THE TABLE WHERE RICH PEOPLE SIT
by Byrd Baylor, pictures by Peter Parnall - Aladdin Paperbacks, 1998
ages 4 to grown-up / emotional resilience, heartwarmers, s.o.s.e.
This story was first published in 1994, perhaps intended as an antidote to 90’s consumerism. There’s certainly a flower child, peace loving vibe about it – I love it!
A young girl tells us in a conversational way about a problem she has with her parents. She thinks their family doesn’t have enough money.
So she calls a family meeting to discuss the matter. And in the course of trying to convince her parents of the need for ‘better’ jobs so that they can ‘buy a lot of nice new things’, the girl becomes convinced of the value of the life they live.
It’s a free and earthy life, the sort that doesn’t usually attract a monetary value, but the family decides to make a list of the money they earn in a year.
At first the girl is frustrated when her parents insist on giving a dollar value to things like seeing sunsets, hiking around looking for eagle nests, seeing the sky, feeling the wind and smelling the rain. Gradually though, the girl, whose parents call her Mountain Girl, begins to remember and see the value in those things too.
Finally she suggests that the cash part doesn’t matter and that it really doesn’t even belong on a list like theirs - and she sees the table they sit at, made from discarded timber, as a place where rich people sit.
There are a lot of words in this book (for a picture book) but they're conversational rather than descriptive and that makes for easy reading and listening. And the illustrations are beautifully simple so there's a calmness to each page that allows for longer reading time.
It’s a nice book to settle down with at the end of a story-reading session when little minds have started to slow and get ready for a more sustained story.
It's a book to pull out when the tug of the economic world gets a little strong - or you’re about to go or have just been to somewhere natural and beautiful - or when someone is in need of reassurance about their place and value in the family or the world.
And it's a favourite for times of grieving. We grieve for many things – loss of a job and economic upheaval – when sickness comes to a loved one – loss of opportunity – death – loss of friendships – and so on.
This lovely story holds the promise of beauty in any life.
It’s true that most of us don’t have, and probably don’t want, a life like this family. Most of us enjoy our work and our lives and we enjoy the middle ground we work towards finding. It’s also true that it’s easy to forget the wonders in our own lives. Wonders that might include the things that are listed on this family’s balance sheet (the sky, the rain, the mountains), but might also include things like the fascination of tall buildings, the joy of a late winter afternoon when all around us are people hurrying to warm homes and loved ones, or the fun of being with a crowd on a day of celebration.
This is simply a book to remind us of the joy in life – whether it’s joy in the natural world or in the joy in the life we live. Reading this story always helps me to remember that rich people sit around our table too.