In the recently published young adult novel by Doug Cosper, On the wings of wonder, Case is a twelve-year-old boy from Colorado whose mother Lepidoptera has inexplicably disappeared. He has deep roots in the state: The boy’s grandfather – a character based on the real Scott Harrison – is the man who restored the famous Carousel of Happiness in the Netherlands and carved his magical wooden animals . But when neither his father nor his grandfather can reassure him about his mother’s whereabouts, Case sets out to find her, accompanied by a wise blue butterfly named Flinder, who becomes his means of transport, his guide and his mentor.
Cosper himself led a traveling life. The story of his novel began many years ago, when he and his family lived in Holland and read bedtime stories to his two now adult daughters – one of whom, Anna Cosper, is an artist. and provided the cover and illustrations for his book. . Case, then a little Dutch boy, and Flinder “were the vehicles of stories that might have included a visit to an ancient Asian temple or a thousand paper lanterns rising into the night sky. But they always included coarse food like eyeball soup or fried worms, ”Cosper recalls. “I wanted my daughters to nurture their sense of wonder.”
Cosper is a Fulbright scholar who worked for 27 years as a journalist and foreign correspondent, winning several awards; he spent an additional thirteen years training fellow reporters in several developing democracies. “In many of these countries, the main task was to introduce the concept of factual reporting and say, ‘No, you can’t just write to please your boss and your leaders,’” he says. “This one change suddenly made the job much more dangerous. ” On the wings of wonder takes place in three of the countries where he has worked, Cambodia, Myanmar and Botswana – “where people love fried caterpillars so much that they put them on their coins,” he observes.
At the start of his journey, Case meets Mira, a Rohingya girl with a sharp scar on her face. She wears ragged clothes, carries a large knife, and at first shows him nothing but hostility. Finally, she tells him about the massacre that killed her entire family, including her beloved father. Mira also has a butterfly companion and the four of them set off in search of Case’s mother.
Cosper’s writing is rich in descriptions, bringing to life landscapes ranging from snow-capped peaks to parched desert, from sparkling waters to sacred temples. By telling its story, it provides information – historical, archaeological, anthropological, geographic – which will be new to many young readers. Yet there is nothing educational in its approach, and the novel is also filled with adventure and pure fantasy.
Case’s education and understanding deepens with every encounter. At one point, he meets Toma, a Bushman, in the Kalahari Desert, and Toma describes to him a poison extracted from the larva of a beetle. Case asks where the poison came from and how Toma learned about its use. “A people can learn a lot in tens of thousands of years,” Toma replies.
The text continues: “Case has tried to imagine tens of thousands of years, which is no easy task for someone who lived for just 12 of them. He summoned what he could of human history. The United States is about 240 years old. The kingdoms of Angkor and Bagan were 1000 years old. The pyramids of Egypt, about 4,500 years old. The Jericho Wall was the oldest man-made thing he could think of. About 10,000 years. He stopped. He couldn’t imagine 10,000 years ago.
In this age of safe spaces and trigger warnings, the suffering of the young people in the book can be difficult for Americans to take in. But “I think mid-level readers deserve a chance to learn about some of the bad things that are happening in the bigger world,” Cosper says. “The recent tragic history of the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar and the ancient history and The continuing oppression of the Kalahari Bushmen. Here is a white Colorado kid who is introduced to the nasty realities of the world through the eyes of twelve year olds telling him their stories. They ask him, “What about your stories? Who? are your people? ”
In the book, Case replies that he is not sure “that he has a people.”
Cosper continues, “The story offers a new way to understand these horrific events and what young readers can do about them – keep in awe. ”
As for his own reading preferences, Cosper refers to “an unseen gem called The guide to the evolution of Milo and Biscuit written by my friend George Blevins. George is a former Freedom Rider and learned quantum physics himself to write the book, which traces the evolution of the universe from before the Big Bang to the first amino acids through the eyes of a precocious little boy. and a Bowery tramp.
Another favorite: “Among my most precious possessions is a first American edition of Pierre and Wendy, later Peter Pan, which I picked up from a garage sale. I think it’s great, timeless. It went straight to the heart of the child in adult readers.
Cosper is clear on what he wants readers to take away from his own book. He hopes that they “will see butterflies in a whole new way and feel the power of their wonder, even for a moment.” And for adult readers, I hope they stop at the sight of a butterfly and search inside for their wonder that may have been misplaced along the way.
Cosper lives with cancer, and rather than the diagnosis that inspires the book, he says writing On the wings of wonder helped him shape his response to the diagnosis and make peace with the disease: “Immersing myself in wonder while writing has helped me to appreciate more deeply the wonder that surrounds me, and to always be more grateful for the time I have had to participate in this miracle of life on this wonderful planet.
Doug Cosper will read from On Wings of Wonder at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday 23 October at the second star on the right, 1545 South Pearl Street. Learn more here.