Building a library for children, part 3

I am going into dangerous territory with this blog: I am entering the world of Twee. It’s not fashionable these days, and it’s not encouraged, and I have my reservations about it as much as any other feminist, but I do like a bit of twee, of things that are fancy, sweet and tiny and pretty and dainty.

I don’t know what started it off, but I suspect an early fascination for all things miniature went hand in hand with a love of flowers – I was very keen on making miniature gardens as a child, the sort where you put moss in a plastic tray and a mirror for a pond.

As we were growing up in the countryside with parents keen on wildlife, learning the names of wild plants was a given – and my mum encouraged this by giving me my first Flower Fairy books when I was about 7. (I remember the occasion as they were a present after I’d had a very minor operation in hospital, along with what became another much loved book, Little House in the Big Woods).

I think my mum – not otherwise a fan of fairy related stuff – liked the Flower Fairies because the floral illustrations were accurate, and didn’t just focus on pretty flowers.

She pointedly *didn’t* buy me Flower Fairies of the Garden, thinking garden plants are not nearly as interesting as wild ones – and the Flower Fairies of the Wayside includes some of the most despised weeds, including groundsel and goose-grass.

The Flower Fairies of the Autumn also taught me the difference between white and black bryony, and was my first introduction to poisonous plants and berries.

This came in useful when I was able to reassure other parents at the toddler’s nursery that the plant we’d found in its  garden was in fact not deadly nightshade but the less likely to be fatal (but still nasty) woody nightshade. Phew.

Of course it helped that when I was growing up, many of these plants were commonly found in the hedgerows so I was able to learn them and recognise them – I saw them all the time.

It won’t be quite so easy for a city dwelling child, but we have woods nearby which we visit quite often, and plenty of flowers in our garden have been inspired by my childhood love of the Flower Fairies, so I hope she’ll pick up some knowledge on the way. And knowing which berries not to eat is basic common sense information all children should learn.

The poems which accompany the Flower Fairy pictures are probably verging too much on the twee even for me, but some of them are lovely – and the fairies themselves, whilst some of them have frilly dresses (see Guelder Rose, above) are pleasingly lacking in glitter and wands and so forth. Look at the Blackthorn fairy, for instance –

There’s a hairdo that hasn’t seen a brush in a while!

I throughly approve of these wild and slightly mischievous fairies – they belong to the world of fairies Shakespeare knew, of Robin Goodfellow, of the fairy folklore in Edward Thomas’ Lob (one of my favourite favourite poems) and of Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill.

Moving on from fairies, though, there are also animal books which enthralled me as a child and still do – Beatrix Potter was a stalwart of my childhood, meeting parental approval again because the animals were drawn accurately from life (though as has often been pointed out, how poor Potter is at drawing people!), and the Lake District was one of our favourite family holiday destinations (my copy of Mrs Tittlemouse proudly has a label inside saying it was bought at Hill Top).

So we have already got a confirmed junior Potter fan in our household, with her own Peter Rabbit money box (alongside my original set of PR china which has somehow survived childhood intact – mug, plate, bowl and eggcup!)

The other animal books which I don’t think my mum would endorse (or at least, I never owned myself as a child, but always coveted) are the Brambly Hedge series.

This is an unashamedly twee world – a place of tiny mice, of pretty flowers and lace and frills and all things dainty.   But again, the animals and plants are all drawn accurately, and it’s the level of detail I love most of all.

I think it’s the cross section drawings of the mouses’ homes which captured my imagination as a child – the winding stairs and larders and corridors disappearing around corners were fascinating, and they appealed to my love of miniature things.

The Flower Fairy pictures never showed their homes, but Brambly Hedge imagined a whole world entire, with weavers and bakers and birthday parties and weddings. It was so complete, and so perfect.

I can’t remember when I first encountered Brambly Hedge, but what I do know is that any book showing cross-sections inside houses fascinated me – and ultimately it led to another enduring passion, my own much-loved dolls house. That’s probably a blog in its own right, for another day, though.

I have made up for the lack of Brambly Hedge in my own childhood by buying the books for the toddler – but I have resisted reading them to her too much – I love them, but are they too twee and girly to merit approval these days?

I also picked up Angelina Ballerina in a charity shop, but that I think is a step too far into the world of tweeness even for me and it has remained hidden away, so far. I love ballet, but I’d far rather the toddler’s first experience of ballet (when she’s a bit older) was the Ladybird book of Ballet which I treasured as a child (and how I wish I still owned it!), and of course, Ballet Shoes. But it’s a few years until she’s ready for either of those, so I’m not sure I can keep hiding Angelina Ballerina for too long.

I am aware that there is an awful lot of projecting my own interests onto my children here: fairies, dolls houses, ballet and flowers – so I should add that we are also encouraging trains and dinosaurs too, but we don’t have so many books about these. Perhaps I should be getting some recommendations….

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