Why the Need for Art, Stories, Poems, and Music?

“Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. “

Pullman Philip 2

Wise words from Philip Pullman, who received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2005:

Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. If you don’t give a child food, the damage quickly becomes visible. If you don’t let a child have fresh air and play, the damage is also visible, but not so quickly. If you don’t give a child love, the damage might not be seen for some years, but it’s permanent.

But if you don’t give a child art and stories and poems and music, the damage is not so easy to see. It’s there, though. Their bodies are healthy enough; they can run and jump and swim and eat hungrily and make lots of noise, as children have always done, but something is missing.

It’s true that some people grow up never encountering art of any kind, and are perfectly happy and live good and valuable lives, and in whose homes there are no books, and they don’t care much for pictures, and they can’t see the point of music. Well, that’s fine. I know people like that. They are good neighbours and useful citizens.

But other people, at some stage in their childhood or their youth, or maybe even their old age, come across something of a kind they’ve never dreamed of before. It is as alien to them as the dark side of the moon. But one day they hear a voice on the radio reading a poem, or they pass by a house with an open window where someone is playing the piano, or they see a poster of a particular painting on someone’s wall, and it strikes them a blow so hard and yet so gentle that they feel dizzy. Nothing prepared them for this. They suddenly realise that they’re filled with a hunger, though they had no idea of that just a minute ago; a hunger for something so sweet and so delicious that it almost breaks their heart. They almost cry, they feel sad and happy and alone and welcomed by this utterly new and strange experience, and they’re desperate to listen closer to the radio, they linger outside the window, they can’t take their eyes off the poster. They wanted this, they needed this as a starving person needs food, and they never knew. They had no idea.

That is what it’s like for a child who does need music or pictures or poetry to come across it by chance. If it weren’t for that chance, they might never have met it, and might have passed their whole lives in a state of cultural starvation without knowing it.

The effects of cultural starvation are not dramatic and swift. They’re not so easily visible.

And, as I say, some people, good people, kind friends and helpful citizens, just never experience it; they’re perfectly fulfilled without it. If all the books and all the music and all the paintings in the world were to disappear overnight, they wouldn’t feel any the worse; they wouldn’t even notice.

But that hunger exists in many children, and often it is never satisfied because it has never been awakened. Many children in every part of the world are starved for something that feeds and nourishes their soul in a way that nothing else ever could or ever would.

We say, correctly, that every child has a right to food and shelter, to education, to medical treatment, and so on. We must understand that every child has a right to the experience of culture. We must fully understand that without stories and poems and pictures and music, children will starve.

Written by Philip Pullman for the tenth anniversary of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2012. More from Philip Pullman here.

About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
This entry was posted in art, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Imagination, Inspiration, music, Poetry, reading, reading aloud, reading aloud, storytelling, The Arts and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

75 Responses to Why the Need for Art, Stories, Poems, and Music?

  1. beetleypete says:

    Wise words indeed, Jennie. 🙂
    Without the stimulation of culture, we lose part of our humanity.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. beth says:

    I do agree, jennie

  3. quiall says:

    We must feed the body yes. But we must also feed the mind and the soul. Only a complete meal will fully satisfy.

  4. Wonderful share!! 👍👍👍

  5. Annika Perry says:

    Superb essay, Jennie … I feel like a life without books is one not fully lived!

  6. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, thank you for the needed words of great wisdom!

    • Jennie says:

      It’s how you say what you say. This essay took a slightly different twist, which I found incredibly important. Boy, did it strike me! Yes, like you said, they are needed words of wisdom. Best to you, Charles.

  7. I tend to agree, Jennie. It’s hugely important. As a child no one read to me, or took me to “cultural” events or places (but never underestimate the imagination of a child). So I created my own. Even a TV commercial that caught my imagination could become a full, detailed story. Hugs on the wing.

  8. Darlene says:

    When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he simply replied, “Then what are we fighting for?”

  9. Opher says:

    Art, music and stories nourish the soul. I would add love of nature. No education is complete unless the soul is nourished!

  10. Thank you for this, Jennie! Such wise words.

  11. it is always good to be reminded that the arts could be the portal to a complete and happy life. Thanks, Jennie.

  12. cindy knoke says:

    They excel at all three naturally!

  13. Deepa says:

    Thank you for sharing this jennie..

  14. It’s so important to enrich a child’s life with the arts. The effects last a lifetime.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    As a retired professor(of English) at an art college, I would also add that there are children born to be artists, not academics, and schools need to create space for their flourishing. Otherwise we lose these precious souls to despair.

  16. Thoughtful and wonderfully presented!

  17. One more reminder of how fortunate I was to have the parents and did. I do not take the food of culture they gave me for granted, not then, not now.

    • Jennie says:

      The food of culture – I love that term. While I was not read to as a child (in a house full of books), I had music, art, museums, and a grandmother who told wonderful stories. Like you, I had the food of culture. I took it for granted when I was young, yet By college I understood and appreciated what I was given. To this day, my appreciation grows, as I am often surprised at what people don’t know, things I take for granted, like the Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, Starry Night and Haystacks, and a real symphony orchestra. Did I have this all the time? Of course not. But it was there. Thank goodness.

  18. petespringerauthor says:

    Your preaching to the choir here, Jennie—we speak the same language. I’ve seen so many children stay in school because they were passionate about something (sometimes it was only one thing) that school had to offer. Maybe it was the sculpture class, the choir, theatre, or writing class. Some people are inherently more right-brained than left-brained. The arts may be the one thing they are passionate about. I tend to be more analytical (left-brained), but what a boring place it would be if we didn’t have creativity in the world. It is frustrating when I see the first cuts that schools make are often the very things that are going to keep some of those students in school.

    • Jennie says:

      I know I’m preaching to the choir, Pete. 🙂 Like you, I just can’t stop. It’s the passion that keeps kids going when they find something they like. And yes, when funding has to be cut, art, music, and gym are often the first to go – the things that keep kids in school! It is sad. Thanks for reading the article and commenting, Pete.

  19. I loved reading this, Jennie. It’s more true than most people can even imagine. I was one of those children. You know you are hungry but you keep looking for something that fills you. Now I’m fully satisfied as I have books and crafts to fill that hole in the soul. I’m going to sew now. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Jennie says:

      Sew away, Marlene! Charles was right. I knew he was. And you have stood up and raised your hand, to say “that’s me”. I love the way you describe how you kept looking for something. That is so inspiring! Thank you. 🙂

  20. Why is it always ‘either/or’? Arts, science, math, sports, etc etc – they’re all part of a balanced humanity…so intertwined in this thing we call life.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes! We have to have a balance. Children need to be exposed to everything. That’s how they find their way. If they never hear Mozart or see a real violin, or stare and wonder at Starry Night, then the door was never opened. If they never did the high jump or ran track in gym, that door was never opened. You are right, Laura. It’s all connected and balanced. Life.

  21. Dan Antion says:

    This is so true, Jennie. Thank you for sharing it. I hope I never need to send it to our School Board during their budget discussions.

  22. Are there really people out there who don’t notice art, music and books, Jennie. Really? My hubby is every bit a chartered accountant (he is the pin stripe and I am the multi coloured pin stripe). He does, however, enjoy music and art (not always to my taste but I can compromise). He also appreciates a good book now and then and likes my fondant art. I can’t imagine a world without these things. I think I would just pine away and die.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, there really are people who don’t notice. More than you can imagine. I even have a family member in that group. When we get outside of our world of books, art, and music, there is an even bigger world of non-seers. Sad! I think schools have a responsibility to at least introduce the arts in order to show children what’s out there. You never know what child might find their passion. If I couldn’t visit a museum on occasion, listen to music, or read aloud to children, I would pine away and die, too.

      Robbie, I have not forgotten my promise to read aloud How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Soon! 🙂

  23. srbottch says:

    Salient points. While we had books, just a few, in the house, I wish that I had been exposed to more art, in a casual way, as something to understand and enjoy.

    • Jennie says:

      I think most people are like you, Steve. They grew up with some books, but art was not ‘there’. I have no recollection of being exposed to art in school. We had a small art museum in the city where I grew up, and I went there on occasion. While it wasn’t a big deal, I now see that it gave me exposure to art. I think schools need to expose children to everything in education.

  24. An excellent share Jennie. And for certain, art, music and stories are the embodiment of intellectual growth and potential. I believe that if a young person is starved of any of these nourishments, he or she may distract to a less useful preoccupations. And if any of these intellectual (cultural) nourishments are introduced or discovered later, the person may become more aggressive to pursue and learn. I know many people that grew up deprived through family breakups, being in and out of foster homes and juvenile incarcerations but opportuned themselves later by breaking through the confines. 🤔

  25. So true, Jennie! I enjoyed the read very much. Thank you for sharing! Best wishes, Michael

  26. Pingback: Please Don’t Speak – #1LinerWeds – No Facilities

  27. We need to clone all of you who have such great ideas about children and reading. My happiest moments with my own children are the times when I would read their stories to them, and then one night when I had put them to bed, I heard my daughter in her bedroom and it sounded as though she was reading. Now how could a little child have learned all those words? I went in and I will never forget how she was reading the Little Golden Book page by page, line by line. No, she was not reading; she had memorized the story! What a good memory I have of that time.

    • Jennie says:

      What a marvelous memory, Anne! You must have been beside yourself hearing her read that Golden Book. My favorite was The Pokey Little Puppy. Those read aloud moments are as wonderful for the reader as they are for the child. If I had magic, I would have books in the hands of all children, along with a loving adult reader-aloud. In the short term, I can bring that to children in my class and at the library.

  28. Oh, that was one of my favorites too, Jennie. I had that one as a child, and I read it until all the pages were “dog-eared,” no pun intended. When Richard and I move to Arizona, I am going to start a weekly reading program for Saturday mornings. That and also little art projects related to what we are reading each week. I have done that before at the library and the children just love it. I think they enjoyed making up their own stories that went with the story we read and their art project related to that. It was immense fun and boy, those children were so creative. Moms came with their children, and I think some helped their children, but I felt that was OK too because it got the moms involved doing activities with their children, something some of them had likely never done before. A lot of us adults were not read to except in school, and I find that once we are introduced to it, we realize how satisfying it is. I have dreamed of doing this for years, so I am sure looking forward to doing it. I love working with children of any age, but teaching them to find enjoyment in books would be the best ever!!! Hugs and blessings, Anne

    • Jennie says:

      This is so wonderful, Anne! You will be doing not only what you love, but what will make a big difference in the lives of so many children and their families. I am so excited!!! The best part of my day is reading aloud, both picture books and chapter books. I promise that you will love it, and the children will, too. Of course you have done this before. Including an art activity is the icing on the cake. When will you and Richard move to Arizona?

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