Walking through a country park last week, the air heavy with the scent of May blossom, I was reminded of a childhood book which I still have: Fairies of the Trees by Cicely Mary Barker. A short poem – my favourite in the book – begins
“White May is flowering, Red May beside;”
I can remember the rest of the poem too, but I found the book – obviously kept as one I treasured – and checked it out. The book was a Christmas gift from my godmother when I was 6 years old and is still in fairly good nick: I was encouraged to look after my possessions!
Reading this poem as a child, I learned to identify May, Laburnum and Lilac. Other poems taught me about Elderflowers, Sycamore seeds with wings, Ash keys and Guelder roses.
Cicely Mary Barker was an illustrator; her books on Flower and Tree Fairies were first published in the 1920s, so some of the verses she wrote may sound a tad twee to modern ears. But the messages about nature and what’s around to looked at, enjoyed and appreciated are all there in her books. Many things in childhood now are sourced differently. Much information comes directly from the internet rather than through observation of the real world of nature all around, outside the window, in the street, in the park, in the trees, even in patches of grass and rough ground.
There’s a poem on the first page of my Fairies of the Trees book, entitled Look Up! Encouraging children to check out what they learn on the web alongside what is real, tangible and observable is a valid and engaging way of “teaching” them science.
Look up, look up, at any tree!
There is so much for eyes to see:
Twigs, catkins, blossoms: and blue
Of sky, most lovely, peeping through
Between the leaves, some large, some small,
Some green, some gold before their fall:
Fruits you can pick: fruits out of reach;
And little birds with twittering speech…..