One of the things that seems to be happening in many of the public schools, at least in my neck of the woods, is that there is such a focus on test scores, reading levels, and facts that we are spending less time encouraging our children to think and create. Childhood is a time where many children still believe in the power of stories and where their imaginations run wild. But between the presence of technology and the odd over-scheduling we can’t seem to escape from, kids often don’t get to experience the creative bursts that come from boredom. Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby’s story, Yokki and the Parno Gry, is a tale that highlights the power and wonder of a child’s imagination.
Yokki and the Parno Gry is a tale about the Romani people and the power of storytelling. In the same way Evan Turk’s book, The Storyteller, has the art of telling a story as the item that saved a people in their time of need, so too does Yokki’s story save his family. What sets this book apart from anything else I’ve seen is that it focuses ono the Romani culture and traditions, something we rarely see presented in books in a positive light.
In this lovely book, Yokki and his family have experienced a string of bad luck. Traditionally they crafted in the spring and worked for others in the summer and fall, sort of like migrant labor. But when a wet spring impacts crops, the local farmers don’t need their work and the Romani group struggles to get by. Yokki is known as the best story teller of the group. His grandmother sees his stories of the Parno Gry, a great horse from his dreams, as a way to lift the spirits of the travelers, though some from his parent’s generation don’t see the value. Still, Yokki continues to tell his stories.
In true fantasy style, Yokki’s tales of the great white horse turn into his family’s reality as the majestic creature carries them all to a green land of plenty. The lesson being that as “long as they value children’s imaginations, the Parno Gry will inspire them with new ideas and possibilities.”
This was a great look into the Romani culture as well as a stand for the value of a good story. Stories can lift us from hard times, bind us as a people, and give us life lessons. The travelers learn that belief in their imaginations can get them through the hardest times. We should continue to encourage all of our children to believe in their dreams and let their imaginations soar.