My buds, they cluster small and green;
The sunshine gaineth heat:
Soon shall the Hawthorn tree be clothed,
As with a snowy sheet.
— The Song of the May Fairy
Madeleine L’Engle once wisely advised fellow writers that if a book would be too difficult for adults, then write it for children. I feel that poetry is often the same way — it is rarely read by adults in our modern era when frequently it is too difficult to take the time to pause, contemplate, and soak in verses. But who among us did not enjoy Mother Goose growing up? Somehow this appreciation can become harder to understand with age.
Cicely Mary Barker published her first book of poetry, Flower Fairies of the Spring, in 1923. Each poem describes a fairy belonging to a certain flower accompanied by a whimsical watercolor illustration presented on the opposite page. Seven more books of flower fairy poetry followed to form a bestselling series; in addition to fairies of the four seasons, there are the fairies of the garden, of the trees, of the wayside, and of the alphabet. Barker’s love of botany renders each delicate depiction an educational work of art as her paintings have been praised through the ages for their botanical accuracy. She also apparently made a great study of insects as the fairy wings in her paintings portray detailed copies of many butterflies and other flying insects.
The fairies themselves were also painted from life — children attending her sister’s nursery school provided a wide variety of innocent little faces. Barker once said, “For many years I had an atmosphere of children about me — I never forgot it.”
The Folio Society has recently published a box set of these exquisite little volumes as a complete collection. In addition to containing every fairy ever painted by Barker, painstakingly restored from the original editions held at the Frederick Warne Archive, each volume also contains her decorative line drawings presented in a screen printed binding with individual designs inspired by fairies. Gold and silver gilded page edges, printed endpapers, and a decorated slipcase complete this sumptuous little set.
In an increasingly urbanized era when children are distanced from nature, reading and fantasy help restore a connection to the beauties of the natural world around them. Readers both young and old will feel the stirrings of imagination through her tantalizing hints of woodland magic.