The book that I’m reading at the moment has become a true classic in our house. Published back in 2012, Nicola Davies and Mark Hearld’s A First Book of Nature, has become a staple of our reading year. The forerunner of this year’s Greenaway longlisted First Book of Animals (illustrated by Petr Horacek), the book journeys through the four seasons in a mix of poetry and lyrical prose, offering scraps of recipes, facts, fragments and observations to remind us of the wonder and diversity of the natural world.
I’m blown away each time I return to it by the richness of the illustrations – colour simply floods the page (no white margins here) perfectly capturing the essence of each season. Mark Hearld’s collages are vibrant and evocative: a mixture of direct observation and characteristic nostalgia. I’m a fan anyway but they seem to me to perfectly capture the essence and experiences being related in Nicola Davies’ words.
The book deals with each season in turn but it is always ‘Spring’ which holds the greatest draw for me. I can’t see the buds opening on the cherry blossom without thinking of this book: ‘Last week the twigs were just twigs, Bare and black and boring, But now – blossom!’.
I think that this is essentially the root of its enduring appeal: no matter the time of year, no matter the location you will find an image or a phrase that totally encapsulates your experience of the natural world. The nature that it records is universal and recognisable for children everywhere. It takes us through urban landscapes, woodlands, back gardens fields and beaches so that in a single page turn we can jump from the garden pond to the rockpool.
The book excels by not simply describing the season but rather the experience of it. Davies tells us that Lamb’s tails wiggle when they’re happy…you’ll see it when a lamb is feeding. It butts its mum and starts to suck, Then watch the tail go!’ but she also tells us that we’ll see them and want to smile. How true! It’s this beguiling mix of the practical and the poetical that has ensured that we keep returning to it year after year.