Children’s book decries the gluttonous modern age

David Briggs
John Littleton, dressed here in a “Green Man” costume, is a retired West Marin School teacher and a student of cultural anthropology. His sorrow over environmental degradation inspired his book, Rampage of the Glutton Monsters.
09/08/2011

From an armchair in his Point Reyes Station living room, blue-eyed and pony-tailed former West Marin School teacher and recently self-published author John Littleton, 67, expresses malaise over the sweeping degradation of the American landscape and the utilitarian view of nature that has served as its catalyst. 

The shamanistic paradigm that he advocates in his new children’s book, Rampage of the Glutton Monsters, could be misconstrued as the product of, well, armchair imaginings. But that assumption would ignore Littleton’s varied experiences with the Miwok and Huichol tribes and his erudite command of cultural anthropology. Both serve as the bedrock of his book, which was released on September 1 and is currently on the shelves of Point Reyes Books, Flower Power, Epicenter and Toby’s Feed Barn. 

Littleton forged his understanding of Native American culture over many years of participation in tribal ceremonies and communication with native leaders as a member of Marin’s Wakan organization, a group of non-natives who see indigenous culture as a valuable part of their lives. During Huichol pilgrimages to the high desert outside the Mexican city of San Luis Potosi, he partook in traditional offerings, prayers and peyote hunts. At the fireside medicine rituals, he found the mental effects of the plant
enlightening. 

“That doesn’t necessarily mean visions of flowers and angels and all that stuff,” Littleton said. “It can be very dark and scary and treacherous, but the information that you can derive from that experience about your own life is equally important. [It] helped me be a better teacher, I’d say, particularly as it’s reflected in my work with the environment.” 

Littleton first became disaffected by mainstream American culture while evaluating psychiatric patients at Denver Army Hospital during the Vietnam War. His alternative views led him to pursue a Master’s degree in early childhood education and earn a credential for Montessori teaching. He taught lower grades at the Montessori-inspired Marin Horizon School, in Mill Valley, for 22 years. In his off-hours he earned a second Master’s degree in the ecologically-focused cultural anthropology program at the Center for the Institute of Integral Studies, in San Francisco. 

About 12 years ago, Littleton began working on an oral story about a native boy and girl who were sent by the spiritual world to confront the onslaught of “glutton” monsters that were destroying and consuming the land around their
village. 

“I evolved this story based on myths from all over the world, particularly Native American, as a way of communicating to kids, in a fiction way, what was happening in the environment and what happened to the native people,” he said. “So the gluttons are kind of a thinly veiled metaphor for the modern world, and for the devastation to the environment and to the native people.”

The story soon gained traction with his students, and he decided to publish a 35-page written iteration, illustrated by one of his gifted students, and bound in plastic.

After retiring from his teaching job at West Marin School, Littleton began consulting close friend and book publisher Michael Saint James about transforming the pamphlet into a more professional and literary product that could reach a wider audience.  

“What appealed to me with his book was that he has a very unique story,” Saint James said. “It was a vision that a traditional publisher would not be enthusiastic about.” 

With help from Saint James, his wife, Rosie, and local writers and environmentalists, Littleton expanded the story through action, new conflict and dialogue. 

The book, which runs more than 70 pages and features foreboding purple cover art by San Francisco art student Maxine Teichman, begins with rumors of destructive “glutton monsters” approaching the edges of the fictional (Miwok-inspired) Clamshell native community. The spiritual deities convene and confer about how to end the destruction. Instead of defeating the gluttons with violence, the spirits task the young hero twins with transforming the gluttons into real “humans” through compassion. 

In a way, Littleton’s book represents his own battle with real “gluttons,” who range from conservative pundits who challenge the existence of climate change to people who waste natural resources without regard for the current state of the environment. But, he explained that anyone, including himself, can be considered a “glutton” at times.  

Littleton hopes that the first 500 copies, which are intended for 6 to 13-year-olds, will sell fast and be picked up by a professional publishing company that can distribute beyond West Marin. He also hopes the younger generation will begin to remind their parents of the crises facing the world. 

“So ostensibly it’s a teaching story for kids, but the truth is it’s really for adults,” Littleton said. “Because even though the state of the environment is in fairly dire condition, there is still the opportunity for an upwelling of change in consciousness that can address the problems and make really radical change. The hope would be that it will contribute in some small way to that awakening of the adult population.” 

John Littleton will  celebrate the publication of his book on Saturday, September 10 at Toby’s Feed Barn during the Farmers’ Market, from 11:15 a.m. to noon. He will be interviewed by Lyons Filmer on KWMR at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 14.