My little niece poisoned herself last week. Many panicked questions (and a trip to the hospital) later, we found out she had been eating green arum (or lords-and-ladies) berries from the hedgerow. She thought they were peas.
While everyone else started discussing forest school and the yawning distance between today’s children and their natural environment, my only question was “Why hasn’t anyone given her the Flower Fairy books?”
It seems to me now that I grew up doing nothing but read books, and usually ones that featured princesses, fairies and pretty dresses. I was hopelessly girly and bookish. But I bet I never ate arum berries by mistake, because Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairy books, as well as being as full of pretty dresses as any little girl could wish, are also botanically accurate and contain many useful footnotes on the names, properties and uses of plants.
|The Lords-and-Ladies fairy (from Flower Fairies of the Autumn, By Cicely Mary Barker)|
Here is Barker on another poisonous plant, woody nightshade, which grows all around where my niece lives:
“Why should you think my berries poisoned things?
You fairies may look scared and fly away –
The children will believe me when I say
My fruit is food for kings!”
But all good fairies cry in anxious haste,
“O children, do not taste!”
Footnote: You must believe the good fairies…
After Barker’s fairies Alison Uttley, Laura Ingalls Wilder, BB and T H White are other children’s authors from whom I learned about the natural world. I was a hopelessly bookish child, but I think I know more about the countryside than many people who never read books. I’m looking forward to sharing these books with my niece when she’s a bit older.
The Flower Fairy books are already in the post to her. And if she starts to believe for a while that tansy flowers are buttons for fairy jackets, I think that’s a small price to pay for her avoiding such hazards as nightshade and yew berries, and learning the good uses of blackberries, rowan, elderflowers, sloes…
Her grandmother also showed her some real peas growing in their pods after the arum berry incident. My niece’s first question was “Grandma, when will your peas be frozen?” Maybe now she’ll start thinking the fairies do the freezing.