by Tracy Cook
Here at Special Collections and University Archives, spring fever has sprung! This is the first warm week in Michigan this season (averaging over 60 degrees F) and considering that very recently there was accumulation of almost an inch of ice, this weather feels marvelous. So we felt inspired to look through our collections to see what interesting spring-related books we could discover.
The Tales of Beatrix Potter
This lovely collection from the Folio Society includes several of Beatrix Potter’s tales, including the well-known The Tale of Peter Rabbit. They all feature Potter’s original drawings. These tales are timeless and the adorable drawings make them perfect reading material for a sunny spring day.
The Fables of Aesop
Also published by the Folio Society, this book piqued my interest personally because as a Classics major, almost everything relating to Ancient Greece and Rome is exciting, especially if it still influences the modern world. These fables are accredited to Aesop, a slave from Ancient Greece, and are mostly short stories that end with a moral. Spring is considered a time for renewal and birth so this is a perfect time to read these. Some of our modern proverbs and popular tales derive from these fables including: “birds of a feather flock together”, the “boy who cried wolf”, and The Tortoise and the Hare.
Aesop used the story The Pomegranate, Apple-Tree, and Bramble as a clever allusion to both spring and the Judgement of Paris.
Pomegranates are associated with Persephone, the goddess of spring growth. During a trip to the Underworld, she ate a handful of pomegranate seeds, which meant she had to spend at least part of the year there (the winter months). Her return to Earth in springtime is marked with warmer weather, flowers and trees, including apple trees, blossoming, as well as grain beginning to grow. Bramble fruit, however, is harvested at the end of summer, early fall — when Persephone returns to the Underworld. The “apple-tree” refers to the Judgement of Paris when he was given a golden apple and had to decide whether Athena, Aphrodite, or Hera was the fairest.
The Garden & Other Poems
If poetry is more your style, this would be a perfect read. The Garden was one of the most famous English poems from the 17th century and is a romantic poem that utilizes nature as a way to express emotions. This collection of poems, also published by the Folio Society, is about the size of my hand so if a quick yet enjoyable read is what you desire, this is a wonderful option. With woodblock illustrations adding to the beautiful poems, whoever reads this will feel the joy of spring.
The Secret Garden
Continuing with the idea of gardens, this is also a fitting book for spring. Another Folio Society publication, this book is filled with beautiful drawings that enhance the reading experience. Also, with the theme being rejuvenation, this book shows that when something is neglected it withers, but when it is cared for it blooms. This is demonstrated in the characters Mary and Colin. (If you are curious as to why, you will have to read the book!)
The Englishman’s Flora
This is the next great nature example which goes through all of plants in England, specifically the British Isle, while providing the names, botanical names, locations, as well as ancient lore and uses for each and 44 illustrations. We are featuring three illustrations below:
The first plant is the Rowan tree / Mountain Ash, Sorbus aucuparia which is a prime tree for protection; the berries are even red, which is one of the best colors for warding off evil. Plant some Rowan trees around your house for protection against the supernatural. On May Day when fairies and witches are abroad, the Irish would nail pieces of Rowan over their doors and tied around their milk churns to prevent their butter and milk from being stolen. In Ireland, rowan was also thought to keep the dead from rising so it was planted in graveyards as well as sometimes being built into coffins. A fun fact about the Rowan tree is that it was also held sacred to Ukko, the Finnish god of the sky, weather, harvest, and thunder.
The next plant is the Elecampane, Inula helenium, which is part of the sunflower family. Elecampane is good against coughs, asthma, stomach problems, protection against the Plague, and to heal the bites from poisonous animals. This plant was present in Anglo-Saxon recipes, half medical and half magical, to prevent elf-sickness.
The third plant is Solomon’s Seal, Polygonatum multiflorum, named after Josephus’ Solomon, a conjurer, enchanter, and philosopher, because Solomon set his praise upon its roots. This plant is used for gluing back together broken bones and could also be used to help bruises heal quicker, particularly black eyes.
The Victorian Wood-block Illustrators
Another example of a nature filled book, this features many woodblock illustrations completed by various artists as well as providing a lot of wonderful information about each artist. Nature — with a focus on plants and animals — seems to be a popular subject of woodblock illustrations making this another great example of a spring book.