One of my earliest memories is sitting on my grandmother’s lap while she read to me. I recall several of those old books, a favorite being the story of a koala.
I don’t know what happened to the original book, but a few years ago I found a vintage copy online and ordered it.
First of all, check out the 1968 price: 49¢. And secondly…yeah, koalas aren’t bears. Many a year passed before I realized this.
I loved Kobo the koala who sings to himself in rhyme and the story of what happens when he grows tired of living in trees, eating only “leaves for breakfast and leaves for dinner. It’s a wonder to me I’m not getting thinner.”
Kobo decides he will find a new home. Off he saunters (the vocabulary is so rich) for quite an adventure.
He encounters a platypus, another animal I loved at first sight. Kobo meets a number of other creatures: a kangaroo, a kookaburra, and Dingo, the wild dog who chases him back to his tree. Kobo learns in the end that his tree is exactly what he needs; he would not be happy living like the other creatures or having to eat what they do.
This is where Kobo belongs.
So all my life I’ve known where koalas live and what they need to eat…here is what I’ve learned about them in recent years:
They have fingerprints like humans.
They are the only living (extant) member the family Phascolarctidae.
Koala comes from indigenous language meaning “no-drink” or “no-water,” for these animals don’t drink much due to their exclusive eucalyptus-leaf diet. To see one drinking water isn’t a good sign.
In the times of drought and fires destroying their habitat, koalas have approached humans, begging for water.
Koala numbers are in decline due to deforestation, brushfires, vehicles, and yes…dogs.
In some parts of their eastern Australia home koalas are considered endangered.
I can’t help thinking how Kobo’s story would be so different, written today…he couldn’t return home if home is gone.
Of course koalas aren’t alone in this. I see it here on the other side of the world, with more and more land being cleared for neighborhoods. Not so long ago a white-spotted fawn came running through the yard to crash into my house, hard enough to dent the siding and leave a little patch of blood, before pivoting on its gangly legs and streaking back across the lawn to the woods. I never knew what became of it or its mother.
Then there are trees themselves, living things that actually communicate and work together to survive, until they are gone.
And then there are people. Refugees. Borders. Wars. One cannot go home when home is gone…
And children, so needing that sense of belonging…for our childhoods follow us all of our lives.
I suppose that was what was in my mind when I saw the stuffed koala at the store the other day and bought it to keep at my house for my granddaughters to play with when they come. Memories of my own grandmother. The books. The love. The sense of being wanted, valued, sheltered.
Micah, sixteen months old, immediately noticed it sitting atop the toybox in the living room on her next visit. Her face lit up. She toddled over to the koala, picked it up, and hugged it close. “Baby,” she said. “Baby.”
She is a baby herself.
But she already knows something about caring.
Kobo himself might say it’s the beginning of finding the way home, before too much is lost.
Mother and Child. jimbowen0306. CC BY 2.0.
with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the monthlong Slice of Life Story Challenge
and to Kobo the Koala Bear, written by Marjory Schwaljé, illustrated by Katherine Sampson
and to Grandma, for all the reading