A Natural History of Fairies
This delightful book sneaks in biology lessons via the fantastical fairy world
Come to Bringing Books to Life – Children’s Garden Festival June 11-20 to see fairies of your own
By Kaitlin Bacon, Children’s Garden Manager
Perhaps few creatures inspire the imagination of a child quite like fairies. They exist both within our world, as well as without, both magical and inherently natural.
A Natural History of Fairies, by Emily Hawkins, presents these creatures through the ledgers of Professor Elsie Arbour, a scientist who has expanded upon her study of the natural world to that of the fairies. She leaves her findings in the care of her niece via pictures, diagrams, notes, and charts. The whimsy of the fairy is woven into actual scientific grounding, and the book presents real-world biology through the lens of the secretive existence of these tiny creatures.
The book reads as if you are being taught about a real-life creature, and a note from the publisher cleverly expresses the “unverified” authenticity of these logs, encouraging children to read and then go out to come to their own conclusions on the reality of the existence of these fairies. And who is to say what else you might notice while looking for them?
You are immediately introduced to the fairies via the classic Linnaean system of classification, from Kingdom Animalia down to species ranging from house to tundra fairies. It’s a complex system that is explained simply with easy-to-read graphics and real-world comparisons. There’s a child-friendly anatomical exploration of the fairy, the life cycle, survival mechanisms, and so much more.
The way Hawkins works through this book balances large-scale concepts in an easily digestible form with more specific facts that are designed to draw the attention of a child out into the world. For instance, a fairy’s bones are lightweight and have air pockets, much like a bird’s. A cricket’s chirp might be a male meadow fairy, whose comb-like barbs on the wings are illustrated for children to see. Fairies pollinate plants, while different fairies pollinate different things in different ways.
Habitats are introduced through the unique species of fairies and what they demonstrate to survive in each. Mutualism, predators, and seasonal survival tactics are explained. Much like butterflies, different fairies have different wings. Even plant biology is explored with how seeds scatter, flower anatomy, and there is a handy illustrated leaf identification chart. And, did you know that fairy dust might just be different types of pollen combined with iridescent scales from the fairy’s wings? It reflects moonlight and is used as a slug repellent in the gardens.
During the Tiny Gardens and Enchanted Woods festival in the Children’s Garden, perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of one of our special little friends there. We’ll pass on the knowledge we have, and with any luck, the fairies will help turn our eyes and our imaginations to the world around us.