to many children today–mine included. Some things my children have never done: cooking a meal completely on their own, running an errand for me, or riding a bike to a park a mile or more from our home.

When The Story of Holly and Ivy was published 65 years ago, many of those childhood activities were normal. Today, children and teens stay closer to home where they (and their parents) are overestimating danger and underestimating their own abilities to deal with discomfort, uncertainty, and disappointment.

For instance, when my kids were younger and they’d saved up money for a toy, we’d go to the store, pick out the item, and I would ask them to go to the cash register by themselves. Their nervousness was palpable. Rarely would they interact with the cashier without me.

The Story of Holly and Ivy teaches the value of that discomfort: it spurs children to explore life’s possibilities. This can be a difficult truth for both children and adults to swallow. As adults, it can feel better (and safer) to keep our kids close, rather than allowing (and encouraging!) them to experience independence. Yet, we too can take a cue from Ivy by choosing to believe in our children’s inborn ability to overcome obstacles.

A happy ending anyway!

Thanks perhaps to reading about Ivy, my kids now 16 and 10, have embraced independence too. They often walk to the corner store down the street and interact with a stranger to purchase their slushies or gummy worms. They don’t seem to mind like they used to, and my heart swells when they come home with more confidence.

At times, if they have been gone for a while, I catch myself wanting to call to make sure everything is okay. I am always glad when I don’t, because this independence is what our children truly want. That is the precious gift Ivy gave me, and I now give to my kids.

4 Responses to A Mom Reads Her Kids the Children’s Book She Loved…And They Go “Meh”

  1. fred schueler December 27, 2023 at 2:29 pm #

    How about Swallows & Amazons – “Let’s be blown across the English Channel and be surprised when Dad waves to us from the deck of an incoming ocean liner.”

  2. Mark Headley December 27, 2023 at 6:12 pm #

    I’m afraid I don’t follow the Swallows and Amazons suggestion.

    What was dangerous about Ivy’s situation? Or approaching cashiers? I can’t help but think the aversion to them parallels mine now, in contrast to most of my life: so many act mean, obnoxious. I fear it’s not about what kids are comfortable, confident doing. That it’s about protection from being vulnerable to vicious abuse. I often feel out help when I am too sick to be my usual confident self interacting. Now, things DO go wrong. When wracked with agony, it’s foolish to be my long-time confident self. Same when genuinely faced with hostility. Esp blindsided. I increasingly hear my compassionate behavior, as able, is a refreshing change from what’s too often encountered. I agree fears of a much more dangerous world are largely off, corrosively so. Alas, too often NOT fears of nasty abuse, misconduct, deceit. IMO

  3. Mark Headley December 27, 2023 at 6:27 pm #

    I liked my Mom reading to me largely because we were sharing something that interested her. That in so doing, I was quickly learning to read myself at 3, 4. I learned many words, phonetics, by repeated exposure generating recognition.

    I admire and support challenging children with freedom, responsibility. But should they be left vulnerable to wrongful abuse from bullying adults, older kids? I agree some of this is inevitably involved in navigating life. Esp. people like us given to advocacy. I fear a lot can be overwhelming: maybe wrongdoing kids SHOULD learn to avoid. That they’re not here, there, wherever, to be cruel punching bags.

  4. Donald December 27, 2023 at 6:56 pm #

    The human race is great at adapting to their environment. Note that I didn’t say that evolution always leads to improvement. In the case of the brains ability to focus, the latest version is a downgrade in many ways. There is fierce competition to get your attention. Visiting any website is like walking into a crowded room where everybody is waving a sign at you that screams, “LOOK AT ME!” To this we automatically try to comply. This is the case even if we don’t want to. The end result is that we have a shallow capacity to focus on anything.

    The younger generations are more susceptible to this. They were born into a different world then us. I have to keep reminding myself this when I struggle with patients and when I want to criticise millennials, gen z, and gen alpha. It was the older generations that used a VCR, Ipad, and eventually an Iphone as a babysitter. I didn’t have this problem. My parents instead used a black and white television as a babysitter. (Wow am I old. Perhaps I’m just senile)

    I think is is part of the reason for the “Meh” response