Anne here, and no, you can relax — I'm not talking about a particularly mushy romance. While a lot of readers are recovering from Thanksgiving celebrations, I'm thinking about beloved children's books — specifically books set in nature.
When I was a child growing up in Australia, most of the children's stories I knew came from other countries — from England and Europe and other lands — particularly English classics. I've blogged before about my love of AA Milne's tales of Winne the Pooh. And I loved Enid Blyton's tales of Cherry Tree Farm (and others) where I learned about red squirrels and Brock the badger and slow worms and many more wild animals — none of which I'd ever seen.
This was another favorite story book, a fat volume called Once Long Ago, containing seventy wonderful stories from almost as many lands. I still own it, but the dust jacket is in tatters. I thrilled to the story of Baba Yaga, loved the Native American tale of the Boy and the Wolves, the Chinese tale of the Fairy Wife — and many more.
But while I loved all those stories, and happily travelled far and wide in my imagination, there were few stories that connected as strongly with my immediate environment as May Gibbs's tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, the gum-nut babies, and all the other bush babies.
And here are the gumnuts they live in. (Australians call all eucalyptus trees "gum" trees) We also use the word "bush" in a general sense to mean the wilderness — the untouched natural environment. So we talk of going bushwalking, or we battle bushfires, or we "go bush" to escape the rat race — so bush babies are babies that live in the bush..
May Gibbs's stories — and particularly her beautifully evocative paintings and drawings— brought the native plants of Australia to fairytale life. May Gibbs was one of the first authors and illustrators to create an Australian fairy-tale world, and you can see for yourself how perfectly —and magically— she wove her tales around the local flora and fauna.
And here is a photo of a banksia pod after a fire — the heat causes them to scatter their seeds — fire is a prerequisite for germination. But even now I still see sinister-looking faces in banksia pods. This one is a particularly good example. Those eyes are watching, aren't they?
There were boronia babies — the dull-looking brown and yellow boronia has the sweetest smell.
There were water babies, and various creatures — some dangerous and some benign — and they brought the world around me to fairy-tale life.And they still do. I still see little dancing legs dangling out of gum blossoms, and tiny faces peeping shyly from gumnuts and from heath flowers and from behind gum leaves and— well, they're everywhere. You just have to be very, very quiet and very, very patient and look very, very carefully . . .
I hope you've enjoyed this brief glimpse of a classic and beloved Australian children's story.
What about you? Can you remember any childhood books that brought your world to magical life?