by Julia Rawlinson
The summer holidays are so close now and I am sure that teachers and children alike are dreaming of long lazy days, perhaps by the seaside. There is nowhere quite as evocative of childhood summers. In this first of our seaside blogs, we invited Julia Rawlinson, author of the Fletcher series, to tell us a little about the inspiration behind the latest book, Fletcher and the Rockpool. Read on – and dream of what awaits us just around the corner…
One of my strongest childhood memories is seeing the sea for the first time each year. I grew up in London, a long way from the coast, but every summer my family would head to Norfolk, a place of golden light and sweeping views with a wonderful feeling of space and freedom. I still remember every step of the path to the beach: the pine woods with their resiny smell and sandy, needle-prickled earth; the soft slope of the dunes with warm sand slipping between my toes; and the sudden blast of light and air as the view opened up at the top of the ridge.
Fast forward a few years and I had children of my own. I’ve always written poetry – Hilda Boswell’s Treasury of Poetry was one of my favourite childhood books – but now my poems were joined by stories. A character emerged who was a lot like my childhood self – a kind-hearted but easily confused fox cub called Fletcher. His first story, Fletcher and the Falling Leaves, was inspired by my son asking me to fix an autumn leaf back onto its tree; the second, Fletcher and the Springtime Blossom, by my other son watching petals falling like snow. Fletcher and the Snowflake Christmas sprang from my childhood memories of being away from home for Christmas, and suddenly Fletcher had been on three seasonal adventures. Thinking about a summer book to complete the series, my mind returned to Norfolk’s beaches.
Once Fletcher was at the beach, he quickly found his story. As well as kind-hearted and easily confused, he’s a nurturer and a worrier. The changing tides, like the changing seasons, provided the perfect source of confusion. Of course, he’d be worried when the sea started disappearing, and of course he’d do everything he could to help the creatures it left behind. In an early version of the story, Fletcher spent a lot of time building dams to try to hold back the falling tide. I have wonderful memories of ‘waterworks’ on the beach when I was young, damming creeks and making pools as the sea retreated. But there’s only so much space in a picture book, and the relationship between Fletcher and Little Crab claimed the book’s heart. In the final version of Fletcher and the Rockpool, most of Fletcher’s efforts to save the pool are squeezed into a ‘frantic dashing’ page, leaving room for Fletcher’s friendship with Little Crab to blossom.
Friendship, caring and connecting with the natural world are at the heart of the Fletcher’s Four Seasons books. I think a feeling of connection is a key element in encouraging children’s engagement with nature. It’s easy to be impressed by the big things, the size and space and freedom of the beach, but the miniature world of a rockpool can be just as awe-inspiring. Pause for a moment to contemplate the tiny creatures who survive pounding waves, being submerged and the blazing heat of the sun. I remember gazing into rockpools with my children, waiting for the glistening blobs of sea anemones to bloom into life; watching hermit crabs scuttling away with their borrowed shells; and being amazed that tiny limpets could resist the power of the sea. I hope Fletcher and the Rockpool, and all the Fletcher’s Four Seasons books, will encourage children to go outside, look closely at the natural world around them, and really think about the creatures they see.
Getting lost in the life of a rockpool, or any natural habitat, can enhance mental health and wellbeing, and help build empathy and understanding. The more children look at and learn about the living things which surround them, the more likely they are to care about them and do what they can to protect them. Books are magical doorways to other worlds and lives, but experiencing those worlds and lives first-hand, engaging all the senses, is even better. I still have a poem I wrote in Norfolk when I was thirteen, which starts with sense-rich descriptions of the view, light and space; moves on to consider freedom and what it would be like to be a bird; and ends with an ecological message.
The beach isn’t just a source of creative inspiration, it’s also a treasure trove of art supplies. Sea-smoothed sand is a vast canvas for swirly spade drawings, wiped clean twice a day by the tide. Delicate shells, smooth pebbles and scrunchy sand can be arranged, balanced and sculpted. The sand-boat adventures and sandcastle battles of my childhood have been re-enacted with my children, standing defiantly on mounds of sand as the waves claim our castles for the deep. A recent beach-inspired poem, Pebble King and Pebble Queen follows the pebble monarchs as their castle is lost to the sea. My latest beach pastime is creating pebble rainbows – since writing Fletcher’s second autumn adventure, Fletcher and the Rainbow, I have been seeing nature rainbows wherever I go. I’ve spent many happy hours searching pebbly beaches for colours. With careful looking, greys can resolve into greens, blues and purples and a sea of brown can reveal reds, oranges and yellows.
The natural world is infinitely varied and ever-changing. I hope Fletcher and the Rockpool, like all the Fletcher books, will encourage children to head outdoors; to experience for themselves the awe of the big and the fascination of the small; and, having experienced the wonder of the natural world, to value and protect it.