You can always tell how much I’ve enjoyed a book by the number of Post-It-Notes I’ve stuck inside it. By the time I’d finished reading Kith by Jay Griffiths, practically every page was ‘noted.’ And this has been a running theme with Griffiths’s books.
Her previous works, Wild, Pip Pip, and Tristimania have all, in their own ways, changed my life for the better. And so, when I picked up Kith, I expected the same to happen. And I wasn’t disappointed because, as she always does, Griffiths delivered over and above. Whenever I’m reading work by Griffiths, one thought that always comes to me is ‘there need to be more books like this, there need to be more books with this amount of passion, clarity, and boldness.’
“Although they are themselves part of nature, children are removed from the world of moss and trees, of fur and paw.”
In Kith: The Riddle Of The Childscape, Griffiths seeks to find out why it is we, in Euro-American cultures, often deny our children the freedom of space, time and the natural world. Like in Wild, Griffiths visits communities the world over, from West Papua to the Arctic. She forages in history and literature, philosophy and language to explore how nature is an essential aspect of childhood. It was while Griffiths was travelling the world and researching her book Wild that she became more and more aware of just how differently childhood is experienced in various cultures.
“My brothers and I spent weeks with our grandparents by the sea where we learned so much more than it may have seemed. Not because we saw an actual shipwreck but because we saw the potential for it. Not because we actually found treasure but because we could feel the immanence of treasure at every seashore… We fished for wishes and caught them; we swam to find mermaids and became them; and we dived for pearls and returned with a stick, a bit of litter, a coin or the makings of a joke. Pearls, in other words. We learned about tides and chance, storms and sun, the vicissitudes of what is lost and found, flotsam and jetsam, castaway luck, islands, sea-songs, rings, riddles and pledges.”
I took my time with Kith. You need to take your time with any book by Griffiths because each sentence is so rich with detail, so rich with learning, so rich with importance. She talks about how children instinctively know that they need nature, and when they’re denied it, they can become angry and depressed, and, after some time, their radiance is shadowed and made dim.
The time Griffiths spent with children and their parents in native cultures revealed such beauty, wisdom, and strength. Though it made me feel great feelings of shame that, in the UK, we more often than not keep children from their wild for their ‘safety’ though in the wild is often where children are the safest, it’s where they can grow unbowed. If you’re looking for a profound, philosophical book that dives into the human experience of being a child, this book is for you.