Have you ever wondered how to get your children unglued from their digital devices and playing outside, discovering the verdant wonders of the British natural landscape as they do so? If so, then the Treeture Creatures and Flowerbuds series of books by children’s author Marian Hawkins is for you.
Parents of young children will be well-versed in receiving difficult questions, such as ‘Why is the sky blue?’ or ‘What causes rainbows?’.
Often, we don’t know the answers and feel ignorant for it, wishing we could dispense more knowledge. And never do I feel this more than when I am out and about in a park or forest.
Upon being asked what type of tree we are looking at, I might hazard an oak, but previously it was a shot in the dark.
However, since coming across a wonderful new series of children’s books—Treeture Creatures and Flowerbuds by Marian Hawkins—both I and my kids know exactly what tree is before us, or wildflower around us.
I wish that the mum-of-three’s books had been available when I was a child as the way she weaves nuggets of information about the natural world into memorable adventures is simply brilliant.
Aimed at children between the ages of four and nine, the Treeture Creatures and Flowerbuds series comprises three main storybooks, told in rhyme and accompanied by delightful illustrations.
The first book is Treeture Creatures and Flowerbuds: Oaky the Oak Leaf, which tells the story of Oaky, an oak tree leaf.
Separated from his tree by a gust of wind, Oaky begins an adventure where he meets many new friends on his quest back to his home, including a leaf from an alder tree and then a rowan tree, as well as a spider and a bluebell.
With each encounter he is told about the basic characteristics of trees and plants so that he can recognise them in future.
The second book in the series, Treeture Creatures and Flowerbuds: Willow the Willow Leaf, has Willow taking a dip in the stream when he is whisked away.
He is helped by a waterlily and meets a maple tree leaf before being flown high by a woodpecker, where he goes deeper into the wood and comes across many new sights before finally returning home.
Finally, in Treeture Creatures and Flowerbuds: Beech the Beech Leaf, Beech flutters to the ground for an adventure of her own, bumping into dandelions, horse chestnuts and a sycamore leaf, as well as having run-ins with an excitable dog, as well as impromptu lifts from a football and kite.
Though the storyline is essentially the same across all three books, each contains a different assortment of trees and flowers to discover, learning about how they look, their connections with other life, and their many uses.
For instance, the alder leaf that Oaky meets explains how the alder tree makes cone-like fruit, and has no lobes on its leaves:
My tree is used to make boats, in the water it is good.
Alder trees make paper; did you know that comes from wood?
They grow cone-like fruit and there are no lobes on its leaves.
Their blooms make dye for fairies’ clothes, so says an old belief.
Then Oaky comes across a Rowan tree, with an equally delightful verse to help children identify it:
Rowan’s bark is slightly ridged and coloured silver grey,
and it produces white flowers that will bloom in early May.
Facts like these is packed into all the books, subtly informing children (and their parents) about both the basics of nature and more unfamiliar ideas and words, such as ‘chlorophyll’ and palmate leaves.
And because the books are written in neat, enjoyable rhymes, this information is eminently memorable, sticking much more in the mind than a fact book might.
And with the warmth and wit that Marian injects into her stories, she makes children care about nature in a way that no text book could ever do.
Along with handy facts, we also learn about legends and myths associated with trees. For example, a holly leaf tells of how those her cut holly leaves on their own will have bad luck, while an alder leaf says the tree’s blooms are used to dye fairies’ clothing.
The author also explains the connection of trees and flowers to the real world, describing how humans have used them or benefited from their properties, such as tannins from oak bark being used as an antiseptic or beech oil being used to keep lamps alight.
In this way, the books also inform kids about the past, when societies were more in harmony with nature.
While the rhymes paint vivid mental pictures, the accompanying colour illustrations by Gaynor Volpi help immensely in recognising the differences between different types of leaves (which are key to knowing your different types of tree).
The main series is accompanied by two pocket-sized swatchbooks—The Tree Trail and The Flower Trail—which sees the Treeture Creatures and Flowerbudscharacters return to assist on identifying different trees and plants when outside.
Add in more facts at the back of all the books, plus puzzles, and you have the perfect introductory nature study lessons sitting right there on your book shelves.
Having read through the books with my children, I’ve found that they want to get out and about to spot trees and wildflowers. Nature is no longer a background but a living, vibrant world to engage with.
The fact that kids are getting outdoors, without being dragged away from the telly or smart screen, is surely every parent’s dream.
And that they come away from the books with a deeper, firmer understanding of just how precious our natural landscape is only to be commended.
In this age of serious ecological issues, priming young minds on the true value of nature and wildlife is imperative if we want future generations to be responsible custodians.
Entertaining and educational in equal measure, these books will instil a love of nature in every young child, being the perfect books for parents who want to encourage their children to spend more time outdoors.
The Treeture Creatures and Flowerbuds series, comprising Oaky The Oak Leaf, Willow The Willow Leaf, and Beech the Beech Leaf by Marian Hawkins are out now through Blue Falcon Publishing, priced at £11.99 each in hardcover and £2.96 as audiobooks. The Tree Trail and The Flower Trail swatchbooks are available in paperback priced separately at £5.99. All five titles are also currently available as an exclusive bundle, priced £35, from the author’s website,www.marianhawkins.co.uk.
Q&A INTERVIEW WITH MARIAN HAWKINS
Having grown up with a love of nature, children’s author and mum-of-three Marian Hawkins was keen to share that passion with today’s kids. We caught up with Marian, who regularly goes into schools to introduce youngsters to the importance of trees and wildflowers, to learn more.
Q. Why did you think it important to highlight the value of trees to young children?
A. Trees bring with them so many benefits that enhance the world, we live in: cleaning the air we breathe and absorbing pollution in big cities, providing crucial ingredients for many medicines, helping to reduce flooding, boosting moods from the sheer beauty of nature, and many other things that children will enjoy learning about, such as providing us with food and, of course, being great fun to climb.
Many campaigns have been run this year to coincide with The Queen’s Green Canopy initiative, promoting planting new trees. Many schools have taken part allowing children to be part of a worldwide campaign.
Q. How do your books encourage children to interact more with nature?
A. The ethos of my books is to enjoy the story while learning the characteristics of each individual tree, leaf and wildflower. Once the child recognises certain characteristics they can go outside and try and find their own Oaky, Beech or Willow, along with beautiful wildflowers using the portable swatch booklets to guide them.
Q. What will children learn about the natural landscape through reading your books?
A. Apart from different identifying features of certain trees, children can learn about the many reasons trees are so important from features in the back of the books. They also feature a section of weird and wonderful trees from around the world and cover issues such as forest fires, surviving in a desert and flooding. I have also referenced some ancient beliefs, some of which are still in practice now. For instance, the rowan tree has a Celtic name of ‘Wizards tree’ and is believed to ward off witches.
Q. How did you come up with the idea of personifying trees and wildflowers as characters in your books?
A. The original idea came to me as I was walking my pet dogs. I fondly remembered my days in Brownies when we played a game of finding objects beginning with the letters of the word ‘Brownie’. My object for ‘O’ was an oak leaf. I wondered if children these days could identify trees and realise how important they were. On my return home I printed off an image of an oak leaf and started adding eyes, nose, mouth etc. and immediately saw a character develop. I contacted my illustrator friend, Gaynor Volpi, who interpreted my vision very well and Oaky was created. I researched some facts and started writing rhyming verses including some of these facts. I included some wildflowers, too, because of the importance of the bee population. It snowballed then into a story after I mentioned my idea to my family, who were all very excited about it. The rest is history and I am most grateful to my publisher, Blue Falcon Publishing, for releasing my books.
Q. You have always enjoyed writing. How do you feel having now written and published this series?
A. It feels a little surreal! I have had many ‘pinch me’ moments. One of which was being interviewed by BBC Three Counties radio. I had lots of friends and family message to say they would be listening in. I felt nervous but excited to be able to tell a wider audience about my books. After the interview I had lots of positive messages saying it went very well, which was a huge relief. I also got some interest from schools enquiring about author visits, too. I am very proud of the work I have produced.
Q. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard?
A. Not to be too precious over your work, and to be prepared to make changes that your editor or publisher advises. It generally results in an improved version.
Q. What has the feedback to your books been like?
A. I have received some very encouraging feedback. Before the first book’s publication, I sent the draft manuscript to many parents, teachers and family members with children within the target age range, all over the country. I had some constructive criticism about some small elements of the text, which I changed. Overall, the feedback was positive. Parents enjoyed the semi-educational element and children enjoyed the story. They thought the characters were friendly and cute. Including an acorn hat for Oaky, horse-like features for horse chestnut and hazelnut eyes for hazel were also praised as good clues for children to easily recognise which leaf belongs to which tree. I was particularly happy with the feedback from the children as they can be brutally honest.
Q. You learned about the natural world through the Brownies. Would you encourage parents to enrol their children in organisations such as Brownies or Beavers, and why?
A. I loved being a member of the Brownie organisation, especially the games held outside. I would encourage parents to enrol their children into similar organisations because they are a font of information and inclusivity. It is a great way to gain knowledge through fun activities. I believe it can help children with confidence, too.
Q. What are you most proud about with your series of books?
A. I am most proud of seeing my vision become a beautiful series of books. When I received the first hard copy, I will admit to shedding a tear. I couldn’t share the moment with my parents as they are no longer with us, but I dedicated my first book, Oaky, to their memory. I am confident that they would have loved all the characters and the stories, too. The support from my husband, children, sisters and friends has been overwhelming. I feel immensely proud.
Q. Will there be further books in the Treeture Creatures and Flowerbudsseries to look forward to?
A. I have already started research into some new trees and wildflowers to feature in a continuation of this series. My illustrator, Gaynor Volpi, is very keen to work on another project so fingers crossed there will be more. I roughly drafted a story over 20 years ago which is loosely based on my children growing up. The antics they got up to with their cousins, in their grandad’s allotment, yard and fields. Although this wouldn’t be involved with Treeture Creatures and Flowerbuds, it would be another wonderful keepsake for my children to have.
Q. How have you personally embraced the importance of trees.
A. We are blessed to have a large garden and over the years we have lost lots of trees to storms and old age, so last year we planted 18 new fruit trees and an oak tree. We registered with The Queen’s Green Canopy campaign to show our support of the effort to plant more trees.